A good understanding of your gears, and how to use them correctly is essential in maintaining fitness, as well as minimizing your chances for repetitive-strain injury while riding a bike.
Take a step back for a moment and think about the automatic transmission in your car. When you pull up to a stoplight, the car downshifts accordingly into first gear. As the light turns green and you apply the gas, the car senses the amount of speed, and shifts into the next gear accordingly. Your car constantly adjusts to your speed, and picks the right gear- ultimately to preserve your transmission, engine and all associated pieces and parts with the drive-terrain.
When riding a bike, we make the choices on what gear we ride in, and in turn how much stress we place on our ‘transmission and engine’ (i.e. the knees, hips, low back back) with repetitive pedaling.
So, take this ‘automatic transmission’ concept to heart when you ride a bike: If you slow down or come to a stop, shift into a much easier gear, then as you get moving faster, gradually shift as you increase speed. Once you then find a gear that allows you to spin freely and at your desired speed, do not keep down-shifting into further challenging gears- this is akin to driving your car at 25mph in 4th gear!
Practice this concept on your daily rides, and eventually it will indeed become ‘automatic’, leading to many more pain-free miles down the road!
–Kevin Schmidt, MSPT, CMP, Bike PT – PT/owner of Pedal PT in Portland, Oregon