Why is my Bicycle Gear Shifter not Working Properly? (How To Fix)

A bicycle gear shifter not working properly is a common problem that many modern cyclists experience. As the popularity of multi-gear bikes continues to increase exponentially, it’s only natural that more people start asking about their bicycle gear shifters not working properly.

However, it can be difficult for new cyclists to identify why the bicycle gear shifter isn’t working properly. A bicycle’s drivetrain is complex, and there are many different parts. It’s possible that one of these parts or even a combination is causing your bicycle gear shifter to stop working. 

Here’s everything that you need to know about a bicycle gear shifter not working properly and what you need to do to fix the issue. 

Why are bicycles with gears becoming so popular? 

Bicycle Gear Shifter not Working

Bicycles with gears are becoming increasingly popular because they allow you to deal with multiple terrains and provide greater control over your pedaling efficiency. 

That means you can control how hard you need to pedal to achieve a certain speed. It can be challenging to understand the benefit of a gear system without actually using one first. 

The gears will effectively transfer the energy you put into the pedals as the output of your wheel. Depending on the gear you choose, it can increase or decrease the effort necessary to pedal. 

When you’re riding uphill or downhill, that’s when the benefit of using a multi-speed bicycle becomes truly evident. Before the inception of the gear system, cyclists would have to manually adjust their pedaling according to whether they were going downhill or uphill. 

Obviously, this is significantly more difficult to do by controlling the pedaling manually. The inception of the gear shifter meant that cyclists could choose the correct gear and cycle like they normally would while traveling uphill or downhill. 

By being able to manually adjust the pedaling efficiency, you can have greater control over your work on the bicycle. Even though gears are an incredibly effective invention and are changing how people approach bicycling. 

However, sometimes the gear can malfunction and cause you needless stress and a very uncomfortable ride. That makes it very important to conduct regular maintenance on your gears from time to time. 

Here’s everything you need to know about what can cause your bicycle gear shifter to stop working!

Cable Issues 

The main component that connects your gears with the rest of the bike is cables. The reason behind a bicycle gear shifter not working can often be down to issues with the cable. It’s important to periodically check the cables that connect your shifter to the drivetrain. 

If the cable is in poor condition, you’re more likely to experience bike gears not shifting. When you ride a bike for a significant period, it’s definitely possible for dust and grime to build up around the cables. 

The accumulation of dust and other forms of rust will cause the cables to malfunction. 

Derailleur Issues 

A bike derailleur is a mechanism responsible for shifting the chain in the rear sprockets. Even though there might be several different derailleur models, the basic concept is the same. They shift the chain at the rear sprocket and help control the pedaling efficiency.

The derailleur is an essential component of the drivetrain, and a damaged or misaligned derailleur could be the main reason your bike gears are not shifting properly. 

After you spend a significant amount of time riding, it’s possible for the derailleur to take some wear and tear. That can cause the derailleur to lose its shape and become misaligned. Rust can also build up in the frame and cause issues. 

Shifter Lever Issues 

You can also potentially encounter issues with the lever. This is one of the most common reasons behind Shimano gears not shifting properly. When levers are positioned on the bottom of the shifter, it’s possible for water and other materials to accumulate. 

They can cause the lever to get stuck and will stop functioning properly. 

Chain Issues 

Lastly, the final component that you should check is the chain. Every chain features a B-tension screw that requires adjustment to function properly. The screw controls how close the upper jockey wheel sits next to the cassette. 

If there are any issues with the positioning, it’ll cause the bicycle gears to not shift properly. 

These four main areas can contribute to a bicycle gear shifter not working properly. By checking these components and analyzing them thoroughly, you’ll be able to identify why your bike gears are not working. 

From that point forward, you’ll be able to find the necessary solution to the problem. 

How to fix bike gears that won’t shift properly

Bicycle Gear Shifter not Working

Now that you have a basic understanding of what components can impact your gears, we’ll be able to discuss how to fix bike gears that won’t shift properly. Here’s a full guide on everything you need to know to start with your repairs. 

Position Bike Properly

Most people fail to realize the importance of placing your bike correctly before finding out why the bicycle gear shifter is not working properly. 

To effectively diagnose issues with a bike, you’ll need to put it upside down. It can be very easy to fix your bike in an upside-down position when you have a bike stand. Without a stand, you’ll have to get a bit creative. 

By getting the bike in the proper position for diagnosis, you make it easy for yourself to identify where exactly the problem lies. 

