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Road Gear

Technical FAQ: Mixing and matching derailleurs and shifters

In Tech FAQ, Lennard Zinn dishes out advice on bringing Frankenstein drivetrains to life

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Editor’s Note: Lennard Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

On mixing and matching new and old Campy, Shimano, and SRAM drivetrains

Dear Lennard,
Many of us using 10-speed wheels etc. may wish to upgrade some of our bikes with some Dura-Ace 9000 parts such as the new brakes or 52/36 cranks. Will they work with older 10-speed Dura-Ace or SRAM shifters?

Dear Doug,
Forget trying SRAM dual-control levers with the BR-9000 brake calipers; the SRAM levers have too much leverage. And of course, you can’t use Shimano derailleurs with SRAM shifters, if you were considering that.

The Dura-Ace 9000 brake calipers work fine with Dura-Ace 7900 or Ultegra 6700 levers; Shimano in fact declares them to be cross-compatible. Earlier Shimano levers have too much leverage; with the inception of Dura-Ace 7900, Shimano decreased the leverage of the brake levers and increased their cable pull while increasing the leverage of the calipers. The BR-9000 brake calipers are designed for similar leverage and cable pull.

Shimano says that the Dura-Ace FC-9000 crankset is only to be used with the CN-9000 chain. The hitch is that Shimano has not approved the CN-9000 chain for use with Shimano 10-speed front derailleurs. I have not tried this combination; however, I am aware of riders who have used it with good results and see no reason not to try that combination. There would not be any potential safety issues; there would just be some potential for less front derailleur adjustability range. If you’re going to get the Dura-Ace FC-9000 crankset on an existing Shimano 10-speed drivetrain, it would make much more sense to use the CN-9000 chain with the Shimano 10-speed front derailleur than it would to use a Shimano 10-speed CN-7901/6701 chain with the FC-9000 crankset. I would guess that the Shimano 10-speed chains would run on the FC-9000 chainrings just fine, but the design of the chainrings and their spacing could allow more tendency for autoshifting from the outer ring to the inner ring as the chainrings and chains get worn. I am not aware of any long-term durability test with that combination. Of course, you’re welcome to be a guinea pig and report back…

Dear Lennard,
I recently bought a used 2002 LeMond Zurich 9-speed road bike with Ultegra components. It has a triple crank, and I was thinking of switching to a double crank. After changing the crank and bottom bracket, I was wondering if I would have to replace the left shifter. Is it possible to adjust it from three stops at 30-42-52 teeth to two stops at 39-53 teeth? I don’t really understand how these STI shifters work, and whether they are adjustable. I also was thinking of changing the cassette from a 12-27 to a 12-25. It wouldn’t seem to me I would need to change either the rear or front derailleur; would you agree?

Dear Nick,
The left lever is not adjustable, but by adjusting the cable length properly, you should be able to use that fine with two chainrings.

No problem with the cogset change.

The rear derailleur will work fine, albeit slightly slower than a double and, of course, it will be a bit heavier due to the long cage and extra chain links.

The front derailleur could be problematic. You’ll have to try it. With all of those shift bumps on the cage, it might not behave ideally. In principle, it ought to work okay, but it might not in practice. Fortunately, that’s the cheapest item in the entire drivetrain.

Dear Lennard,
I have a 2008 Campy 10-speed Veloce, and I want to convert to triple. If I buy a long derailleur and a triple crank, do I need new shifters?

Dear Ron,
You need a new Campy left shifter for a triple. When Campagnolo introduced its QS shifters, the left shifter got fixed positions, rather than the high number of small clicks that had come before (and that still exist inside Chorus, Record, and Super Record left shifters). So your left shifter just has two positions and won’t shift all three chainrings of a triple.

Dear Lennard,
I just installed new 9-speed Ultegra crank, 8-speed HG-50 cassette and 8-speed chain, along with a new 10-speed Ultegra rear derailleur. As always, it works perfect, but the derailleur makes a light “tinkling” sound. It goes away on the bike work stand if I put just the slightest bit of pressure on the top pulley wheel, not enough to move anything. I have had one mechanic tell me it should work fine, another tell me I may need to use a 9-speed chain, and another tell me it won’t work at all.

Background: This is my third set of this combo of crank/cassette/chain, so I think it’s the 10-speed derailleur somehow. I did fall parked at a crosswalk two years ago and tweaked the old 9-speed 105 rear derailleur, but it worked fine except that it wore out the pulley wheels (two sets). I have checked the hanger alignment and it is good. Both mechanics thought it was fine too since it worked great. Any thoughts?

Dear Gordon,
I’m guessing that it’s the width of the jockey wheel cage; the narrower 10-speed cage is touching the pins of the 8-speed chain periodically. Use a 9-speed or 10-speed chain, and I’ll bet it goes away.

Dear Lennard,
My riding buddy Bruce and did I did a Zinn special this afternoon — putting an XTR 9-speed derailleur on his 10-speed Madone, to accommodate an 11/36 10-speed cassette. I knew it would work, thanks to you, but we did come across one unexpected issue for anyone contemplating the same conversion. His Madone has internal cable routing, and the rear derailleur cable comes out right at the end, not out the side of the chainstay, as I’ve seen on many other internally routed bikes. That would have been fine with an M971 XTR derailleur, but he could only find the M972 shadow style, so the cable to the derailleur is super short — maybe two inches or so.

It seems to work ok, but he will need to be very careful taking off the rear wheel, so as not to damage the housing or crimp the shifter cable. I did actually find one place overseas that still has the M971. In fact, I just bought two rapid rise 9-speed XT derailleurs there for my next bike, whatever it may be. I’m betting this stuff is just going to get harder and harder to find.

Follow-up on packing bike boxes

Dear Lennard,
Regarding your notes following your Technical FAQ on racing cyclocross on carbon bars, you wrote that, “after every time I crash or travel with my bike, I put the Park DAG derailleur alignment gauge on my derailleur hanger…”

When packing a bike for air travel, one can remove the rear derailleur from the hanger, hang the derailleur from the hanger with twine and cover with some bubble-wrap. The shift cable stays connected and the chain remains in place. Removing and reinstalling the derailleur takes a moment at each end of the journey and adjustments are unnecessary.

With the derailleur removed, side impacts will not bend the hanger nor damage the derailleur. The bubble-wrap protects the derailleur and rear wheel from the derailleur possibly swinging or bouncing against the wheel’s spokes — which is also prevented by the chain’s lateral resistance.

Attention must be provided for the B-screw and its spring tension when removing the derailleur. During replacement, the derailleur should be pivoted rearward so the B-screw will clear its stop on the hanger. With the chain in place, this is moderately more difficult than mounting a bare derailleur, but easily done nonetheless.

Dear David,
Very good point. I should have clarified that I actually do this, and I remove the chain as well, via a master link, whenever I travel with a bike. I also recommend pulling the cable housing out of the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur to reduce possible bending leverage on the barrel adjuster. We (Zinn Cycles) also remove the rear derailleur whenever we ship a new bike to a customer.

That said, I have still seen derailleur hangers get bent in shipping without the derailleur attached, when the packing job is poor enough or the box is dropped hard enough that the derailleur hanger punches through the bottom of the box.

Once the derailleur is already off, it only takes an extra minute to slap the DAG tool on there after I’ve unpacked the bike at home, so I see no good reason not to check it before installing the derailleur.

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