BikeParts Wiki

Template:Transmission types Derailleur gears are a variable-ratio transmission system commonly used on bicycles, consisting of a chain, multiple sprockets of different sizes, and a mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another. Although referred to as gears in the bike world, these bicycle gears, unlike the gears in an internally-geared hub, are technically sprockets since they drive or are driven by a chain, and are not driven by one another.

Modern front and rear derailleurs typically consist of a moveable chain-guide that is operated remotely by a Bowden cable attached to a shift lever mounted on the down tube, handlebar stem, or handlebar. When a rider operates the lever while pedalling, the change in cable tension moves the chain-guide from side to side, "derailing" the chain onto different sprockets.


File:Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur 1983.jpg

Campagnolo Super Record road racing rear derailleur from 1983.

Various derailleur systems were designed and built in the late 1800s. The French bicycle tourist, writer and cycling promoter Paul de Vivie (1853-1930), who wrote under the name Velocio, invented a two speed rear derailleur in 1905 which he used on forays into the Alps.[1] Some early designs used rods to move the chain onto various gears. 1928 saw the introduction of the "Super Champion Gear" (or "Osgear") from the company founded by champion cyclist Oscar Egg)[2], and the Vittoria Margherita; both employed chainstay mounted 'paddles' and single lever chain tensioners mounted near or on the downtube. However, these systems, along with the rod-operated Campagnolo Cambio Corsa [3] were eventually superseded by parallelogram derailleurs. In 1937, the derailleur system was introduced to the Tour de France, allowing riders to change gears without having to remove wheels. Previously, riders would have to dismount in order to change their wheel from downhill to uphill mode [4] Derailleurs did not become common road racing equipment until 1938 when Simplex introduced a cable-shifted derailleur.

In 1949 Campagnolo introduced the Gran Sport, a refined version of less commercially successful cable-operated parallelogram rear derailleurs already existing.[5] This is often credited as being the first modern rear derailleur.

In 1964, Suntour invented the slant-parallelogram rear derailleur, which let the jockey pulley maintain a more constant distance from the different sized sprockets, resulting in easier shifting. Once the patents expired, other manufacturers adopted this design, at least for their better models,[6] and the "slant parallelogram" remains the current rear derailleur pattern.

Before the 1990s many manufacturers made derailleurs, including Simplex, Huret, Galli, Mavic, Gipiemme, Zeus, Suntour, and Shimano. However, the successful introduction and promotion of indexed shifting by Shimano in 1985 required a compatible system of shift levers, derailleur, cogset, chainrings, chain, shift cable, and shift housing.[7]. This need for compatibility increased the use of groupsets made by one company, and was one of the factors that drove the other manufacturers out of the market.[citation needed] Today Campagnolo and Shimano are the two main manufacturers of derailleurs, with Campagnolo only making road cycling derailleurs and Shimano making both road and offroad. American manufacturer SRAM has been an important third, specializing in derailleurs for mountain bikes, and in 2006 they introduced a drivetrain system for road bicycles.

Modern derailleur types[]

File:Derailleur Bicycle Drivetrain.svg

A diagram of a road bicycle drivetrain and derailleurs

The major innovations since then have been the switch from friction to indexed shifting and the gradual increase in the number of gears. With friction shifting, the rider first moves the lever enough for the chain to jump to the next sprocket, and then adjusts the lever a slight amount to center the chain on that sprocket. An indexed shifter has a detent or ratchet mechanism which stops the gear lever, and hence the cable and the derailleur, after moving a specific distances with each press or pull. However, indexed shifters can require re-calibration when cables stretch or when pieces are damaged or swapped out. On racing bicycles, 10-gear rear cassettes appeared in 2000, and 11-gear cassettes appeared in 2009. Most current mountain bicycles have three front chainrings; while road bicycles may have two or three.

File:Shimano xt rear derailleur.jpg

Shimano XT rear derailleur on a mountain bike

Rear derailleurs[]

The rear derailleur serves double duty: moving the chain between rear sprockets and taking up chain slack caused by moving to a smaller sprocket at the rear or a smaller chainring by the front derailleur. In order to accomplish this second task, it is positioned in the path of the bottom, slack portion of chain.


Although variations exist, as noted below, most rear derailleurs have several components in common. They have a cage that holds two pulleys that guide the chain in an S-shaped pattern. The pulleys are known as the jockey pulley or guide pulley (top) and the tension pulley (bottom).[8] The cage rotates in its plane and is spring-loaded to take up chain slack. The cage is positioned under the desired sprocket by an arm that can swing back and forth under the sprockets. The arm is usually implemented with a parallelogram mechanism to keep the cage properly aligned with the chain as it swings back and forth. The other end of the arm mounts to a pivot point attached to the bicycle frame. The arm pivots about this point to maintain the cage at a nearly constant distance from the different sized sprockets. There may be one or more adjustment screws that control the amount of lateral travel allowed and the spring tension.

