How to Use Gears on a Mountain Bike

Mountain biking is an exhilarating and challenging outdoor activity that requires physical fitness and technical skills. One crucial aspect of mountain biking is the proper use of gears. Gears allow you to adjust the resistance on your pedals and help you maintain a steady speed while riding on various terrains.

However, if you’re new to mountain biking or haven’t ridden a bike with gears before, it can be confusing and overwhelming to figure out which gears to use and when. This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of how to use gears on a mountain bike, including understanding gear ratios, when to shift, and how to shift smoothly and efficiently. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to easily navigate any terrain and maximize your performance on your mountain bike.

How do Mountain Bike Gears Work?

Mountain bike gears combine chainrings (on the front crankset) and cogs (on the rear cassette) to provide different gear ratios. These gear ratios allow the rider to adjust the effort required to pedal the bike, making it easier or harder to climb hills, ride on flat terrain, or go faster on descents.

The number of chainrings and cogs can vary depending on the specific mountain bike setup, but most modern mountain bikes have between 1 and 3 chainrings on the front and between 9 and 12 cogs on the rear cassette.

When the rider shifts gears using the shifters located on the handlebars, the derailleurs (the mechanisms that move the chain from one chainring or cog to another) move the chain to a different gear ratio. Shifting to a smaller chainring or larger cog results in an easier gear, while shifting to a larger chainring or smaller cog results in a harder gear.

It’s important to note that the gear ratios on a mountain bike are not linear. Each gear ratio represents a certain percentage increase or decrease in pedal effort compared to the previous gear. For example, shifting from one gear to the next might result in a 10% increase in pedal effort, while shifting to another gear might result in a 20% increase. This allows the rider to fine-tune their effort to match the terrain and their personal preferences.

How to Use Gears on Mountain Bike

On a mountain bike, changing between various gear ratios adjusts the amount of work needed to peddle the bike. The fundamentals of using gears on a mountain bike are as follows:

Start in Comfortable Gear

Before you pedal, ensure you are in a relaxed gear that makes it easy for you to do so. Often, this entails putting the rear cassette in the middle cog and utilizing a medium chainring.

Shift Up and Down as Needed

Usually, on a mountain bike with flat bars, you use a set paddle with your thumb to change the gears. Some bicycles have “grip shifters,” which are dials that are situated inside the area where your hands rest. You switch gears on these systems by moving the dial forward and backward.

You can shift up or down by using the shifters on your handlebars as you meet changes in the terrain or need to modify your effort. Shifting up entails switching to a larger chainring or smaller cog, which makes pedaling more difficult but increases your speed. A smaller chainring or a larger gear makes pedaling easier but slows you down when you shift down.

Your shifters are attached to a cable that is housed in a housing for protection. The cable tightens and relaxes as you shift through the gears, exerting more or less effort on the derailleur to move your chain up and down on the cassette or chainrings.

Anticipate Changes in Terrain

Be prepared to change gears as you approach hills or descents. To avoid shifting under a high load, for instance, choose a lower gear before you begin ascending a hill you can see coming ahead.

Avoid Cross-Chaining

Using the largest chainring with the largest cog or the smallest chainring with the smallest cog is known as cross-chaining. This puts the chain at an excessive angle, creating unnecessary wear on the powertrain and contributing to poor shifting performance. Use the middle chainring for most of your riding and only switch to the small or large chainring when absolutely essential to prevent cross-chaining.

Practice Shifting

Mountain bike gear shifting requires practice, so spend some time learning how your bike responds to various gear ratios. Try various chainring and cog combinations to find the best gear for the terrain and your riding style.

Which Gear to Use on a Mountain Bike

The terrain will determine exactly what gear you need to use. More time will be spent in low gear if there is a lot of climbing. Conversely, downhill or flat areas will require higher gears.

This is basically just a generic remark, as you can see. What works for some riders may not be effective for you because each rider has a different degree of fitness and preferred cadence.

Even though you’ll probably develop a favored cadence, most of this is ignored on tricky terrain. You won’t be thinking about pedaling effectively at this time. All of your attention will be on securely navigating the obstacle.

Common Gear Configurations

One or two front chainrings are modern mountain bikes’ most typical gear arrangements. One-by or “1x” bikes are described as having a single front chainring. The term “2x” is used to refer to bicycles with two front chainrings.

Three front chainrings were a common feature of older mountain bikes, but one-by and two-by setups have generally replaced these. Three chainrings are generally unnecessary for mountain biking, not that there is anything wrong with them.


In conclusion, mountain cyclists must become adept at shifting if they want to increase their performance and enjoyment on the route. When riding a mountain bike, knowing how the gears work, how to utilize them, and when to shift will help you get around any terrain and save energy on lengthy rides. To select the optimal gear for your riding style, keep in mind to start in comfortable gear, shift up and down as necessary, anticipate changes in the terrain, avoid cross-chaining, and practice shifting. You’ll be well on your way to mastering mountain biking with these pointers and some practice.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *