Shifting / Acceleration Technique

I have a lot of questions but basically: any tips on gearing on acceleration when you are stopped - say at a red light

would love to hear more from the every-day ride scenarios than a race. like say a Zone 2-3 ride where I just wanna get up and rolling smoothly and snappy.

I watched a podcast recently where Hannah and Ivy explained to a listener who was having trouble accelerating from a stop that he was likely in too big of a gear. Jonathan also talked about maintaining tension throughout the bike - tbh I really did not understand what that meant (not his explaination but I am too beginner and was never really exposed to this so I just don’t get it)

I’ve been experimenting with the gearing and it has definitely made a difference. looking forward to learning more wrt to specifics of what to look for to know I’m doing it right.

can anyone give examples of ~ what cadences they shift at (compared to their normal cadence)? are you overshooting the speed / power you want to get to for a few seconds? or trying to stay slower to ramp up smoothly?

is the goal before you stop, say at a stop light, to shift in a gear you can spin at that higher cadence? or 1-2 more then shift when you get started?

thank you!

Unless you are doing a track stand at the light you will need to clip in the foot that was on the ground. Coming up to the light you want to shift into an easier gear. Not too easy. You want to be able to propel the bike forward with the clipped in foot so you can get your other foot clipped in without falling over. This just takes practice. Do this enough times and it will become natural.


How to efficiently shift in every-day riding/training scenarios becomes subconscious fairly quickly. Basically you want to downshift into an easier gear before you come to a stop. How much before kind of depends on when you back off the power and start to slow down/coast.

Assuming you are going to start again on a level gradient, downshifting 2 gears is generally about right. However, if you were already all the way down cassette, you may need to downshift a little more. Basically, ending up somewhere in the middle of the cassette.

Another way downshifting becomes subconscious is where on the cassette do you feel most comfortable clipping back in? This again is situational. If it’s a quick light and you need to accelerate quickly, or you need to clip in on an uphill gradient, you’ll likely be more comfortable clipping in in a lower gear, meaning higher up the cassette.

As for your shift points after re-starting, generally just keep the effort and cadence as smooth as possible. Think of your cassette as a continuously variable transmission (CVT), or make it as close to mimicking a CVT’s operation as practical.


On a flat road I’d typically shift down 2 gears as I was approaching a red light. Sit at the light with my clipped in foot just forward of the top of the pedal stroke. When light turns green ensure you have a firm grip on the bars and engaged core - that’s the tension through the body that Jonathan is talking about. I.e. you can get a good firm first pedal stroke in with a solid connection from bars through your body to the clipped in foot. Hard to do if you haven’t shifted down as you’ll need to apply a lot of force which then tends to make things less stable.

Do it right and you’ll get a nice smooth, stable acceleration with that first pedal stroke which then enables you to pause for a moment to clip your other foot in.


Assuming I’m not trying to race off the line, the right gear for me is one that is easy to spin but not so easy that the pedal flies around before I can clip in the other foot. I couldn’t tell you what gear it is but on a flat stop it’s probably something like a 52/23 or a 36/17 (?). But that’s probably pretty personal and a total guess.

But yeah it’s a gear that you’re maybe slightly overgeared in so that you don’t have to shift every second after you start. You want to be able to probably at least make it across the intersection before shifting.

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Google “cyclocross start” - these races require a good hole shot, so getting going FAST is a necessary skill. But, basically, what’s been said already…

Select the right gear (will depend on terrain)
Clipped foot roughly parallel with ground, ready to drive down forcefully
Unclipped foot on toes, ready to give a forward kick
Core and arms engaged (not fully tense, but not relaxed - ready to work)
Bike as upright as possible (not tipped over to the unclipped side)

Kick down with clipped foot and forward with unclipped foot at same time.
Clip foot into pedal on first pedal stroke BUT if you miss clip, just pedal and clip in a few moments - don’t stop pedaling while you try to clip in.
Pedal up to 100rpm or so and shift. Don’t shift too early - you’ll bog down - you want to keep the cadence a bit higher - but no need to spin to 120rpm either.

It all takes some practice then it becomes second nature.


Just adding… this takes practice, especially if you’re in road shoes. It’s easy for your foot to slip off the back of the pedal. But, you need to learn to pedal like that for at least a few revolutions - you want to be moving pretty good before you coast enough to clip.

So, practice clipping in quickly on the first pedal stroke. But also practice pedaling with one foot unclipped and just resting on the pedal.

There’s always that one ding-dong at a race who misses their pedal, swerves like a drunkard, slows down, and makes a mess for everyone stuck behind. Don’t be that guy/gal! :wink:

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I wouldn’t do this regularly on a training ride but it works in a pinch if you find yourself overgeared. I’m overgeared coming off stop signs frequently since the shifting on my commuting bike isn’t especially snappy and I don’t care enough to shift down and up every few blocks. Plus if I’m on the minor road than there’s a tiny incline from the road slope. Instead of shifting I’ll use a bit of body english to accelerate; keeping my weight back then throwing it forward to add a bit of momentum. If you watch a held start on the track it’s the same idea. Usually I couple this with a slow roll beforehand to get my foot clipped (either a bit back from the intersection or angled so that I’ve partially turned right onto the road I’m crossing).

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I don’t always get it perfect but my plan usually is to shift down a few gears just before I come to a halt and start off in a low gear to get me spinning and subsequently on feel change up when I am spinning. Although sometimes I can forget about changing down when something distracts me, or occasionally change down to much when I don’t need to (the lights change before I’m actually at a stop, etc). The latter hints at my preference, to time it right so I’m actually not stopped and needing to change down too much.

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