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Rear Derailleur Index Adjustment… In 1 Minute (or less) Or Your Money Back…


August 2015

How is your bike shifting?  A little slow, one way or the other, either up or down the cassette?  Up the cassette is an easier gear, down is to a harder gear.  Simple.  Right?

Well, until you’re out in the middle of a hilly 100 miler, you’re shifting a ton and your cable stretches a little bit…  All of a sudden, you shift to an easier gear and… hesitation.  Man, I hate that.  You?

Now, this post will go over the entire gamut of the rear derailleur adjustments to keep you flying and shifting smoothly…  And with a minimal amount of hassle.

First is the in-line adjusters, one of the greatest inventions since sliced bread:

The in-line adjusters are very simple, once you pick the correct one.  See, my shifter cables run under the bar tape (or inside the handlebar now) so the adjuster on the right operates the front derailleur (left shifter).  The adjuster on the left operates the right shifter and rear derailleur.  If they’re set up properly, you simply turn the adjuster (the one on the left, that operates the right shifter) the same way that shifting is slow…  This is tricky of course, if you don’t know your righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.  So, say you’re slow going up the cassette to an easier gear.  You simply turn the barrel adjuster away from you so the little silver piece moves to the left.  No more than a quarter turn at a time, preferably an eighth.  Your shifting should improve immediately.  Easy as pie. If it’s hesitating going down the cassette, twist the adjuster the adjuster toward you.

The in-line adjusters aren’t fool-proof though.  Twist them too lose and your cable will rattle in your shifter handle – for that reason the in-line adjuster should only be used while you’re riding and then adjusted with the barrel adjuster at the back of the rear derailleur as soon as possible.  Just be sure to screw the in-line adjuster back in first, before you index the shifting.

Next, to adjust the index on your rear derailleur with the barrel adjuster at the derailleur, either do it on a stand (easier) or with the bike upside down if you’re in a pinch. Just pay attention to which way you’re turning the adjuster if the bike is upside-down.

Now remember, this is just an adjustment, not a full indexing so don’t mess with the set screws and don’t bother with half of the other crap in the web tutorials, they’re only necessary for a full indexing.

First, shift to the smallest (hardest) gear in the back.  Make sure you turn your in-line adjuster in all the way (turn it clockwise)… Then start turning over the pedals and take your barrel adjuster and twist it, one way or the other, it doesn’t actually matter, until it the chain starts clicking…  Now, turn it the other way until the chain starts clicking again…  Dead bang in the middle should be the perfect setting.  Turn it back to the middle and try shifting up the cassette.  If it shifts crisply (very little lag between the moving the shifter and the derailleur moving the chain), then shift back down the cassette…  If it’s slow going down the cassette into harder gears, simply turn the barrel adjuster clockwise.  Keep in mind, you’re pedaling all the while.  If it’s slow going up the cassette into easier gears, turn it counter clockwise, a quarter or an eighth of a turn at a time…  Fine-tune it until the shifting lag is the same both up and down the cassette.


Because you tightened the in-line adjuster down (or at least got it to the middle), when your cable stretches you’ll be able to give the in-line adjuster a quick twist and get your shifting squared away, quickly and easily.

That’s really all there is to adjusting the rear derailleur.  For bigger problems, if these simple steps don’t vastly improve your shifting, then you can take it to the shop to have them figure it out.


Now, for the smart alec who will complain that it took more than a minute, besides the fact that you need a bike maintenance course, I can’t give you your money back.  You didn’t send me any to begin with.  Sheesh.


  1. Dan In Iowa says:

    Interesting….. I just wrote a thing on tumblr about this very thing!!
    My bike, though, doesn’t have inline adjustments. Hey! It’s old. Well at least to today’s standards. I like your pictures better though.

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    Jim it may be possible you are receiving my telepathy. I was thinking the other day that I would love to see a series of posts with basic, and i do mean very basic, photos and descriptions of 101 bike maintenance. From cleaning after a ride, to changing a flat, to simple adjustments. You could make it into an e-book after. A series like once a week Cycling Maintenance 101 with Jim. Have I convinced you?

  3. […] adjuster bolt in properly.  Pull the slack out of the shifter cable, tighten the cable bolt, index the derailleur and Bob’s your […]

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