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How To Adjust Your Gears On A Ride – Roadside Maintenance

How To Adjust Your Gears On A Ride – Roadside Maintenance


If your gears aren’t working perfectly when
you’re out riding it’s not the end of the world, but it is hugely frustrating. It might
be that when you press your gear shifter, the gears don’t move at all. It might be that
you shift two gears when you only wanted to do one, or it might be that your chain is
jumping on a particular gear when you sprint out of a corner or put your chain under load.
However, rather then let it ruin your ride completely, why not just stop on the side
of the road, because it could be something that’s very easy to fix. Problems with badly adjusted gears aren’t
just confined to people with old, worn out bikes. It might be that you’ve purchased a
new one recently or replaced the cables on your old bike and that they’re not very well
adjusted a couple of weeks later. And there’s a reason for this – that is that the inner
gear cable, despite being metal, will stretch over time in those first 2 or 3 weeks once
you’ve used the bike, and when the cable stretches, it means it puts the front or rear mech just
slightly out of kilter. To find out if it is a cable stretch or cable
tension issue, it’s quite easy. First things first: put your chain onto the smallest sprocket
on the rear wheel there and then use your gear lever to just go up one gear. If you
find it doesn’t jump up a gear when you press the gear shifter, or you get that familiar
chattering sound as it’s trying to jump up onto the next biggest sprocket, the likelihood
is the cable tension needs to be more. That’s a very easy thing to do – some old road bikes
you might find that there’s a barrel adjuster here by the cable stop if it’s external routing,
but on almost all modern bikes, except those with electronic gears, you’ll find a barrel
adjuster here by the rear mech or rear derailleur. To increase the tension in the inner cable,
you need to wind the barrel adjuster out, which of course means anti-clockwise. Just give it quarter or half a turn, try again,
and just keep doing it until it jumps up onto the next gear. Once that’s happened, try it
again, on to the next biggest sprocket, still not quite going in smoothly – you can hear
that chattering there as it’s trying to jump up onto that sprocket. Once you’ve got it up to the second sprocket
there, try going back down to make sure the adjustment is OK going back down the other
way. It’s sometimes easier just to get back on the bike and do this up and down the road. If you get down to that smallest sprocket
at the back, you wind this barrel adjuster right the way out and it still doesn’t give
your cable enough tension to move it up onto the next sprocket, I’m afraid you’re going
to have to go back to basics and actually use a tool this time, because we need to actually
manually tighten the cable here where the bolt here closes it tight. To do that, you’ll need to reach into your
pocket and grab the allen keys that you took out with you. In general you’ll need a 5mm
allen key. Again, put the chain all the way down in to the very smallest sprocket at the
back. Push the rear mech manually up the cassette at the back. What this will do is relieve even more tension and give you even more slack, and
that makes the adjustment that we’re about to do that bit easier. Undo the cable here. It only needs to come
through just slightly. Tighten it back up. When you turn your pedals, hopefully it will
still drop back into the smallest gear, but there should be a bit more tension on this
cable – you can see the action that’s having on the rear mech there, that means that
when you start pressing the gear up, it’s going to move. Once you’ve got that cable tension back using
that bolt, don’t forget that you can make small adjustments using the barrel adjuster
on the rear mech and that should fine-tune your gears. If you find that your gears are very well
adjusted and they’re moving up and down the block nicely, but you can’t get into the extreme
big or extreme small cog, it might be that you need to adjust the high and low adjusters
on here. For this you’ve going to need a screwdriver, I’ll need a flathead. The ‘H’ stands for ‘High’
and that’s for the small sprocket here and the ‘L’ stands for ‘Low’, which is the biggest
sprocket all the way up here. These screws are very important for general riding, because
they stop the mech from going too far either way. It’s important that they’re well-adjusted,
but if they’re too far pushed in, it will mean you can’t get into that last gear, so
if that’s the case, for example you can’t get into your smallest sprocket, just undo
the ‘H’ bolt, very slightly, you might not need too much of a turn, again a bit of trial
and error will be needed. Give your pedal another turn and you’ll see that it’s gone
in. OK, next scenario – your gears are going very
well, but only in one direction. You can push up the gear very nicely, but they won’t go
back down very well, or vice versa. This probably means that you’ve got sticky cables – there
could be various reasons. Often we get grit inside the outer cables, which means the inners just don’t flow in and out very nicely, or it could be that you’ve got a spring
which has worn out here on the rear mech, or it could be that you’ve got a worn-out
chain, or worn-out cassette or worn-out chainrings. Various things that could be the problem.
Very difficult to fix this while you’re out on the trail, but our recommendation to you
would be to make sure the gears work well on the way down to the smaller sprockets because
you do have a degree of adjustment here at the front where you can just give it an extra push
without clicking up to an extra gear, and that might encourage the rear mech to push
the chain into the next sprocket. Another thing which can majorly affect the
indexing of your gears is if you’ve managed to bend your rear mech hanger somehow. Could’ve
happened in a crash or while you’ve put your bike into the car. Either way – it’s going
to be difficult to fix while you’re out, but this is again where the Hi and Lo stop screws
will really be your friend. Screw them right in to make sure that the rear mech is not
able to go towards the spokes – if it does and it gets caught, then the wheel can rip it completely
off, so make sure that you adjust them so that it’s nowhere near.