The components may be constructed of aluminum alloy, steel, plastic, or carbon fiber composite. The pivot points may be bushings or ball bearings. These will require moderate lubrication.

Relaxed position[]

High normal or top normal rear derailleurs return to the smallest sprocket on the cassette when no cable tension is applied.[9] Most Shimano mountain, all Shimano road, and all SRAM and Campagnolo derailleurs are high-normal designs.

Low normal or rapid rise rear derailleurs for mountain bikes are manufactured by Shimano. These derailleurs, introduced in 2004 in the XT and XTR groups maintain position over the largest sprocket on the cassette when no cable tension is applied.[10] On mountain bikes especially, this is an advantage because gear changes tend to be easier and quicker when changing in the spring weighted direction. Changing gears in the sprung direction requires only a light click on the control, and the spring will move the derailleur into place. In road racing the swiftest gear changes are required on the sprints to the finish line, hence high-normal types, which allow a quick change to a higher gear, have become the most common. In off-road cycling the most critical gear changes occur on difficult uphill sections when the rider must not only cope with the hard pedaling, but must also get into a critical riding position to maintain grip and must often cope with obstacles and difficult turns at the same time. In addition, they may be moving at a slow speed and it may be difficult to ease off pressure from the pedals without losing balance. Under such conditions being able to switch easily to a lower gear can make the difference between being able to tackle the section or having to get off and push, and thus the advantages of low-normal changers make them the best choice. From a user interface point of view, they shift opposite to other rear derailleurs. The user 'clicks' the index finger trigger to move to a larger sprocket, and pushes with the thumb trigger to select a smaller sprocket.

Cage length[]

The distance between the upper and lower pulleys of a rear derailleur is known as the cage length. Cage length determines the capacity of a derailleur to take up chain slack. Cage length determines the total capacity of the derailleur, that is the size difference between the largest and smallest chainrings, and the size difference between the largest and smallest sprockets on the cogset added together. A larger sum requires a longer cage length. Typical cross country mountain bikes with three front chainrings will use a long cage rear derailleur. A road bike with two front chainrings and closely spaced (in terms of teeth number) sprockets will function with either a short cage derailleur or a long cage one, but work optimally with a short cage.

Manufacturer stated derailleur capacities are as follows: Shimano long = 45T; medium = 33T SRAM long = 43T; medium = 37T; short = 30T

Benefits of a shorter cage length:

  • snappier shifts
  • better chain tension
  • less chain slap / decreased drivetrain noise.
  • better obstruction clearance / improved spoke clearance.
  • very slight weight savings.

Cage positioning[]

There are at least two methods employed by rear derailleurs to maintain the appropriate gap between the upper jockey wheel and the rear sprockets as the derailleur moves between the large sprockets and the small sprockets.

  • One method, used by Shimano, is to use chain tension to pivot the cage. This has the advantage of working with most sets of sprockets, if the chain has the proper length. A disadvantage is that rapid shifts from small sprockets to large over multiple sprockets at once can cause the cage to strike the sprockets before the chain moves onto the larger sprockets and pivots the cage as necessary.
  • Another method, used by SRAM, is to design the spacing into the parallelogram mechanism of the derailleur itself. The advantage is that no amount of rapid, multi-sprocket shifting can cause the cage to strike the sprockets. The disadvantage is that there are limited options for sprocket sizes that can be used with a particular derailleur.

Actuation ratio[]

Currently there are multiple conventions for the relationship between shifter travel and rear derailleur travel, known as actuation ratios. The ratios, when given, are nominal, and do not represent an exact ratio.[citation needed]

  • One convention, used by Shimano, is one-to-two (1:2). A unit of cable moved in causes about twice as much movement of the derailleur.
  • Another convention, used by SRAM mountain bike rear derailleurs, is one-to-one (1:1). A unit of cable moved in the shifter causes about an equal amount to be moved in the derailleur. SRAM claims that this makes their systems more robust: more accepting of contamination.[11]
  • Exact Actuation, used by SRAM road bike rear derailleurs, similar but different from the mountain ratio.
  • Campagnolo convention.
  • Suntour's convention.
Shifters employing one convention are generally not compatible with derailleurs employing the other, although exceptions exist.[12]

Front derailleurs[]


Shimano XT front derailleur (top pull, bottom swing, triple cage) on a mountain bike

File:Shimano LX front derailleur e-type.JPG

Shimano E-type front derailleur (top pull, top swing, triple cage)

The front derailleur only has to move the chain side to side between the front chainrings, but it has to do this with the top, taut portion of the chain. It also needs to accommodate large differences in chainring size: from as many as 53 teeth to as few as 20 teeth.


As with the rear derailleur, the front derailleur has a cage through which the chain passes. On a properly adjusted derailleur, the chain will only touch the cage while shifting. The cage is held in place by a movable arm which is usually implemented with a parallelogram mechanism to keep the cage properly aligned with the chain as it swings back and forth. There may be one or more adjustment screws that control the amount of lateral travel allowed.

