7 Speed Bike Gears Explained

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If you’ve got a 7-speed bike (or you’re thinking of getting one) then you might be wondering what exactly ‘7 speed’ means for bicycle gears. Gears can be one of the most confusing part of bicycles for many people, so you’re not on your own. I’m going to take you through what 7-speed gears are, what they look like on your bike, how to use them and what situations they’re great for (plus, which situations they don’t work so well in).

What are 7-speed bike gears

If you sit on the saddle of a 7-speed bike and look down towards the right pedal, you’ll see something that looks like the diagram below.

7 speed bike gears explained - top down diagram

The right pedal attaches to the crank arm and this is connected to a ‘chain ring’. This is a toothed cog that turns as you push the pedal around. Running over the chain ring is the chain. The job of the chain is to take the pedal power to the rear wheel.

Follow the chain back to the rear wheel and you’ll see that the chain goes over a set of toothed cogs (known as the ‘rear cassette’ this has 7 cogs on a 7-speed bike) and then winds its way through a component with two smaller cogs underneath (this is known as the ‘rear derailleur’).

It’s a little complex to describe, so here’s what it looks like.

Rear wheel on a 7-speed bike: cassette, derailleur, and chain
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What bikes do you typically see 7-speeds on?

You’ll see 7-speed gears on a wide range of bikes. Most will be what are typically known as ‘hybrid bikes’. These are bikes that work well in a wide range of situations from cruising to the beach, doing laps of the park with the family, and commuting to work. Hybrid bikes are sometimes also called city bikes, commuter bikes, fitness bikes, cross bikes and comfort bicycles.

You will likely also see 7 gears on other types of bikes such as ebikes and beach cruiser bicycles.

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What are 7 speed bikes good for?

7-speed bikes are perfect for cycling on flat or undulating roads, pavement and smooth trails.

The gears give you enough assistance when you’re cycling up gentle hills – 7 speed bikes are normally enough for hills like this. However, if you’re regularly cycling up much steeper slopes, then it may be worth considering a mountain bike instead.

Similarly, on horizontal roads and trails, the 7 gears allow you to cruise along at a good speed without your legs spinning around too fast. NB. If you want to go very fast on smooth roads all the time, then it might be a good idea to check out road bikes as an alternative.

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How to use 7-speed bike gears

7-speed bike gears are easy to use once you’ve had a little practice.

There are a few important rules to remember for smooth gear shifting:

1) Only change gears whilst you are pedalling – don’t try and change when you are stopped or are freewheeling along. If you do, then you will either not be able to change gear, or worse, you might cause damage to the components.

2) Gear changes are done by using the gear shifter, which will be on your handlebars. This will be one of two types: either a pair of smaller levers (trigger shifters) near the brake lever, or a twist shifter (such as the Shimano Revoshift) which is integrated into the handlebar grip.

Use as follows:

  • Trigger shifter – push one lever to change up a gear and the other to change down a gear
  • Twist shifter – twist the shifter towards you to change down a gear and away from you to change up a gear

3) It’s important to look ahead to see what the gradient is going to do – if you see an uphill coming up shortly, then get ready to change down a gear (and vice versa).

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What is ‘low gear’ on a 7-speed bike? (and what is ‘Gear 1’?)

‘Low gears’ on a bike are used when you want to climb up hills.

Your legs will pedal faster but you won’t have to push as hard going up a slope as you would if you were in ‘high gear’.

‘Gear 1’ is the lowest or bottom gear and you’ll be in the gear 1 when the chain is on the largest cog (closest to the rear wheel):

Bottom gear or lowest gear on a 7-speed bike
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What is ‘high gear’ on a 7-speed bike? (and what is ‘top gear’?)

You use ‘high gears’ when you’re cruising along a horizontal trail or pavement, or when you’re cycling down hills.

For each pedal stroke you will go further than you would in a low gear – if you tried to cycle down a hill in your lowest gear you’d find your legs were just spinning round and round, and you’d quickly get tired muscles.

Gear 7, your highest gear, is usually known as ‘top gear’. You’ll be in gear 7 when your chain is on the smallest cog (furthest from the rear wheel).

Top gear on a 7-speed bike
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Gears on a 7-speed bike take a little practice to fully master. Once you do you’ll realize that they’re a real benefit – allowing you to cycle up slopes easier than if you had no gears and whizz down the other side fast.

Remember that your gear shifter is located on the handlebars (either a pair of small trigger shifter levers or a twist shift that’s incorporated into the grip).

Make sure you’re pedalling whilst you change gears – the chain won’t be able to shift onto a neighboring cog unless you are.

And, finally, look ahead to see how the slope of the road is going to change:

  • Sloping downhill? Change into a higher gear.
  • Sloping uphill? Change into a lower gear.

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