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Do All Bikes Have Gears?... Bicycle Gears Guide 101!

Amy L
July 20, 2021

When I started looking for my first bike, I was mystified by its gears. Nor was I even sure if all bicycles had gears. So “do all bikes have gears?” is not such a silly question! Let’s break it down.

The vast majority of bikes have gears, though there are exceptions. The number of gears there are will vary depending on the bike. Some bikes such as single-speed, fixies, and the occasional folding bike, don’t have gears.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at why bikes have gears, how many you should have, and which is best for you.

Why Do Bicycles Have Gears?

Bikes have gears because they allow you to get more power out of your legs and as such, generate more speed.

Gears also help when you need to do a climb or accelerate. By changing gears, you increase the amount of torque. This gives you the required speed and/or power.

When you use gears, you can change your speed and the amount of torque. How you use your gears will depend on how much effort you’ll need to put into pedaling.

If you need to climb a hill, you should switch to low gear as you will get more torque.

When you switch to a higher gear, you’ll be able to pick up speed but with less torque. This is useful when you’re on a flat or going down a hill.

What Types Of Bikes Have Gears?

Bikes have different types of gears and the range can differ too.

Popular gear ranges are:

  • Mountain bikes aren’t often built for speed and need to have low gears to be able to tackle hilly terrain
  • Road bikes can achieve greater speeds but won’t go as low with gears as mountain bikes
  • Hybrid bikes sit in the middle. They won’t achieve the speeds of road bikes but they will do better on steep climbs, though not as well as mountain bikes
  • City/commuter bikes don’t often have a good range of gears. This keeps the maintenance down. Due to where these bikes are ridden, they don’t need many gears.
  • Single-speed and fixie bicycles are best suited to flatter terrain
Bicycle Rear Sprocket

Why Do Some Bikes Not Have Gears?

Gears have an advantage and in certain circumstances, I wouldn’t want to ride without them.

However, there are situations where it’s better not to have gears as this reduces the weight of the bike. It will also require less maintenance.

Single-speed or fixie bikes only come with one gear. As they don’t weigh the gearing system, they’re lighter.

If you’re on flat terrain, this works out well because you won’t need to work as hard when you’re pedaling.

There is also the benefit of carrying your bike, say on the train or up to the office. It will be lighter and easier to do that.

Having no gears takes a lot of worries away with maintenance. This is ideal for a commuter as you don’t want to be faced with a mechanical issue on the way to work. Obviously, without all of these extra components, when an issue does arise, it isn’t as costly either.

When you’re riding a single-speed bike, there is less to think about. You don’t need to worry about whether you’re in the right gear or not so it does make cycling easier, provided the terrain is suitable.

For riders who travel down the same roads that are largely flat, a bike with no gears could be the ideal solution. When I’m riding around my city, I tend to stay in the same gear for the majority of the time. It’s the same as if I had a single-speed bike. I just use more energy as I have more components to deal with.

What Is A Bike Without Gears Called?

There are two different types. Singlespeed and fixed speed.

Single-speed bikes will allow you to coast when you’re not pedaling. This is due to the freewheel at the back of the bike.

The gearing on a single-speed bike tends to be quite low so you can keep a decent speed once you’re moving.

As a bike, they appeal to the commuter as they’re affordable and don’t require as much maintenance as bikes with gears.

Fixed gear bikes are different. You must keep pedaling to move. When you stop pedaling, the bike stops.

Some fixed gear bikes don’t have brakes and rely on backpedaling to brake. If you’re unfamiliar with this, it may sound daunting but once you master a fixed-gear bike, they do become natural and rather addictive.

Wheel and gears of bicycle

Is It Best To Have A Bike With Gears Or Not?

There is no right or wrong answer here. It all depends on where and how you like to ride.

If you cycle in a location where the terrain changes frequently, or your fitness isn’t where you like it to be, then gears could be a wise purchase. It allows you to maximize your speed and increase your fitness.

For the majority of cyclists, having gears on their bikes is a sensible thing.

A bike without gears means that you have a largely hassle-free mode of transport.

If you tend to ride on flat terrain and have a good level of fitness, then a single-speed bicycle may be better suited to your needs. There is also something quite trendy about riding a single-speed bike.

There are situations when riding a bike without gears can be challenging:

  • Steep climbs. You will need to pedal hard to be able to reach the top and if your legs aren’t strong, this could be a problem.
  • When you’re going downhill and want to accelerate or even just maintain speed, you may need to reach a high cadence (110 rpm+). Sometimes that’s just not possible.
  • Without gears, it can become difficult to carry lots of things on your bike as acceleration can be difficult. So even getting started can be challenging!

Can Single-Speed Bikes Go Up Hills? How To Achieve Greater Speeds And Climb Better With Only One Gear

Sorry if you thought I had some magical answer here but if you want to go faster on a single-speed bike, it all comes down to your muscle power.

If you want to go more quickly, then you need to pedal faster.

The moment you reach your maximum cadence, you’ve reached your maximum speed. That’s one of the key differences. When you have a bike with gears, you can change your gear, ride at the same cadence but go faster.

If you want to climb hills, you’re also reliant on muscle power. There are a few things you can do to make this easier.

  • Ensure that your saddle is at the correct height. This is vital to get the best performance. If your saddle is too low, you could end up with knee pain. Too high and you may develop body aches as you move around on the saddle more than you should, to reach the pedals.
  • Get out of the saddle. This is something you won’t be able to do for too long. However, it uses different muscles and means that you can get more power to the pedals. It breaks the climb and that can make all the difference when it comes to getting to the top.

What’s the difference between a single-speed and a fixed-speed bike? Find out here.

Red and Gray Bike Wheel

How Many Gears Should Your Bike Have?

If you’re getting into cycling, then I would recommend going for a bicycle with gears. It makes life easier and it also means that you have a greater choice of bikes.

Let’s say you live in a hilly area. In this case, try to get more gears on your bike. If you don’t plan to ride up hills, then a bike with 3-7 gears should work well.

Do you want to know how gears work? Check out this video:

How Can You Tell When A Bike Has Gears?

The big giveaway is that bikes with gears will have something on their handlebars for you to change the gears, otherwise known as shifters.

Check out more tips & tricks

Final Thoughts

Some bikes have gears, some don’t. They all have a purpose, though.

If you’re new to cycling, getting a bike with gears is a good starting point.

A single-speed bike is good for those who ride flat roads and don’t want to deal with much maintenance.

Amy L
About the Author
I'm Amy, A writer and when I'm not writing, I'm usually found on two wheels! I own several bikes; my favourite has to be my faithful Bianchi Infinito CV. We've been through a lot together - we've even been to Paris together...twice!. My first carbon bike. My first love. Cycling is my passion and climbing is my thing, so if there's a climb out there you think I should know about - let me know!
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