How to Ride with a Good Chain Line

Riding with a good chain line is an essential part of good gear shifting technique.  Follow the simple steps below and you’ll shift gears on a mountain bike better, and ride more efficiently and faster.

But What is a Chain Line?

Chain line is the term given to the path your chain takes as it comes off a rear cog and on to a front chainring. No matter what gear you’re in, you’ve always got a chain line. But, there are good and bad lines.

A bad chain line is when the chain’s path is not straight enough to allow the drivetrain to operate efficiency and/or effectively.

Some examples of a bad chain line on a triple chainring mountain bike are: 1) chain on 8th rear gear, crossing to the smallest chainring at the front, 2) chain on 1st rear gear (biggest cog), crossing to middle chainring, 3) chain on 2nd rear gear (2nd biggest), crossing to biggest chainring. (Watch How to Ride with a Good Chain Line video below)

Making the chain cross on a greater angle than the drivetrain was designed for creates all sorts of problems:

  • unnecessary drivetrain friction and stress, resulting in decreased efficiency and increased wear
  • increased risk of chain failure (snap!)
  • more noise, and terrible gear selection habits for you :)

Three Simple Steps to Riding with a Good Chain Line

(typical 3 x 9 or 3 x 10 drivetrain is used as an example.  Watch Chain Line video below)

  • when you’re in Granny ring (smallest chainring) at the front, only use the biggest five or six cogs at the back
  • when you’re in middle ring at the front, only use the middle five or six gears at the back
  • when you’re in Big Ring at the front, only use the smallest five or six gears at the back

Follow these three rules and the 22 Gear Shifting Do’s and Don’ts below and soon your gear shifting will become automatic and instinctive.  You’ll start shifting smarter, smoother and faster.  You’ll even shift both derailleurs at once, when needed.  The biggest change that will happen though, is that instead of worrying about shifting gears, you’ll have a clearer head to focus on the trail and adapt better to whatever comes next!

22 Gear-shifting Do’s and Don’ts:


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