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What Is A Low Gear On A Bike – Everything You Need To Know

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If you’re new to biking, you may not be familiar with the concept of low gear. Low gears on your bike are designed to help you ride more efficiently and get the most out of your cycling experience.

A bike’s “low gear” is a gear ratio that is simpler to pedal. A low gear uses a larger front chainring and a smaller back cog. When cycling uphill or against headwinds, changing to a lower gear enables you to keep moving forward efficiently.

This blog post will give you a comprehensive overview of low gears on your bike, including:

  • Exactly what a low gear is
  • How a low gear works
  • How to shift the bike into low gear
  • When to use low gear on a bike
  • Top tips for effective shifting into low gear
  • When NOT to use low gears
  • Maintenance of low gear
  • Bike gears explained
  • Low gear vs high gear
  • Can using low gear for too long damage your bike?
What is low gear on a bike

What is a Low Gear?

Low gear on a bike refers to a gear ratio that is easier to pedal.

It is achieved by having a larger front chainring and a smaller rear cog.

When you shift to a lower gear, it allows you to maintain a steady pace while riding uphill or against headwinds. It also helps to maintain control when riding on a rough or loose surface.

How does a Low Gear Work?

Low gears on a bike allow the rider to pedal at a lower speed while maintaining a higher level of resistance.

This is achieved by using a smaller chainring and/or a larger rear cog.

When the rider shifts into a lower gear, the chain moves from the smaller front ring to the larger rear cog, reducing the distance the chain has to travel for each pedal revolution.

This, in turn, reduces the speed of the bike but increases the amount of resistance.

How to Shift the Bike into Low Gear

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to shift your bike into a low gear:

  • Begin by bringing your bike to a stop or slowing down to a low speed. This will make it easier to shift gears without damaging the transmission system.
  • Locate the gear shifters on your handlebars. These are typically located near the brake levers, and they control the movement of the chain between the chainrings and cogs.
  • Identify the gear you want to shift into. Low gears are typically indicated by a smaller number, such as 1, 2, or 3.
  • Using your thumb, press the gear shifter that corresponds to the chain ring you want to shift to.
  • As you press the shifter, begin to pedal the bike. This will help the chain move to the larger cog, reducing the distance it needs to travel for each pedal revolution.
  • Once you feel the chain is in the correct gear, release the shifter. You should now be in a lower gear, and you should feel more resistance when pedaling.
  • Adjust your pedaling speed accordingly to the gear you are in, and enjoy your ride.

It’s important to note that the process of shifting gears can vary depending on the bike and the rider’s preference.

Some bikes may have different gear-shifting mechanisms, such as trigger shifters or grip shifters. (Source)

When to Use Low Gear on a Bike

Uphill Riding

One of the most obvious times to use low gear is when riding uphill. The steeper the incline, the more resistance the rider will experience.

Low gears allow the rider to maintain a steady pace and prevent the bike from stalling.

It helps in maintaining control and balance while going uphill, making it easier to climb.

Using low gears to cycle uphill
Climbing hills is the most important use of low gears, as they help maintain momentum, stability and balance


Riding into headwinds can be challenging, and low gears provide the necessary resistance to maintain a steady pace.

The headwinds can slow you down and make it harder to pedal, and low gears help in keeping the bike moving in such situations.

Heavy Loads

If you’re carrying a heavy load, such as groceries or a backpack, it can be harder to maintain speed and control.

Low gears provide the necessary resistance to keep the bike moving at a steady pace and make it easier to handle a heavy load.

Off-Road Terrain

Off-road terrain can be unpredictable and challenging, with obstacles such as rocks, roots, and mud.

Low gears provide the necessary resistance to maintain control and navigate these types of terrain.

Beginner Riders

Low gears are also beneficial for beginner riders. They provide the necessary resistance to maintain control and prevent the bike from stalling.

This can be especially helpful while learning to ride in different conditions such as hills, headwinds, and off-road terrain.

Low Gear vs. High Gear

Low GearHigh Gear
Lower gear ratio, easier to pedalHigher gear ratio, harder to pedal
Used for uphill riding, headwinds, heavy loads, off-road terrain, and beginner ridersUsed for downhill riding, tailwinds, light loads, smooth terrain, and experienced riders
Allows for better control and stability Allows for greater speeds
Slower speed, but maintains a steady pace  Faster speed, but requires more effort to maintain pace
Uses more energy over time but helps to conserve energy in the short-termUses less energy over time but may require more energy in the short-term
Allows for smoother and more efficient shiftingAllows for faster acceleration and reaching higher speeds

Tips for Efficient Shifting to Low Gear

Here are some tips for smooth and efficient shifting into low gear on a bike:

  • Anticipate the need to shift: Before approaching a hill or headwind, anticipate the need to shift into a lower gear and do so before the resistance becomes too great.
  • Keep a steady pace: When shifting gears, try to maintain a steady pedal pace. Rapid changes in pedaling speed can make shifting gears more difficult.
  • Shift before stopping: Shift into a lower gear before coming to a stop, this will make it easier to start again.
  • Shift one gear at a time: When shifting gears, shift one gear at a time. Shifting multiple gears at once can cause the chain to become misaligned and damage the transmission system.
  • Keep the chain lubricated: A well-lubricated chain will shift smoother and last longer. Lubricate the chain at least once a month, or more frequently if you ride in wet or muddy conditions.
  • Keep the bike in good condition: Regularly check and maintain the bike, including the gears, to ensure they are working efficiently.
  • Practice makes perfect: The more you practice shifting gears, the more efficient and smooth you will become.

