Step-By-Step: How to Fix Bike Gears That Won’t Shift
Cycling is by far one of the most fun sports. But have you ever had trouble shifting gears while cycling? If yes, then you must be well accustomed to the frustration that comes with it.
Gear shifting problems are quite common, and it’s high time you learn how to fix them on your own by following these steps:
- First, place your bike on a stand.
- Now diagnose the problem at hand.
- To do so, examine the cable adjusters.
- Focus on the faulty gear.
- Now loosen the cable adjuster if the chain doesn’t shift down.
- Tighten the adjuster if the cable doesn’t shift up.
- Now cycle through each gear.
- Finally, go for a test run.
Each cyclist should know the basic knowledge of fixing a gear problem.
Here is a guide that goes through the step-by-step tutorial on how you can fix your gear easily in your home garage.
4 Reasons Why Bike Gears Won’t Shift
There’s a root cause behind every fault; therefore, your bike gear isn’t just acting up out of the blue. Here are some of the common reasons that could be causing a gear shifting problem in your bike:
#1 Derailleur Problems
A fault derailleur can be one of the reasons why your bike gear isn’t shifting.
Examine your bike and observe if the derailleur is damaged or if it’s in a normal position (the derailleur is supposed to be perpendicular to the rear wheel and cassette).
Another possible reason why your bike gear won’t shift can be a bent derailleur hanger. The derailleur hanger is a small piece of metal that’s a part of the derailleur. So if it is bent, it can naturally cause you gear problems.
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However, if it’s bent or curved, it can be moved back into its original shape or position but that requires effort.
Note: it’s recommended that you get it checked by a professional mechanic and do not try it yourself unless you have proper technical knowledge about derailleurs and their problems.
#2 Cable Problems
Another common reason why your bike gears won’t shift is that your bike’s brake cables or cable housing is misaligned. Improperly adjusted cables are one of the biggest culprits behind your bike’s speed delay.
The brake cables sometimes stretch out, gather dirt, and become rusty with time so one should always invest in replacing or cleaning out their bike cables occasionally.
Try to see if your cables are aligned by pulling them in a straight line. If they aren’t straight, then the cable housing is facing issues because of dirt or debris build-up.
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Every cyclist knows that it’s normal for dirt, grease, or even cable trimming scraps to get caught up inside the housing.
But only a few out of a million put in an effort and try to keep their bike’s components clean and free from the greasy residue by regularly lubricating and cleaning their bikes.
As a biker, it is ever so important to analyze your bike chains regularly, as delaying checkups and ignoring their debilitating condition can result in worse consequences.
#3 Limit Screw Misadjustments
Your bike’s limit screws heavily influence its performance on the road. The purpose of the limit screws on your derailleur is to keep it in control so it doesn’t clash or drift too far from the spokes and cassettes.
In simpler words, the limit screws adjust the limit of how far up the cassette the chain will go towards the easiest and the lowest gear.
Therefore if the screw is set too low, it will be too tight or restricting, and the chain will struggle to reach the lowest gear.
If the limit screws are set up too high, it will affect the smallest gears on the cassette. If set incorrectly, the bike will be unable to shift its gear.
Examine your bike’s limit screws to make sure it’s not set too low, or else your bike will have trouble reaching its lowest gear.
Similarly, make sure it’s not set too high either, or else the smallest gear on the cassette won’t work because the chain will be too loose.
#4 Chain Problems
Another crucial reason could be the faulty chains. Bike chains tend to extend in length over time by stretching, because of which they don’t align with the ring of the chain/cog teeth.
These teeth also wear down with time and become too rounded off to hold onto the chains under pressure or applied stress. This is why the chain often slips and skips when tension is applied to it.
One more problem that one faces with the chains is rusty or dirty chains. Chains tend to malfunction and wear out a lot sooner when they have picked up all that debris off the road.
It’s always a good option to clean your bike’s chains after driving on muddy or wet terrains.
You can even use lubricants to clean stubborn debris with a cleaning brush or cloth.
» Read my blog post: Mechanical Brakes Vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes
How to Fix Bike Gears That Won’t Shift: Step By Step
Now that you are aware of some of the common causes of your gear’s inability to shift let’s move on to learn the ways to fix them.
Tools You’ll Need
The tools that you’ll require to carry out these steps are as follows:
- Clean rag
- Bike repair stand
- Chain breaker
- Set of Allen keys
- Philips screwdriver
#1 Place Your Bike On a Stand
To begin your journey of fixing your bike gears, you first need to place your bike on a bike repair stand.
For optimal process, make sure the stand you’re using allows your bike to be steady and its wheels to spin freely without moving the bike.
Having your bike rest on a stand is essential because you get to have a good angle of what you need to find and fix.
All parts of the bike are more accessible and within reach in comparison to having to lay your bike on the ground and then operate.
You can also access a garage or local shop where they have stands to do your work. Or you can just lean your bike against the wall or put it upside down.
Anything is okay if the bike is stable and lets you work on it without it moving constantly.
#2 Inspect and Diagnose the Gear Shifting Problem
The next step is to examine your bike and figure out the root cause. Start by looking for the derailleurs of your bike and pinpointing their exact location.