Diagnose the Issue

Before we can start with the actual repair process, the first step is diagnosing where the problem comes from. If you don’t understand where the issue will come from, it’ll be close to impossible for you to solve the problem. 

There are four main areas that you’ll need to check; the cable, derailleur, shifter lever, and chain. After running your diagnosis, you can proceed forward to actually repairing the bike. 

We’re going to be breaking down the repairing process according to these main areas as well, that’ll make it easier for cyclists to know what to do for a particular problem. 

How to Fix Derailleur Issues 

If you’ve managed to identify that issue lies with the derailleur, then the fixing process is relatively simple. When the derailleur is out of alignment and doesn’t fit properly, then you’ll need to adjust the screws. 

After adjusting the screws, you can shift the gears and see if there are any persisting issues. If all the gears change properly, you should be good to go. 

Alternatively, there are certain occasions when the derailleur is so damaged that it requires replacement. When you’re changing the derailleur, make sure that you pick one that fits well with the bike’s frame. 

Always check both derailleurs when you’re looking for any potential issues. It’s important that the front and rear derailleur match so that your bike functions smoothly. 

How to Fix Cable Issues 

When it comes to cable issues, some are difficult to identify, while others are more challenging to understand. A broken or rusted cable is fairly simple to identify and doesn’t require a lot of effort. 

On the other hand, if there’s an issue with the internal housing, it becomes challenging to identify. As cables aren’t particularly expensive, it’s not worth going through the extensive amount of effort necessary to repair something. 

Simply put, it’s significantly cheaper for cyclists to replace the cable and housing in its entirety instead of working towards a repair. 

How to Fix Shifter Issues

While issues with a shifter lever may sound straightforward, they’re the most challenging to identify. Typically, levers are present on the bottom of the shifter. That means it’s quite easy for water, dust, and grime to accumulate there. 

You’ll have to open up the shifter and clean everything properly. Something like a WD-40 spray is ideal for the job. However, it’s important to be very careful when you’re opening up your shifter lever. Make sure that you don’t lose any of the parts because your shifter won’t work properly afterward. 

Aside from stuff being stuck inside the shifter, a twisted cable can also cause the issues. If the cable is a bit loose, you’ll need to push the excess inside before you’ll be able to achieve the appropriate tension. Once the cable is at the optimal tension level, your bicycle gear shifter won’t be getting stuck. 

How to Fix Chain Issues 

The chain itself could be a reason why the bicycle gear shifter is not working. If there are significant issues with the chain, then when you shift the gear, the chain won’t align itself properly, causing your shifter to not work. 

Make sure that your chain isn’t too worn out. Otherwise, you’ll have to get a replacement chain. Sometimes, it can just be a case of your chain not receiving enough lubrication and becoming challenging to use. 

If you do need to change the chain, make sure that you pick one that’s the exact same length as the chain you had before. A chain ruler can help you find out the exact length that you need to be getting. 

These are generally all the potential issues that might be causing your bicycle gear shifter to not work properly. 

Bicycle Gear Shifter not Working

Test everything out

Once you’re done making the necessary repairs, it’s essential that you check every gear to see if the shifter is working properly. Shift through all the gears and observe if the derailleur covers every shift successfully. If all the shifts look smooth, then you’re ready to take your bike out for a practice ride. 

When you’re going for a practice ride, make sure that you take all the necessary precautions to ensure that you don’t injure yourself. Wear protective gear and only pick a short distance for the ride. Once you’re ready, cycle away and check to see if all the gears are working. 

If the bicycle clears both tests, then you’re good to go!

Conclusion 

While multi-speed bicycles are definitely helping take cycling forward, they can also present some issues. Learning how to deal with these issues is a crucial aspect of improving as a cyclist. 

By diagnosing the four main areas; cables, derailleur, shifters, and chain, you’ll be able to identify why exactly your bicycle gear shifter is not working. From there on, you can start working on the repairs. 

While it may seem incredibly daunting, repairing a bicycle gear shifter that’s not working isn’t that difficult. Hopefully, reading through this will help you get your bicycle up and running so you can cycle with freedom!

James Dawson

After learning how to ride a bicycle much later than all the other kids, James Dawson hasn't looked back. The author now actively rides a bicycle as a part of the community cycling group and competes regularly in local competitions. Aside from that, he loves technology and always keeps up to date with the latest cycling tech.

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