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  1. #1
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    When to use a Long Cage vs Short Cage Derailleur?

    I have a new SRAM X9 long cage derailleur, and another X9 that I now realize is "not long". Both are brand new, but the short one is ~16mm shorter.

    What is the proper application for long versus short cage derailleur? Will the short one work with a 11/34 cassette? Does it matter if the bike has a rear suspension or is a hardtail?

    Is my shorter X9 a "short" cage or "medium" cage? Thanks //kct

  2. #2
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    You've got a medium cage. Sram makes a short cage mountain derailleur in the X.0 line, but only goes as low as a medium in the X.9.

    <u>Quick answer</u>: The medium cage will work, but you'll drop your chain if you accidentally shift to the small-small combo. Suspension *could* be a factor, depending on how much "chainstay growth" your frame experiences as your suspension cycles.

    <u>Long answer</u>:

    Derailleurs have a rated capacity. This is their ability to take up excess chain. After all, you need just about all of your chain to run in the big-big combo, whereas you have a bunch of extra links doing nothing when you run in your small-small combo.

    Not that either of those cross-chain combos are normal to run in, but let me get to that in a minute.

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

    Speaking from experience, Shimano is a bit conservative in their capacity rating. I can only assume the same is true of SRAM (I'll get to that, too).

    The easy capacity formula is to add your big ring & cog sizes, then subtract your small ring and cog sizes. It looks like this:

    <b><i>cap req'd (T) = (BIG ring - small ring) + (BIG cog - small cog) </i></b>

    ...so for a typical 44-32-22 mountain crank & 11-34 cassette...

    <b><i>T = (44T - 22T) + (34T - 11T)
    .. = (22T) + (23T)
    .. = 45T</i></b>

    Using this simple forumla, you would need a derailleur with a 45T rated capacity to absorb all the possible extra links of a typical 27-speed drivetrain.

    (I make the assumption SRAM stated capacity is conservative, since they list 43T as the long cage capacity -- 2T short of what is required by this forumla).

    Where do shorter cage lengths come into play? Right here!

    Even though the long cage will, in theory, take you down to the 22x11 gear combo and hold adequate chain tension, let's be logical: 22x11 is a combo you don't use!

    Rather than use the generic formula, let's map out the capacity for each gear combination (based off of a Shimano cog pattern; SRAM will be slightly different):

    <img src="http://www.booboodog.net/images/derailleur-capacity.gif">

    44x34 starts off at zero because in that combo, all of the chain is being used up by the ring and cog, and the derailleur needs to take up none of it. As you shift through the cassette range (moving down the column), the amount of free chain increases as the cog size decreases.

    Take a look at the useable gears, which I've outlined in green and yellow. Those fall near the stated capacity of the medium cage derailleurs. (I mentioned that Shimano's stated capacity is conservative, and in practice, I find their medium cage to be closer to 39T.)

    For instance, in the middle ring (32) and the small cog (11), the table shows you've got to absorb 35T. This is near the stated capacity of either of the <b>medium cage</b> derailleurs. This gear combo remains useable, but you'd be better off shifting to your big ring for better chain tension.

    You can also see that to use a SRAM <b>short cage</b> derailleur (30T capacity) on this drivetrain would leave you with <u>two or three <b>un</b>usable gears</u> while in the middle ring, and only about three <u>useable</u> gears from your granny ring. (Any number greater than 30T on the table would be near the limits of the short cage derailleur.)

    Oops! Accidentally shifted into the unusable "red zone"? Nothing major: the derailleur cage folds back on itself, the chain droops, and you maybe drop the chain if you don't catch it in time.

    In my opinion, it'd be stupid to size a chain any smaller than what is required to shift into big-big. If you accidentally force a shift into that combo, which is certainly possible when you're tired or "in the moment", you don't want to break anything. <b>So chain length will be the same no matter what derailleur you choose.</b>

    <img src="http://www.booboodog.net/images/chainlength.jpg">

    Benefits of a shorter cage length?
    - snappier shifts
    - better chain tension
    - less chain slap / greatly decreased drivetrain noise (!)
    - better obstruction clearance / improved spoke clearance.
    - slight weight loss -- but you gotta be a real weight weenie to appreciate this one.
    Last edited by Speedub.Nate; 07-02-2006 at 11:23 AM.
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  3. #3
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    As a fyi

    Sram's X9 in short cage (not available to the public though yet ... pre production)
    Attached Images Attached Images

  4. #4
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    Thanks to Speedub.Nate for an outstanding explanation! Comprehensive and well written.
    //kct

  5. #5
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    I second that.

