Electric Bike Gears Not Working? Don’t Panic! Here’s How to Get Back on Track

So, you’ve been having a blast on your electric bike, loving every minute in the saddle. But what used to be a smooth ride has become increasingly frustrating, with your gears jumping around as if your bike is working against you. Or, worst case, they don’t work at all. Before your own mental gearbox starts grinding, the solution is usually simple.

The most common reason electric bike gears stop working as they should is a loss of tension in the cable to the derailleur. Over time, this cable starts to stretch, making shifting uneven. Another simple cause is riding with dirty, grimy gears, which can interfere with changing gears.

Before you grab your bike and run to your local bike shop to fix it for you, we strongly advise you to try and learn the skill first. Gear indexing needs to be done regularly, and it is simple. We’ve broken down the process into a few simple steps that you can follow to fix your electric bike’s gears.

The Likely Reason Your Electric Bike’s Gears Aren’t Working

Unless your bike is fitted with expensive wireless gears, the common culprit for having messy or missing gears is the cable that runs from your shifter to your derailleur. If you have a bike with two gear shifters, you have more than one chainring or set of gears. One at the back and one in front as well. Although these gears are becoming increasingly uncommon, the fix is similar to the rear ones.

Looking at the rear gears, you will notice a transformer-like arm with two small wheels underneath the gear cassette. This component is called a derailleur, and it guides your chain and changes gears.

On top of the derailleur, you will notice the end of a thing cable attached to it. This is the connection point from your shifter on your handlebars to your gears at the back. Every time you change a gear on the shifter, the tension in the cable changes to pull your derailleur up or drop it down, and it guides the chain onto the corresponding ring. It’s a gorgeously simplistic system.

Over time, that cable becomes stretched out. Eventually, it doesn’t have enough inherent tension to pull the derailleur up, causing gears to slip, grind, or miss.

Fixing Your Electric Bike’s Gears

Now that you know your way around your bike’s gears a little better and know what you’re dealing with, it’s time to get your hands nice and dirty and get your bike back on the trails.

Step 1: Clean Your Gears And Chain

If you are not in the habit of keeping your drive train clean, you must stop what you’re doing, go and read “Extreme Ownership,” go to a mirror, reprimand yourself, and change your life.

Dirt, be it on your chain, gears, or cable, is one of the most overlooked reasons for having a terrible riding experience, and just cleaning it could resolve simple issues. Leaving them dirty increases the rate at which your gear teeth, cable tension, and chain will wear, which becomes a far more severe issue in the long run.

Step 2: Check The Cable

If there is absolutely no response on your derailleur when you shift through your gears, then either the nut that holds the cable in place has come loose or your cable has snapped.

To test this, simply feel the nut on the derailleur to see if it’s loose or if the cable is moving. Or try pulling on the cable. If it’s broken, you will be able to pull it free, and you need to thread a new one before continuing.

This is also simple. The cable has a little stopper that clips into the derailleur. From there, you just put a tiny dab of grease on the tip of the cable and thread it through the cable housing until it emerges by your derailleur.

Here’s a video to help you change your cable:

Step 3: Shift To Your Hardest Gear And Adjust

Before adjusting your cable, you should shift to the toughest gear, which is the smallest gear at the back. This will be your starting point. You will also need to wind the barrel adjuster on your shifter to the slackest point. This adjustment is typically located at the end where the cable meets the shifter housing.

At this point, you will start using the other screws/adjusters on your derailleur. Two of these screws are for setting the upper and lower limits of the derailleur, which prevents your chain from falling off the upper and lower gears. You may need to do a quick Google search of your specific derailleur to see which is which.

With your chain on the smallest gear, check that the chain isn’t rubbing against the bike’s frame. If it is, adjust the limiter slightly to push the chain away.

Step 4: Take Up Slack On The Cable

The cable should feel slack at the derailleur if you have done the above. So, loosen the nut that holds the cable, take up the slack in the cable, and tighten the nut again. Be careful of pulling the cable too tight because that will create the opposite issue where it skips your higher gears. You just want it to pull it taught.

If your derailleur arm touches some of the larger gears, then you need to adjust the screw that pushes the arm down and out of the way.

Step 5: Make Micro Adjustments

If all goes well, then you should be able to shift through most of your gears at this point. If you’re lucky, then the problem is resolved.

If you’re not so lucky and there is still some grinding or your derailleur is struggling to push the chain onto the easier gears, then you can make micro-adjustments. To do this, you use the barrel adjuster on your shifter and incrementally add tension to your chain. Make minor adjustments until you find the sweet spot.

Here is an excellent that breaks down the whole process of indexing gears:

Bonus Tip: Change Your Cable Regularly

If there is one great tip we can leave you with, it is to change your gear cable relatively regularly. It is possibly the cheapest upgrade you can make to your bike that has an inexplicably massive impact on your ride quality. So, if you want your gears to feel fresh, try popping in a new cable and take a selfie of the guaranteed smile on your face.

Conclusion

The most common reason for electric bike gears to stop working is an aging and stretching derailleur cable. To fix the problem, you can re-index gears to take up the slack in the cable, or you can simply replace the cable. Another common cause is that dirt in your gears interferes with the shifting process, so get in the habit of heaving a clean drive train.

Author

  • Miles Baxter

    Miles Baxter is an engineer with a longstanding love for bicycles, sparked by winning a mountain bike in a childhood lottery. Balancing a keen interest in mechanics with the thrill of biking, his career is a testament to the art of turning wheels and gears into adventures.

    Baxter Miles