This is a topic that might seem simple, but true for many beginners, it can be confusing and a little scary. But with a little practice, it's actually pretty easy. Here's what you need to know:
- Three front gears. There are usually three gears in the front - the large, medium and small. There is one shifting mechanism at the handlebars for switching between these gears (marked 1, 2 and 3). The large one is for when the pedaling is the easiest, and can go the fastest. Good for downhills and flats. The small one is for hills, and takes a lot of pedaling to go the same distance as the other two, but is much easier to turn. The middle is between them, and is probably going to be used most often (at least by us beginners).
- Seven back gears. These also go from small to largest, and have a shifting mechanism for switching between them (1-7). I usually pair the small front gear with the largest three back gears (1-3), the medium front gear with the middle back gears (3-5), and the large front gear with the smallest back gears (5-7).
- Basic premise. Basically, you want to pedal using the largest front gear with the smallest back gear that you can handle while still pedaling at a high cadence (pedaling fast). That means that if you can shift to a larger front gear while still pedaling at a high cadence, you should. But if it begins to get too tough for you to pedal at a high cadence, shift down to a smaller front gear (or larger back gear or both). This will take a little practice, but it's not hard. And as you get better at cycling, you will be able to pedal faster with the harder gears, over time.