    Nate, you totally explained something that had mystified me. Very, very nicely done!

  6. #6
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    Nate!

    I'm sitting here thinking of the same choice in XTR derailleurs. Amazingly clear, concise and helpful.
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  7. #7
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    How would I calculate it if I run a single 38 in the front and a 11x32 in the rear? What size derailleur would I need? I'm interested in buying a Shimano Saint for my Specialized P.2 but I'm having trouble deciding what size I should get.
    Last edited by InnovateorDie; 10-30-2006 at 02:05 PM.

  8. #8
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    That's an easy one... go as short as you can possibly go.

    See, it's not the *size* of the front chainring that factors in, but the *range* between the biggest ring and the smallest ring.

    With an 11-32 in the rear, you've got a 21T spread, well within the capacity range of Shimano's short cage derailleur.

    (The capacity requirement for the front rings is Zero on your setup because it doesn't change at all.)
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  9. #9
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    I also found this info useful some time ago -

    http://www.beyondbikes.com/bb/tech/?section=rdr
    Last edited by energetix; 10-30-2006 at 05:41 PM.
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  10. #10
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    One of the most impressive responses I've seen on these boards. Great work speedub.nate!
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  11. #11
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    one more question...

    Great explanation..but whats the diff between "rapid rise" and "non rapid rise"? thanx in advance....






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  12. #12
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    "Rapid Rise" is Shimano's trademarked name for what is otherwise known as a <i>low-normal</i> derailleur. This means spring tension pulls the chain in/up the cassette to the lowest gear, and cable action pulls it out/down to the high (small) cog.

    The reverse of this is <i>high normal</i>, where the thumb press / cable pull drags the chain up the cassette towards the lowest (biggest) cog.
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  13. #13
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    thanx!

    great info..I love these forums!
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  14. #14
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    Speeddub.Nate - wow that explained so much

    Thanks
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  15. #15
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    med cage

    I'm finding my SRAM XO med cage works great with 11-34 cog. In fact it can accommodate the extreme large-large gear combo, but as we all know, it's not recommended with full-susp bikes (chain growth upon compression). The shifts are definitely snappy, quick and precise- partly due to the shorter cage, and mostly to SRAM's shift system.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by HTail
    I'm finding my SRAM XO med cage works great with 11-34 cog. In fact it can accommodate the extreme large-large gear combo, but as we all know, it's not recommended with full-susp bikes (chain growth upon compression). The shifts are definitely snappy, quick and precise- partly due to the shorter cage, and mostly to SRAM's shift system.
    That, and my lasting impression during my first ride after switching to a medium cage on my 1x9 (32/11-34) was how remarkably quite my bike had become.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by HTail
    The shifts are definitely snappy, quick and precise- partly due to the shorter cage, and mostly to SRAM's shift system.
    Oh, so that's why my new SRAM X9 (long cage) doesn't feel as snappy as my old XTR medium cage. Also more chain slap and noise. I wondered if the medium cage X9 would handle the 34-11 rear cog with a normal triple chain ring... and apparently it will.

    Thanks.
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  18. #18
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    Again, med cage should be fine as long as you're conscious about your gear combos and follow the chain length guide measuring- large chainring to large cog + 2 links.
    Question to a custom frame builder..."So what makes your bikes climb better?"....his answer, "Uh, your legs?"

  19. #19
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    Smile

    Another big thanks to Speedub.Nate!!!

    Its been nearly 7 months, and his outstanding tutoral still goes VERY much appreciated

  20. #20
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    Thanks for great info~

    wow, it's great explanation nate. I think I have to dig these forums in,,

  21. #21
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    Thanks Man!

    Holy Cow. Speedub.nate awesome posts. Getting ready to replace my rear Derailleurs on one of my FS bikes. Still remember when I owned my Iron Horse HP how helpful you were to all of us in that forum. Thanks man for this post! This should be a sticky.

  22. #22
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    medium cage derailleur with bashguard

    thanks for the great info. I just replaced my big ring with a bashguard (and shortened my chain accordingly). The middle ring is still 32t, and my cassette is 11-34. so it seems to me, since i need to replace my bent (xtr - goddammit) derailleur, i could go with a shimano medium cage der. My bike is a heckler / 5.6" travel. Is this correct?

