Mastering the Gears and Brakes

Unless you are seriously interested in mechanical engineering, any talk of gears and brakes is unlikely to grab the attention. But it is a discussion that needs airing simply in order to make your time in the saddle as straightforward and enjoyable as possible.

So let’s begin with the basics of gear shifting (stop yawning at the back). Look down at your handlebars: the lever on the left controls the front derailleur; the one on the right the rear derailleur.

These derailleurs serve to move the chain from one cog to another, resulting in a change of resistance on the pedals. The lower the gear, the easier it is for your feet to turn the pedals.

Revolutions Per Minute

Which brings us to the subject of cadence (don’t worry, this is as technical as it gets), namely the number of turns of the pedal in one minute. You want to aim for a cadence of around 60 revolutions per minute.

To do this, you must choose the right gear to suit the conditions and how fast you want to go. For example, if you are climbing a hill, choose a lower gear; if you want to pick up speed, select a higher gear.

Good gear discipline is an aspect of cycling that is crucial for both performance and conserving energy. It is easily acquired, simply through the number of hours you spend in the saddle.

Honing your observational skills is also important because watching for approaching steep gradients and other changes in the landscape or road layout will allow you to be better prepared for making the appropriate gear change at the right time.

This will mean you make smooth, steady progress and both man and machine are working in unison.

Braking is another crucial aspect of controlling the bike, and again good observational skills mean you are more prepared for the manoeuvre and can squeeze the levers in a controlled manner to bring the bike to a stop both safely and quickly.

Bring The Bike To A Stop

Look down again at your handlebars: one brake lever is connected to your rear wheel brakes, the other to the front. It is the front brakes that are the most effective, possessing enough traction to bring the bike to a stop all by themselves and very quickly.

This is fine in an absolute emergency but there is also the likelihood that you will experience cycling’s equivalent of the bucking bronco as you fly over the handlebars.

The rear brake possesses significantly less traction but is perfectly adequate on its own for easing the bike to a stop. The lack of traction means that is also useful in treacherous conditions when applying the front brake could result in a skid.

In normal conditions use those observational skills, then gently squeeze both levers to apply the brakes both front and back – this is the most economical way to use them.

Remember that working your brakes too hard will mean that you will have to replace the pads more frequently. Hopefully this brief introduction to cycling mechanics hasn’t been too yawn inspiring.

For those who did fall asleep at the back of the class, always remember that it will be your bike that will be asking all the difficult questions. And it will be expecting you to have the right answers.