How To Select Gears for a Touring Bike
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How do you find the right gears for your needs? When I first bought my mountain bike, I had yet to learn what the gears were for, so I adjusted them randomly. When my chain finally fell off, thanks to a lack of maintenance, I realized the gears were there for more than I understood.
Touring bikes require easy access to the bike chain and train. Derailleur bike gears are the best options since they allow easy access for cleaning and can be adjusted quickly. While hub bikes offer protection to the chain, they prevent maintenance and add extra weight to your ride.
What exactly is a gear for on a bike? What kind of gear is best for touring? Keep reading to learn more about this topic!
What Is the Purpose of Gears on a Bike?
Gears are designed to maximize your energy output from pedaling your bicycle and convert it into speed.
Some simpler bikes have only a few gears that switch automatically or only one gear that maintains a steady pace.
However, professional and enthusiast bikes have several which are used to accommodate shifts in weight and terrain.
The gears of a bike are sometimes lovingly referred to as the bike’s transmission. Old bike models did not have all the gadgets of a modern gear system and required the rider to shift them manually.
Most riders would have to dismount their bike, remove the chains, and place them on a higher gear ring.
This was a tedious chore, especially if you were riding your bike up a steep slope. Some seasoned bikers might be familiar with this concept when their bikes fail to shift gears properly.
Most modern bikes shift gears automatically or with a handlebar gear crank. This makes changing gears a lot simpler and time effective.
Gears on a bike are also known as the “speeds.” This refers to the shift in the bike’s chain tightness or looseness and how it impacts the effort needed to move the bike.
Putting your bike in low or high gear impacts the amount of resistance you receive from the bike’s pedals.
High gear means the rider needs to work harder to complete a single rotation and is better for descending a hill.
Low gear means there’s minimal resistance from the bike pedals, and the bike completes cycles quickly. This is better for climbing a hill.
There are many intermediate gears as well. While most kids’ bikes are single-speed (only one gear), as their skills improve, they’ll graduate to bikes with different speeds.
While more speeds might seem better, you only want what you need. The more speeds your bike has, the more maintenance and expertise it will require.
We will dive into how to choose the best speed for your biking needs below!
What Are the Different Types of Gears For a Bike?
There are generally three types of gears for a bike: derailleur, hub, and single gear.
Each type suits a different need, but the single gear isn’t ideal for anyone who isn’t just starting to learn.
If you’re new to biking or are teaching a child, then single gear is best, but multi-geared bikes are better for distance and endurance riding.
Derailleur bike gears are the most common for mountain and long-distance biking.
As the name implies, these gears derail, sometimes called “jumping,” when you shift gears. These types of gears consist of various sprockets, a chain, and different-sized mechanisms to move the chain.
This system is a semi-automatic shifting system. This means you’ll have to shift the gears with the gear shift on the handlebars but won’t have to manually remove the chain and place them in a different gear.
This variety is typically exposed, lending it more susceptible to rust and damage. However, they’re also the easiest to change and maintain.
These gears are designed for people who like to go off-roading or adventure across the country.
This variety is best for touring for the following reasons:
- Multiple gears for varied terrain
- Gives the rider control
- Easily repaired
- Easily oiled and maintained
The most popular speed variety for mountain bikers is a 21-speed. This doesn’t mean the bike has 21 chains or gears.
It refers to the number of spokes on the gear wheel. This allows the rider to shift seamlessly between gears.
The number of speeds you choose and your design type depends on your needs. Single-speed bikes are great for cruising.
They’re ideal for beginners or amateur bikers who don’t want to perform much maintenance.
Hub bikes have several gears covered by a metal or plastic hub. This cover protects your chain and gears from the elements and prolongs their lifespan. But this makes maintenance and repairs very difficult.
These might be good for beginner mountain bikers, but they’re not a great long-term selection.
And speaking of bike types, here are 3 top-notch articles I wrote about different types, different ways to bike, and different things you should know:
- Tandem Bike Touring Explained
- Can You Use A Folding Bike For Touring?
- Touring Bike Vs. Gravel Bike | What’s the difference?
How Do You Know What Gears to Use On Your Bike?
The type of gears you choose for your bike depends on your needs and skills.
The more gears you have, the more skill, power, and maintenance your bike will require. Therefore, you should upgrade your bike capabilities as your skillset improves.
Selecting the gear that’s best suited to your needs can seem tricky at first. When I first started riding on a 7-speed bike, I would simply shift the gears randomly until I felt comfortable.
This is one way of doing it, but it’s not the most effective method.
Checking what spoke your chain is on is the best way to determine what gear you’re in. Each spoke counts out from the smallest, central ring. Therefore, if you’re out three from the middle ring, you’re in third gear.
This is probably the best way to determine which gear you’re in. Regarding which gear is best for you, this is a more personal preference.
However, as a rule of thumb, you should choose the gear that challenges you without wearing you out. This is a great way to train and improve your endurance.
Also, I want to add that it’s important to have a sufficient amount of water bottle holders on your bike, but not by drilling more holes. I explain how I do that in this article, How To Install A Water Bottle Cage On A Bike Without Holes.
While riding uphill, stay in a lower gear to maintain your speed and ascent. Between 1-4 are the best options, depending on how steep the climb is and how long you’ll have to ensure the ascent.
High gear is best for going downhill. Between 5-8 are ideal (or above if your bike has higher gears).
What Types of Gears Are Best for Touring?
The Derailleur system is the best option for touring. While these systems require the most maintenance, they’re also the easiest to repair.
This is essential if you’re traveling since damage to your chain and gear system will happen at some point.
The derailleur system can be changed, fixed, and maintained. This makes greasing, cleaning, and changing your bike chain possible. This is not the case for a hub system.
While maintenance isn’t a desired trait for simple cruising, it’s essential while you’re on the road. It’s a good idea to bring a set or two of replacement chains with you while touring so you can change them out as needed.
However, be careful to select the right-sized chain for your bike. A sagging chain can be caused by a few issues, including:
- New chain on an old bike
- An Old chain that needs replacement
- Damaged chain
Fortunately, all of these issues can be fixed on a derailleur system.
How Can You Maintain Your Bike Chain and Gear System?
Cleaning, greasing, and protecting your bike chain and gear system is the best way to care for it.
Use a small bristled brush to remove excess debris from inside each spoke hole of the chain. This will help your bike switch gears easier and stay in gear without slipping.
It’s important to keep your bike chain and train properly lubricated. If these parts dry out, they won’t switch gears properly or hold position properly.
How often you lubricate your bike chain is dependent on several factors, including the following:
- Age of bike
- Age of chain
- How far you ride (check out: How To Cycle Long Distances Without Getting Tired)
As a general rule, while bikepacking or cycle touring, lubricate and clean your chain once per week. This should keep it clean and prevent issues while riding.
However, clean it every night if you’re riding through particularly muddy and rainy regions. The mud can cling to the chain, disrupting it from clinging properly and rusting the metal.
Mud holds moisture and can lead to the oxidation of the metal. While mud itself doesn’t cause rust, the moisture it holds can corrode metal and lead to rust.
Selecting the right gears for your bike might seem overwhelming at first. With so many options to choose from and different styles of riding, it can get confusing pretty quickly!
I hope this article helped you find the best gears for your needs. My top recommendation is a 21-speed derailleur, but it’s ultimately up to you.
If you’re looking for a smaller bike, you can try an 18-speed bike. I’d advise against getting a hub bike for touring since they’re difficult to repair and maintain. Other than that, get out there and enjoy the ride!
Before you leave, here are two extremely helpful articles: Bikepacking Water Storage Guide & Bike Touring Packing List (Printable PDF).
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