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What You Need To Know About Mountain Bike Shifting

If you’re new to mountain biking, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the number of shifting systems and components available. What type of shifting system is best for your bike? How do you set up the system? What are the benefits of each type of shifting system? What do you need to do in order to troubleshoot common shifting problems? In this blog, I’ll share my personal experience with mountain bike shifting and provide all the information you need to make the most of your shifting system.

Types of mountain bike shifting systems

When choosing a mountain bike, understanding the shifting system is essential to ensure you get the right bike for your needs. Mountain bike shifting systems come in three main types: derailleur, hub gear, and the internal gear.

Derailleur systems are the most common type of mountain bike shifting system. Derailleur systems use a chain to move the gears, which are located on the rear wheel. The chain is moved by a pair of derailleur arms, which can be operated by shifting the bike’s shifters. The number of gears on a derailleur system is generally between 7 and 11, and the gear range depends on the size of the cassette on the rear wheel.

Hub gear systems are becoming increasingly popular for mountain bikes. Hub gears are located inside the rear wheel, and the shifting is done via a geared hub rather than a derailleur system. Hub gear systems generally offer a wider range of gears than derailleur systems, and some even offer a gear range of up to 18 gears. The main advantage of hub gear systems is that they are relatively maintenance-free.

Internal gear systems are the least common type of mountain bike shifting system. Internal gear systems use a set of gears located in the bottom bracket of the bike, which can be shifted using a shifter located on the handlebars. Internal gear systems generally offer a smaller range of gear than derailleur and hub gear systems. The main advantage of internal gear systems is that they are much more reliable than derailleur and hub gear systems, and require less maintenance.

Each type of mountain bike shifting system has its own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the different types of shifting systems and their pros and cons will help you make an informed decision when choosing the right mountain bike for your needs.

mountain bike

Benefits of different types of shifting systems

Traditional Derailleur System: This is the most common type of shifting system, and it offers the widest range of gears. It’s very reliable but requires regular maintenance and adjustment.

  • Internal Gear Hub (IGH): This type of shifting system is sealed and requires less maintenance than a traditional derailleur system. It also provides a wide range of gears, but the shifting is slightly slower than a derailleur system.
  • Single-Speed: A single-speed system is the simplest and most lightweight of the shifting systems. It only has one gear and is perfect for riders who don’t need a lot of different gearing options.
  • Electronic Shifting: Electronic shifting is an advanced type of shifting system that uses electronic sensors to shift the gears. It’s the most expensive type of shifting system but provides the fastest and most precise shifting.
  • Single Chainring: A single chainring system is the simplest and lightest of the shifting systems. It’s great for riders who don’t need a wide range of gear. It’s also the most affordable type of shifting system.

How to troubleshoot common shifting problems

Check the Cable Tension: Check the tension of the shifting cable. Too much tension can make shifting difficult.

  • Inspect the Derailleur: Inspect the derailleur to make sure it is properly aligned and the limit screws are properly adjusted.
  • Check the Chain: Make sure the chain is clean and properly lubricated. Make sure the chain is not too tight as this can cause shifting problems.
  • Check the Chainrings: Check the chainrings for wear and tear. Make sure they are not worn down too far.
  • Check the Shifters: Make sure the shifters are working properly. Make sure they are properly adjusted and that the shifting lever is not stuck.
  • Clean and Lubricate the Drivetrain: Clean and lubricate the drivetrain components such as the cassette, chain, derailleur, and shifters. It is important to keep them clean and well-lubricated for smooth shifting.
  • Adjust the Limit Screws: Adjust the limit screws to make sure the bike shifts through the full range of gears.
  • Replace Worn Components: Replace any worn components such as the cassette, chain, or derailleur if necessary.
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Tips for optimizing your shifting system

Always keep your chain clean and lubricated. This will help ensure smooth shifting and prevent unnecessary wear and tear.

  • When shifting, make sure you are pedaling in a smooth, consistent manner. Abrupt shifts can damage the drivetrain and cause the chain to jump off the cassette.
  • Always shift one gear at a time. It is possible to shift two or three gears at once, but this can cause the chain to slip and wear out the drivetrain prematurely.
  • Make sure your derailleur is properly aligned and tensioned. This will help ensure your chain stays in place and you get the most out of your shifting system.
  • When shifting, use light, steady pressure. Avoid jerky movements or excessive force, as this can cause the derailleur to over-shift and damage the drivetrain.
  • If you are having trouble shifting, make sure your cables are in good condition. Cables that are frayed, stretched or worn can cause shifting issues.
  • Try to shift in a consistent cadence, rather than shifting erratically. This will help ensure the chain stays in place and your drivetrain stays in good condition.
  • When possible, make sure your chain is in the same gear on both the small and large chainrings. This will help minimize wear and tear on the drivetrain.
mountain bike

How to maintain your shifting system

Change your chain regularly: You should replace your chain at least every 2,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes first. This will help to keep your shifting system running smoothly and reduce the wear and tear on other components of your bike.

