An efficient and smooth-riding bicycle is an absolute dream to ride. However, when things start not going your way, it can be extremely frustrating. If you are pushing your gear lever and nothing is happening, it could be the end of your ride.
Or at the very least, mean a painful ride home in a gearing that is either too easy and will see your legs spinning helplessly on the flats, or too hard, leaving you standing to get up the slightest of inclines.
Why won’t your bike shift? Generally speaking, your bicycle won’t shift due to one or more of three reasons. This is that your shifter may be damaged or broken, or your rear or front derailleur is running into a similar problem. This is generally caused by impacts to the bike, whether big or small.
Let’s dig in, to see how you can troubleshoot which ones are causing your issues, and how you might fix them!
1. Shifters are having issues
Do your shifters pull, hold and release the gear cable? A quick way to rule out the shifters being the problem, is to change gear while holding onto the gear cable that runs underneath your frame (unfortunately, with the newer internal cabling, you will not be able to carry out this check).
If you can feel the cable move, then you can rule out the shifter being a problem. If you are not getting any movement from the cable, you may need to replace the shifters.
You can attempt to take them apart to see if you can see any blockages or parts that are out of place, but at this point, you are better off taking your bike to a mechanic or just buy new shifters.
A problem with the shifters is usually the cause of your bicycle not shifting at all. However, if you cannot get your whole gear range or annoying noises are being generated in certain gears, you need to check the rear and front derailleur’s alignment.
2. Rear Derailleur is damaged or broken
If you are unable to reach your highest or lowest gears. Then it may be as simple as adjusting the high or low limited screws. The position of which differs slightly depending on what groupset you have.
However, there should be two screws like these next to each other towards the back of the derailleur. Try adjusting each and see if you can shift to all your gears.
If that does not help, it could be an issue with the gear cable. If the gear cable feels tight, hopefully, it is just a case that it is not adjusted correctly and you need to give it some slack by loosening the bolt that secures the cable to the derailleur and giving it some slack.
Also, try shooting some light grease (like this) down the gear tube to help ease any blockages or friction.
Finally, if your rear derailleur or the derailleur hanger is bent, you will have difficulties shifting. When you look at the rear derailleur, it should be perfectly in line with the cogs on the freewheel.
If that is the case, it is ill-advised to try and bend it back into shape. You will need to buy a new rear derailleur or derailleur hanger (learn more about these here).
3. Front Derailleur is bent
The front derailleur is not as temperamental as the rear derailleur. However, if your bicycle is not shifting on the front chainring, it is likely an issue with your front derailleur.
Unable to shift down to the lowest gear. This is usually caused by an overly tight gear cable or the low limiting screw that needs adjusting.
You can test this by shifting to the lowest gear and seeing if your front derailleur is in line with the smallest chainring. If not, try adjusting the limiting screw. Alternatively, your gear cable may be too tight.
There is usually a quick twist adjustment on the levers. If not, you may need to undo the bolt on the front derailleur and let out a little more cable.
If you are unable to shift to the highest gear. You need to carry out the same checks. It may be the high limiting screw that needs to be adjusted.
Alternatively, it could be the actual cage alignment. If you have recently been in a crash or just thrown your bike to the ground a little too heavily, it may have knocked your front derailleur out of alignment.
The front derailleur should be parallel with your chainrings. You should be able to simply bend it back in place.
Frequently Asked Questions
The easiest way to fix your bicycle when it won’t shift is to take it to a bike mechanic at a specialty shop. However if you want to do it yourself, you can learn how from some quick videos online or by reading articles. Most of the time it is fixed with some quick adjustments.
Most of the time not being able to shift because the chain is not matching up to the gears can easily be fixed! However there are times where components are damaged beyond repair.
There are a couple different ways to shift gears on a bicycle! Generally the most common is utilizing a push style lever, however there are also twist shifters as well. When you get up to a speed where you are not getting resistance when pedaling, you can push or twist your shifter to put it into the next gear until you get resistance.
Regular cleaning and maintenance of your bicycle, including the shifters, gear cables and front and rear derailleurs, will help prevent any issues that prevent you from shifting altogether.
All bicycle components have a shelf life, so do not be disappointed when the time comes to replace some parts and use it as an excuse to upgrade your bicycle.