Technical Tuesday: How To Set Up Your SRAM Rear Derailleur

Apr 6, 2010 at 0:09
Apr 6, 2010
by Mike Levy  
 
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For the second installment of Technical Tuesdays we take a close look at how to setup your SRAM X9 rear derailleur. Don't feel left out if you don't run a SRAM derailleur, as many of the same steps still apply. Inside you'll find step by step instructions and a How-To video that will guide you through the process.

Read on...

How a rear derailleur works is a mystery to a lot of riders, and it's easy to be intimidated by it. One day it could be working perfectly and the next it will have a mind of its own. You take it to your local shop only to have the grumpy wrench wheel it into the back to perform three minutes of voodoo that is apparently a trade secret. He could be making adjustments or he may be sprinkling unicorn droppings on it, who knows? The truth is it's actually a pretty simple job that only requires a couple of tools and some patience to get right. Below you'll find step by step instructions on how to setup your SRAM X9 rear derailleur.

Keep in mind that the same basic principles will apply to other makes and models, although you may find the adjustments in different places.

Watch the video to learn how to adjust your SRAM rear derailleur!
Views: 93,723    Faves: 506    Comments: 22




Step By Step SRAM Derailleur Setup Instructions

Tools needed: Folding allen key set (or separate 3 mm and 5 mm allen keys), Phillips or flat head screwdriver .

All you need is a folding allen key set and a screw driver
All you need is a folding allen key set and a screw driver

Before you begin adjusting things it is important to be sure that all of your shifting components are in good working order. You could spend the next hour following these instructions, but it will be of no use if you're using bent, damaged, or worn out parts. Take a few minutes to be sure that both your derailleur and derailleur hanger are straight. Do this by standing directly behind your bike and sighting up through your derailleur, everything should be straight and in line. Also, your chain should not be completely worn out and dry, as this will have a detrimental effect on your shifting as well. Likewise, if your cable is rusty and not moving free, all your efforts will be wasted. Once you're happy that everything is in good condition move on to the steps below.

You'll be adjusting three settings during this process: cable tension, limit screws, and B-tension.

Cable Tension

It is exactly as it sounds. The amount of tension on the shift cable controls how much the derailleur moves with each click of the shifter. Too much tension and it will shift past the correct cog as you shift to an easier gear, as well as shift slow in the opposite direction. Too little tension and it will shift slow, or not at all, to a bigger cog, and move too far as you come down to a harder gear. The correct amount of cable tension is a balance that moves the chain up and down over your cassette at just the right amount.

Limit Screws

Think of your limit screws as your derailleur's adjustable stops. They only effect the amount that the derailleur is allowed to move at each extreme of its travel. There are two limit screws, one for the low range (easiest gearing) and one for the high range (hardest gearing), and are labeled accordingly with "H" being for High and "L" for low. The further you dial in the "high" limit screw, the less range your derailleur will have at the high range. If you find that your derailleur is shifting over the top of the largest cog, you'll need to apply more "low" limit until it no longer over shifts. If your shifting is good throughout the middle of your cassette, but is not able to shift to the largest cog, you may have dialed in too much limit. The same applies to the high limit adjustment. If you manage to bend your derailleur or derailleur hanger after you make these adjustments, they will no longer be effective.

B Tension Screw

This lesser known screw adjusts how close the derailleur's upper pulley wheel follows the cassette. If it is too close, the upper pulley and chain will come in contact with the cassette, especially when back pedaling. Too far away and your shifting will be slower than you may like. Certain derailleurs will need more B Tension screw applied to keep them from bumping on large 32 or 34 tooth cogs found on some mountain bike cassettes.



1. For this process we are going to start from scratch. If your shifting is only slightly out of adjustment you may not need to start from the very beginning. Begin by shifting your SRAM rear derailleur to the smallest cog (least amount of cable tension) and then undo the derailleur's cable anchor bolt in order to release all cable tension. The cable should now be free and have no effect on the shifting. Take note of where the shift cable is clamped in relation to the bolt before you loosen it. Is there a channel or groove where the cable is intended to be clamped? You'll need to know this when the time comes to re clamp the cable.

