Struggling to shift into higher or lower gears can really set in frustration. Especially when you face this problem while cruising along a scenic bike trail. Nothing ruins the riding thrill like stiff gear! But most of your gear-shifting problems have practical solutions. So, let’s begin by identifying what’s really the reason behind your stuck gear!
Reasons Why Your Gear Won’t Shift: Gear Shifting Issues
I love to ride my mountain bike on rough tracks. That means that I have to shift gears more than often and one thing that I have become an expert on is why your bike won’t shift gears. The gear feels stuck while you panic about what to do next. But fear not, my fellow comrades, the solution begins with simply identifying the issue you might have!
1. Poorly Adjusted Cable Tension
Symptom: A slow or incomplete gear change, Difficulty Shifting
Accurate cable tension plays a huge in precise gear shifting. If your tension is too loose or too tight, it will restrict the movement of your bike’s derailleur. With time, overly stretched cables become worn out. This also affects your cable tension. When this happens, you will not be able to shift gears.
2. Worn Out Chain And Cassette
Symptom: Chain slipping over the cogs or skipping
Sometimes, the culprit is a worn-out chain or cassette. The chain stretches between the cassette teeth and it wears down, or it may not mesh as it should with the gears. This can result in your bike skipping a gear or simply refusing to shift to a higher or lower gear.
Calculate the right chain length: Ensure your bike’s chain is the correct length by following our instructions on bike chain length.
3. Uneven Derailleur Adjustment
Symptoms: Misaligned gears and inconsistent changing
The Derailleur is the part of your bike that is responsible for moving the chain across gears. Your derailleur has to be properly adjusted in order to work. If not, your gears will be misaligned and your bike will not shift smoothly.
4. Damaged Components
Symptoms: Noisy and poor shifting
Your chain, derailleur pulleys, and cassette are the parts that are the most exposed to dirt and possible damage. Once these parts get damaged or dirty, they make it difficult to shift gears. When dirt accumulates, it causes friction. The parts do not engage correctly leading to stuck gears.
5. A Bent Derailleur Hanger
Symptoms: Difficulty staying in gear and shifting
A Derailleur hanger is a very small piece that you will find on your derailleur. It attaches the derailleur to the frame. If it is bent or not aligned, it will directly affect the position of the derailleur. This results in shifting problems.
6. Misaligned Chainlike
Symptoms: Improper chain engagement and noisy shifting
The chainlike is the alignment of the chain with the front cog and the rear one. When it is misaligned, the chain does not sit properly on the gears. This causes the gear to get stuck because the chain is not moving correctly.
Learn how to fix a bike chain: Check out our comprehensive guide on how to fix a bike chain to get back on the road in no time!
7. Damaged Or Broken Shifters
Symptom: Inability To Shift Gears
Damaged or worn-out shifters do not engage with the gears as they should. Shifters get damaged when they are exposed to a sudden impact. They can also wear out before their time because you might have accidentally exposed them to harmful elements.
8. Having Worn Out Jockey Wheels
Symptoms: Difficulty in maintaining gear and noisy shifting
If you are hearing this word for the first time, it’s okay. We have all been there. When I heard the word Jockey Wheels in a video I wondered what Jockey Wheels have to do with a bike. I was quite wrong. Jockey wheels are also present on the derailleur. Their job is to guide your chain through the gears. You didn’t think the chain kept jumping by itself, did you?
With negligence, these jockey wheels can wear out. This leads to poor engagement and it can be a reason why your bike won’t shift gear.
9. Dirty Or Sticky Cables
Symptoms: Unresponsive shifting or stiffness
This mostly happens when you fail to clean your bike properly. So over time, the shifter cables will accumulate enough grim and dirt to become sticky. The cables will start feeling sluggish and become unresponsive. When this happens, you will not be able to shift gears at all.
10. Mismatched Bike Components
Symptoms: Gear skipping and shifting issues
Your drivetrain needs specific components that are designed specifically to work with it. Maybe you will find cheap alternatives in the market, but they will probably not match your drivetrain. Using a chain or a cassette that does not suit your drivetrain will only cause poor shifting or worse, you might not be able to shift at all.
How To Fix A Gear That Won’t Shift: Icebike’s Solutions
It is possible that your gear is stuck because you are facing one of the above-mentioned issues. Out of all the different solutions I have tried with my stuck gears so far, I have compiled the easiest-to-follow ones. So rest assured, you’ll be shifting like a pro again in no time!
1. Adjusting Cable Tension
- Shift your gear to the smallest rear cog or the chainring.
- Loosen up the pinch bolt on the derailleur cable.
- Using a barrel adjuster, adjust your cable tension until you feel that your shift is precise.
- Now tighten the bolt to secure your cable.
2. Replacing Worn Out Chain And Cassette
- Use a chain wear tool to regularly examine your chain. Replace it when it is excessively worn out.
- Examine your cassette at intervals. Replace it if you see any damaged teeth.
- Make sure that your chain and cassette are compatible.
3. Fixing Adjustment Issues
- You will need to shift to the smallest rear cog or chain ring.
- Use a barrel adjuster and align your jockey wheel with the smallest rear cog.
- Now shift through all the gears to make sure that the shifting is smooth.
4. Replacing Damaged Components
- I suggest regularly cleaning your components with a degreaser to avoid facing this problem in the first place.
- When you are cleaning, inspect all your components to find any damaged components, If yes, replace them.
Tip: Lubricating your bike parts will reduce friction. I prefer to use the Smoove Lube but you can use whichever you like.
5. Fixing A Bent Derailleur Hanger
- Using a derailleur hanger alignment tool, straighten your derailleur hanger.
