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I am completely new to multi gear bikes, the last time i rode a bike was in 1965. My question, what gear combination do i need to start off on level ground. If i try to back pedal just a bit, to get the pedals at 12 and 6 o' clock to get maximum leverage to start off, the gears won't let me do it. What combination will let me back up the pedals? Thanks, Mike

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    @chris-h's answer (probably) explains why you can't back pedal, but as an aside, you don't want the pedals at 12 and 6, but more like half-past 2 and half-past 7. See sheldonbrown.com/starting.html for more advice – armb Nov 24 '16 at 16:27
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    Don't back-pedal with a derailleur-style bike. Sometimes it works, but it's just as likely to jam the gears. If you need to change pedal position, walk the bike forward as you press on one pedal. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 24 '16 at 16:54
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    And, to the extent it's possible, get in the habit of down-shifting before you stop, vs needing to shift as you start out. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 24 '16 at 16:56
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    Simply put, leave the left lever (front gears) alone most of the time. Use the right-hand control (rear cogs) mostly. Push it to "easier" when slowing down to stop. When you take off, get some speed then push to "harder" as you feel comfortable. – Criggie Nov 24 '16 at 19:18
  • As @DanielRHicks noted, shift gears with as low load as possible. Shifting under full load creates excessive forces in teeths and in chain segments. Also avoid 1-8 or 3-1 combinations as well. – Crowley Nov 24 '16 at 22:01
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You need to be moving (and pedalling) to change gears on a bike with derailleurs. So you should try to change down before stopping, to a small gear at the front and a big gear at the back. The front gear are often labelled L...H for low to high, while the back gears are 1...8 (or anywhere between 5 and 11 depending on how many cogs you have) -- again low to high.

If you try to select a different gear and then backpedal before it engages the drive train can lock up; this is probably why you can't backpedal if you changed down without pedalling forwards. You can lift the back wheel and spin the pedals in the normal forward direction (by foot or hand, whatever's easier) to change gear while stationary.

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You have a bunch of chainrings (gears in the front, attached to the crankset which contains the pedals) and a cassette/freehub which has cogs (in the back, attached to the rear wheel).

Using a bigger chainring makes it harder to pedal. Similarly, using a smaller cog will make it harder to pedal. Both of these choices raise the gearing.

The relevant quantity is the gear ratio -- # of teeth on the front chainring divided by # of teeth on the cog. Higher = harder, lower = easier. Try shooting for a ratio like 42/16 ish or something to start. Or experiment -- most people will be in the big or middle (if there are 3 rings) in the front, and somewhere in the middle of the rear to start.

Note that you do need to be moving to shift on most bicycles out (though you could just lift the back up and pedal and that would give you the movement easily).

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What combination will let me back up the pedals?

It depends: whichever gear you were in when you were last (most recently) pedalling, is the gear in which you can back-pedal.

When you change gears and pedal forward, the chain slips onto the corresponding cogs. When the chain is on the corresponding cogs (the cogs which correspond to the current gear selection) then you can also back-pedal.

The one thing you can't do is:

  1. Select any gear
  2. Pedal forward
  3. Stop
  4. Change gear
  5. Pedal backwards

What you can do is:

  1. Select any gear
  2. Pedal forward
  3. Stop
  4. (Don't change gear)
  5. Pedal backwards

For that reason you might want to change down to a lower gear (and pedal forward a bit more) while you're slowing down: so that you're already in the lower gear when you start again.

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The problem you describe mostly happens when you stop, then change gear and then reposition the pedals. With derailleurs you need to select the low gear well before you come to a stop.


You might find hub gears (e.g. Shimano Nexus) more to your liking

  • You can change gear when stopped.
  • Fewer controls (no front derailleur to control).
  • Fewer gears (typically 8 or 11).
  • Less maintenance (especially when coupled with belt drive).

Note that a bike with 24 gears actually has fewer than 24 useful combinations because the ranges of ratios selected by the front derailleur overlap considerably. For most people, a hub-gear with 11 gears is equivalent to a typical "24-gear" derailleur set.


You can also still get single gear bicycles with a free-wheel hub.


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