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How to use gears on an electric bike

It’s no secret that most e-bikes are similar to conventional bikes in that they have multiple gears that adjust the amount of pedaling force transmitted to the wheels. While the principles of using gears are similar, there are some details that are not exactly the same for conventional and e-bikes.


How to use gears on an electric bike? Use the left shifter to change the electric assist level. Replace the mechanical gear with the correct shift lever. Leading the ever-changing level of electric assist. Then follow with changing the mechanical gears for the best pedaling force.


Further questions arose. What is an electric assist gear? What are the mechanical gears? How many gears are there? Do e-bikes have the best shifting technology? Let’s take a few minutes to understand the gear system of an e-bike and how to use the gears.


What is e-bike gear?

Gears are the same as speed – a bike with 24 gears is a 24-speed bike. Electric bikes usually come in 1, 3, 18, 21, 24, 27, 32 and even 40 speeds. Lower numbers are low gears and higher numbers are high gears. The first gear is low gear. Twenty-fourth gear is a high gear. Easy so far.


To shift is to change from one gear to another. You can change gears by swiping or clicking the shift lever on the handlebar. This will move the chain to rings of different sizes (or increase/decrease power output). Downshifting means entering a lower gear, and upshifting means entering a higher gear. You can also say shift down and shift up.


On an e-bike, the left shifter is responsible for shifting the electric assist level, and the right shifter is responsible for shifting the mechanical gears.


For mechanical gears, the right gear lever is connected to a cable hidden in a protective housing. When you click (or turn) the gears, that cable tightens and loosens, applying more or less force to the mechanism that moves the e-bike’s chain up and down on the cassette or sprocket.


What is an electric assist gear?

The level of electric assist is controlled via a handlebar-mounted control block. Usually, on the left. This control block usually has a combination of up (plus) and down (minus) buttons.


There is still no single standard. Different electric assist systems have some different terms. In short, there are always low, medium and high levels of assist, with more electric assist going up (or Plus) and less electric assist going down (or Minus).


Easy E-Biking – Electric bike controls that make electric bikes practical and fun

For example, Bosch’s electric assist system has the levels: OFF > ECO > TOUR > SPORT > TURBO, while Shimano uses OFF > ECO > NORMAL > HIGH.


Each electric assist system (Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano, or others) can give you more power, depending on how hard you pedal and the level of assist you choose.

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How to understand gear numbers?

One of the hardest things about learning how to shift gears is terminology. The rest is just practice. Let’s get the terminology simple and clear from the start.



Low gear is easy and good for climbing. The low range uses the largest electric assist and the largest gear (rear or mechanical) on the rear flywheel. In this position pedaling will be easiest and you will be able to pedal uphill with the least resistance. To get into this position, you need to downshift.


Also read: Can an e-bike help climb steep hills? – in this article. Also, how safe are electric bikes? – in this article.


High gears are hard and good for descents. Confusingly, the highest electric assist gear on your bike is with no electric assist at all. When the electric assist is turned off. This is counterintuitive.


The highest mechanical gear uses the smallest gear (rear or mechanical) on the rear flywheel. In this position, pedalling takes the most effort and you will be able to accelerate downhill. To get into this position, you need to upshift.


The reference rear gear applies to e-bikes with mid-drive and front-drive motors, which represent the majority of e-bikes made today.


Shifting gears on an e-bike

For each level of electric assist, most e-bike models have multiple corresponding mechanical gears. For example, my wife’s electric bike has eight mechanical speeds in each electric assist mode. Four electric assist modes and eight mechanical speeds provide 32 different speed combinations. Not a small amount!



For example, even in the first electric assistance level (ECO mode), when minimal electric assistance is provided, eight different speeds are available, which will suit the cyclist’s various terrains and training levels.


When you start riding with electric assist, the motor will soon start assisting you at the selected preset level.


