Shifting Technique: Training Intuition

Sep 14, 2012

Today, we are excited to introduce Patrick Finley, Adventure Cycling's sales specialist as the newest addition to our blog family. Patrick will be revitalizing the popular Touring Gear and Tips column. You can expect to see Patrick's posts on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. 

As we roll in to the waning of the warm, I wanted to take the time to review some basic, but often overlooked, elements of shift/pedal technique.  These tips should help maximize one's efficiency while minimizing discomfort and mechanical discord.

1. Shoot for 90 revolutions per minute (RPM): Computers with a cadence function will give you a number; otherwise, I encourage finding a song that's about 90 RPM and that won't drive you crazy. In the above example, my cranks would be making one complete rotation per quarter note (What's a quarter note? Ask your musician friend).

2. Better to be too low, too soon: Shift before you need to on climbs, and after you think you should when shifting to a harder/higher gear.  Hills can be your friend if you can learn to anticipate the changing grade.  Shifting "too soon" allows one to settle in to the proper cadence from spinning "too fast," rather than trying to regain momentum whilst gaining altitude.  Conversely, "revving" your cadence before shifting to the higher gear will allow one to more quickly regain the ideal cadence.

3. Clean and lube the chain once weekly or every five rides: Your drivetrain will last longer and perform better. Ask at your local bike shop for recommendations on a lube that suits the climate and riding conditions.

4. Don't wait to make the big shift: Your front derailer will do its job more consistently if it is activated before you have reached the extremes in your rear cogs. It will also perform more successfully if not under load. Cross-chaining, or running a less-than-ideal chainline, is acceptable to set up a series of rear derailer shifts to lower gears as the grade increases.

5. One shift to rule them all: Those rear derailer shifts to a lower gear are the one shift that is virtually guaranteed to actuate consistently under load. Make this the shift that you can count on to be there for you when you need it.

6. Feathering the pedals: All shifts should be executed while rotating the cranks without excessive pressure for best performance.

7. Smack the shifters: Actuate the shift not by gingerly fondling the shifter but with a firm, decisive motion.

8. Downshift when approaching a potential stop: Ever try to shift out of the big ring standing still? Put yourself in a better situation to accelerate from a stop, or regain momentum by shifting down one (or two) chainring(s) or a handful of rear shifts.

9. Smile: It's contagious as well as effective buzz marketing.

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TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is brought to you on Fridays by Patrick Finley, Adventure Cycling's shipping specialist and sales-savvy savant. It appears intermittently on Friday afternoons, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.

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