Chain on the smallest cog and cable anchor bolt undone
Chain on the smallest cog and cable anchor bolt undone

2. We are going to start by setting the high limit screw to the correct position. This is an important step as some of your other adjustments will be affected by this as well. If your high limit is off, there is a good chance the rest of your adjustments will be as well. To do this, manually move the derailleur with your hand by pushing on the knuckle (not the cage!) and moving the chain up the cassette just as you would if you were shifting to an easier gear. Next, slowly release it and let it come down under it's own spring tension. It should move the chain onto the smallest cog with no hesitation, but at the same time it should not let it go past the cog and and make contact with the frame. Sight from directly behind the smallest cog, the upper pulley wheel and chain should be directly in line with the teeth for the cog.

Setting the high limit adjustment
Setting the high limit adjustment

3. If it is shifting too far and the chain and upper pulley wheel are not lined up with the small cog, or the chain is coming right off and making contact with the frame, you'll need to add more high limit. Turn the high limit screw clockwise half a turn or less and then recheck. Likewise, if the chain is not coming down onto the smallest cog, or hesitating slightly before it does, you'll need to dial out the high limit screw a small amount to let the derailleur have more range.

4. The next step is to correctly adjust your derailleur's low limit screw. This adjustment keeps your rear derailleur from shifting the chain up and over the largest cog and into the spokes. With the shift cable still loose and not clamped down, push gently on the derailleur body (not the cage!) in order to move the chain up to the largest cog just as it would if you were shifting to an easier gear. Do this slowly as if your low limit is not adjusted correctly it will over shift and possibly damage your drive side spokes. You should be able to push the the derailleur body until the chain is on the largest cog. If it doesn't have enough free movement to reach the largest cog, or is doing it slowly, you'll need to dial out the low limit screw by turning it counter clockwise a small amount. If it moves the chain up and over the cog and into the spokes, you'll need to add more low limit by turning the screw clockwise. You should be able to move the derailleur and chain up to the largest cog and feel a firm stop. Again, when sighting from behind, the upper pulley wheel and chain should be directly lined up with the teeth on the largest cog.

Setting the low limit adjustment
Setting the low limit adjustment

Checking the low limit adjustment by hand
Checking the low limit adjustment by hand

5. Now it is time to re clamp your shift cable, but first you should make sure that it is moving free through your shift housing. To do this shift as if you were shifting to the largest cog/easiest gear. Now hold onto the cable end with your hand and shift back down one click at a time. The cable should move freely and not bind at any point. If it does you'll need to replace your cable before continuing. If you are happy with it then move on to the next step.

6. It is very important to make sure that the derailleur and chain are in the smallest cog/hardest gear position before you re clamp your shift cable. Also, be sure to take note of where exactly the cable is supposed to be clamped. Certain models of derailleurs may need to have the cable clamped in different positions. Have a close look and you should be able to see a channel or knurled surface that defines the clamping area. If you position the cable in the wrong spot it will not shift correctly as the cable pull ratio will be off. Before clamping the cable, have the barrel adjuster at the shifter dialed two turns out from full in. With the derailleur in this position, pull the shift cable snug with your hand and clamp it in the correct position under the cable anchor bolt. When doing this be sure to pull all of the slack out of the cable. With practice you'll be able to know just how hard to tug on the cable so that you won't have to make drastic, if any, tension adjustments after it's clamped.

Re clamp the shift cable with the chain on the smallest cog
Re clamp the shift cable with the chain on the smallest cog

7. Now you're ready to check your shifting and see if any adjustments are needed. While pedaling shift the rear derailleur up one gear at a time towards the largest cog/easiest gear. If it's adjusted correctly, one click of the shifter will move the chain up to the next cog without hesitation and without it over shifting to the next cog. When checking your shifting be sure to shift one gear at a time as it can become confusing if it's out of adjustment and you're doing multiple jumps. The first couple of tries may result in not enough tension, with the symptom being that the derailleur is not able to move enough to bring the chain up to the next largest cog. If this is the case, you'll need to add more tension by dialing the barrel adjuster at the shifter out/counter clockwise. Only turn this adjuster 1/8 to 1/4 turn at each go and then recheck. If you find that it is over shifting and moving the chain too far, you'll need to remove some tension. Do this by dialing the barrel adjuster in/clockwise 1/8 to 1/4 turn and then recheck. Another technique to fine tune your shifting is simply to listen to it. A rear derailleur that is out of adjustment will "tick tick tick" as you pedal, while a properly adjusted one should be nearly silent.