  • Check your cables: Make sure your cables are in good working order by regularly inspecting them for fraying, kinks, or other signs of damage. Replace any worn or damaged cables and ensure that they are properly tensioned.
  • Keep your derailleurs clean and lubricated: Dirt and grime can quickly build up on your derailleurs, affecting their performance. Clean your derailleurs regularly with a degreaser, and lubricate them with a light lubricant.
  • Check your shifting system regularly: Make sure your shifting system is adjusted properly by regularly checking it for any signs of wear and tear. Make sure all screws and bolts are tightened, and that all parts are properly aligned.
  • Regularly replace your cassette: Over time, the teeth on your cassette can wear down, resulting in shifting problems. You should replace your cassette at least every 2,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes first.
  • Adjust your limit screws: Your limit screws help to prevent your chain from over-shifting and causing unnecessary damage. Make sure your limit screws are adjusted correctly and that your chain has the proper tension.
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Understanding the components of a shifting system

A shifting system, also known as a drivetrain, is a critical component of any mountain bike. It allows riders to adjust the gear ratio of their bike to suit the terrain they’re tackling and provides greater control and efficiency when riding. However, understanding the components of a shifting system can be challenging. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the key elements of a shifting system and how they work together.

At the heart of any shifting system is the derailleur, which is responsible for changing gears. The derailleur is typically mounted near the rear wheel and consists of two pulleys and a cage. The pulleys are held in place by the cage, which is also connected to the shifter cable. The derailleur is responsible for moving the chain along the cassette, which is a collection of sprockets of different sizes and is connected to the rear wheel.

In order to change gears, the shifter cable is pulled or released. This motion moves the derailleur and causes it to shift the chain onto a different sprocket, which results in a different gear ratio. To ensure smooth shifting, the derailleur should be properly tensioned and adjusted to the size of the chain and cassette.

Finally, the shifting system also includes the shifter itself, which is a lever or set of levers located on the handlebars. The shifter is used to pull or release the shifter cable and is typically operated with a thumb or forefinger.

Understanding the components of a shifting system is essential to getting the most out of your mountain bike. By taking the time to familiarise yourself with the system, you can ensure that your bike is operating as efficiently as possible and that you’re always in the right gear for the terrain.

Basic steps for setting up your shifting system

Setting up your shifting system on your mountain bike can seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually quite easy once you know the basics. Here are the basic steps you need to take to get your mountain bike shifting like a pro:

  • Begin by adjusting your derailleur. Make sure your rear derailleur is mounted properly and that it is adjusted to the correct height and angle. If the angle is not correct, it can cause the chain to fall off, so make sure it is set up properly.
  • Next, adjust your chain. You want the chain to be taut, but not too tight. If it is too tight, it can cause the chain to slip when shifting.
  • After that, adjust your shifter. Make sure your shifter is adjusted to the correct position so that it is easy to reach.
  • Once everything is adjusted, it’s time to adjust the limit screws. These screws help you limit the range of gears your bike will shift into. Adjust them so that your bike can shift into all the gears you want it to.
  • Finally, adjust the cable tension. This will determine how quickly and smoothly your bike will shift.

By following these basic steps, you should have your mountain bike shifting like a pro in no time.

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Accessories that enhance your shifting system

When it comes to mountain bike shifting, the right accessories can make a big difference. From shifter cables and housing to cassettes, drivetrains, and chainrings, there are a variety of components you can use to enhance your shifting system.

Shifter Cables and Housing

Shifter cables and housing are essential components of any mountain bike shifting system, as they help transfer the rider’s shifting forces to the derailleur. Upgrading the shifter cables and housing can result in a smoother, more efficient shifting experience. High-quality shifter cables and housing are usually made from stainless steel, which is resistant to corrosion and rust.


A cassette is a collection of cogs that sit on the rear wheel of a mountain bike. When you shift gears, the cassette works with the chainrings to move the chain up, down, or across the cogs. Upgrading your cassette to one with a wider range of gears can give you more control over your bike’s speed and power.


The drivetrain is a system of components that work together to transfer power from the pedals to the rear wheel. It includes the crankset, chainrings, chain, derailleur, and cassette. Upgrading your drivetrain can result in smoother, more efficient shifting and improved power transfer.


Chainrings are large circular gears that attach to the crankset and drive the chain. They come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 28t to 42t, allowing you to customize your bike’s gearing for any ride. Upgrading your chainrings can improve your shifting performance and give you more control over your speed and power.

By upgrading your shifter cables and housing, cassette, drivetrain, and chainrings, you can dramatically improve the performance and efficiency of your mountain bike shifting system. With the right accessories, you can shift faster, smoother, and more efficiently, allowing you to get the most out of every ride.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between single and double-chainring shifting?

The main difference between single and double-chainring shifting is that a single chainring uses one chainring to power the rear wheel, while a double chainring uses two chainrings to provide more gear options and a wider range of speeds. With a single chainring, shifts are simpler and more straightforward, while double chainring shifting offers more intricate shifting and a greater range of speeds.

What are the most common problems associated with mountain bike shifting?

The most common problems associated with mountain bike shifting are is-shifting, chain derailment, and inadequate gear range. Mis-shifting occurs when the rider fails to select the right gear ratio for the terrain, resulting in the chain shifting between gears unexpectedly. Chain derailment happens when the chain gets stuck or falls off the sprockets, causing the rider to lose momentum. Lastly, inadequate gear range occurs when the rider cannot select a gear that is suitable for their terrain, leading to inefficient pedaling.

How does mountain bike shifting affect speed and power output?

Mountain bike shifting affects speed and power output by allowing the rider to adjust their gear ratio based on the terrain and difficulty of the ride. This enables the rider to maintain a steady cadence and produce a more efficient output of power, helping them to reach higher speeds. Additionally, shifting gears can help the rider conserve energy by allowing them to shift to a lower gear when climbing hills or otherwise faced with challenging terrain.