22 Do’s and Don’ts – How to Shift Gears on a Mountain Bike

Learn how to shift gears on a mountain bike better with these 22 mountain bike gear shifting Do’s and Don’ts.
Practice them well and soon you’ll shift gears with more finesse and timing precision than ever before. That will help you adapt to changes in the trail more easily, overcome obstacles with less gear shifting fuss, and hold more momentum to mountain bike faster for less effort.

1. Don’t wait for pedaling to become difficult up a climb before shifting to an easier gear
2. Do anticipate the terrain and shift to an easier gear just before you need it so that the shift is smoother and your momentum loss is minimized (see trail video example below)

3. Don’t shift gears over abrupt ditches, large corrugations, or really rough and fast trail such as rock gardens
4. Do look ahead and plan to shift either before or after those features to avoid your chain bouncing off during the shift

5. Don’t shift gears then immediately stop pedaling
6. Do at least two full pedal revolutions after each gearshift to allow the chain time to transition completely

7. Don’t stop on flat ground in the highest gears
8. Do shift to easier gears as you’re slowing to a stop, so that you’ll be ready to re-start in an easy gear

9. Don’t shift the front derailleur last up tough climbs
10. Do front shift down to granny ring earlier, then rely on shifting across a wider range of rear cogs, one or two at a time, as the climb becomes more and more difficult (see trail video example below)

11. Don’t pedal with full force during a gearshift
12. Do back off your pedaling pressure, while still rotating the cranks, to allow the derailleurs and chain to work their gear-shifting magic stress free

13. Don’t pedal or freewheel in the smaller chainring while descending uneven terrain
14. Do ride mid to large chainring and mid sized rear cogs to increase chain engagement and tension while reducing the chance of the chain bouncing or dropping off

15. Don’t ride with the chain rubbing against the inside of the front derailleur cage
16. Do ride with a good chain line to avoid excessive ‘crossing’ of the chain and the potential for chain suck or snap

17. Don’t panic when the chain drops off the chainrings
18. Do try front shifting the chain back on gear gently, while pedaling ever so lightly if the chain hasn’t jammed in your bottom bracket. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it saves you a stop!

19. Don’t be inpatient with the front derailleur
20. Do give it more time than its rear cousin to complete the shift, because the front rings are larger and have a longer hold on the chain

21. Don’t shift the front and rear derailleurs separately all the time
22. Do front and rear shift simultaneously, and in opposite directions, if it helps you minimize shift time to maximize pedaling and momentum

In this video, Chris is using these chain connecting links, this Shimano chain, and these Schwalbe tires.
These days, Chris equips his bike with a SRAM 11-speed single chainring drivetrain.


Where to Next:

Brake and Shifter Set-up on a Mountain Bike (3 minute video)
How to Mountain Bike Faster in 3 Minutes (3 minute video)
How to Front Brake to Go Faster

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