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6 Speed Bike Gears Explained – Everything You Need To Know

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Bike gears range from anything from 1 gear to 27 gears, so a 6-speed bike is towards the simpler end of the spectrum.

A 6-speed bike is simple to maintain and simple to operate, and yet it does give you enough versatility to cycle on a range of terrains, and up and down slopes. These are popular bikes among mountain bikers and also commuters, and can be used for other purposes too.

In this post, I’ll take a look at:

  • What exactly does ‘6-speed’ mean
  • Bikes with few gears vs bikes with higher gears vs 6-speed bikes
  • How to shift 6-speed bike gears – how it all works
  • What 6-speed bikes help you do
  • Guidelines for effective gear shifting on a 6-speed bike
  • Different components of a 6-gear drivetrain
  • When biking on the flat, what gear to use on a 6-speed bike
  • Pros and cons of having 6 gears vs no gears
6 speed bike gears explained

So, What Exactly Does “6-Speed” Mean?

The term “6-speeds” is quite misleading.


Well, if you wanted to, you could maintain the same pace while pedaling at any of these six ‘speeds’.

6-speed bikes are named this because they have 6 gears. It’s that simple!

The rear cassette has six gears, allowing you to shift down and cycle more effortlessly up slopes, or move into a higher gear and cycle more powerfully down slopes or on flats.

Bikes With Few Gears Vs Bikes With Many Gears Vs 6-Speed Bikes

Bikes come in all sorts of gear quantities these days – anywhere from 1 gear to 27.

In general, some popular numbers of gears include the following:

  • 1 gear
  • 3 gears
  • 6 gears
  • 7 gears
  • 18 gears
  • 21 gears
  • 24 gears
  • 27 gears

Why a big difference between the numbers?

The bikes with the fewest numbers of gears (particularly 1-3 gears) are good in that they require much less maintenance, and are simpler to learn to ride. The downside is that they are not very versatile in taking on slopes, or challenging terrain.

The higher the number of gears, the more versatility the bike has in terms of speed and slopes it can take on. On the flip side, however, it will require more maintenance, and is harder to learn how to ride in the first place.

As you can see, 6-gear bikes are toward the lower end of the gear spectrum.

This makes them a good compromise for many. They have enough versatility to cycle up and down a range of slopes, while also being relatively simple to maintain and operate.

What Do 6-Speed Bikes Help You Do?

Many riders find 6-speed bikes to be the best option due to their numerous benefits, such as:

6-Speed Bikes Are Simpler To Ride

One advantage 6-speed bikes have is that they are simpler to ride than those with more gears.

It may take some practice to get used to the extra set of gear shifters (located on the left side of the handlebars) on bikes with 21, 24, or 27 gears.

Because of this, e-bikes and new riders of any age will benefit from a bicycle with six speeds (which needs fewer gears because the electric motor can do more of the heavy lifting).

Less Moving Parts

There are more moving parts on bikes with more gears; 24-speed bicycles, for instance, have a front and back derailleur.

Due to their reduced complexity and ease of maintenance, 6-speed bikes are ideal for those who would rather spend their time pedaling than fixing their bike.

Six gears are common on children’s bikes, hybrids, comfort cycles, and beach cruisers. If you spend most of your time pedaling along the smooth pavement or gently undulating wilderness roads, a 6-speed bike may be just what you need.

Ins & Outs of Shifting 6-Speed Bike Gears

With a 6-speed bicycle, shifting gears is a breeze. You can find your bike’s gear shifter on the right side of the grip. These can either be trigger shifts or twist shifts.

Indicate Shifters

There are a couple of levers like these down by the grips. They’ll be in a spot where your right thumb can readily access them.

You can “go up” a gear by pressing one lever, and you can “go down” a gear by pressing the other. Simple as that!

Twist Shifters

The shifter is built into the grip of the right hand.

The shifter is a plastic ring with a dial that has the numbers 1 through 6 on it, and it may be accessed by closing your right hand around the grip.

Depending on the make of the shifter you have, a clockwise or counterclockwise turn of the twist shifter will move the gear selector up or down a notch.

Only Change Gears When Pedaling

Do not try to shift gears until you are actively controlling the pedals.

When the pedals are turned, the chain is set in motion, and the derailleur can’t shift it to a new cog on the left or right side of the bike.

If you try to shift gears without the pedals moving and the chain moving, you may end up with a twisted or caught chain, which can result in serious (and expensive) damage to your bike.

4 Top Tips For Effective Shifting On A 6-Speed Bike

The 6 gears on a 6-speed bike will be more than enough for many cyclists, especially if you learn how to use them effectively. Here are 4 top tips in how to use the gears on a 6-speed bike:

1. Climbing

If you’re going to shift, do it just before you start climbing, not when you’re already slowing down and putting the maximum amount of pressure on the pedals.

If you must change gears while climbing, do so slowly and gently, and take your feet off the pedals for a split second while you do so.