There is no barrel adjuster on the derailleur, but one can be found up at the shifter
There is no barrel adjuster on the derailleur, but one can be found up at the shifter

8. Before taking your bike off the stand the last thing to check is the B-Tension screw adjustment. To check this, shift your bike to the largest cog/easiest gear, and pedal forwards and in reverse. The derailleur's upper pulley and chain should not come in contact with the large cog, but be roughly within 5-6 mm of it. If you find that it is rubbing you'll need to add more B-Tension, do this by dialing the screw in/clockwise three to four turns. If it is too far away, your shifting may be slower than it needs to be. If it is too close you could damage the upper pulley wheel as well as not be able to pedal backwards or freewheel correctly.

Fine tuning the B-tension adjustment
Fine tuning the B-tension adjustment

9. Once you are happy with how your bike is shifting while on the rack be sure to take it for a spin outside before heading up to the mountain. The drive train may react differently during riding because it is under far more load when pedaling with your legs than it was in the rack. You may need to make further adjustments to have it perform optimally, but by using the steps above you should be able to dial it in to perfection.

Episode #1. How to Install A New Tube

Has this tutorial helped you figure out what exactly is happening down there? Do you have some tricks of your own you'd like to share? Tell us below!
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119 Comments

  • + 50
 definitely better than the first. phhh, "how to change a tube..."
  • + 8
 I still think they should cover something that not everyone knows how to do such as centering disk brake calipers...
  • + 25
 Teach me how to install a lock on grip!!
  • + 8
 i actually think uhh spoiledgoods covered that already a long time ago
  • + 8
 Thanks I feel soo enlightened now
  • + 2
 no problem tup
  • + 20
 if you can't figure out how to center a disc brake caliper, you need not touch your bike with tools.
  • + 105
 I love those cocky "pff who doesn't know that" comments... well I see many ppl on uber expensive race bikes doing races thinking they know it all with a terribly set derailleurs, brakes, everything. Once I met a pretty cocky kid walking home with broken chain which I fixed for him in 2 minutes without chain tool.

Go on have your laugh, I would really like to see "how to tighten 20mm axle tutorial". Perhaps after that we would see a bit less pictures from smarta**es showing cracked lowers with comment Manitou is a crap, Marzocchi is a crap, stupid Maxle - broken thread

How about bent and damaged headset base stacks because someone has no idea how to press it onto/from crown
  • + 6
 I think that was a great video. Although I think that a lot of us know how to adjust our derailleurs, coming out of the winter, this was a good refresher for me. Nice job.
  • + 8
 @WAKIdesigns - best comment ever!
  • + 14
 if you did one on how too true wheels that would make my month.
  • + 2
 maybe a basic true job, to get you going, but a full true job requires a lot more then what meets the eye, you don't just grab a loose spoke and tighten it till its tight as the rest lol
  • + 3
 Atrak, I agree, basic true job no probs. But even that - make it straight with good tension, even after 3mm side dishing (or whatever is the proper pro term Wink ), is just difficult.

And building a wheel properly - that's just impossible to teach on the net. You just need to work with it professionaly for some time to do it good, you need to be damn gifted with patience and understanding of everything going on in there with years of practice to do it perfectly.

