One of the common questions beginner cyclists ask is, how many speeds is my bike?
This simple question can sometimes be confusing. The main reason for this confusion is that cyclists (and even bike manufacturers) use Speeds and Gears interchangeably.
Let’s clear up this confusion.
- Speeds refer to the number of cogs on the rear cassette. Depending on the model, it can be anywhere from 7 to 13 today.
- Gears refer to the number of gearing combinations available. The number of Gears is calculated by multiplying the number of front chainrings (1, 2, or 3) by the number of cogs on the rear cassette.
The table below shows the common gear and speed configurations on bicycles.
|Type of bike||Front chainrings||Rear cogs||Gears|
|Road, Gravel (1X)||1||11||11|
10, 11 and 12-speeds explained
Most road cyclists will often refer to their bikes’ drivetrain as 10, 11, or 12-speeds (10s, 11s, or 12s), assuming there are two front chainrings. This would mean they have either 20, 22, or 24 available gear combinations.
Sometimes, you’ll also hear cyclists referring to their bikes as 1X or 1-by, which means there’s only a single front chainring. Combined with a 10, 11, or 12-speed rear cassette, they’ll have 10, 11, or 12 available gear combinations. 1X is common for gravel bikes.
The triple chainring is rare for mid to top-of-the-line road bikes and is found in 7, 8, or 9-speed drivetrains, giving the cyclist 21, 24, or 27 available gear combinations.
Common bicycle gearing setup
The table below shows some common drivetrain configurations in road bikes today.
|eTap AXS 1X||12||12|
To wrap up, remember that the term speeds in cycling context refers to the number of cogs on your bike’s rear cassette, whereas gears represent the number of possible combinations between your bike’s front chainrings and rear cogs.
The next time you hear a fellow cyclist asking, What speed is my bike? you’ll be better equipped to explain to them the differences.
Is there a significant performance difference between a bike with fewer gears and one with more gears?
The number of gears a bike has does not necessarily indicate its performance level.
What’s more crucial is the range of gears or the difference between the lowest and highest gear. This range determines the bike’s versatility in handling various terrains. A bike with a wider gear range can handle steep climbs and fast descents.
Does having more gears make a bike faster?
The speed of a bike is not solely determined by the number of gears. Instead, it’s a combination of the rider’s physical condition, the bike’s weight, aerodynamics, and tire resistance among other factors.
However, having more gears can provide a wider range of options for optimal cadence, which can indirectly affect the speed and efficiency of your ride.
Is it difficult to switch between different speed bikes, say from a 10-speed to a 12-speed?
The transition from a 10-speed bike to a 12-speed bike isn’t very difficult as the fundamental principles of shifting remain the same.
However, you might notice smoother shifting and smaller jumps between gears on a 12-speed bike due to the additional cogs. It’s also worth noting that you’ll likely need to adjust your derailleur settings and potentially your chain length when switching between different speed setups.
Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.
He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.