To find out a good selection of tips on how to shift gears on your bike, I found the following video from Sports Shack really useful:

When NOT to Use Low Gears?

While low gears are generally useful for many types of riding conditions, there are some situations where it might not be suitable to use low gears.

For example, when going downhill, the rider can use gravity to maintain speed and low gears can slow the rider down. High gears are more suitable in this situation.

Similarly, when riding with a tailwind, the rider can maintain speed with less effort, and using low gears can make pedaling harder and less efficient.

On flat terrain, the rider can maintain a steady speed with minimal resistance, and using low gears can make pedaling unnecessarily harder.

Additionally, when riding at high speeds, the rider needs less resistance to maintain speed. Low gears can create too much resistance and make pedaling less efficient.

Lastly, in a race, riders often use high gears to maintain high speeds for as long as possible.

When High Gears Are Best When CyclingUsing High GearsUsing Low Gears
Going downhillMaintain speedSlow you down
Riding with a tailwindMaintain speed with less effortMake pedaling harder and less efficient
When riding at high speedsNeed less resistance to maintain speed, and high gears are idealCreate too much resistance, and make pedaling less efficient
In a raceMaintains speed for as long as possibleLow gears don’t generate enough speed

Maintenance of Low Gear

Cleaning and Lubrication

One of the most important aspects of maintaining low gears is keeping them clean and lubricated. Dirt and grime can accumulate on the gears and cause them to wear down more quickly.

To keep the gears in good working condition, it’s essential to clean them regularly.

Use a brush or rag to remove dirt and debris, and then apply a lubricant, such as bike oil or grease, to the gears.

This will help to reduce friction, prevent rust, and prolong the life of the gears.

Adjusting Cable Tension

Another important aspect of maintaining low gears is adjusting the cable tension.

Over time, the cables can stretch and lose tension, causing the gears to shift poorly or not at all.

To adjust the cable tension, use a cable tension tool or a small adjustable wrench to turn the barrel adjuster on the cable.

This will help to fine-tune the gears and ensure smooth shifting.

Replacing Worn Parts

With regular use, the gears can become worn and damaged.

It’s important to check the gears regularly for signs of wear, such as cracks or chips in the teeth, and replace them as needed.

The gears should be replaced as soon as they show signs of wear to ensure safe and efficient shifting. It is also a good idea to check the chain regularly and replace it if it is stretched or damaged.

A worn chain can cause the gears to shift poorly and also can damage the gears.

Understanding Bike Gears

Front Gears

Chainrings, the crankset, or simply “the front ones” are terms used to describe the gears at the front of a bicycle.

The collective term for the crank arms and front gears is the “crankset,” or in certain cases “chainset.”

The most common number of chainrings in a crankset is either two (2x) or three (3x).

The use of a single chainring (1x) is growing in favor, especially among mountain cyclists and cyclocross riders, but it is still a rather uncommon setup.

The chainring nearest to the frame is the smallest on the crankset. In general, the smaller the chainring, the less effort it takes to pedal.

When we shift the chain further from the bike’s center, you have to pedal harder to maintain the same speed.

Rear Gears

Back wheel gears are called cogs, and a set of cogs in a specific sizing order is called a cassette.

Recent bicycles often have a cassette with 8-11 cogs.

Gears are numbered from the inside out, with the largest cogs closer to the wheel. A larger cog is a “lower” gear, making the bicycle simpler to peddle but also slower to move.


Though the name “derailleur” can be challenging to say aloud, it’s not too complicated to comprehend.

A derailleur is a device used to shift the chain from one cog or chainring to another. (Source)

Front Derailleur

The front derailleur is a basic device that only displaces the chain from one chainring to the next, where it is “caught” by the new chainring.

Rear Derailleur

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

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 go from higher to lower gears.

Can Using Low Gear For Too Long Damage My Bike?

Using low gear for an extended period can cause wear and tear on the chain and gears of your bike.

It’s important to shift into higher gear when riding on flat or downhill terrain to reduce the strain on the drivetrain.

How to Shift Into Low Gear with Grip Shifters?

To shift into a low gear using grip shifters, you will need to rotate the grip towards you. The rotation direction depends on the shifter, but usually, the right shifter controls the rear gears, and the left shifter controls the front gears.

So you need to rotate the left grip shifter towards you to move to a smaller chainring and into a lower gear.

Make sure you’re not pedaling while shifting and also try to shift while you’re at a lower speed.

It’s also a good idea to practice shifting while not on the road to get a feel for the motion and to familiarize yourself with the location of the shifters.

Wrapping up

Understanding how to use the low gear on your bike can greatly enhance your riding experience.

It allows you to tackle steep hills and headwinds with ease, and can even prolong the life of your bike by reducing wear and tear on the chain and gears.

Remember that the low gear is not just for beginners, it is a useful tool for all riders to have in their arsenal. So next time you’re faced with a challenging ride, don’t be afraid to shift down and make use of that low gear.

Stay safe and happy cycling!