Yea I can do it, but I only do it with cheap wheels. If I spend 75$ on each rim I prefer to give it to a person that I'm sure that knows how to do it. Im fortunate to know a guy that uses diapazon and pre-stresses a wheel at least 5 times - I think it says enough Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin
  • + 1
 how long should the gear cable be? never had gears before so not sure, would the same length as my brake cable be allright?
  • + 1
 Just put it on and measure or buy longer than you need and then cut it.
[Reply]
  • + 6
 Don't make fun of such simple repairs and fixes, because most people don't know how to do them properly. Those people who are laughing at these videos are same ones who have their suspension set up improperly or their tires are mounted backwards. Wink
  • + 3
 Very true! At my lbs they charge 10$ to replace a tube, when kids ask why so much they say cause ur too lazy to replace ur own tube!
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Use Shimano XTR Stainless Steel Cables, Teflon Coated and Stainless Tough. Use that with Shimano SIS-SP41 Cable Housing, and you are Golden! The Teflon liner with a nice Silicone Grease, will keep your Shifts Crisp and Clean. Replace your Cables and Housing Regularly! Yes the Coefficient of Friction with PowerCordz will be lower. However the vulnerability of the Nylon Casing and the Zylon HM fiber's, UV-Ray induced half-life, question reliability. The cost to weight ratio is great, save the coin replace your Cables with Shimano. Eat a Powerbar if you are worried about carrying the extra 60g's.
  • + 1
 Or just use Gore Ride-On cables.
  • + 1
 yes, how many years are we using regular cabels? arent they very durable and what fricition are they talking about?! thats just another way how to take your money
[Reply]
  • + 5
 pretty much starting out with the basics it looks like, there building up to that stuff, ctarting with the basics, you'd be suprised how many people cant change a tube
[Reply]
  • + 1
 THANK YOU....I am new to Mountain biking repairs and have decided to take some responsibility for my own quick fixes instead of taking it to the bike shop everytime I crash and needs adjustments...so, I am going to start watching your repair videos and do it myself first...gotta learn some time Smile
[Reply]
  • + 4
 PB video's just dont load in the EU... sux, have to wait like an hour for it to buffer!
  • + 1
 It's likely your internet connection - PM with with details on your brower etc.
  • + 1
 its not, its the same for everyone i know around here...
  • + 1
 Mine run pretty much straight away. ps I live about 200m from the exchange
  • + 1
 Mine takes ages aswell
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Great Series! Too many people cannot do the basics, so this is great.

personally, I had no idea what the B Tension Screw was; now I know.
  • + 1
 we learn something new everyday Smile
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Released the cable tension, and adjusted the H limit screw to get into the smallest cog but no amount of adjusting will get it into the smallest cog. I can get it into the smallest cog if I push on the derailleur, but it will not go there without a gentle push.

Anyone have any tips on what might be happening?
  • + 1
 Sounds like the derailleur is tweaked just enough that the upper parallelogram is contacting the knuckle before the chain can drop down. I've seen this on a lot of bikes in the past. Take note of where the contact is happening and remove a small amount of material from the upper parallelogram to allow the derailleur to get full travel. Make sure that you narrow down that this is actually the issue before doing it though.
  • + 1
 Thanks Mike.

Bike is almost new (Santa was kind), I'll probably just take it to the shop for them to fix rather than starting to mod things at this point. I was hoping to fix it myself and save the 1 hr drive, oh well!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 I'd definitely be interested in how to work Avid's CPS system. If someone can show me how to set up my brakes so that there is no rub I'll donate £50 to a charity of their choice.
  • + 1
 The easy way that works 98% of the time is to undo the bolts that hold the caliper to the mount - just loose enough to let the caliper move freely, but no more. Then hit the brake - the caliper will centre itself on the rotor. Keep one hand squeezing the brake lever and snug the bolts up. Then test.

