Now that you’ve got your helmet, your frame and your wet weather gear, you’ll want to be picking your gear-set for your bike. You might go with what you’re given, or you might want to customise.
Gears make ALL the difference to your energy expenditure. If you’re planning a long ride, or a run afterwards, you want to save your legs as much as possible. So here’s the low down!
Gear Geek Corner
If you want to read all about it you can try this. Or you can follow our random ramble through the gears:
You might decide it’s all a bit complex. You want to keep things simple and you don’t go up or downhill much. You can get a bike with only one gear ratio. You can have a “single-speed” bike where you can freewheel or you can have a single-speed bike with a fixed gear. Fixed gear bikes (fixies) are “bang on trend” (as Cosmo would have it) with cute colours, retro styling and a subculture of reckless speed and perversity: you can’t coast so you have to keep pedalling (thus getting faster!), some people don’t even add brakes they just slowly stop pedalling/skip or skid to a stop. If you go uphill you work harder.
Recommended for – hipster wannabes
Not recommended for – the Lake district
This is what you will commonly find on a road bike. You can have multiple sprockets on the back (3-11) and up to three chain rings on the front to give you from 3 to 33 gear ratios. Why do you want that? So that if you cycle uphill the gears take the hard work out of your legs. Like driving your car you change down to go uphill and “spin” your legs around faster but more easily and when you’re zooming downhill you can “change up” and get more power through your legs to make the bike go faster and faster.
Recommended for – long journeys and hills
Not recommended for – the easily confused 😉
Assuming you’ve gone for a derailleur system you need to learn how and when to change gears. Some of it is a matter of preference, some is common sense. It’s easy to push the pedals round when the front cog is small and the back cog is large – it will slow you down but get you up a hill easily. If both are medium sized you can roll along a flat road feeling a nice power transition and pedalling smoothly. If you get a big front cog and small back you are working harder, but going faster.
So for a short to medium undulating ride you want to be in a middle gear on the flat, change down in advance of any hills and change up at the top to whizz down.
But some people going for 60+ miles like to “spin” their legs all the time at a high cadence (rate of pedalling) and a low gear. This saves the quads from working too hard & “feeling the burn” so you can endure the long ride.
You’ve got two choices. Sit down and spin or stand up & mash. (or a bit of both?!)
Sit down & spin: the theory is that sitting down keeps your weight evenly distributed over the front and back wheel keeping contact with the road evenly spreading the friction and being more aerodynamic. Also, bodyweight supported by the saddle = less energy expended. You change down to a low gear at the bottom of the hill and spin your legs with a fast cadence allowing you to persevere up any hill.
proponents – Chris Froome, heavyweights
Stand up and mash: also known as “dancing on the pedals”, but I guess that’s a matter of framing! This is where you stay in a higher gear and stand up and even start to rock the bike underneath you as you climb with a slower cadence. Harder work on the quads but potentially less strain on your back and allows you to use more muscles to power up the hill. Less aerodynamic.
proponents – Alberto Contador, flyweights
A bit of both: probably the best thing to do is start seated in a low gear and slowly get up the hill. As you reach the top and know you’ve got some “oomph” left in you and it gets steeper than 10% you might want to stand up and push the last little bit.