Gear guides: how to get the most out of your bike gears

This is a guest post from Yellow Jersey. Yellow Jersey offer bicycle insurance to protect your equipment and travel insurance to cover medical mishaps while cycling overseas. Head to to find out more.

We often admire the essential simplicity of our bicycles. Whether carbon road racer or steel gravel steed, most bikes share a similar blueprint that has then been dialed in over time to meet your specific use. Hop on, push the peddles, and off you go. One area that can seem a bike more complicated is gearing – all those ratios, numbers, and moving parts. A few simple tips on gearing can improve your efficiency on the bike and make sure you’re treating your gears right.

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Keep pedalling!

It might feel like you’re getting a better workout to sprint and then coast, maxing out your power. But, for more sustained power and endurance it is much more efficient to keep a constant, steady power . Try shifting to a lighter gear and feel the difference.

Spinning your legs light and fast shifts the load to your cardio-vascular system (which can build longer term stamina) while saving your muscular power for when you need an extra boost of speed (like that final sprint or a steep climb).

Sit and spin or time to open the taps and go for it? You decide!

Once you’re making the most of your pedal stroke for efficient power output, the next bit of common sense can preserve your energy even more…

Anticipate your shifts

Keep an eye on the road ahead and shift before you have to. You’ll maintain a smoother power output and be well prepared for variations in the gradient, surface or any obstacles that are coming up.

If you can pick shifts before you need them you will be taking stress off the drivetrain – think about trying to change gear on a steep hill when you’re pushing hard compared to on the flat. This will make your shifts smoother and avoids unnecessary strain on your components.

Look ahead and judge your gear for the next turn, obstacle, or hill.

On the commute, or riding through urban areas? Anticipating gear shifts before a red light or stop sign means you’re ready to get going again, and might also help you notice when to ease off your speed rather than braking at the last minute – better for your brake pads and cables as well!

Avoid ‘cross-chaining’

Cross-chaining is when you have a little/little or big/big combination between your front ring and your back ring, e.g. sitting in the big ring on the front and changing to the easiest (and biggest) gears on your rear cassette. This means your chain may not be running perfectly straight, putting stress on the drivetrain and causing premature wear of the components.  

Often you might find yourself on a small climb staying in the big ring and ending up cross-chained – and it’s OK occasionally. Try to avoid this when possible. A good rule of thumb to follow is that when on the big ring, only use the smaller two-thirds of the cassette.  When on the inner (or middle) ring, only use the inner two-thirds.  When in ‘granny gear’ limit yourself to the largest two or three cogs.

Happy gears = happy riders! (it also helps if you keep them clean…)
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

If these tips have got you thinking more about your gears, check out Yellow Jersey’s full guide to bike gears and how to choose the best ratio for your bike. Head to to find out more.

Cover photo by Wayne Bishop on Unsplash.
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