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There are two different types of function for shift levers. In most cases the large lever is used to shift onto the larger sprockets. The small lever, which is closer to the handlebar, shifts the chain onto the smaller sprockets.
The levers from Shimano are actuated with the thumb and fore finger. Here also the large lever shifts the chain onto the large chainring.
The shift lever transfers shift instructions to the rear derailleur. The rear derailleur pivots and the chain moves onto the next sprocket. It is important when shifting that you continue to turn the pedals; however with slightly reduced pressure.
Shifting under heavy loads reduces the service life of the chain considerably. Therefore avoid shifting when you are applying a great amount of pressure on the pedals, especially when shifting with the front derailleur.
The worst possible chain line is when the chain is on the smallest chainring on the front and the smallest two or three sprockets on the cassette. Picture 1 In addition, it is also bad for the chain when it is on the largest chain ring at the front and the largest sprocket on the cassette. Picture 2