How to Adjust Bicycle Gears

Table of Contents

With a new bike, you’ll probably want to tune the gears just a bit to get them to shift smoothly. When you ride a lot, a couple of adjustments now and then will also come in handy.

If you’ve noticed noise or have had trouble shifting gears, you might need to adjust the gears. Learning how to adjust bicycle gears will take you a couple of minutes, and save you from repeated visits to the bike shop.

Adjust Bicycle Gears

How to Adjust Your Gears at Home

Before you start, it’s best to set up your bike somewhere with the back wheel elevated. This way, you can shift the gears and move the pedals freely to test the brakes.

Depending on your bike, you’ll need an Allen wrench and possibly a screwdriver to adjust your gears.

There are a couple of different components to pay attention to when it comes to adjusting your bike gears,  We’ll walk you through all of them and how to go about adjusting them. Just remember to go slow and take it easy to not mess up the settings.

Shifter

Among the easiest adjustments for your gears is the shifter on the handlebars. Normally, you can tighten the cable by hand, turning the barrel adjuster at the start of the cable until it’s nice and snug. Some bikes will have the barrel adjuster at the rear derailleur.

You don’t have to go overboard tightening it, just make sure it isn’t loose when you’re going out on a ride.

Cable

Cable tension is responsible for shifting the gears, but the inner wire can corrode or stretch over time. This will make it harder for the gears to index properly.

You might notice some problems with your gears not shifting while everything else works well. This means it’s time to change the cable.

This part is a bit more complicated, so if you’re not sure how to change the cable, take your bike to a shop.

Derailleur

The derailleur is the part responsible for derailing the chain and shifting its position between the cogs.

Depending on your bike, you might have derailleurs in the front and back, or you might only have one chainring and no derailleur at the front. In either case, the back one is usually crucial because the back gears are the ones you use the most.

A normal derailleur design has two jockey wheels:

  • Upper: Keeps the chain lined up with the cassette.
  • Lower: Moves up and down to take up the chain slack when you switch gears.

This is where most of the important adjustments for your gears are, so we’ll go through each:

Cable Tension

Just like at the gear shifters, there should be an adjuster at the derailleur. When you’re making adjustments, loosen it to give you some room to work.

It will take either an Allen wrench or a screwdriver, and some will have a barrel adjuster to loosen the tension by hand.

You need to make sure the tension is nice and taut when you’ve finished, but not tight. When you’re on the saddle, you can give it a finishing touch at the shifter.

Limit Screws

There are usually two limit screws you can adjust on the rear derailleur. They’re responsible for moving the derailleur from side to side to keep the chain in alignment.

On a new bike, these screws are likely extra tight, and you’ll have to adjust them to get the most out of your gears:

  1. Identify the screw for the highest gear: They’re often marked with an ‘H’ and an ‘L’ to identify the high and low screw.
  2. Put your bike in the highest gear: This should move the derailleur jockey wheel to the smallest cog.
  3. Alignment is key: The derailleur wheel should be perfectly in line with the chain. If it’s not, turn the high screw counter-clockwise until it is.
  4. Move on to the low screw: Put your bike in the lowest gear, so the derailleur is at the largest cog, closest to the wheel. Adjust until they align perfectly.
  5. Test if the chain moves: You should be able to switch gears without a problem. Keep adjusting until there’s no noise, and the shifting feels comfortable.

B-Tension Screw

The B-tension screw adjusts the derailleur’s lower guide wheel height.

If it’s too high, you’ll have too much tension and risk snapping the chain. It will also make a clicking noise.

Too low, and it will make it harder for the gears to switch.

To check this screw, you need to put in the lowest gear in the biggest cog. There should be a bit of room between the cog and the derailleur’s upper wheel. How much room you need depends on your bike and how many gears you have.

Clutch

You may also have a simple, hand-operated clutch that gives the drivetrain more tension. This can help you keep the chain from falling on a rough trail or bumpy road, so you can move it up and down according to your needs.

Derailleur Hanger

The derailleur hanger can bend, especially after a crash or from rough use, which will mess up the alignment. You’ll notice your rear derailleur hanger being bent when you can’t switch gears normally, and you’ll either need to change it or bend it back to normal.

You can buy a specific tool to bend the hanger, but it can be easier to take your bike to a shop.

If you’re riding on longer trips, especially trails, your best bet is to keep a replacement with your bike accessories and tools.

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The Bottom Line

Learning how to adjust bicycle gears takes a couple of minutes, but it’s well worth it. You’ll fix small problems on your own at home or on the road, while saving money and time.

When your bike is properly adjusted, you can shift gears smoothly without clicking or other problems getting into the higher or lower gears.

Remember to take it easy. Small adjustments will go a long way and will prevent you from over-adjusting and causing further alignment issues.

 

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