Gears and Shifting 101: Deceleration and Descending

In our first two classes, we covered the basics of gears and shifting and how to accelerate and climb effectively. Today, let’s look at coming back down the hill and stopping at the bottom; it’s deceleration and descending!


So you’ve summited the hill, enjoyed the view, snapped a pic so the internet knows it happened, and you’re ready to head back down! Luckily for you, the keys to shifting on a descent are the same as starting from a stop in lesson 1. In both instances, you’re shifting to “keep up” with the acceleration of the bike, it’s just that while descending you get gravity’s help getting you moving.

Technically you can coast the whole way down, but that’s no fun. If you want to squeeze some more speed out of the fun bits of your ride, you just need to make sure you’re in a high enough gear that your pedaling is effective. As you build speed, pedal lightly and shift up until you feel the pedals engage (and you feel the effort of your legs being transferred to the wheels) and then spin away! Once your legs are spinning like crazy (or the pedals spin freely because the bike is moving faster than the gear), shift up again and repeat. Just like that, you’re flying down the hill and you’ll be able to carry all that speed onto the flats once everything levels back out!

Slowing and Stopping

Red lights, stop signs, cute dogs, there are lots of reasons to stop and, with all that coasting and braking, it’s easy to forget to shift. To be fair, you don’t need to shift to stop the bike but, because you’ll likely want to get rolling again at some point, you want to make sure you’re in an appropriate gear. On the 3-speed bikes, that’s easy. Their internal hub can be shifted while the bike is stationary, so you can just come to a stop normally and then shift down to your acceleration gear once you’re there! 

The 8-speed bikes need to be shifted while the pedals are turning so, if you’re on one of those, you want to get used to shifting before you come to a stop. It’s still simple, just spin the shifter all the way back to “1” and pedal lightly as you come to your stopping point. Once you hear and feel the gears change down, come to a complete stop and you’ll be ready to get rolling again whenever you want! The hardest part is remembering to downshift as you slow down, but once you’ve got that down you’ll be starting up like a pro and leaving those other commuters in the dust!

Now that you know the basics, get out there and ride! In our next class, we'll look into adjustments and maintenance so you can keep shifting smoothly even after you've stacked up those miles.