  23. #23
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    With that answer, I believe that Speedhub.Nate could really be....

    Time's "Man of the Year"

    Very nice. I know it's old, but that don't change it. It also saved me from making a jackhammer out of myself with what would have been my pathetic answer.


  24. #24
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    awsome thread, i always thought the longer the derail cage the better but maybe a med cage would work better for a 22-32 F, 11-34 R setup

  25. #25
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    I have an older RD-M951 XTR that's seen better days. Not quite sure of its cage length, but looks to be 2.75 inches between pulleys, short maybe? So w/ my current setup of an 8 speed 28-11 cassette and a 3 ring 44-32-22 giving me a capacity of 39...a Shimano RD-M960-GS needs to find a home on my Jamis, eh?

    It's interesting going around LBS and seeing a bunch of long cage setup stock. Guess they don't wanna see folks breakin' stuff.

    Thanks so much for your explanation Speeddub.Nate. I even managed to create my own little "good gear" pic.


  26. #26
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    I'm trying to figure out how having a single 34t chainring in the front would affect this.

    For example I have a 34t chainring in the front, and 11-34 in the rear. As far as I can use your formula I'm getting:

    (34-0)+(34-11)=34+23=57T

    Seems to work fine with a short cage though.

    Great sounding explanation but it's so late it's going over my head!

  27. #27
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    short cage is fine

    dropadrop-
    actually your setup requires a derailleur with only a 23 tooth capacity. when you run a sinle chainring, the difference up front is zero because you're not shifting up there, (the way to think about it is: biggest ring you are running - smallest ring, and your single ring is considered to be both of these, so its 34-34 = 0) and the formula reduces to the difference between the top & bottom cogs, which is 23.

  28. #28
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    What an excellent thread. I learned a ton reading through it. I am a relatively new rider and trying figure out mechanically why a shorter cage would offer better tension and smoother shifting if the chain stayed the same length. Is it based on lever mechanics? Tension on the end of the longer cage is less due to the mechanical advantage?

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartj
    ...why a shorter cage would offer better tension and smoother shifting if the chain stayed the same length. Is it based on lever mechanics? Tension on the end of the longer cage is less due to the mechanical advantage?
    Right! Think of the cage as a lever arm. As you know, a longer lever is easier to displace against a fixed counter force.

    In this case, the fixed force is the tension spring, which is same spring regardless of which cage length it is installed on.

    The bouncing chain is attempting to operate the lever arm (derailleur cage) and displace the spring. Longer cage = easier to move. Shorter cage = more difficult.
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  30. #30
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    I would assume that if I'm reading correctly that a 11-32 with a 22-32-44 front would work great although I might have to watch the lower cogs in the back when in the 22?

    Thanks!

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Speedub.Nate

    Oops! Accidentally shifted into the unusable "red zone"? Nothing major: the derailleur cage folds back on itself, the chain droops, and you maybe drop the chain if you don't catch it in time.

    In my opinion, it'd be stupid to size a chain any smaller than what is required to shift into big-big. If you accidentally force a shift into that combo, which is certainly possible when you're tired or "in the moment", you don't want to break anything. <b>So chain length will be the same no matter what derailleur you choose.</b>
    I see that the debate "long cage vs medium cage" is centered on the risk of destroying the derailleur if the chain is crossed in the big ring/big cog combo.
    In my opinion this is not correct.
    If the chain lenght is right, the only gear combos to avoid are the small ring/small cog - and the result of a wrong combination would be slack chain, and not a stripped derailleur.
    So the medium cage can be used without any risk even with a typical 22-32-44 crankset and 11-34 cassette, assuming that the chain lenght is correct.
    What is your opinion on this?
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  32. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juanmoretime
    I would assume that if I'm reading correctly that a 11-32 with a 22-32-44 front would work great although I might have to watch the lower cogs in the back when in the 22?

    Thanks!
    According to my post above, this is correct.
    Hope that other opinions will follow.

    fab
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  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ausable
    I see that the debate "long cage vs medium cage" is centered on the risk of destroying the derailleur if the chain is crossed in the big ring/big cog combo.
    In my opinion this is not correct.
    You are correct. My opinion is the "chain will be too short/drivetrain will break" argument is missing the obvious.

    I always suggest sizing the chain according to the "big-big" method prescribed by both Shimano and SRAM, no matter what cage length is chosen.