The components may be constructed of aluminum alloy, steel, plastic, or carbon fiber composite. The pivot points are usually bushings, and these will require lubrication.

Cable pull types[]

bottom pull
Commonly used on road and touring bikes, this type of derailleur is actuated by a cable pulling downwards. The cable is often routed beneath the bottom bracket shell on a plastic guide, which redirects the cable up the lower edge of the frame's down tube.
top pull
This type is more commonly seen on mountain bikes. The derailleur is actuated by a cable pulling upwards, which is usually routed along the frame's top tube, using cable stops and a short length of housing to change the cable's direction. This arrangement keeps the cable away from the underside of the bottom bracket/down tube which get pelted with dirt when off-road.
combination of both (dual pull)
There are some derailleurs available that have provisions for either top pull or bottom pull, and can be used in either application.

Cage types[]

double (Standard)
These are intended to be used with cranksets having two chainrings. When viewed from the side of the bicycle, the inner and outer plates of the cage have roughly the same profile.
triple (Alpine)
Derailleurs designed to be used with cranksets having three chainrings, or with two chainrings that differ greatly in size. When viewed from the side of the bicycle, the inner cage plate extends further towards the bottom bracket's center of rotation than the outer cage plate does. This is to help shift the chain from the smallest ring onto the middle ring more easily.

Swing types[]

bottom swing
The derailleur cage is mounted to the bottom of the four-bar linkage that carries it. This is the most common type of derailleur.
top swing
The derailleur cage is mounted to the top of the four-bar linkage that carries it. This alternate arrangement was created as a way to get the frame clamp of the derailleur closer to the bottom bracket to be able to clear larger suspension components and allow different frame shapes. The compact construction of a top swing derailleur can cause it to be less robust than its bottom swing counterpart. Top swing derailleurs are typically only used in applications where a bottom swing derailleir will not fit. An alternate solution would be to use an E-type front derailleur, which does not clamp around the seat tube at all.

Mount types[]

The vast majority of front derailleurs are mounted to the frame by a clamp around the frame's seat tube. Derailleurs are available with several different clamp diameters designed to fit different types of frame tubing. Recently, there has been a trend to make derailleurs with only one diameter clamp, and several sets of shims are included to space the clamp down to the appropriate size.
An alternative to the clamp is the braze-on derailleur hanger, where the derailleur is mounted by bolting a tab on the derailleur to a corresponding tab on the frame's seat tube. This avoids any clamp size issues, but requires either a frame with the appropriate braze-on, or an adapter clamp that simulates a braze-on derailleur tab.
This type front derailleurs do not clamp around the frame's seat tube, but instead are attached to the frame by a plate mounted under the drive side bottom bracket cup and a screw threaded into a boss on the seat tube. These derailleurs are usually found on mountain bikes with rear suspension components that do not allow space for a normal derailleur's clamp to go around the seat tube.

Alternative gear systems[]

An alternative type of gear system used on bicycles is hub gears, which are popular on utility bikes, especially in Continental Europe. The gear can be changed when the bike is stationary, which makes them easier to ride in city traffic with lots of stops and starts. The gears are also enclosed in the hub, and consequently require less maintenance. They usually have a smaller number of transmission ratios (i.e. speeds). However a 14-speed internal hub gearing system known as the Rohloff Speedhub is now available, with a gear range as wide as a mountain bike's 27-speed derailleur system. Another alternative is Truvativ HammerSchmidt[13] made by SRAM Corporation, which replaces the front derailleur with a transmission system that allows shifting gears under pressure and without pedaling.

See also[]


  1. Template:Cite web
  2. Template:Cite web
  3. Template:Cite web
  4. History of the Tour de France: 1920–1939 - Les Forcats de la Route by Mitch Mueller
  5. Berto, Frank; Ron Shepherd, et al. (2005). The dancing chain : history and development of the derailleur bicycle. San Francisco, CA, USA: Van der Plas Publications/Cycle Publications. pp. 162. ISBN 1892495414. 
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Berto, Frank; Ron Shepherd, et al. (2005). The dancing chain : history and development of the derailleur bicycle. San Francisco, CA, USA: Van der Plas Publications/Cycle Publications. pp. 286. ISBN 1892495414. 
  8. Template:Cite web
  9. Template:Cite web
  10. Template:Cite web
  11. Template:Cite web
  12. Template:Cite web
  13. Template:Cite web

External links[]



  • The Dancing Chain - History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle. Frank Berto, Ron Shepard, and Raymond Henry. 2000. Van der Plas Publications, San Francisco, CA. ISBN 1-892495-21-X

de:Kettenschaltung es:Transmisión de bicicleta fr:Dérailleur it:Deragliatore nl:Derailleur pl:Przerzutka rowerowa