Should You Pedal While Changing Gears?

By Troy Stamps •  Updated: 01/26/19 •  8 min read

If you are new to road biking and never used a bike with gears before, you may not be sure if it’s a good idea to stop or to keep pedaling while changing gears.

Should you pedal while changing gears?

The chainrings and cogs on a bike have teeth that assist in moving the chain up and down the cogs or gears. It is imperative that you pedal in order to engage the gears and allow them to shift. The parts that make the bike move such as the chainring and gears are designed to work properly when moving forward.

Even if you’re not completely new to riding with a geared bike, it is still important to know when to pedal when changing gears as well as becoming familiar with different gear shifter types. You will not be able to shift gears at all if you completely stop pedaling.

Don’t worry, in this article I will not bore you to death explaining what gears are and how they work but you will find this article to be informative and may help you become more efficient at riding.

Pedaling While Changing Gears

While pedaling a bike and shifting gears, it’s always important to be moving forward.

Cyclists who coast will not be able to engage the chain on the gears to enable shifting. It is also true that backpedaling will not allow the chain to move up or down the gears while shifting and can actually damage your gears.

Whenever you get ready to shift you want to position your pedal stroke over the top and right at the 3 o’clock position.

As you pedal down from the 3 o’clock position, ease off on the pressure. Right as you pedal up from the 6 o’clock position shift gears, and after the chain locks in you can then apply normal pressure in your stroke.

Practicing this technique changing gears while in sync with your pedal stroke will take some getting used to. But if you do it this way you will shift gears on the bike smoothly and your chain and gears will last longer.

Should You Pedal While Changing Gears Uphill?

Many cyclists will tell you that you should not change gears while cycling uphill, but there may come a time where you might have to.

You must pedal while changing gears going uphill or anytime you need to change gears.

The key to changing gears while cycling up a hill is to reduce the amount of tension on the chain when shifting to an easier gear. Bikes do not like to shift gears under heavy tension.

Hesitate on the pedaling pressure but don’t stop pedaling. Shift gears and allow the chain to set in place before continuing to pedal.

Some cyclists stand up on the pedals smashing up hills. They even change gears on either the front or rear gears.

But don’t be that guy. This is the best way to ruin your gears and chain, which will start to slip over time.

When cycling up hills, don’t try to shift the chain on a front chainring into a lower gear. This can cause the chain to break or mess up the derailer.

The more experience you get cycling up hills, you’ll learn to shift into a lower gear before approaching the hill.

The same is also true, that with experience you will know when to change into a different gear when going downhill.

Should You Pedal While Changing Gears Downhill?

Cycling downhill is one of the most fun and exciting things to do. It is the reward after tackling a steep hill. But some may question whether or not they should pedal while changing gears downhill.

Even though your bike will coast with ease and with little tension downhill, you will still need to pedal in order to change gears.

Some cyclists prefer to continue pedaling downhill to either go faster or keep their momentum.

Changing your gears while going downhill may be the easiest thing to and your gears will be less likely to be under tension during this time.

It’s still important to be in the right gear if you will be changing gears.

For one thing, if you change into high gears while pedaling downhill, you will spin out of control and risk slipping the chain in your derailleur.

When riding downhill, it’s better to use your front chainring in the highest gear and a range of gears in the rear.

Riding in the higher gear upfront will cause you to put more force on the pedals but will keep you from spinning out and slipping your chain.

Why Cross-Chaining Is Bad For Gears

Cross-chaining is when you ride on the big chainring in the front and the big cog in the rear. This would also include riding with the small chainring in the front and the small cog in the back.

Geared bikes ride more efficiently when the chain-line is positioned straighter which allows free motion and less friction.

Cross-gearing on a bike can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the chainring and rear cassette. In extreme cases, you can break the chain with the extra friction and compromise the gear shifting.

It’s best to avoid making it a practice cross-chaining as this will shorten the life of your chainring and gears over time.

There are times where cross-chaining may happen unintentionally and for most cyclists, this will not damage the gears. But if you cycle competitively in races, proceed with caution.

In a race where cyclists are shifting gears and putting out quick bursts of energy on the pedals, one can break a chain or get it bent up in the chainstay cross-chaining.

For more efficient shifting, it’s better to shift the chain to a big chainring in the front and a smaller cog in the rear.

Some cyclists may prefer to ride in the small chainring in the front and toggle between varying gears in the back. It will be your personal choice which gears you will ride since only you will know your comfort level and flow.

Do You Have To Pedal With An Electric Bike

If you haven’t realized it by now, electric (often called e-bikes) or pedal-assist bikes are among the most popular bikes for commuters within urban cities.

Some e-bikes come with a throttle and or pedal-assist or both. Depending on what your e-bike is equipped with you may have to pedal still.

E-bikes that are equipped with a throttle have the option of moving using only the throttle and not pedaling. While e-bikes with pedal assist still require you to pedal but you get an added boost in your pedal stroke.

Then in some cases, you’ll have an e-bike with the pedal assist that allows you to pedal and get an extra boost twisting the throttle. One caveat is that most e-bikes with both features don’t allow the throttle and pedal-assist to work exactly at the same time.

In conclusion, whether you have a mechanical bike or an e-bike, you will have to pedal to keep the bike rolling.

These bikes are geared by a chain and unless you have a full-throttle e-bike you will still have to do most of the pedaling yourself.

Related Questions

How do I fix the rattling sound when shifting front gears on my bike?

This rattling sound is what you call “chain rub”. This might be as simple as adjusting your front derailleur limit screw. But you will have to visually check to see if the chain is actually rubbing the derailer or if it’s something else. If in doubt as to what’s causing the noise then take it to the nearest bike shop for an adjustment.

Can I shift both the front and the back gears at the same time on a bike?

It has been said that you can shift both the front and rear gears at the same time but it is not advised. When you change gears like that, the chain loses tension. In order to shift efficiently, the chain needs tension to do so. You also want to be mindful not to place too much tension on the chain while shifting as this can cause damage. Lastly, as it was mentioned earlier in this article, you also want to avoid cross-chaining. This type of gear shifting can cause that and with the right amount of force, you’ll end up with a snapped or derailed chain.

Why does my bike change gears at random?

Oftentimes, random gear shifting or “ghost-shifting” becomes problematic with brand new bikes. This problem can be one of two things. Either your derailleur is out of adjustment or you have a bent derailleur. If your problem is the former, this can sometimes be fixed without having to go to a local bike shop. You can adjust the barrel adjuster located under the shifter near your handlebars or on the rear derailleur itself. If you’re still having problems, then it would be advised to have a local bike shop take a look at it.

Troy Stamps

Troy Stamps is an avid cyclist based out of California. Road cycling is his passion which he's been doing his whole life and he has even competed in some local races. He loves getting new people into the sport and teaching them how to change their life through cycling.

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