This won't work if you have a sticky piston or a bent rotor.
  • + 1
 Ya thanks, I've tried that but there's always one part that rubs. This is with new rotors too which shouldn't be warped, although Avid ship them backed onto stiff cardboard so I suppose a small bit of warping isn't impossible. Any tips on how to flatten a rotor without heavy equipment?
  • + 1
 Use a shifter/adjustable spanner. Clean it first and then wind it down and bend the rotor. Rotor is very strong, try a bit more force each time.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 hey everyone i have looked into doing all of the drivetrain set up seperatly but when you are building up a frame whaere do you start i have everything mounted on the frame, the casset on and the chain fit; but do i start up front or in the rear?
  • + 1
 I think you've done the hard parts. Next set up the rear derailleur, and then the front.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Nice video. Probably worth mentioning that before you bolt the cable down in place on the der., you should tighten (turn clockwise) in the barrel adjuster on the shifter. This is so you have some room for cable tension adjustment after bolting the cable in place, especially if your tension has been adjusted a bunch with the barrel before. I like to leave my barrel adjuster about two turns out before clamping down the cable. Intuitive to some, maybe not so much to others.
  • + 1
 Good point man...
  • + 1
 i start with 2 clicks out as well
[Reply]
  • + 5
 What about how to set up different axle sizes on different forks?
  • + 1
 Learn to lace a wheel and practice. The thing about wheel building and truing is that unless your working in a shop you just aren't going to see enough wheels to practice on. Buy a few second hand parts and have a go. Bear in mind the ones that came on your bike will have probably been banged up in 10mins by some tiawanese bird
  • + 1
 ^^ what does that have to do with apokos comment?
  • + 1
 It was based on waki's comment further up. Put it in wrong box doh!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 2. Sight from directly behind the smallest cog, the upper pulley wheel and chain should be directly in line with the teeth for the cog.

Actually the pulley wheel centre-line should be matched with the outside face of the smallest cassette cog. For the largest cassette cog, line-up the centre-line of the pulley with the centre-line of the cog.

check p.26 in the SRAM pdf:
www.sram.com/_media/techdocs/MY08%20SRAM%20Tech%20Manual%20English.pdf
[Reply]
  • + 1
 wonder if we will see the shimano version , glad to see they are starting on the basics to help every one , a very good feature article written in plain english for everyone. if people dont like the article then dont comment and dont read it
  • + 6
 Well shimano always shift like a heap, so i dont see why they'd bother... Wink
  • + 3
 lol that is true but gotta help every one as much as possible in this sport
  • + 2
 yeah. I ran shimano for ages! brand loyalty is a strong thing, but the second i rode a bike with a sram mech+shifter, i asked myself the question, why cant shimano just make something this simple and reliable?

Genuine advice to anyone running shimano, go sram, x7 and x9 are amazing, x0 is something else, but imho, not worth the extra dosh unless you're racing. Even x5 is pretty flawless, i got an x5 shifter for £15 off of CRC and its perfect, feels a bit cheap, but works amazingly. Only ridden an x5 mech for about an hour, but it seemed fine, and all of the basic technology is the same!
  • + 1
 www.chainreactioncycles.com/Reviews.aspx?ModelID=22764

Worth mentioning that the only reviews below 4* are people who obviously havn't seen this video and adjusted the end stops properly Smile
  • + 1
 adjusting a shimano rear derailor works exactly the same as sram.its just set screws and cable tension.
had the exact same experience as craigee, rode shimano xt and xtr for years, it always shifted like crap, i work at a shop and was adjusting it constantly but never got it to work. recently bought a bike that came stock with sram x0/x9 and its PERFECT. ill never buy another shimano derrailor again.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 That's the strangest method ever. It also bugs me that he's using a reed and prince driver rather than a #2 phillips driver which would be the correct tool to adjust the stops. A R&P will strip the head.
[Reply]
  • + 0
 You forgot a very important part about medium and long cage SRAM derailleurs: you have to make the chain 1 link longer than you normally would with another derailleur if you are using it on a full suspension bike that has chain growth under suspension load. Otherwise your derailleur could explode if you compress the rear shock when you are cross-chaining.
[Reply]
  • + 4
 awsome video keep them coming.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 this is great stuff, Such an awesome resource, Wish you guys did one for fork servicing.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Good video and write up I think Pinkbike should make more how to or do it yourself things as they are really helpful.
  • + 2
 maybe a dvd or book on bike maintenance would be good.
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Knowledge is never a bad thing.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 This is a great article, much better than the other crappy tutorials on the internet.
[Reply]
  • + 4
 Clean your bike man
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Are there any special mechanics-only-know tricks to make it run super-smoothly? Big Grin
  • + 1
 em watch the video, looked pretty smooth!
  • + 1
 spray a bit of lube into the shifter once in awhile, and lube the housing before running a new cable through.... periodically lube the cables.
  • + 3
 I would recommend against using any kind of spray lube on your bike ever, as it can often get onto your braking surface and/or disc rotor inadvertently. Even a little bit on your rotor will mess up your pads, so stick to a simple drip lube with some teflon, like Tri-Flow. Also make sure you have a good synthetic chain lube, as a wet chain is a happy chain.
  • + 2
 rather than lube the housing before a new cable, run new housing as well. it helps crisp up the shifts and only costs a couple of bucks. and be careful what kind of lube you use in the shifters, some stuff will actually be detrimental to shifting performance by attracting dirt and dust and whatnot, which will gum up the pawls.
  • + 1
 I should have put in to use a very light lube, and not a waxy type or grease type spray lube..... as usual, I recommend boeing's T9.
  • + 1
 I recommend against T9 as it tends to leave behind a wax-like buildup after it dries, much like the ever-hated White Lightning.
  • + 1
 well, in 5 years of using T9 I've never had an issue with it being waxy.
  • + 1
 Yeah I used to think it was awesome as well, until I recommended it to a customer a few months ago and when he brought his bike in, his drivetrain was covered in a thick coat of waxy residue.
  • + 1
 anything used in extreme excess will produce problems.......
  • + 1
 Perhaps but no matter how much Triflow or Syn Lube you use, you will never get a waxy buildup.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Have you got special needs, Mike? You turn the 'H' limit screw until it shifts and is quiet. You also turned it 1/2 a turn, not 1/4 #jussayin

