Friday, June 17, 2016

Advanced Bike Riding 101

Some of these tips will probably be obvious to some of us, but I learned them at a rather late age, and recently learned that a friend of mine didn't know some of them either. So here are some tips to make your bike riding experience a bit more pleasant:

1. Gear down as you're stopping on a bike.

When you start again, going forward will be very difficult if you're in a high gear. So switching to a lower gear before you stop will make your life a lot easier. Go down to the gear that you feel most comfortable starting from a stop in.

A tip to make this easier: you can actually keep pedalling while you brake. So the bike will be slowing down, but you're still keeping the chain moving enough to change gears. You don't need to pedal at a certain level of force or anything - doing it gently is fine, as long as you get enough revolutions in.

2. If you forget to gear down, don't do it as you're starting up.

If you start to change gears right after starting from a stop, you'll probably notice that your bike makes some loud, frightening cracking noises, and the pedals judder as these noises happen. Why does this happen? When you're just starting to pedal, you're exerting a lot of force on the pedals, so the chain is under a lot of forward-backward strain; when you change gears, it puts sideways strain on the chain as well, and it ends up hitting the gears violently when it shifts. This is the same reason it's so hard to change gears when  you're pedaling slowly up a hill: there's a ton of force on the pedals and, by extension, the chain.

Changing gears when there's a lot of force on the pedals is the number one reason chains break. If you do this a lot, you may be in for some real maintenance hassle.

The solution is to: (1) gear down before you stop, so you don't have to change gears when you're pedalling hard, or if you forget, (2) tough it out and get up to speed before changing gears.

In general, it doesn't matter how hard you pedal to change gears; in fact, the lighter you're pedalling, the easier it will be. For instance, it's very easy to change gears when you're biking downhill. You just need to make sure the pedals go around a few times to get the chain moving, and you'll change gears.

3. When biking uphill, gear down to maintain a constant pedaling speed.

There's a thing that sometimes happen when biking uphill: You're pedaling, you don't change gears down, pedaling gets harder and harder, you do it slowly - and at a certain point, you can't pedal anymore. And you can't change gears downward either, because there would be far too much force on the pedals for it to even work (see above).

How do you avoid this? Gear down proactively. Even when you're thinking "Well, this isn't too hard yet, I can just keep pedaling without gearing down" - gear down. Just do it. Even if it's not too hard for you yet, it will be hard for your poor chain when you eventually try to shift.

The rule of thumb I use is: try to keep the pedals moving at the same speed. If you gear down while you're doing this, your bike will be going more slowly, but you'll be able to continue pedalling.

I learned these tips long after I learned to ride a bike, and they've been quite helpful in making the experience better. Hope they're helpful to others, too!

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