Also read: Front, Mid Drive or Rear Electric Bike Motors. Which one to choose? – in this article. And, what’s the difference between an e-bike motor? – in this article.


Once your pedaling speed (also called cadence) has increased above your comfort level, shift your mechanical gear (right shifter) to the next most difficult setting while continuing to pedal. Remember to keep pressing the pedal when changing gears.


When performing a gear change, you will hear the motor temporarily reduce power. The motor will then restart. This temporary power reduction protects the motor. It will then quickly resume its aid.


Keep pedaling, and when your pedaling speed increases enough, change gears again. Repeat this process until you reach a speed you are comfortable with.


Easy E-Biking – Mountain e-bike speed control that helps make e-bikes practical and fun


Use right shifter or left shifter?

When you pedal, when do you use which shifter? When to use the left and when to use the right?


A simple rule is that if you need a big change, use your left derailleur (electric), which means changing the electric assist level. If you need a small modification (mechanical), use the right shifter, i.e. change the mechanical gear.


As you practice more and become more comfortable with e-bikes, you’ll get a better idea of whether you need big or small changes.


Climbing a mountain on an electric bike

Naturally, you will find that you need to increase the level of electric assist when going uphill. If you’re on a lower assist setting, your speed may start to drop as you start to climb a hill.



To overcome this slowdown, keep pedaling and change to a lower mechanical gear (the one that is easier to pedal) first. Then increase the electric assist level (eg, from ECO to TOUR).


When you start going downhill, first lower the electric assist level (eg, from TOUR back to ECO), then upshift the mechanical gear (right control on the handlebar). This will allow you to pedal slower, but harder.


parked on an electric bike

How do you stop when you ride, shift gears and adjust assist levels?


To prepare to stop, remember to start shifting into an easier mechanical gear when you pedal while decelerating. It is best to maintain the correct gear before parking. Also adjust the electric assist level before parking. Although, this can also be done when it is already stationary.


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And, most importantly, don’t forget to hit the brakes!


Precautions when changing gears

Change a simple mechanical gear before parking

If your e-bike has a rear gearbox, you’ll need to shift to an easier gear before coming to a complete stop. When downshifting, you need to keep turning the pedal to make sure the gears are fully engaged. This can also be done when the rolling or coasting stops, as long as the pedal is being turned.


Do not change mechanical gears while stationary

If you forget or don’t have enough time to shift to a lower gear before stopping, you will have to start in a higher gear. It’s not a big hassle. Once you start rolling, you can pedal less and shift into an easier gear.


Yes, you can switch electric assist mode when stopped

Contrary to mechanical gears, there is no problem changing the level of electric assist while you’re at a stop. For example, if you encounter a street light while driving in SPORT mode, you can downshift to ECO and start off at a more comfortable pace.


Alternatively, you can keep the electric assist level at TURBO if you want to accelerate as soon as the light turns green.


Is there the best shifting technology out there?

Quick tip: I’ve found that maintaining consistent pedaling force and switching frequently is probably the best electric bike shifting technique out there.


Some cyclists decide to put too much power on the pedals when climbing steep hills. Or use gear that’s too easy for the descent they’re riding. For an easy ride, your goal should be to keep your pedaling speed (cadence) as consistent as possible.


This requires balancing power and your own pedaling force for a smooth combination. This, in turn, suggests not using one level of electric assist and one mechanical speed, but shifting gears more often to improve riding efficiency.


Start switching your right hand to easier mechanical gear early in the process. This will help you maintain a steady pedaling rhythm. Remember, your right hand is used to make small changes.


If you notice that your pedaling speed slows down significantly, you may need to increase the level of electric assist for the big climb ahead.


When shifting mechanical gears, add a little more power to the pedal stroke before shifting. Then, reduce pedaling effort when changing gears. This will help your bike’s shifting mechanism reduce the stress on the chain during shifting.


Hope this helps you. Enjoy shifting gears and learning to harness the full potential of electric modes and mechanical gears!

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