7-Speed Bike Gears Explained (in a Way You’ll Understand)

Hand holding a small bicycle with text, "A Handy Guide to 7-speed Bike Gears".

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Many hybrid or commuter style bikes come fitted with 7-speed gears; they’ve been commonplace on such bikes for a rather long time now.

But, what exactly are they?

In this guide, we’ll explain 7-speed bike gears to you in the simplest way possible, so that you can ride your 7-speed like a pro.

What is a 7-Speed Bike?

To put it bluntly, a 7-speed bike is one that is equipped with 7 different gears.

This can be figured out by looking at the back of the bike in question; if there is a single chainring on the front of the bike and the cassette (spiky round metal object on the rear wheel) is made up of 7 different sized cogs at the back, then it’s a 7-speed bike.

Most often, 7-speed bikes tend to be hybrid and commuter style bikes because in the grand scheme of things, 7 gears is not many: but more often than not offers enough range for commuting in urban areas.

seven-speed bicycle gear
A 7-speed bike is one that is equipped with 7 different gears.

7-Speed Bike Gears Explained

Now that we have covered what makes a bike 7-speed, it’s important to grasp how to use the gears and when to know to change either up or down on the cassette at the back.

But rest assured: we will cover that without making it sound too overwhelming and in some simplistic terms without scary jargon.

What Gears to Use on a 7-Speed Bike?

When riding a bike that has 7-speeds, it is important to know what gears to use at what point in order to get the most out of your riding experience and improve upon pedaling efficiency.

Therefore a good rule of thumb, as you don’t have to worry about the front chainring giving there’s only one, is to remember to keep on top of the gear that you are in.

This means whenever the gear feels too hard to push, change the gear to go up the cassette to give you an easier gear to push. This is particularly important to remember when going up hill.

On the other hand, the opposite can be said for riding along the flat or downhill. If you find you are spinning too much then changing gear so the chain goes down the cassette will give you a harder gear to push.

This will then allow you to in theory ride faster; feeling smoother with every pedal stroke.

How to Ride a 7-Speed Bike

Now you know what gears to use, or be in at what point, it’s now time to discuss how to ride a 7-speed bike.

First off, because these bikes are limited to a lesser number of gears, it’s important to make the most out of each gear that you have. This means being aware of terrain that may be a little too demanding on the gears.

For example, when riding up really steep hills, it may be better to opt for a more gradual route instead, and off-road riding may be a little too demanding with such a restricted range of gears. However, you won’t know until you’ve tried to it is of course down to the individual.

With a 7-speed bike it will be a pretty perfect option for riding along bike paths and within urban areas as the lack of gears are often not an issue in such places: especially given a lot of people opt for single speed (fixed geared) bikes to commute or ride around cities on.

Therefore, ride where you feel comfortable: that’s how you should ride a 7-speed bike!

7-Gear vs 21-Gear Cycle

There is no getting around the simple fact that 21 gears on a bike is far more than 7. In fact there is exactly 14 more. But more is not always needed nor is it better.

When it comes to commuting and riding for leisure, especially in pretty flat areas, 7 gears is more than enough. The chain set as well as componentry (parts used to create the gears) is more basic and therefore easier to use, maintain, and cheaper to replace.

Whereas a bike with 21 gears is going to be a lot more of a faff in terms of maintenance and the cost of repairs and replacements. But it will be more suited to hillier terrains. Therefore 21 gears is more commonly seen on mountain bikes where the range of gears is needed for the range of terrain covered.

Therefore, neither one if better than the other, just more suited to different types of cycling which will vary on the needs of the individual rider.

Difference Between 7-Gear and 21-Gear Bicycle

As previously mentioned, there is a difference in 7-gear and 21-gear bicycles in terms of the needs that they fulfil.

However, mechanically, a 7-gear bike will have a single ring at the front with a cassette made up of 7 cogs at the back. Whereas a 21-gear bike will have not only one but three chainrings on the front with 7 cogs on the back of the cassette.

Therefore the similarities are, that they both run a 7-speed cassette but the biggest difference lies with the number of chainrings on the front, going from one to three.

Single chainring next to three chainrings
A 7-gear bike will have a single ring at the front. A 21-gear bike will have not only one but three chainrings on the front.

READ MORE: How to Use Bicycle Gears Properly

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