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Cycling Gears Explained

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By having a better understanding how the gears of a bicycle work and examining the overall effect of cycling gears on the bike’s general performance; you will be able to pick the right bicycle for you. It will also help you assess the bike performance based on its front chainrings and rear cassette, with respect to the gears installed.

You must understand your basic requirements. Whether you need a compact chainset, classic chainset, or an incompact chainset. Apart from this, you also need to consider other factors, such as acquiring a 10, 11, or a 12 speed groupset. This article primarily focuses on the cycling gears to make you a more efficient and gear-savvy cyclist.

The basics of bike gears

The number of bike gears depends on the number of rear gears (sprockets) present in the rear cassette multiplied by the number of chainrings installed on the front portion of the bike. A triple chainring (in front) installed with a nine speed cassette (in back) will make the whole bicycle a 27-speed bicycle. Putting it more simply, each front gear can be used with each back gear.

Why are gears crucial for a road bike?

The answer to this question lies in the question of why do we need gears at all? Putting it thoroughly, gears are required to maintain comfortable pedaling speed, regardless of the kind of gradient or path you follow. The big gear, also known as the high gear, is optimal while going on descent or going at high speed on a plain track. This high gear is achieved only by joining the small sprockets along with the largest front chainring.

On the other hand, the lowest gear on the bicycle can be achieved by combining the largest rear sprocket and the small front chainring. The smallest gear is made available in the bike to help you keep pedaling while you are going an accent or following a steep path.

One thing worth mentioning here is that having lots of gears on the bike will not make it faster, likewise having the lowest number of gears will not make it a slower cycle. It is all about the inherent efficiency of the bike and the range of choices in a particular situation.

For example, let’s compare bicycles to cars. Cars also come with lower gears to easily help you ride on steep paths. The higher gears are used when you reach higher speeds because the engine doesn’t have to work as hard. Bicycle gears work in a similar fashion. You have your low gears which are used to start out and climb steep hills. As you begin to pick up the pace, you shift up to balance how fast you have to pedal with the speed you’re going.

Why do some people go for single-speed bikes?

It is all a matter of choice that most people make. You don’t have to ride bikes with gears installed. Some people even chose a single-gear bike. The gear installed on these single-speed bikes depends on the rear cog size and the front chainring.

Single speeders and fixie riders are gaining more popularity across the globe among the bicycling community because of their lower maintenance. Fixed gear bikes have a fixed gear that rotates with the back wheel. These bikes are also used by professional cyclists because they are light and great for sprinting. They are used mainly in sprint races. For longer rides over mixed terrains a road bike with gears is usually the better option. The overall efficiency of the pedaling is also improved.

Different types of gears

There are different types of gears that bicycle-making companies install on their bikes. These include:

Standard double

The standard double has two chainrings on the front portion of the bike and 11 sprockets. Standard gear ratios include 39t or 42t in the inner ring while 52 or 53t for the outer ring. Many racers recommend it as it helps in racing and includes the largest-sized chainrings.


If you have three chainrings installed on the bike, there is a possibility that you can place a smaller gear on the bike. The third chainring of such a bike is usually 30t or could be much smaller and can be paired and a much larger rear cassette. It results in an easy ride on the steep climbs. It is the perfect choice for riders who climb the hills or ride on steep terrain.


A compact gear includes a double set-up which is considerably smaller than others. Both the rear and front chainrings have reduced sizes. They are 34t or 36t inner ring and are paired easily with a 48t or 50t outer ring. This makes it an excellent choice for riders as they get reduced gears in the lower end. It helps them in climbing alpine climbs. Along with this, the top gear helps them in riding on descents.


SRAM launched its AXS back in 2019. The group set of these gears are popular because of its smaller chainring sizes. There are three options made available in these groupsets. These include 50/37T, 48/35T, and 46/33T.  The general result of installing these group sets is that you can reach higher resistance on the top while riding, and even the smallest gear can be easily pushed.

Hub gears

The hub gear system is a very low maintenance, yet robust and powerful gear system that is incorporated in some bikes. It comprises 14 gears with the option of numerous speed options, just like the SRAM and Shimano gearsets. One doesn’t have the option of using individual gears like a derailleur framework. Yet, it is still viable to customize proportion by messing around with the chainring and back sprockets. Hub gears are great gears setups for a newbies; they’re compact and easy to use.

These gears require zero to low maintenance. Unlike on a standard derailleur setup a hub gearing system allows you to change the gear even without pedaling. This can be very helpful when you forget to downshift as you approach a red light.

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