Teach Page : Derailleur Adjustment


Bike riding can be one of the most relaxing and healthy activities you can engage in. Nothing beats a long ride down a lonely country road, or along the beach on a calm, sunny day. One of the great things about bicycling is the bicycle itself. It is a very simple machine that requires very little maintenance to work properly. Most people feel like they can change a flat tire, or oil their own chain, but often they will go to a mechanic if there is a problem with their rear derailleur. I’ve decided to create a brief tutorial explaining how to adjust your rear derailleur, to show how simple it really is.

What’s so important about the derailleur?

The rear derailleur uses cable tension to move the bicycle chain to different gears on your rear wheel. This changes the effort required to turn the rear wheel. If you need to climb a steep hill, you can switch to a lower (bigger) gear, if you want to go faster, switch to a higher (smaller) gear. When you change gears, the length of your bicycle chain changes. The derailleur is spring loaded to automatically compensate for this change in length.

By the late 1800’s, it was understood that different ratios of gears (or sprockets) created different cycling conditions. It was also during this time that some of the first derailleurs were invented. Most only used two gears, one for up hill and one for down, and some were actually operated by rods. Paul de Vivie created one of the first derailleur systems in 1905 for his tours through the Alps. In 1937, the Tour de France finally saw the introduction of the derailleur. Before the derailleur, cyclists would dismount and change out wheels during the race.

The derailleur shape we are most familiar with is referred to as a parallelogram type. This name comes from the shape of the main arm of the derailleur. The parallelogram, cable drive derailleur was introduced by Tullio Campagnolo in the early 1950’s. With their innovative design, Campagnolo derailleurs dominated the market for many decades. While tweaks to this derailleur layout have been made, the main design has remained unchanged. Parallelogram derailleurs continue to be the most popular derailleur type to this day.

The bicycle played an interesting role during the rise of the gender equality movement. Providing an inexpensive personal means of transport gave some women an extra level of independence. The introduction of the derailleur aided in the popularity of bicycles among women. By providing various levels of pedal to rear wheel torque ratios, the derailleur allowed women to handle inclines formally reserved for fit young men. This contributed to the general trend of women occupying formally male only roles in the early twentieth century.

Tuning your derailleur

One of the first things I learned about bicycles was how to break them. A combination of racing with my friends, riding down roads that were too rough for my bicycle and failing to perform regular maintenance on my bike would lead to some inevitable breakdown. During these younger days I was always pretty short on money, so going to a bicycle mechanic was always out of the question. My friends and I would swap methods and tips for repairing our bicycles. Some of these techniques were learned from older cyclists with more experience, most were learned from trial and error.  The point I want to make here is that I learned to fix my bike as a clumsy, underachieving 13 year old. That means that you can too! The following pages will show you how simple adjusting your rear derailleur really is.

Continue to How to Adjust Your Derailleur: Part One




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