Fixing Your E-Bike’s Gears

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Having a new e-bike is great. Just like any bike, really, except the e-bike can give you superhuman speed or just act like a motorcycle if you have one with a throttle. If your new bike is well-assembled and well-adjusted (this usually doesn’t happen at Walmart, but almost always happens from your local bike shop, or “LBS”), you’ve got a smooth ride that’s fun. You bang through the gears, play with different power assist levels, and nail that sweet, sweet throttle. You get exercise while having fun. But, if you’re riding a lot, it’s not long before you run into the problem of fixing your e-bike’s gears.

Experiencing other problems? Check out our growing series on e-bike maintenance and repair!

First, it starts to get a little rough. Some of the gears are a little noisy, and they start hunting from gear to gear. As the derailleur cable(s) stretch, you get to the point where some gears start to become completely off-limits, usually at the top or bottom. Eventually, your bike just isn’t that rideable except with the throttle. That makes things a lot less fun as a bike.

In the past, when this happened, it was time to take the bike down to a shop for adjustment. This is super convenient in countries where bikes are common, as there are bike shops all over the place. When I had a bike do this in Taiwan, the guys fixed it in a couple minutes and then refused to take my money. “Just come back when something really breaks.” he said.

But in a small town with only two bike shops, and needing to drop bikes off for days at a time, that means taking the bike down to the shop on a bike rack so I have a way home. Big inconvenience.

So, when my RadRover started doing this, I decided to go ahead and fix it myself instead of wasting a bunch of time dropping the bike off and picking it up. I mean, the guy in Taiwan did this in like 2 minutes, so why can’t I do it? I turns out that fixing your e-bike’s gears isn’t all that hard.

Fixing Your E-Bike’s Gears

There are a lot of videos on YouTube explaining how to fix your bike’s gears. Some of them make it look like a complex process. Others make it look like it’s super simple, but then you can’t do what they just did because they left some stuff out. After watching a number of videos, I found the one above that gave me good information and made it reasonably easy to understand.

In my case, I found that the rear derailleur guard had been bent and was crushing the derailleur. This kept it from getting into the higher gears (the smaller ones in the rear). That was a simple matter of pulling on it to bend it back into shape and out of the way of the normal range of the derailleur. Nice!

But, I found that the tension was all wrong. When I put the gear lever in first gear, it wouldn’t go on the biggest gear. So, I manually moved the chain to that gear, and saw just how far off center the derailleur was. This gave me a place to move it to when I adjusted the cable tension, and then gave me a target when doing the limiter adjustment. I then did the same for the top gear (the smallest one in the back). With the limiters keeping both the top and bottom gears perfectly aligned with the chain, things were basically fixed up.

At that point, it could go into all of the gears again, but it wasn’t very smooth. Some gears made a little noise, and there was a little bit of hunting (not staying in gear). The little small adjuster came in handy at this point, but on my RadRover, it isn’t on the handlebar with the shifter. Instead, it’s on the other end of the cable, right next to the derailleur. By experimenting with turning that little nut, I was able to get the gears shifting a lot more smoothly.

With things running a little smoother, I adjusted the third screw that moves the chain away from the gears more. With some experimentation, I managed to quiet some more of the noise and roughness down. This led to the bike working quite well, and gives me a good stopping point. The chain and gears appear to need a good cleaning, but that’s about it.

Really, things would have gone smoother if I had noticed the derailleur guard was bent into the derailleur before I started messing with the screws. I don’t know how I missed that at first, but as a beginner bike mechanic, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I’d miss something important. Had I seen the problem, the screws and tension probably wouldn’t have needed as much adjustment as they did. In other words, I threw things off instead of fixing them at first!

Final Thoughts

To experienced riders and cyclists, this may sound silly, but adjusting gears was intimidating to me. I had been letting professionals do it because I felt like it was some mystic voodoo art. As a teenager, I once tried to guess my way through fixing a messed up derailleur on my first mountain bike, and only made things worse. Nobody told me how to adjust them, and there wasn’t YouTube back in those days. There were written instructions, but they only led me to getting things stuck in the proverbial ceiling fan.

We’re quite fortunate today to have access to all sorts of good information on bike maintenance and repair. Like anything mechanical, the only good options in the past were reading books or having someone who knows what the hell they’re doing give you a quick lesson. Now? The people who know what they’re doing are not only giving us a tutorial on video, but they’re also giving us better visuals and other editing tricks so we can learn like never before and visualize the process of fixing your e-bike’s gears.

There are dozens of things you could repair on a bike, and dozens more ways to adjust e-bikes. But we aren’t alone anymore.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1769 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba