How To Fix Mountain Bike Gears That Won’t Shift

Shifting problems driving you nuts on your MTB? Check out our quick and easy 2-minute guide. We’ll explain the culprits for your shifting issues, and the quick fixes.

You’ve read our guide to starting MTB riding, and you’ve hit your first problem; your MTB won’t shift through the gears smoothly, or at all.

No problem.

This 2-minute guide is going to explain what’s causing your shifting problem, and how to fix it.

What Causes Shifting Problems On Mountain Bikes?

Chain Problems

Your mountain bike chain is the first place to start if you’re having shifting problems.

Assuming cables aren’t under pressure, and the derailleur is adjusted correctly – head for the chain.

Are there any rusted kinks? Are the gaps in the links clogged with grunge?

Fixing Chain Problems

Cleaning An MTB Chain

You can usually salvage a chain with:

  • Grunge/chain cleaning brush
  • WD40
  • Lots of elbow grease

However, MTB chains are cheap, so it’s best to just get a replacement.

Remember, if you’re replacing your MTB chain, it’s likely you’ll need a chain link remover.

How To Size An MTB Chain [And Remove Links]

Derailleur And Gear Cable Problems

Cable Stretch

Gear cables will stretch. They’ll stretch the most when they’re new.

So, if you’ve purchased a brand new bike or just replaced gear cables, this is likely the culprit.

Derailleur Alignment

Derailleurs can be used to loosen and tighten cables, but also to align the chain.

Maybe this was out of alignment from the factory, or it’s taken a knock.

Who knows?

All we know is you need to get it back into alignment in order get your MTB gears shifting again.

How To Adjust Gear Cables & Derailleurs

Cable Routing

New bike? Took your bike apart (including removing the cables)?

Check the routing of gear cables.

Do they stretch when you turn the bars either way? If they do, they’ve been routed incorrectly.

They’ll need to be re-routed so there’s no tension put on the cables when the handlebars are at full lock.

How To Route Cables On An MTB

What’s Next?

Thanks for reading our 2-minute guide to MTB gear shifting problems.

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Written by
Grant Draper

Grant's a motorcycle geek, outdoor enthusiast & confirmed racing nut. He road tests all the gear he buys, and then gives his feedback here on NoobNorm.

He also details any quick fixes he stumbles upon, whether that's to stop brakes on motorcycles sticking, or unusual noises coming from gaming wheels.

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Written by Grant Draper