What Gear Should I Ride My Bike In?

How to Use Bicycle Gears

Are you ever told that your bike gear is too big or too small? It can be tough to understand the cycling jargon around bike development, sprockets, chainrings, and gears, especially if you’re new to cycling or not a pro. But fear not! I’m here to help demystify this language without any fuss.

Do you know which development to use for a flat course or a hill climb? What does it mean to “roll on the plate?” If you want to find the right bike development and stop getting teased by your friends, then let’s dive into all the cycling terms related to bike gears and developments.

how to use gears on a bike for beginners


If you’re interested in the different systems involved in the transmission of a bicycle, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s an overview of the mechanisms needed to move your bike forward.

The chainring: the notched disc at the front of the crankset

First up is the chainring, which is a notched disc located at the front of the crankset. The large-toothed wheel, called a plate, is situated at the level of the pedals and serves as the link between the pedals and the chain. When you pedal, the force drives the chain through the teeth of the chainring.

The number of teeth on a chainring can vary, with most having between 30 and 52 teeth. The rule is that the smallest notched disc, with the lowest number of teeth, is always on the frame side. A larger chainring allows you to pedal harder with a lower cadence, while a smaller chainring makes pedaling easier but requires a higher pedaling frequency.

If you want to be comfortable on all terrains, you may want to consider a triple chainring. This system comprises a small chainring of 30 teeth, an intermediate chainring of 38 or 40 teeth, and a large chainring with 48, 50, or 52 teeth. This setup provides various combinations, such as 52/40/30 or 48/38/30, for example.

Road bikes with 3 chainrings are becoming less common as manufacturers seek to make bikes lighter. Racing cycles are seeing their 3 chainrings eliminated, especially with the appearance of compact cranksets and 11 or 12-speed cassettes.

The double chainring is the configuration of road bikes, which typically have two chainrings of different sizes. When you buy a new road bike, it often comes equipped with a set of 53/39 (53 teeth for the large chainring and 39 teeth for the small) or 53/38 chainrings. However, you can change the chainrings to adapt to your practice, such as 52/42 for planes or 50/38 for mountain terrain. Use the large chainring on flat terrain and the small chainring for uneven ground.

If you want a good compromise, consider compact chainrings that allow for small chainrings with less than 38 teeth, unlike the standard double chainring. There are two categories of compact Shimano or Campagnolo cranksets: mid-compact in 52/36 or compact in 50/34, and for the strong ones in 53/39. Sram compact cranksets are also available in 46/33, 48/35, or 50/37. Gravel bikes are starting to come equipped with Shimano GRX in 46/30.

If you’re looking for simplicity and lightweight, the mono plateau, which uses a single chainring, may be ideal for technical terrain. Cyclocross has adopted this type of crankset, and it can be found on gravel, cyclocross, and some road bikes. The chainring typically has 38 to 46 teeth, providing less development readily available at equivalent gears.

what bike gear to use on flat road
The Rear Cassette: A Toothed Wheel Connected to the Back Wheel

In cycling, gears aren’t complete without mentioning the rear cassette. The rear cassette functions similarly to the chainring, but instead of being located at the front of the bike, it is connected to the back wheel. The cassette’s toothed wheel rotates the wheel via the chain, which runs through its teeth.

Rear cassettes come in different sizes, with a number of teeth ranging from 11 to 30 teeth (starting at 10 for SRAM).

Why would you want a cassette with more teeth? It’s because it takes less effort to turn the wheel…

When the cassette is twice the size of the chainring, a single pedal stroke rotates the wheel halfway. This means you will travel further with each pedal stroke.

Conversely, when the cassette is half the size of the chainring, one pedal stroke rotates the cassette and the wheel twice. This means you’ll have to pedal harder, but the wheel will travel a greater distance with each rotation.

The Bike Cassette: Understanding the Gears at the Rear Wheel

When we talk about bike gears, we can’t ignore the bike cassette. It’s the set of gears located at the rear wheel that consists of different-sized discs.

Unlike the chainring, the largest disc of the cassette is placed against the wheel, which requires more effort to rotate. A typical bike cassette has between 7 and 12 sprockets, with each sprocket corresponding to a different speed.

However, keep in mind that the more sprockets a cassette has, the more strain it puts on the chain. Nowadays, with a single chainring crankset, you can find cassettes with 11 or 12 speeds to achieve a wide range of gearing options. These cassettes have a large amplitude, such as 11/50 (10/52 at Sram).

To identify a bicycle cassette, you should look at the number of teeth of the extreme sprockets. For example, if a cassette is labeled 12/25, it means that the small outer sprocket has 12 teeth and the large inner sprocket has 25 teeth. These extreme gears are referred to as “toothing.”

Single chainring transmissions often use cassettes with 50 teeth, making them easy to identify. Overall, understanding the bike cassette is crucial in selecting the right gearing options for your riding needs.

The Chainring and Sprocket Teeth: Components for Pedal Movement

The teeth on the chainrings and sprockets are what enable the chain to transfer the force from pedaling. The number of teeth on the discs corresponds to their size, meaning that larger discs have more teeth (it makes sense!).

The bicycle chain transfers power

The bicycle chain links the chainrings and sprockets, and converts the pedaling motion into movement of the rear wheel. It’s an essential component that directly affects the bike’s performance. Due to its constant use, the chain undergoes wear and tear, and it’s recommended to replace it every 5000 km to ensure optimum efficiency.