- You will need to replace your derailleur hanger if it is severely damaged.
Tip: You can fix your derailleur hanger without any special tool. Watch this video to learn how:
6. Aligning The Chain
- Examine the alignment of your chainring and your rear cog.
- If they are not aligned with the chain, you have to center them so that they are parallel to each other.
- If any of your components are damaged, replace them.
- Some bikes have spacers or washers between the chainrings. Make sure that they are correctly positioned. If not, reposition or replace them because they can affect your chain line.
- To adjust your chainring position, slightly loosen the bolts that hold your chainring to the crankset. Be careful, do not remove them fully.
- Now very gently shift the chainring to align it. It should be in the middle of your chainstay. Once you have achieved this position, retighten the bolts. Make sure that the chainring does not move when you are doing so.
- You can similarly check the positioning of your rear cog. But the rear cog has to be positioned correctly on your cassette body or the freehub.
Tip: Also check your wheel alignment. A misaligned wheel can also cause the chain to be misaligned.
Maximize your bike’s performance: Enhance your cycling experience by learning how to wax your bike chain for improved efficiency and longevity.
7. Fixing Or Replacing Broken Shifters
- Closely inspect your shifters. Look for any visible damage. Replace your shifters if they are broken or damaged.
- If you suspect an internal damage, it will not be easy to fix. If this is the case, I will suggest getting professional help.
8. Addressing The Jockey Wheel Problems
- If your jockey wheels are damaged you will have to replace them.
Tip: One way to avoid having worn-out jockey wheels is to clean them regularly. Clean your jockey wheels and then apply a lubricant. This reduces friction.
9. Cleaning Sticky Cables
- Gently detach your cables from your shifters and derailleurs.
- Take a degreaser and thoroughly clean your cables.
- Using a soft clean cloth, dry them.
- Once you are done cleaning, take a lubricant, I prefer to use a cable-specific lubricant. Lubricate your cable by applying a fresh coat.
- Now reattach your cable and try shifting your gear.
10 Replacing Mismatched Components
- Your components should be designed for the same speed. You might have 8-speeds or 10-speeds, whatever the case, make sure that all your components like your chain, derailleurs, and even the chain ring have been designed for the same speed.
- If you have to upgrade any component, consult your bike manufacturer‘s website. You can also visit a local bike shop to get help.
Solutions For Bike That Won’t Shift Into Lowest Gear
|Repair or Replace Derailleur or Hanger||
|Adjust L Limit Screw||
|Adjust B Screw or Barrel Adjuster to Reduce Tension||
|Clean or Replace Cables||
Solutions For Bike That Won’t Shift Into Highest Gear
|Adjust H Limit Screw||
|Adjust B Screw or Barrel Adjuster to Increase Tension||
Tips For Perfect Shifting- IceBike’s Special
We all strive for a perfect gear shift, don’t we? What else do we cyclists want? When I started cycling, I used to get very anxious whenever I had to change the gear. That is one of the reasons why I faced a stuck gear more amounts of time than I would like to admit. But I learned from my mistakes so you don’t have to repeat them.
Here are my tips for a perfect gear shift. They might even help you avoid having a stuck gear at all:
1. Clean Your Bike
The procrastinator in me always wanted to prolong this. But trust me, a clean bike plays a huge role in smooth shifting. Clean your derailleurs and shifters. Don’t forget those cables.
2. Don’t Forget To Lubricate
I have said it before and I am saying it again, Use a good-quality lubricator. You don’t have to use anything over the top but do make sure it is of decent quality. Sparingly lubricate your chain and wipe off anything excessive.
3. Time For Fine-Tuning
Take out time for fine-tuning your derailleur, your front, and the rear derailleur. It is very important for accurate shifting.
Give your bike a tune-up: Discover the essential steps for a proper bike tune-up with our guide on tuning up your bike.
4. Avoid Being Extreme
I avoid using extreme gear combinations. It is not needed at all and just puts extra tension on the drivetrain. Try to shift one gear at a time.
5. Listen To Your Bike Sounds
Pay attention when you are shifting gears. A noise or squeaky shifting usually means that there is a problem that needs your attention.
6. Avoid Regular Dirty Riding
It’s fun to ride in the sand, I admit it. But frequently riding in the mud or sand and not cleaning your bike afterward is just like asking for gear-shifting problems. Don’t do that!
If you are new to cycling, try to get a hold of shifting by riding on a flat surface first.
Remember, it’s better to change your gear when you are starting to climb rather than doing it midway. Try to anticipate the change in your track to achieve a precise shifting.
Why Are Some Of My Gears Not Shifting?
Some of your gears might not shift because of a damaged shifter, misaligned chain, or even a damaged or over-stretched cable. Refer to your bike’s manual to see if you have the proper tension. Adjusting your cables might solve the issue.
What Is Ghost Shifting?
Ghost shifting means that your bike starts making unintended gear changes. These changes are spontaneous and they are often because you have cable tension issues or a misaligned derailleur.
Precise gear shifting is the key to enjoying an efficient ride. Once you have identified the reason behind your gear problem, the solution is going to be easy to work on. My expert tips hold all the secrets to conquering gear-shifting challenges.
So, follow my tips, maintain your bike, and ride with confidence knowing that whatever biking problem you may face, you will find a solution for it here. Happy Ridding With A Smooth Shifting!
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- Get an extra boost: Interested in adding a motor to your mountain bike? Check out our guide on installing a motor on a mountain bike to explore your options.
- Start your mountain biking journey: If you’re new to mountain biking, our guide for mountain bike beginners is the perfect place to start your adventure.