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How to Adjust a Poorly-Shifting Bicycle

Learn how to adjust a poorly-shifting bike from Silk Road Cycles' Brendon Nicholas in this Howcast bicycle repair and maintenance video.


We are going to talk about if your bike is not shifting properly what is going on with it.

So basically there is a couple of different things that could be going wrong. First of all you want to check your chain with a chain checker to make sure that your chain and your drive train is not worn out. That could be one reason why it's skipping. This chain is completely fine. It's brand new. The chain checker is not going into the chain at all.

Another thing that's really, really common especially if you're going up into an apartment building or you're going through doors all day in and out of offices, is this back here. It's called a derailleur hanger. Your derailleur actually connects to that and that bends. If you hit against the derailleur maybe against the door or something else, maybe you crash a little bit. If that's bent what you are going to have to do is bend it back. It's a specialty tool. That could be the reason that it's skipping in the back gears.

Another reason could be that your cable tension is off. So your cable tension is either a little bit too low or a little bit too high. You can adjust that with your barrel adjuster here. Basically if it's not going up fast enough, you can tighten it by turning it left. Or you can loosen it if it's not going down to the highest gears by turning it right.

Also it could be that your derailleur is worn out or broken or the shifter is broken. Sometimes the shifters inside here and their mechanisms break down over time and just stop working properly. Also the derailleurs over time using them a lot they just start to wear out. So that could be another reason why.

Some of the reasons that you may have trouble with your shifting is you may hear a lot of noise and we find that a lot of customers come in and they say that they have a lot of noise in the bike. Their shifting actually works very, very well. But what some people don't understand is that they may be in cross gears. Basically what that means is that, let's say, I'll put the bike in cross gear right now. Basically what that means is let's say you are in the lowest gear up here and you're in the highest gear in the front. That's a cross gear. You hear all that noise it's making. It's grinding up against the derailleur. The chain works best when it's completely straight. If it's at an angle it's not going to work very well. Also these derailleurs aren't made to go in cross gears. Sometimes higher end shifters have a little middle section where you can ride in cross gears but it's not usually recommended because it wears out your chain and drive train faster. So it's not that your derailleurs are out of adjustment. It's just that the derailleurs are not being used properly.

The other reason that your derailleur may be not working is that sometimes these get shifted. The front derailleur may get shifted sideways and may be too low or may be too high. That's definitely a good thing to do is take it to a bike mechanic and see what's going on with it. A lot of times a professional can assess what's going on with your shifting really quickly.

Also the last thing that we see a lot is we see that cables and housing is very corroded. Basically it needs to move very, very smoothly through this piece of housing. This is a piece of housing. The cable runs through it. If it's not running smoothly especially in index shifting which is click shifting, then it's going to skip. It's not going to shift up to the proper gear or down to the proper gear fast enough. That's usually what we see most customers with if they're having shifting problems.

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