82 comments on “How To Adjust Your Gears On A Ride – Roadside Maintenance

  1. Thank you so much! Posted a comment asking for this video a week back, this has helped me loads and learn so much more about the bike. Thank you again and will add this to my favourites and definitely recommend the channel to friends, family and the cycle club!

  2. Now feel like a right idiot for taking my bike back to the shop when its cables got a bit stretched after a couple of weeks. You've explained it really well, great video!

  3. This is great! I've just been fiddling trying to fine-tune my gearing because it wasn't quite perfect, but I was a little uncertain just following written instructions I'd found online and haven't gotten it right yet. This was really quite clear and informative, thanks GCN!

  4. do a video adjusting the front gears now i know theres barrel adjusters for them just not sure how to use them proply

  5. Just saw the huge drop from his saddle to his handlebars!  Could never manage that. Dan Lloyd must be one flexible rider!

  6. Fairly new to the sport, I see nothing is really simple on a road bike and adjustments are intricate. Good vid. I'll have to watch it again. Wondering if you created a vid already on chains falling off. I've listened to many shop mechanic or friend's opinions but it's confusing to understand the balance of adjustments. Also, when stopping, is it correct to always set the chain on the smaller chain ring up front? After stopping, I might back peddle for forward momentum and if the chain is on the larger ring, it falls off. I have a Trek Madone 3.1 2012.

  7. I so agree with Monaco Super. I needed this video 2 days before 🙁 … Had a long brevet and chain rings went for toss owing to my gears… loved the video I guess I will manage not to ruin my ride next time 🙂

  8. Haha I dont know what it is, but even when he´s not fooling around I cant take Dan too seriously! He appears to be such a calf! Dan you are my idol, wanna grow up (or rather not grow up) to be like you! ;D

  9. You guys should do a video comparing Entry Level Carbon bikes vs High Quality Aluminum Road bike around the same price point. Ive been at a place torn between the two before and I know a few people who have been there as well.

  10. It would be nice if you could make a video about asymmetric chain rings, their benefits and disadvantages, and how they perform for different styles and riders 🙂

  11. Great video Daniel
    Love all yr videos but might be wrong shore yr bike had a puncture rear wheel hehehehe nice. ;0

  12. Thanks for the video. GCN videos are always great.
    My gears shift fine, but slip between the middle gears say on the 11-28, they slip between 15-21, but they slip up of down by one gear at a time, so if its in 15, it slips into 16, then back to 15, then to 16 etc. What do you think the issue may be?
    Thanks. Tom.

  13. This happened with my bike a few months ago. Took it to shop and paid £30 for guy to fix it. Then, August 11th, it happened while I was cycling to hard up a hill on my mountain bike. I was annoyed I'd have to spend another £30 for this bike aswell. However, that night you posted this video. I am very grateful, saving me money and helping me learn a useful tip I can keep with me forever. Keep it up. Best channel on YouTube!

  14. Cheers, sorted out the sprocket jumping problem I had with this. Gears were running sweet as a nut for 80k yesterday then my chain came off. Now can't shift to the big chain ring. Can you do a vid on front mech adjustment?

  15. Cheers, sorted out the sprocket jumping problem I had with this. Gears were running sweet as a nut for 80k yesterday then my chain came off. Now can't shift to the big chain ring. Can you do a vid on front mech adjustment?

  16. Cable does not stretch! If it did think of all those suspension bridges collapsing.
    What does happen is the outer cable ferrules are not seated properly in the cable guides when first installed.

  17. As i'm new to cycling this video was very handy as when i purchased my first bike the gears kept on jumping up twice when only changed once 3 weeks after i bought it. Quickly fixed after watching this video by using the barrel adjusters. God knows  where i would be with cycling without GCN videos. Thanks guys!

