Bicycles are pretty simple devices. Throw a couple wheels on a frame and off you go. Of course, you’ll also want to add some brakes so you can slow down or stop when needed. That’s about it. However, there is one extra ingredient that truly creates that magical flying feeling that only a bike can give. Gears. You could actually get by without gears, but the right bike gear shifter really is the secret sauce that makes riding so fun and easy. Gears make everything better, but it's important to get the right setup for your particular needs
In the old days, bicycles didn't have gears. Instead, the pedals were attached directly to the front wheel. This works fine for very slow riding, but once you pick up speed, your legs really start spinning out of control. You also get bogged down at a very slow maximum speed no matter how fast you pedal. In order to correct this, bicycles were made with super-huge wheels that yielded more distance per pedal stroke. You know the old vintage photos of bicycles with the ridiculously tall wheels? That was life before gears. They had to make the wheels absurdly gigantic so that the rider could pedal at a reasonable cadence when cruising at the desired speed.
Fortunately, for the future popularity of the bicycle, gears came along and changed everything for the better. Gears take advantage of the principle of leverage and pulleys to allow us to climb steep hills, zoom down hills and even coast when we don’t want to pedal at all. Gears let you set your pedaling cadence independently of wheels and speed, freeing you to go wherever the road or trail takes you.
When looking into getting your new hybrid bicycle, gears should be a major part of your decision. Of the many variations that exist in the anything-goes category of hybrid bikes, you'll be exploring preferences in frame geometry (riding position), tire size, and gears. For gears, the first step is to consider why you need the bike and where you will be riding. Take a moment to think about what you want to get out of your new ride. Is it for fitness? Do you need it for commuting to work or class? Perhaps you just want an occasional casual ride when summer rolls around. As a basic rule of thumb, the more serious or important the riding is to you, the more gears you should get. However, you may want to balance extra gears with simplicity or ease of maintenance
Also, give some thought to the terrain and weather that you will be riding in. You can ride on flat land with just one or a few gears, but hills require more gears. Mountainous rides and long distances can demand all the gears you can get. Weather is also very important. Wind and rain can have surprisingly strong effects on how hard or easy your ride will be. If you live in a windy area, having easy gears will let you power through a headwind while faster gears will let you take advantage of a tailwind. Rain, sleet, and snow all serve to slow you down, so it's important to have the option to downshift if you ride in that those weather conditions.
Gears can work a few different ways, but the underlying magic comes from utilizing the leveraging power of pulleys. On a bike, the pulleys are star-shaped cogs called gears. Your pedals turn a large cog called a chainring which in turn pulls a chain that is directly linked to another cog on the rear wheel. This cog, or gear, rotates the rear wheel, propelling the bicycle. By varying the sizes of the chainring and rear gears, bicycles offer different gear ratios to determine how many times the rear wheel revolves per pedal stroke. The end result is an adjustable ratio that makes your ride easier or faster as needed.
The simplest gearing option is a single speed. These are a great option for casual riding on flat paths, so beach cruisers are the ultimate single speed bikes. The gears can be set up to be either easier or faster, but they cannot be shifted to adjust to changing terrain. Although you will be limited in your speed and range, the minimal equipment on a single speed requires very little maintenance. Some oil on the chain every month or so will suffice.
Internal gears usually come in the three-speed variety, although five- and seven-speed options can be found. The great advantage of internal gears is that all of the gadgetry is stuffed inside the hub so that the gears are protected from damage and weather. Also, these gears are super easy to operate and require only minimal maintenance. They may only offer a few different speed options, but that may be all you need if the terrain is relatively flat and the riding is just a casual cruise.
If you’re using your hybrid for commuting, fitness, to cover some distance, or on slopes, you’ll need more gears. Larger gear ranges are not internal. They are operated by an external component called a derailleur that physically shoves the chain onto different gears. The most common gear setup is the good old seven-speed, which has all but replaced your grandfather’s ten-speed. The seven-speed is the simplest derailleur option because it only requires one bike gear shifter for you to operate, repair, and maintain. Derailleur systems require more attention and care than the internal systems do, but the seven-speed is the simplest of these.
To get more than seven speeds, most bikes will have to add a front derailleur and an additional chainring or two. The very capable 21-speed configuration is the most common for hybrids, and it delivers a broad range of gears that can handle just about anything.
Learning how to shift gears on a bike is easy. The hand controls, called shifters, come in two basic varieties. Most hybrids have the twist-style shifting that can be rotated while gripping the handlebars. Other models may have trigger shifters that can be operated with your index finger and thumb. In both cases, gears are numbered from ‘1’ to ‘7’ for 7-speeds, with ‘1’ being the easiest gear and ‘7’ being the fastest gear. 21-speeds have a second shifter numbered ‘1’ to ‘3’. A ‘1’-‘1’ combination would be the easiest gear for climbing steep hills while the ‘3’ - ‘7’ combination allows for maximum speed on the downhills.
The sixthreezero Evryjourney is a great example of how a bike can be outfitted with the exact gearing for your needs. This bike comes in four options ranging from single speed to 21-speeds so that you can get exactly what your riding requires.
As you sort through the many variations that make hybrids so adaptable, make sure to give some thought to the reasons that you want to ride. When you know what type of riding you’ll be doing, you can pick the perfect gears to get that singular flying feeling.
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