Bicycle Gears

Should You Pedal While Changing Gears? The Best Way To Shift Gears On a Bicycle

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For the cycling enthusiast, knowing whether or not to pedal while changing gears will probably seem like common sense.

You’ve got to pedal, right?

However, with the recent lockdown causing a huge surge in bicycle purchases, there has been a new cycling question that’s being trending according to search data provided by Google.

And that question is… Should you pedal while changing gears?

So we figured we’d take the time out today to answer it once & for all, in an effort to help those who are new to cycling to figure out the best way to shift gears on a bicycle.

After all, we were all new to cycling once & the only silly question is the question you don’t ask.

Should You Pedal While Changing Gears?

The short answer is yes, you should pedal while changing gears. In fact, in order to change gears on a bicycle, you MUST pedal due to how the derailing system operates.

But the answer isn’t actually quite so clear-cut.

There is actually a bit of a “trick” to smoothly changing gears & once you’ve mastered it, not only will your gear changes feel much smoother, but it’ll also help prevent your chain from dropping off.

Hint: If ever your chain does fall off, the amazing tool we listed at number 6 in this list will enable you to easily get your chain back on without getting dirty (or without even having to touch it all).

So What’s The Best Way To Shift Gears on a Bicycle?

Changing gears on a bicycle is achieved thanks to a mechanism known as a “derailer”, which simply moves left or right (depending whether you changed up or down) & pulls the chain in the same direction.

If you were to stop pedalling, the derailer would still move as it should, but the gears would not change.

The reason for that is because the chain relies on movement in order to “snag” onto the next sprocket, then once it’s successfully snagged, the next turn of the sprocket pulls the chain towards it so that it becomes fully seated onto that particular sprocket.

Once it’s seated, you’ve successfully changed gear.

The GIF below shows the process in action (pay attention to how the chain hops up and down as it’s nudged by the derailer):

Changing Gears GIF

So to simplify the process, the derailer nudges the chain slightly in a certain direction & then as you continue to pedal, the next closest sprocket tries to pull the chain onto it using its teeth (the spikes).

Simple, right?

However, to make for a smooth transition between the gears, the pressure applied during the change is also pretty important – especially on a bike with poorly tuned gears.

You see, whilst the chain does it’s best to “snag” onto the teeth of the next sprocket, sometimes it can fail for a little while (which causes that annoying clicking sound as you try to change).

This will happen less if you regularly keep on top of fine-tuning your gears, but even on the most fine-tuned bike, it will still be prone to happen from time to time.

And if you are applying too much pressure through the pedals whilst the chain is attempting to snag onto the next sprocket then it could cause your chain to come off, or worse, it could damage it completely.

So when you’re changing gears it’s important to keep pedalling to make the process happen, but you should also reduce the amount of pressure applied through the pedals to a minimum during the change.

Keep the pedals moving, but keep them light under your feet – try not to power down on the pedals whilst changing, and certainly don’t power down if you hear the chain struggling.

Of course, as you get more familiar with the bike you will get to understand how to make the perfect change – but another good tip is to always try to plan ahead.

Way too often we see people hitting climbs in high gears, only to realize that they need to drop it right down halfway on the climb.

Then they begin dropping down on the climb itself (in a bit of a panic) but find the gears don’t change in time which results in them struggling to pedal & ultimately having to get off the bike & walk the rest.

But by simply planning ahead & changing down the gears on their approach to the climb this could be quite easily avoided & instead, they’d find themselves sailing up the hill.

The Bottom Line

Should you pedal while changing gears? Yes, because if you don’t pedal whilst changing gears the gears simply won’t change. The gearing system relies on the turning of the sprockets in order to move the chain across.

If you were to attempt to change gear without pedalling, nothing would happen, and then when you did begin pedalling again you’d likely hear a “crunch” as the chain attempts to jump all the way across in one go, rather than tooth-by-tooth.

So it’s important when changing gears on a bicycle to keep pedalling through the change, but it’s also important to reduce the amount of pressure applied through the pedals during the change too.

As you get to know the bike & get a feel of how the gearing system changes you can begin applying a bit more pressure throughout the changes to maintain your speed – but to start out with, applied pressure should definitely be kept to a minimum.

Anyway, that’s a wrap for this particular question, but if you’re new to cycling & happen to have any more questions then don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below.

We’d be more than happy to help!

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