  18. Just watched 10 things not to eat thanks for that I was just about to put a French stick in my back pocket very funny

  19. What if the problem is involving changing between sprockets on the front mech of the bike? Mine struggle to change and take many attempts for it to happen. Is it the same as adjusting the rear mech?

  20. I just got my first road bike. I'm having a bit of an issue. When the chain is on the bottom chainring and I shift into the lower cogs the chain rubs (chatters against the front mech) I shift the front mech which seems to have a half click in it  so does not shift straight up to the big chainring and this resolves the issue. Is this normal or is there an adjustment that needs to be made at all? Thanks

  21. My rear derailleur doesn't seem to work anymore, I couldn't make the chain jump up from my smallest gear no matter how fast I go so I tend to get uncomfortable as I ride longer due to overpowered pedaling in order to maintain a good amount of cadence T_T

  22. 2:48: lift the bike, push the gears manually and turn the pedal completely…. Wait a minute, how many arms do you have? I am never able to do these three things together, well done!

  23. got a dilemma with my gears, the rear cassette some times struggles to go up when in the middle to high range gears. i use deore shimmano gears.   

  24. Hello GCN. My chain skips whenever I put a lot of pressure onto the pedal. Usually at the start of pedaling or sometimes uphill but this does not happen frequently though.   

  25. Pushing the derailleur to a lower gear to tighten the cable is unnecessary and silly. Why? Because if you have a good drivetrain, the cable should be hand-tight on the hightest gear (in most cases), and if the bike isn't in the hightest gear, it will allow you to make the cable way too tight. I work on Shimano stuff every day, and half the time I don't even have to touch the barrel adjuster to make it work right. Even if the cable has to be thghtened a little after being bolted down, the barrel adjuster can pull it more than enough if you threaded the adjuster all the way in before tightening the cable.

    There is no need to make annoying things harder. Just saying…

  26. Gnargh. Cables don't stretch folks, as they are pre=stretched at the factory with a weight many, many times order of magnitude the force involved in shifting. New outer housing and ferrules compress, until they are bedded in. Then any adjustment needed over time is down to the shifter eating its way into the inside corners of the outer. You can 'bed in' a new setup by trying to shift without turing the crank, but that does load the shifter/mech beyond what it's designed to do, so isn't a great idea.

  27. See this comment from TdF-grade pro wrench Nick Legan: 

    "There are plenty of tricks for pre-stretching cables. (As an aside, it isn’t really that cables stretch, it’s that the housings settle in.) So when we install new cables and housings we’ll do everything we can to settle things in.

    Bikes with internal routing can be difficult. The trick with bikes like the latest Trek Madones is to shift the rear derailleur against your hand. Put your bike in the small chainring and shift to the 14-tooth cog, or thereabouts. Grab the rear derailleur with your left hand, putting your thumb where you’d put a 5mm Allen key to mount the derailleur to the frame and wrap your fingers underneath to hold the jockey wheel cage. With your right hand shift your bike a couple gears, but keep the derailleur from moving with your left hand. Do this a couple times and you’ll develop cable slack.

    On bikes with externally routed cables, you can simply pull on the derailleur cable along the down tube to shift the bike. I recommend holding the derailleur as I explained above. Usually you create slack in the system after a couple cycles of shifting this way.

    I’ve seen some mechanics screw in limit screws on rear derailleurs and shift against them. But manufacturers have always discouraged me from adopting this technique.

    The last trick is to leave the bike in the big chainring and the second largest cog overnight. The spring tension on the derailleur can help settle the cables just a little bit more overnight. Check the shifting again in the morning and you’re ready to rock.

  28. Fantastic info, but I've been traumatized by those bike shorts. Looks like a little girl with an outtie belly button in a bathing suit. Just awful.

  29. so i have a custom road bike that has shimano levers that support up to 3 rings on the front derailleur and i only have 2 rings on the front derailleur and always when i pedal backwards the chain comes off any tips on how to prevent this from happening?

  30. So I've just got a bike(Specialized diverge A1)for Christmas and when I took it out for a short ride around my estate I found the the mech wasn't shifting properly, so I got back and adjusted the cable tension for the rear mech and took it out again and all is good, but I cannot use the top 2 and the bottom 2 sprockets on the cassette as the chain starts to rub against the front derailleur, could anyone at GCN help me or could some one else help me or is it best to leave it to the mechanics at my local bike shop?

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