Shifting problem

Here’s a problem I’ve been running into lately — perhaps someone can suggest how to fix it. Shifting on a hill — I can’t seem to do it smoothly. Actually, I’m not even talking about hills here — more like an incline that scrubs off your speed. If I’m in the large chainring, I’m always guessing at what point to shift down to the small ring. And when I do shift down, I’m in too large a rear cog, so my pedals spin freely, and I lose forward momentum. I frantically shift up several times in rapid succession to get to the gear I need to be in. Lately, I’ve tried shifting up a cog before shifting down to the small chainring, but even that doesn’t seem to solve my problem.

This never happens when shifting up to the large chainring, because then, I’m either going downhill or am at least on a flat.

Most of the articles I’ve read on the topic of shifting seem to stop just short of the situation I describe. They tell you to shift down so that you’re pedaling at the same cadence uphill as you would on a flat. Fine, but how to do it smoothly?


  1. says

    I’m sure it varies from bike to bike and person to person…but here’s how I handle it. If I’m on the big chainring I try to anticipate the down shift. So I shift up on the rear by 3 gears and at the same time shift to the small chainring (I have a double.) This actually puts me in a slightly higher gear…but just a little bit. So I push the higher gear for a little bit. Then as I climb I down shift as needed. I actually figured this out on Saturday at the AHCC :) that many hills makes you work on your shifting! I have a callus on my right middle finger from the shifting!

    On my triple I would go down 2 gears rather than 3 since the spacing on the chainring was smaller, and this worked well…but on the double 2 gears was too much of a jump.

  2. says

    I usually shift so that it gets “harder” to pedal before getting easier. Spinning in a super-easy gear does suck much worse than taking on a bigger gear for just a second until you’ve completed the shift.

    As an example, if I’m in big chainring in the front and 23 in the back (assuming 12-25), I’ll shift down to a 19 in the back before shifting to the small chainring in the front. This is usually close and my legs are better with it getting harder (in the 19) before it gets easier with the small chainring.

    It’s opposite going the other way. Let’s say I’m in the small chainring in the front and 13 in the back. I’ll first switch the front chainring and then shift two down to 15 in the back.

    Sometimes I’ll shift 3, and sometimes just one, but you’ll get a feel for it.

  3. says

    I’d be more worried about what gear combo you’re in. Large chainring and what cog? You may not want to cross your chain too severely; choosing a different gear combination might help. There are often duplicate combinations in a cassette that produce the same gearing without the undue chain crossing, depending on your set-up.

    Just found this link:

    You can see the duplicate gears here by punching in your tooth counts:

  4. says

    I follow the same approach as Jared and it works well, particularly when you are trying to keep up momentum and push over a small hill – which needs quick changing.

  5. says

    I agree with the above, cross shifting helps a lot and is pretty easy with integrated shifters.

    But more important than that is the ability to anticipate what gear you will need for the hill. Many times what I will do is drop into the small chainring as I approach the hill with the goal being to get into the lowest gear that I can maintain my speed, once on the hill downshift before i lose momentum.

    To work on the leg speed i will descend in a lower than “optimal” gear and spin my legs faster to keep the pressure on the pedals.

    The control will come with time. I was forced to learn by riding a bike with down tube friction shifters on club rides with guys who have integrated shifters. I couldn’t force the gears late (and under pressure) like we can do on a modern bike.

  6. says

    If you ever want to get super picky check out

    I just got a nice validation for my approach by using the gear ratio calculator. By shifting up 3 on the rear and one down on the front I stay within .2 gear ratios on every shift…not too shabby! Although I’m sure the cassette and crankset are made this way.

  7. Ken says

    You should only be riding in your big chainring if you’re using the smallest 3 cogs in the back. If you’re riding in the big ring AND on the biggest cogs at the same time, the chain is forced to go kind of sideways which is a bit hard on it. Same goes for small chainring & small cog at once.
    And of course you should always ease off the pedals when shifting. The chain has a hard time switching when you’re putting a load of tension on it. If you have to shift going up a hill, you can ease back off the pdeals for a couple of seconds, just long enough to spin & shift without totally losing momentum.

  8. rainycamp says

    Thanks to all of you for the input. I guess I hadn’t been shifting up enough before downshifting to the small ring. I’ll be working on this technique on Wednesday’s ride.

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