You are welcome by the way.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 how to set up your rear derailleur? USE YOUR BRAIN. don't dig up on internet for every little thing you dont know how to fix, try to experiment
  • + 1
 yes, it's not a big deal to set up your derailleur or brakes Wink
  • + 9
 Oh god, please don't encourage people to "experiment" with their derailleurs.
  • + 4
 why? if they dont experiment, they will never learn how it goes, how fine tune it.
  • + 4
 Because I'm a bike mechanic, and customers "experimenting" with their derailleurs = me having to start from ground zero every time I adjust one.
  • + 4
 especially once they've experimented once or twice successfully and decide they know what's up, so they really start going to town on it. something doesn't work, they bring it in to the shop, and you go to fix it, but you have to figure out what pieces and parts are missing before you can even start from ground zero.
  • + 3
 wow ur a bike mechanic really hardworck.. pfff
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Thankyou so much for this tutorial. My gears are now running super smooth. 4th gear always used to be a hit and miss, now I have all my gears and smooth as heck.Thanks again
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great directions, I had my X7 up and running with these directions in less then 30 minutes. The directions that came with it blew. Glad I found this!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Thanks Pinkbike! I really like these tutorials. Lot's of useful info.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Good video and great article on a subject that confuses a ton of people. Cheers!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 does anyone know how to get on to the videos page so I can favourite it? thanks
  • + 1
 you clikk on it man
  • + 1
 no, it's password protected
  • + 1
 It's no longer password protected, sorry!
  • + 1
 Smile thanks, really good video, well explained, cheers
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Mike next one can do without a shirt on??
[Reply]
  • + 2
 was that a hammerschmidt that i saw up front??!!?? :/
[Reply]
  • + 2
 i hate that sram the thread hull of the adjust screw is made up of plastic
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Awesome, this helped me soo much, It's always been guess and check with derailleurs, until now.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 thanks for a great video...I'm still learning my way around my bike (and not a mechanic), so these videos are really helpful
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Successfully raising labor prices all over the globe.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Like it gooood tutorial Mike, big up
[Reply]
  • + 1
 could you do a tech tuesday on changing brake pads ???
[Reply]
  • + 1
 This is going to change my life Big Grin
[Reply]
  • + 1
 would this work on the front too?
[Reply]
  • + 0
 still not looking at the camera i see
[Reply]
  • + 0
 How to service a fork properly would probably be a good topic to cover.
[Reply]
  • - 2
 i dont get that problem..i run XT
  • + 1
 What problem? This is just a tutorial on how to install a sram derailleur mate.
[Reply]

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