Bike Gears 101: All About Bicycle Gears and Shifting

It’s easy to get confused about bike gears and their terminology. And because of the confusing names and placement, road bike shifting 101 doesn’t seem easy either.

So, to help with all the confusing gears and their purposes, today we’ll be going down to the basics with our bike gears 101 guide.

From their names, their functions, and even how to use them, our road bike gears 101 manual will prepare you with all the gear information you need.

That being said, let’s get started on our bicycle gears 101 course!

Bicycle Gears 101

The vocabulary that comes with learning about bike gears is one of the main problems when trying to understand how the gear system actually works.

There’s a plethora of terms to learn when going on with bike gear jargon such as low, high, small, big, fast, slow, rear, front, one-by, and so on.

These terms make bike gears 101 a challenging course to pass. But, worry not because we’re going to break down all these terms for you to comprehend them easily.

The Low Gear

Low gears are commonly referred to as the easiest of all gears. You mostly utilize the first gear when climbing up a height.

This gear is actually the smallest of the chainrings and is connected to the largest cog at the rear cassette.

Pedaling is the easiest in this gear with less restrictive forces and the least amount of energy needed to push on the pedals. Downshifting is the term coined for switching from higher gears to low gear.

The High Gear

High gear is called the “harder” gears to master.

Used when sprinting or descending through a height, the high gear comprises the most massive chainring at the front of the mechanism as well as the smallest cog at the rear end.

Pedaling is difficult in this gear due to the amount of force exertion the gears require whilst pushing the pedals. If you shift from low gear to high gear, then that would be called upshifting.

One-By, Two-By, Three-By (1x,2x,3x)

This is where the gear naming system gets confusing. The total number of chainrings present at the bike front are called one-by, two-by, or three-by according to their order.

With the evolution of the cycling industry, three-by has become the standard for all road bikes. However, you can see two-bys in road bikes as well, and one-by is exclusively seen in mountain bikes.

A wider variety of gears can be introduced if the size, as well as the range, is maximized for the rear cassette.

If you take our chainrings from the Schwinn bicycle, you will see that the frictional stress decreases and creates a way more efficient mechanism.

The Bike Speed

Nike speed is characterized by 7, 18, 21-speed terminology. But what exactly do the numbers on these gears represent in these speed names?

The number is actually the number of cogs on the rear end multiplied by the number of chainrings at the front.

So, if your bike happens to have 21-speed that means that there may be 2 chainrings at the front alongside 11 cogs at the rear end.

Nowadays, bikes aren’t commonly referred to by these speed names as the popularity of the 1x, 2x, 3x terminology takes over.

The takeaway from this system is that the number of gears doesn’t determine the quality of your bike or its efficiency.

Tips to Remember

Now that we have the basic naming system down, here are three tips that you should stick to when you’re trying to learn and use the bicycling vocabulary.

Remember Your Numerology

The numbers you find on your handlebar are incredibly important when deciding the speed and the descend or ascend rate of your bicycle.

If you happen to have a 21-speed bicycle, then the left lever will have the numbers 1 to 3 and the right lever will have the numbers listed from 1 to 7.

The left lever controls the chainrings at the front whereas the right lever controls the cogs on the rear end.

These can impact how easy or hard the pedaling is for the bike and help you make adjustments according to the terrain you wish to follow.

The Perfect Combinations 

If you’re climbing up steep hills, then the low gear is your best friend. Pair the low gear with 1 on the left and 1 to 4 on the right side, and you’ll have a seamless experience ascending.

Similarly, if you feel like the pedaling is too easy for you and isn’t pushing you harder, then go for higher gears. A high gear with a 3 on the left and 4 through 7 on the right side will help you achieve a faster speed.

If you’re someone using the bike for everyday biking then sticking to the middle gear is the best route to take. You can easily tweak the speeds to match the terrain of the area you’re cycling through.

Shifting is Vital 

Just like you would shift gears in a manual car, try to shift the gears beforehand. This will help you adapt to the speed according to the area and the turns you’ll be taking.

Shifting too often is actually a good thing and trains your mind to quickly shift between gears and speeds according to the area and the type of biking you’re partaking in.

Efficient Shifting

Shifting is an excellent way to remain active on the bicycles and adapt efficiently.

When cycling with gears, the aim is to maintain a consistent tempo while getting the most out of your power input. This can easily be obtained by using the right gears at the right time.


We hope that through our bike gears 101 crash course, you’ve learned the basic terminology and techniques for bike gears and using them efficiently.

With consistent practice and testing out new methods, you can soon become an expert on the world of bike gears.

Happy biking!

Shailen Vandeyar

A proud Indian origin Kiwi who loves to plant trees and play with my pet bunny when not out doing about every kind of biking and experiencing the occasional tumble. Ready to share the ride with you.

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