    <img src="http://www.booboodog.net/images/chainlength.jpg">
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  34. #34
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    I'm still not completely understanding this and I've read this thread twice in the past two days.

    I busted my derailleur and hanger tonight after a pretty nasty spill on asphalt; the turn was pretty sharp, I was goin pretty fast, and I missed a wet spot... So, now I'm in need of a new derailleur for my GT hardtail. I've got a new FS frame on the way as well, and this new rear derailleur I would like to be compatible with my new frame.

    Everything on the GT 1.0 is still stock since when I ordered it almost 10 months ago. So I'm assuming it has standard cogs up front, and standard rings in the back. The only thing I cannot confirm is whether or not the chain has been sized correctly. From that picture that Nate posted, it looks to me as if they left no room at all for a derailleur in the big-big combination... correct?

    I'd like to get the smallest derailleur possible, while still retaining the ability to use the majority of my gears. I like the crisper shifting, and reduced chain slap benefits of the smaller cage. However, I need someone to help me pick one out.

    Also, are chains usually sized correctly right from the factory?

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigsurf75
    From that picture that Nate posted, it looks to me as if they left no room at all for a derailleur in the big-big combination... correct?

    I'd like to get the smallest derailleur possible, while still retaining the ability to use the majority of my gears. I like the crisper shifting, and reduced chain slap benefits of the smaller cage. However, I need someone to help me pick one out.

    Also, are chains usually sized correctly right from the factory?
    Correct... well, sort of. When you do the "big-big+2" and actually shift the bike into the big-big combo, the derailleur cage should be sticking pretty well forward. That's the intention.

    My impression is that stock chains are often a few links long, but not always. Also take into account chainstay growth when the suspension cycles.

    With stock 27-speed gearing, you can definitely get away with a snappy shifting medium cage. Just know your limitations: shifting to maybe 1/2 of your small-small gears will result in no chain tension, and likely a dropped chain.
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  36. #36
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    I wonder if I could shorten the chain enough to make a 1/4 of the small-small combos unusable, and a 1/4 of the big-big combos unusable.

    I think I would probably find myself using these combos less frequently.

  37. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigsurf75
    I wonder if I could shorten the chain enough to make ... a 1/4 of the big-big combos unusable.
    Yes, absolutely. But is is prudent? Maybe 99.9% of the time you'll catch yourself. But all it takes is that one epic ride, topping that forever long climb, transitioning into a saliva-inducing descent (maybe a little short of O2 to the brain), when you mis-shift and rip your rear derailleur into your spokes, or bend the big chainring, or fold over your cassette.

    So yeah, it'll work, but it's a personal call with risks to consider. I'd never recommend it.

    <img src="http://www.booboodog.net/images/bent-surly-ss-ring.gif">
    Last edited by Speedub.Nate; 01-06-2008 at 03:06 AM.
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    Hmm, Maybe I will just go with a long cage.

    However, at the same time I was looking at BR's in a few other threads and I may make the switch to a 2x9 with a 24-36 up front. I'm gonna try riding around for a day or two ( I think I can nurse two days out of the busted deraileur) without using the big ring and see if I miss it. If that's the case, I'm goin to a med. cage rear.

  39. #39
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    Speedub.Nate.......Thanks for your explanation!!! Great job!!!

    I'm using 44-32-22 crankset & 11-34 cassette, and deciding to buy a new sram X.0 med cage RD. But I still have a question about how to determine the proper chain length.

    Somebody told me that when I shift the chain on the largest chainring on the front and the smallest cog on the rear, if the the top pulley is sitting directly above the lower pulley, the chain is the proper length. So, can I apply this theory if I'm using a med cage RD?

    Thanks!!!

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sealama
    ...I still have a question about how to determine the proper chain length.
    Stick with the Big-Big +2 technique I posted the graphic of a few posts up (post #33). That's the best way to ensure you have just enough chain to shift to Big-Big without breaking anything.
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  41. #41
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    The new stumpy is equipped with a Med cage and it's standard up front and 11-34 out back.

  42. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by HTail
    I'm finding my SRAM XO med cage works great with 11-34 cog. In fact it can accommodate the extreme large-large gear combo, but as we all know, it's not recommended with full-susp bikes (chain growth upon compression). The shifts are definitely snappy, quick and precise- partly due to the shorter cage, and mostly to SRAM's shift system.
    It's a myth that a shorter cage shifts better. The shift is made when the ramps line up with the chain on the cassette. If your chain hangs slack in some gear combinations, you're more prone to skipping or chain suck in those gear combinations.