After accurately recognizing both the front and rear derailleur, make sure they are not clogged and littered with sand particles because they cause hindrance in the functioning of derailleurs.
To prevent this, clean out both the derailleurs on your bike by wiping them with a rag until they are both free of dirt residue.
You can also examine by testing the gears on your bike. Rotate the pedals of your bike with your hands and check both of your gears thoroughly. Observe and pinpoint exactly where the problem lies.
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#3 Examine the Cable Adjusters
Moving forward with this step-by-step guide, what you need to do next is spot cables that connect to the derailleurs and their adjusters.
Adjusters look like small nuts or barrels around the cables on your bike. There is an adjuster for the derailleur end and a separate one for handlebars in every cable.
The purpose of these adjustors is to grant you the ability to make readjustments efficiently by making customized changes to the derailleur cables.
#4 Focus On the Trouble Gear
After locating the cable adjusters and identifying the occurring issue that is causing the gear not to shift, you need to examine or focus on the faulty gear thoroughly.
You can do that by paying attention to the gear wheel while you pedal your bike with your hand. To see if there is any issue here, you can shift the gear wheels upwards and see the real issue.
One issue can be that the chain is not shifting, and another issue can be that the bike’s gear is skipping. Now keep your bike on that exact gear in which you spotted an issue and follow the next step.
#5 Loosen the Cable Adjuster If the Chain Does Not Shift Down
If you observe the chain is not shifting even when you lower the gear, you need to loosen the cable adjuster.
Do that by rotating the cable adjuster anticlockwise and further observing if the shifting is difficult when you’re lowering the gear — it will eventually loosen the cable adjuster.
Keep doing this process until you notice that the chain has fallen into the right gear wheel. While doing this, you need to keep in mind to be patient and take your time to adjust the bike gears slowly and gently.
The trick to loosening the cable is simple, you just have to keep turning the cable adjuster in the desired direction. To make the chain move towards your bike, rotate in the same direction.
However, do not rotate the cable adjuster too much, or it will get detached from the derailleur.
Just thread the adjuster into the derailleur and shift into the smallest gear, then loosen the pinch bolt and pull the cable with your hand.
#6 Tighten the Cable Adjuster If the Cable Does Not Shift Up
If you notice that the shifting is hard when you change the gear upwards, then you need to tighten the cable adjuster. To tighten the cable adjuster, move it in the clockwise direction.
Keep turning until you notice that the chain has automatically switched to the right gear.
Tip: You just need to move the cable adjuster in the direction you want. To make the chain move up, you have to rotate it away from the bike.
#7 Cycle Through Each Gear
Now that you have successfully solved the issue ensure that everything is in its place by cycling through every gear. It is good to stay cautious and to ensure that the gear doesn’t stop shifting again.
To do so, go through every gear again once or twice until the derailleur can’t shift through each one of them. Observe and ensure that the chain flows smoothly from one gear to the other on every shift.
After ensuring that the derailleur is shifting through every turn of the gear wheel smoothly, you can remove the bike from the bike stand and prepare for a test run.
#8 Test Run
Now that you are 100% sure that all issues have been resolved and the gear is running smoothly, it is still better to be safe than sorry.
Therefore, to spot other underlying problems, take the bike for a short test run.
Sometimes the issues can become visible when the bike is in action and operation mode, such as the bike may act differently under your weight or with speed or bumps.
So to be sure that the gear is running smoothly, ride the bike around your neighborhood or a small park and test out all the gears.
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How to Diagnose Common Drivetrain Issues
The most crucial part is diagnosing the issue which is causing the gear to not shift in place. As discussed above, there can be multiple problems that may be causing your gear issue.
Here are some of the ways you can employ to diagnose the drivetrain issues:
If you notice that your bike gear won’t shift up or down perfectly with a click, then it is most likely the stretched-out gear cables causing it. You will have to re-index the bike gears.
If your bike chain keeps dropping off of the cassette or the chainrings even when your gears are well indexed, then it can be caused by poorly set up derailleur limit screws which need to be adjusted.
It can be caused by a bent or curved derailleur hanger as well.
If you notice that the chain shifts too far in one direction, even if your bike’s rear gears are properly indexed, then it can be a bent rear hanger.
If the bike’s chain doesn’t run to the bottom of the cassette and shafts over the big cog into the spokes and vice versa, then it can be due to a bent rear hanger caused by accident. Or sometimes, it can be due to the screws.
If downshifting is fine but upshifting is rigid and sticky, then you need to consider replacing your cables. The dirty or rusty cables or cable housing causes them to run slowly and rigidly.
If you notice that the bike’s chain keeps slipping, jumping, or generally misbehaving, then inspect your cassette, chainrings, and chain for any signs of wear and tear.
If you notice pointy and sharp profiles on the cog teeth or chainrings, then you immediately need to replace your chain, cassette, or chainrings.
Experiencing bike gear problems is by far the most troublesome issue a cyclist has to face. But the good news is that it can be accommodated and restored to its original smooth gear shifting ability by following a few steps only.
Resolving this matter isn’t tricky at all if you diligently keep your bike maintained and do regular checkups.