Shifting Gears with Derailleurs

A bicycle derailleur is a mechanism used to change gears. It allows the chain to move and align with the appropriate gear on the cassette or chainring. Gear shifting typically occurs at the top or bottom of the chainring teeth.

There are two types of derailleurs: front and rear. The front derailleur shifts the chain between the chainrings using the chain tension generated by pedaling. You can switch between the smaller and larger chainring using the lever or left handlebar located on the handlebars.

The rear derailleur, on the other hand, adjusts the chain tension using a spring to prevent the chain from slipping off. It also varies the power of the gears. To shift gears with the rear derailleur, use the lever or the right handlebar on the bike frame.

The Crankset: The Front Part of Bike’s Transmission

The bike’s transmission is composed of several elements, which together are called the crankset. The crankset consists of the cranks, which are located between the pedals and the crank axle, the chainring attachment that has stars with 4 to 5 branches, the cranks, and the thru-axle of the crankset, which is also called the bottom bracket.

The bicycle transmission group: all the parts

The complete bicycle transmission group includes several components, including:

Bottom bracket
Gear shifters
Front and rear derailleurs
Brake levers

Groupsets are exclusively designed by Shimano, Sram, and Campagnolo. You can find both mechanical and electronic transmissions.

21 speed bike gears explained


If you’re ready to move beyond the basics, let’s talk about how to find the right gear for your bike.

Understanding the Chainring/Pinion Ratio

As a beginner, it’s important to understand the gear ratio, which is the number of teeth on the two discs (chainring and pinion) where the chain is positioned. The gear ratio is represented by two numbers: the first number is the number of teeth on the chainring and the second number is the number of teeth on the pinion. To calculate the gear ratio, simply divide the number of chainring teeth by the number of pinion teeth. For example, if someone rode a “50 × 11”, it means that they rode with a 50-tooth chainring and an 11-tooth sprocket.

Calculating Bike Development

When we talk about bike development, we calculate the distance covered in one turn of the pedals for a given gear. To calculate the bike development, you can use the Bicycle Gear Calculator simulator, which allows you to define the development of the bike based on your pedaling cadence and the circumference of the wheel. Alternatively, you can use the formula: Development (in m/rev) = wheel circumference x gear.

Finding Your Cadence

To find the right gear, you must start from the pedaling frequency or cadence. For an easy ride on flat terrain, aim for a medium frequency that allows you to move forward without tiring yourself, around 80-85 revolutions per minute. Going uphill, aim for a cadence of 50 to 65 rpm instead. The lower your cadence, the harder you force, so adjust your gear accordingly. Similarly, if you “reel” too much, which means turning your legs too much in a minute, you may not be able to keep up with the pace for a long time.

Adapting Your Effort with Gear Change

When you change gears, you change the ratio between the chainring and the gears. You will change gears more easily than chainrings. To maintain a regular effort, you should change gears when the effort becomes too difficult or too easy. It’s easier to lower the gears to gain ease by climbing on higher gears.

You should anticipate gear changes before a climb. If you are on a too big development in the full hill, it is difficult to change chainrings or sprockets because of the chain tension. You must release the tension of the chain during the gear change before attacking the climb.

To spare your chain, you should avoid contradictory ratios between small chainring/small sprocket or large chainring/large sprocket. The angle between the chain and the teeth of the discs is too great, so avoid too much chain crossing. This is called “crossing the chain” and it’s not the most efficient way to ride.

understanding bike gears


Now that you understand how the bicycle gear system works, you can impress your friends or significant other with these expressions related to gear changes.

High Gear and Small Gear:

Large gear refers to the configuration that allows you to cover a longer distance with one turn of the pedals. On a double platform, you can roll on the large platform when riding on flat terrain and modulate your speed by changing gears. If you switch to a small cog, you can ride faster.

Force Gears:

When referring to big developments, common expressions include:

Large Ratio: A large ratio between chainring and pinion, which allows for more distance to be achieved in one revolution of the pedal.
Put on the Gear: Find the gear that allows you to cover more distance with your pedaling.
Go up on the Plate/Put the Plate: Move to the large chainring.
Place the Large Saucer: Move to the large chainring.
Put all the Way to the Right: Pedal with a large chainring/small sprocket, which allows you to go fast or downhill by forcing more.
Take a Huge Gear: Same as “far-right.”
Take Big: Same as “all on the right.”
Lower the Teeth: Same as “putting everything to the right,” which allows you to force more.
Ease Gears:

If you want to make your pedaling easier, you can try these expressions:

Small Gear: Refers to the small chainring/pinion ratio, which drives you forward over short distances.
Put a Gear for Asthma: Refers to putting a very small gear.
Set All to the Left: Refers to driving with a small chainring/large sprocket ratio, which allows you to gain ease, particularly uphill.
Fit the Teeth: Same as “putting everything to the left.”
Put it Small: Same as “fit the teeth.”
Turn the Legs: Move forward with ease to relax the muscles.
Mouline: When you stay on a too-small development and your legs turn too fast.
Knit: Same as mouline.

In summary, changing the bike gear according to your course or capacity depends on whether you want to pedal hard or with ease. You can use the gear to find the ideal development that suits your needs. The bicycle gear that solicits the discs on the side of the frame makes you move more slowly but more easily, while those located on the outside make you ride faster and more powerfully.

Hi, I’m Jason Tie

I have been passionate about electric scooters and bicycles since they came on the market, but I really took to skateboarding when I was young.

I started with the skateboard at 7 years old when my dad taught me how to ride. Since then, I have mostly owned freestyle skates and longboards- even if they were difficult for some people in our town.

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