Getting familiar with your cadence and gearing is important. Cyclists typically have a cadence at which they feel most comfortable, is most efficient, and maintains less stress on the body.
The gears on multi-speed bicycles let you choose different pedaling rates or cadences. Spinning in a gear that is too low (a.k.a, spinning your legs too fast) is tiring and makes for a choppy ride; pushing a gear that is too high (muscling through each pedal stroke) is a primary cause of knee problems and the major reason people must stop cycling on a tour. Skillful cyclists use a brisk, steady cadence, employing the various gears to maintain a constant, comfortable cadence over varying terrain.
Any time you feel the slightest twinge of pain in your knees, stop riding. Check saddle height and position to see if an improper adjustment is causing strain on your knees. When you resume riding, check your cadence.
These cadence and shifting tips should help you maximize efficiency while minimizing discomfort and mechanical discord.
Most experts recommend pedaling at a cadence of around 70-90 revolutions per minute (RPM). That means, for example, one foot completes 80 full rotations in a minute. Bicycle computers with a cadence function will count your cadence for you. If you don’t have one of these computers, determining cadence takes a little math but is easy enough.
Whether you’re on a training ride or in the middle of a tour, count your cadence at different times in the day’s ride to determine when you’re too slow or too fast. Maintaining a good cadence will save you energy and keep your knees happy. Eventually, you’ll get a natural feel for your perfect cadence.
Before you start climbing a hill or feel the strain of the incline, shift to a lower gear (easier pedaling). Shifting "too soon" allows you to settle into the proper cadence once you start climbing, rather than forcing you to regain momentum while gaining altitude. Conversely, "revving" your cadence before shifting to the higher gear will allow you to more quickly regain the ideal cadence.
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 you soft-pedal (pedal without force) during the shift. Cross-chaining, or putting your chain at an extreme angle across the cassette, is acceptable to set up a series of rear derailer shifts to lower gears as the road gets steeper.
Then put on your reading helmet.
For best shifting performance, shift while pedaling but not while pedaling with a lot of pressure. It’s just harder for the mechanisms to complete the shift if you’re cranking on the pedals. However, when your bike is loaded and heavy, you can count on one shift to work consistently: shifting to a lower gear on the rear derailer. Why? Physics.
Well, maybe don’t smack them. But apply a solid follow-through on the shifting paddle when you want to shift.
Ever try to get a loaded bike going again at a four-way stop when your bike isn’t in a low gear? It’s hard and makes you feel silly. Do yourself a favor and get in the habit of downshifting before stopping.
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 of your trip.