2. Listen to Your Bike

Excessive grinding will cause your drivetrain to wear out sooner, so if you hear a lot of it, it might be because you’re shifting while applying too much pressure to the pedals.

It is acceptable to use more than one gear at a time when traveling on level ground or downhill.

3. If in Doubt, Shift into a Lower Gear

Using a high gear that requires a lot of effort to pedal will make you go quicker in the short term but will eventually wear out your knees and cause you to slow down.

Instead of cycling slowly in a harder gear, it is more effective to use an easier gear and increase your speed.

Try to keep up the fastest pace you can comfortably maintain while cycling the entire time.

Once you’ve gone for a few rides, you should have a better idea of what cadence works best for you. (The cadence is the number of pedal revolutions you make per minute).

You can take a more scientific approach by purchasing a bike computer with cadence monitoring capabilities.

Here’s a quick youtube video that highlights how to successfully shift gears on a 6-speed Brompton Bike:

What Is the Best Gear For Going Up A Hill On A 6-Speed Bike?

When going up a steep slope, one of your lowest gears is your best bet.

Which one is best depends on the slope of the hill, and your degree of fitness. Uphill, gears 1-3 usually work fine. Experiment, and see what works best for you!

If you’re feeling like you’re going too quickly but not getting far enough, shift up a gear; if you’re having trouble keeping up with the pace, go down a gear.

Different Components of a 6-Speed Bike Drivetrain

Although designs will vary, many 6-speed bikes will contain many of the following in their drivetrain:


One of the many pieces of the part to which your pedals are attached is a set of chainrings or sprockets, which are essential for shifting gears.


In cycling jargon, a cassette is a set of gears for the back wheel, and a cog is an individual gear itself.

Gears are numbered inwardly, starting with the largest cog closest to the wheel. The bigger the cog, the lower the gear and the less effort it takes to pedal, but the slower you will move.


The chain links the front chainring to the back cogs, allowing the pedals to turn the wheels and vice versa.

The degree of difficulty in pedaling is a function of the total number of teeth on the cog and chainring.


In order to change gears, the chain must be physically guided from cog to cog or chainring to chainring via a derailleur. Rear derailleurs are standard on bicycles, while front derailleurs are not.

Front Derailleur

A front derailleur is a straightforward machine that merely displaces the chain from one chainring to the next.

Rear Derailleur

The rear derailleur has to do two different things, so it’s a little more complicated.

It acts as a guide for the chain from one cog to the next, just like the front, but it also keeps the chain taut and picks up the slack when we shift from higher to lower gears.

A bicycle’s rear derailleur features two tiny gears, or “pulleys,” that the chain passes between to complete an “S” shape.

As the cassette is attached to the upper pulley, that pulley is known as the jockey pulley, while the lower pulley is known as the idler pulley. The cage serves to secure the pulleys in place.

Here’s a quick video that outlines how the drivetrain of a standard bicycle is put together and operates:

When Biking On The Flat, What Gear Should I Use On A 6-Speed Bike?

On the flat, you can use the middle range of gears to pedal at a reasonable pace while still making good time.

Gears 3–6 on a 6-speed bicycle are appropriate for flat terrain. Once again, experiment and see what works well for you. There is no cookie-cutter solution.

When traveling downwind, you can use your highest gear and reach very high speeds. (Source)

Pros And Cons Of Having At Least 6 Gears Vs No Gears

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of having a bike with at least 6 gears, versus the pros and cons of having a bike with no gears:

Pros Of Having At Least 6 Gears

If you are not in particularly good physical shape and the terrain you are traveling through is varied, having gears is a good idea.

If you’re looking to go as fast as possible, it’s also an improvement. This describes the vast majority of individuals; hence it makes practical sense to equip most bikes with gears.

Cons Of Having At Least 6 Gears

Your bike is more complex with gears, so may need more maintenance.

Pros Of Having No Gears

If you’re looking for a bike that’s low maintenance and reliable, one without gears is the way to go.

Lack of gear is less of an issue if you primarily ride on flat terrain and have a decent level of fitness.

Cons Of Having No Gears

It’s not easy to ride a bike without gears if you’re in any of these situations:

  • There’s a higher demand on your muscles to keep you going uphill, and if the slope is very steep, you might not have the strength to make it to the top.
  • On descents, you may need to turn the pedals so quickly that you can’t possibly keep up with your bike’s speed in order to gain momentum.
  • It is extremely challenging to accelerate and practically impossible to go up even moderate hills while pulling a trailer or carrying a big load, and you don’t have low gears.


When it comes to the most common styles of bikes and the most common types of cyclists, 6-speeds are hard to beat.

They allow you to easily climb steep inclines (think: low gear / 1st gear) and provide a giddy sense of joy when you coast down the opposite side (think: high gear / 6th gear).

In addition to being easier to ride and maintain than multi-gear bikes, they also tend to be cheaper and easier to repair when anything breaks!