  43. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeDee
    It's a myth that a shorter cage shifts better. The shift is made when the ramps line up with the chain on the cassette. If your chain hangs slack in some gear combinations, you're more prone to skipping or chain suck in those gear combinations.
    Is your "myth" assessment coming from analyzation or from use out on the trail? I suspect the former. Cage length does make a noticable difference in shifting and performance.

    Sure, shift ramps help some with a shift, but they're not necessary. The shift occurs when the idler pulley on the derailleur (that's the upper wheel) changes alignment with the cassette cog.

    But behind that is maybe sixteen inches of chain, stretching from the lower tensioner pulley (that's the lower one) to the chainrings.The further away that chain is from the anchor point / pivot points of the derailleur, the more difficult it is to move precisely. Think of a fat piece of nigiri at the end of a L-O-N-G set of chopsticks.

    As for your "chain slack" assessment, it's not as if the derailleur cage is magically decreasing in tension in certain useable gear combinations. Either is doesn't have tension in certain unusable small-small combos (as previously discussed), or it's got FULL tension (and, more importantly, higher tension than a longer cage -- simple physics there).

    If my some Shimano voodoo longer cages shifted better and held better tension, that's all they would offer, and roadies would be riding with derailleur cages hanging scant millimeters off the ground.
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  44. #44
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    I have a X.9 Med cage sitting here on my desk along with a set of X.9 shifters (series prize), and am thinking about putting them on the new Anthem (which has a Shadow on it). However given I have tons of 11-34 spares and only a Deore 11-32 sitting around, for now I might have to leave the XT on there - since numerous people have pointed out the problems of putting a Med cage with an 11-34 cassette on a duallie.
    Quote Originally Posted by tom2304
    Yep farkin.net is mostly immature kids asking how to put dual crown forks on hardtails and such.

  45. #45
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    i need help. im running a x0 short cage with a 11-23 cassette and a 38T front chainring. should i be running a short cage or long cage??
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  46. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by downhillross13
    i need help. im running a x0 short cage with a 11-23 cassette and a 38T front chainring. should i be running a short cage or long cage??
    Do you mean 11-32 cassette? Either way, you are fine with a short. Run the numbers for yourself - Nate laid it all out for you on the first page using caveman-easy math.

    Cheers, Chris
    Now is the time on Sprockets when we hammer.
    '05 Blur Classic (1x9) || '06 SIR9 (SS) || '06 Brompton P6L

  47. #47
    willtsmith_nwi
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trentkc
    I have a new SRAM X9 long cage derailleur, and another X9 that I now realize is "not long". Both are brand new, but the short one is ~16mm shorter.

    What is the proper application for long versus short cage derailleur? Will the short one work with a 11/34 cassette? Does it matter if the bike has a rear suspension or is a hardtail?

    Is my shorter X9 a "short" cage or "medium" cage? Thanks //kct
    General rule

    1 ring - short cage
    2 rings - medium cage
    3 rings - long cage

    Since us MTBers typically use the largest range cassette possible, I think this is a pretty good rule.

  48. #48
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    naw im running a dura-ace 11-23 cassette. yea i did the math and ended up with 50T. i dont know what the range is per dif. type of cage
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  49. #49
    neutiquam erro
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    Quote Originally Posted by downhillross13
    naw im running a dura-ace 11-23 cassette. yea i did the math and ended up with 50T. i dont know what the range is per dif. type of cage
    Gotcha. With only a single ring up front, the first part of Nate's equation is 0 (whatever ring size minus itself), so all you have to account for is the 'big cog minus small cog' teeth spread. That's basically what's behind the "single ring -> short cage" rule-of-thumb.

    Cheers, Chris
    Now is the time on Sprockets when we hammer.
    '05 Blur Classic (1x9) || '06 SIR9 (SS) || '06 Brompton P6L

  50. #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by willtsmith_nwi
    General rule

    3 rings - long cage
    Generally the "safe" recommendation, especially if you don't want to go through the lengthy explanation and/or math. I enjoy the benefits of the medium cage on my 3x9, however.

    Rules of thumb are great, but it's good to know what's at the foundation of the rule, too.
    speedub.nate
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