How To Shift Bike Gears: Beginners Guide

Riding your mountain bike can be fun, but once you buy elite mountain bikes, you will notice a drivetrain that makes shifting tricky as a beginner. However, you will need to understand how to shift bike gears to ride properly. It is helpful if you want to extract the full potential of the bike and reach maximum speeds.

shifting gears on a mountain bike
How To Shift Bike Gears

Since gears and shifters are difficult for some riders, we have decided to give you an introductory article that will show you how to shift bike gears on a mountain bike. The aim is to extract all that the bike has to offer. The following article will help you get a grip on the gears of your bike. It could also help you find what to look for in your next bike’s drivetrain.

Identifying the Gears on a Mountain Bike

Before you even get started, you must understand the drivetrain of your bike. Unfortunately, not every bike has the same drivetrain and many of them are more advanced than beginner options. Here is a small guide to help you understand what is what when it comes to the gears on your mountain bike:

Count The Number Of Gears

In the front part of the bike below or near the pedals, you will find rings with teeth attached. These are considered to be the front gears of the bike and they can range from one to three. The gears also vary in terms of size. This means that larger gears can be harder to ride with and put more strain on you.


At the rear of the bike, you will notice another set of rings with teeth connected to the rear tire. These are considered to be the rear gears and these are often more than the gears in the front. Many of the top bikes can have up to 10-gears at the rear of the bike. Next, you will need to multiply the front and rear gears to find out how many you have. If you have 3 in the front and 6 at the back, you will have 18 gears for the bike.

Single Speed Bikes

Not every bike has numerous gears and you will often find that commuter bikes will only have one gear. These single-speed bikes might not offer you a ton of versatility but makes life easier as a cyclist.

Overlapping Combinations

Another anomaly you will find is that many of the bikes with multiple gears have overlapping combinations. This means that front and rear gears don’t need to be perfectly lined up. IT will allow you to shift to larger gear combinations. Many road bikes like those used in the Tour De France can have up to 50 or more gears.

Understanding The Basics Of Shifting

Before you simply get on the bike and start shifting, there are a few important things that you need to understand and learn. Since we are not going to focus on high-speed shifting and the article is tailored to beginners, the following section will give you some insight into the basics of shifting gears on a mountain bike:

The Location Of Each Gear

When mounted correctly, you will find that the shifter on the left of your handlebars is for the front gears. The work of this shifter is to operate the larger rings. Once you select the left shifter, you will notice that a chain which is fixed to the front and rear gears of the bike will shift from one to the other. A small metal loop, which is called the derailleur will enforce the movement of the chain.

gear shifting
Best Shimano Shifters

On the right-hand side of your handlebar, you will have another shifter, which controls the rear gears of the bike. These gears have their derailleur, but use the same chain that is fixed to the front of the bike. Since there are many more gears at the rear, the derailleur can move much farther, but you should not jump from the biggest to the smallest gear to avoid any chain issues.

Different Gear Setups You Might Encounter

As mentioned, not every bike has the same setup and when you look at the top electric bikes, you might find that there are different gear components. Your seat dropper post might have some form of an electrical component to it, and this is also the case with some of the mountain bike gears. However, these are very rare to find.

shift gears on a mountain bike
Best Twist Shifters

It is important o make sure that the gears are mounted correctly and you will notice that the derailleur can only let the chain climb to the inside of the bike. If you mount them with the larger gears to the outside, you will not be able to use them. It is best to have some expert advice when setting up your gears to have a professional assist you.

3 Steps To Knowing When You Need To Shift

Before we dive into a few tips, you need to understand when to shift your gears. Much like you would with a manual motor vehicle, shifting at the right time can make a huge difference. It will allow you to gain more speed and power. Fortunately, there are a few basic principles that will govern the shifting process to make it easier for you.

1. Start With A Low Gear

Understanding the laws of motion can be very helpful when you get started. At first, you will notice that it is hard to pedal the bike due to the standing position you find yourself in. It gets easier as you build up some momentum. It is best to have both your shifters on the smaller gears of the bike to get you started and build this momentum.

2. Slowly Gear Up As You Gain Momentum

As you move faster, you will notice that the slower gears become too slow and your pedaling is faster than the gears allow. Generally, this is a good indication that you will need to gear up. On most bikes with 3 front gears, it is often best to be in the middle with the second gear selected on the left shifter. At the rear, you will be somewhere in the middle but can move up to higher gears as you go faster.

3. Higher Gears Lead To More Speed

It is very hard to pull away when you are in some of the higher gears. However, these gears are designed to give you more speed. As you go faster, you will want to access the third gear at the front and have the rear options follow suit. The mountain bike will travel much faster when these gears are activated, but it also makes breaking and pedaling harder.

4 Tips to Shift Bike Gears

By now, you should have a basic understanding of your drivetrain and be able to shift to the right gear. However, there are a few additional tricks that you can learn to make it easier and to enhance your experience. The following tips & tricks can be used to extrapolate the maximum potential from your drivetrain:

1. Lower Gears For Mountains

It might not make sense to have lower gears for mountains as you will need more power. However, the human body does not have an electrical motor like your car might have. Since all the power is in your legs, you might want to go slower and make pedaling easier. Yes, higher gears can get you up the mountain more rapidly, but it will completely drain your energy.

2. Shift Down When Braking

A pretty handy trick is to shift down when you are braking. If you have shifted down, you can continue to pedal and retain a little bit of speed instead of stopping dead. The bike will also brake much easier in a lower gear when you are pedaling due to less force pushing the bike forward.

3. Never Crisscross The Chain

If you have never fallen with a mountain bike, having a chain lock up on you is a sure way to do this. It is important to select gears that do not crisscross your chain to ensure that the chain does not lock up. We never recommend choosing high gears on the one end and extremely low gears on the other end as this could lock the chain.

4. Practice On Flat Areas

Last but certainly not least, you will need a little bit of practice and it is best to practice on a few of the flat areas around you. Once you have a basic understanding of the gears and how they work, you can move on to some of the harder sections of the top trails.


Understanding how to shift bike gears on a mountain bike can make the world of difference when you are new to the sport. It is easy to grasp the concepts when you have a good drivetrain and expert advice.

Remember the tips and when you need to shift up or down. Seeing ahead if you have to go uphill or downhill will be your indicator of what gears to move to. Shifting gears will get easier with practice and you will be smoothly sailing in no time.

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo… so you can pin it to your Mountain Bike Board!