Bicycle Maintenance:  Adjusting your front and rear derailleur

By: Paul Hughes

In this month’s maintenance section, we wanted to take a look at adjusting your derailleurs.  This can easily be done with just a bit of practice.  Knowledge of how to adjust a derailleur, especially a rear derailleur can mean the difference between a smooth long weekend ride and stressful one.

Usually when we realize the derailleur is a bit out of adjustment is on a Friday evening when we are getting the bike ready for a long Saturday or Sunday ride.  At that point, it is too late to take it to the bike shop, but if you know how to do the adjustment yourself, you can save a lot of time and money in the long run.

The front derailleur is usually very consistent and once it has been properly adjusted, unless you have cable stretch, it usually never gives you any trouble.  The rear derailleur, however, due to substantial use, will tend to fall a bit out of adjustment from time to time.  If the rear derailleur stops have been previously set properly, the minor adjustment required to handle correcting a cantankerous rear derailleur can be made by simply using the barrel bolt on the rear of the derailleur.  The barrel bolt is the bolt that the cable goes through on the derailleur and it can be used to easily adjust the tension on the derailleur.

Place the bicycle on a bicycle work stand or turn it upside down so it rests on the seat and front forks.  I would suggest if you are turning the bicycle upside down, you spread out a towel to prevent the front fork from being scratched.  Observe the rear derailleur cog closest to the rear gear set and verify they are aligned properly.  If not, turn the barrel bolt to correct the alignment.  Remember, a small partial turn of the barrel bolt makes a big difference in adjustment.  Once you have done this begin turning the pedals and shift through the rear gears.  Make minor adjustments using the barrel bolt until you have everything shifting cleanly.

We have included links to a couple of videos that will fully explain all the different components of the front and rear derailleur and take you through a complete top to bottom adjustment of both the front and rear derailleurs.  These videos apply to both mountain and road bikes.

Rear Derailleur Adjustment:

Front Derailleur Adjustment: