Most people understand what cadence is but for those unsure cadence is simply the amount of times your legs spin per minute, pedalling rate or rpm. Cadence can be affected by climbing, descending, accelerating, stopping and so on. Gear selection also dictates your speed and cadence so getting in the right gear is crucial to both maintaining a steady speed, climbing hills, and racing. Simply put your low gears are for going uphill, riding on difficult terrain, getting started and accelerating and your high gears are for riding downhill and going fast.
Bikes are fitted with front and rear gears. The front mech or chain-set will have between one and three rings. The little one will be for easier and slower gears and the larger harder and faster. The rear cassette will have large variation of cogs depending on your bike. The smallest cog is your fastest and hardest and the biggest is the easiest and slowest. In the newer group-sets you can use the largest front ring with the largest rear cog and vice verse but in older bikes this won’t be possible and you might hear chain rub in this gear selection. The fastest gear on your bike is the largest ring on the front with the smallest on the back, and the easiest is the opposite.
One crucial thing to remember when cycling is to prepare to change gear before you get to the change in terrain. For example, if you’re heading towards a steep hill you will need to get onto the little ring before attempting the hill. If you get caught on the hill in the wrong ring you may struggle to shift down without hearing that horrible crunching noise. The reason you get that noise is that when you shift gears you should ease off the pressure on the pedals but still continue to spin. If you get to that hill in a hard gear and your cadence drops too much you will struggle to be able to release pressure without stopping or, as written above, you will hear that crunching noise.
A few other things to remember include keep your head and eyes up, avoid looking down at the gears as this takes your attention away from the road ahead and any potential dangers. You should always shift through one gear at a time trying to do too much at once can cause you to drop your chain. This is the same when changing up or down on the front rings when you are in the opposite on the rear cassette. For example, you may drop your chain if you are in your hardest pairing and then drop to the smaller ring on the front and vice verse.
To get some practice with your gears head out and try pedalling in different gears. You will notice that you will struggle to maintain a quick cadence in harder gears while going slow. Hopefully this will enable you to understand what gears you need to start off in. This can particularly important when you need to get away quickly such as a time trial.
You will also need to learn which gears are best for you for climbing. It is important to keep your cadence up when ascending but if you drop your gears too much you won’t be going that fast. It’s a difficult balance to get right, one that requires practice, and it will differ depending on what bike you have and what gearing is on that bike.
More to gearing than first seems. Getting it right will not only save you time in a race or help you ride over varying terrain but also prolong your bike equipment. That crunching noise when you get it wrong is damaging your chain-set. Look after it now or pay for it later…