Quick tutorial: How to use Downtube Shifters?

Cycling is one of the classic exercises, which is adored by a lot of people across the word. Other than an exercise, it also seems to be a leisurely high-quality activity as well.

See more: The benefits of cycling in the morning

As a newbie, many people may find downtube shifters are quite difficult to control. A lot of people might get way too excited and entertained with the thought of self-taught themselves about the downtube shifters even before touching the real thing. And many of them have been disappointed to face the fact that it’s not that easy to control the gear.

A lot of questions might appear in their mind while trying to teach them a lesson about downtube shifters. For example: Which direction should I shift? When do I need to work on the left shifter and when it’s time for right one? How do I control the speed? How do I control the pedal? Backwind, headwind, what to do? Which hand that needs to be used for each shifter? How to keep the remaining hand on the handlebar? What is that grinding sound when I try to shift the gear? How far should shifters be moved? Any extra tips and tricks for shifting to make biking trip smoother and awesome?

You beginners just do not need a vague instruction yet not too mechanic lengthy post about how to work on your pair of downtube shifters.

Since we understand that it’s a puzzle situation here and especially for cycling newbies, they just need something simple and straight to the point, we have created this quick guide and make sure that, by the end of this article, you’ve already absorbed the right theory and ready to get your bike out there to have the proper practice. Remember the basic rule: practice makes perfect, and this can’t go wrong especially on this of our case. But once you master how to use it, you know this learning and practice are worth your time.

Understand how downtube shifters work

Let get it straight to how it would work.
Left shifter controls front derailleur, it pushes the chain. Once you pull the left one back, it will move the derailleur to the larger ring. At this point, it is more difficult to ride but it speeds up the pace. Vice versa, when you push up, the derailleur fits into the smaller ring, making it easier for pedaling but slowing down your bike’s speed.​

Right shifter works on the rear derailleur in the back. When the right shifter is pulled back to move to larger rear cog, this makes it easier to pedal but reduces speed. A push-up on the shifter will move it to the smaller cog, which leads to harder pedaling yet faster pace.

So these muscle works will require some time to remember before mastering. Actually…it doesn’t sound too difficult right?

Try to control the gear so you can always have a cadence of 80-90RPM on pedaling. For most people, this produces the most efficiency. For cars’ engine, it’s most efficient at 3,000RPM. Meanwhile, at a human, it’s the above figure we have provided.

If you are having desired speed but the pedaling is slow, shift to larger cog in the back to boost your pedaling cadence. If your pedaling speed is too fast, shift the rear cog back to smaller ring to descend.

Also, remember:

  • Don’t shift while loading yourself up (for example up the hill).
  • Keep pedaling when shifting.
  • Whenever there is grinding sound when shifting, doubt your rear/front derailleur alignment failure.

You won’t want to leave your bike in a cross-chaining status by putting front derailleur into the small ring and small cogs in the back. In the same way, don’t remain big ring in the front and big cogs at the back. Because this is harmful to the drivetrain.

If you are not confident at using both right and left shifters at one time, you should forget all about the left one at first. Once you can master the right one, it’s time to turn to the left side.

Use right hand for the right shifter and left hand for the left one. But this is not always a rule. If you can always use right hand for both sides, go ahead.

Have some private practice before any real ride

Before getting the actual ride, you should find some big quiet place and get enough practice. You can place the bicycle upside down on its seat and handlebar, spinning the pedal in a clockwise direction and get familiar with the shifters. Let’s try moving both right and left levers to experience the changes.

Or it’s also great if you can find yourself a public-used bike stand, put it onto there, have hand-turning pedaling and try to feel the shifters; how the derailleurs are actually moving.

After being familiar with one-place training; set your bike over if needed and get more training for yourself inside the yard. This is all about the feeling; you’ll just master it through real experiences.

We include a clip down here for your better view of shifting gears:

Some extra tips

It may take you some while before you can control switching it to the speed and pedal effort you want. We’d like to list out some more extra quick tips for you to remember as you are very fresh to this equipment.

  • When you are climbing up hill or facing headwinds, go for small or middle front ring and bigger cogs in the back
  • When slanting downhill, big front sprockets and a range of rear cogs will work well.
  • You won’t go wrong with a middle front ring and smaller rear cogs when cycling on flat terrain.


We are glad that you stick around with us till this point. By this end probably you’ve got an overview of how to use downtube shifters in a right way. But theory is just theory; the success will be achieved at your consistent practice. Please don’t forget to update us your move. And…do you think we have missed out anything in this instruction? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below.

About the author

    Maureen Sledge

    I’m Maureen, and I’m absolutely in love with cycling blogs. I’m a cyclist at heart but being the mother of one small boys, it’s not always easy to keep up with fancy cycling… so I rely on the support of other blogging cyclists like me to help along the way.