Monday, October 1, 2007

Q&A: Making a bike pedal easier

Can you tell me if there is anything that can be done to make pedaling easier? I've just started riding and I ride a hybrid bike, not a fast rider or too long of rides but I heard that if you spend more on the main gears it makes pedaling easier. Would you please tell me your thoughts on this, and are all gears the same size?

Thank you,

Hi RF,
Some things to check include the tire pressure, the chain and the wheels. Bicycle tires lose air over time. If a bike sits for even a couple of weeks, the tires seep air -- and soft tires make it much, much harder to ride any bicycle. To fix this you simply need to check your tires before every ride and inflate them to the recommended pressure. This is usually printed on the sides of the tires. Typically, hybrid tires take about 60psi. You could also ride by any bike shop and ask them to top the tires off for you, which they'll usually be happy to do for free.

Next, you should check the chain to make sure it's lubricated. If it's dry and squeaking it will make it much harder to pedal the bike. To fix this, just get some bicycle chain lube at a bicycle store and apply it. Apply one drop to each link, wait a few hours, pedal backwards slowly to let the lube get into the links and then wipe off the excess.

You should also lift the bike by the handlebars and spin the front wheel, then lift by the seat and spin the rear, to make sure that the wheels are spinning freely. If not, you'll want to figure out what's causing the friction. The wheels need to spin freely for easy pedaling. Here, too, a bike shop could take a look and advise you if needed.

If all these things are fine and you're still having trouble pedaling the bike then it might be because you are riding in too hard a gear. It should help to think of yourself as the bike's engine. When riding your goal is to always ride in a gear that's easy for you to pedal whether you're on the flat, on a steep climb or zooming downhill. You do this by constantly shifting gears. Obviously if it's a flat, easy road, you don't need to shift gears much, but if you're on a rolling road or fighting a headwind, you will shift every time your legs get tired. That's the beauty of a multi-speed bike. It lets you fine-tune the pedaling simply by shifting until you're in a gear that feels just right for where you're riding.

Most hybrid bikes these days have 3 sprockets on the front and 7 or 8 on the back meaning they have 21 or 24 gears. The easiest way to ride/shift these bikes is to think of the front sprockets as where you choose your "easy" (when the chain is on the small sprocket), "medium" (when the chain is on the middle sprocket) and "hard" (when the chain is on the largest sprocket) ranges of gears. You choose one of these based on where you're riding and leave it there most of the time, for example in hilly terrain you'd leave it on the easy (smallest) sprocket.

Then you would do most of your shifting with your right lever, which shifts between the 7 or 8 gears in the back. By shifting onto larger cogs in the back you make it easier to pedal and vise versa. If the terrain changes, you could shift the left lever to move the chain onto the "medium" (middle)sprocket to go into a medium range of 7 or 8 gears.

In this fashion you can always put yourself in a nice gear that's easy to ride no matter whether the road tilts up or down or is completely flat.

Hope something here helps you enjoy your bike,

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