Technical FAQ: Breaking down the setup for the SRAM Yaw front derailleur

This week, Lennard Zinn explains the setup process for the SRAM Yaw front derailleur

Setting up the SRAM Yaw front derailleur

Dear Lennard,
I run 2010 versions of SRAM on my road bikes and have been reading about the improvements to the front derailleur shifting capabilities from both brands SRAM and Shimano. From everything I’ve read — the Yaw Red derailleur if finicky to set up and once adjusted from ‘factory’ is difficult to reset thereon. I change chainrings from a 48 big cog, 50 cog to a standard crankset from time to time. This requires of course moving the front derailleur up and down with adjustments when required.

My concern is how difficult would this be with the new Yaw front derailleur to maintain?

Could I not just use the new DA9000 front derailleur and use it with SRAM shifters? The way I figure it is — the spacing is in the mechanism in the shifter (which remains the same), all I have to do is change the trim the high and low settings on the front derailleur and it should work just the same.

I am attracted to the Shimano design because it is simple, I read it is easy to set up and maintain, and if you can get over the height of the cable pull arm — it should deliver strong and quicker shifting (especially under load).

I am looking to get the benefits of better front shifting — without having to fork out for a completely new group set.
— Gary

Dear Gary,
Although I, too, originally found the Yaw setup to be finicky, that’s just because I was coming at it from the way I had always set up other front derailleurs in the past. Since the front of the derailleur cage moves in and out further than the tail does (in order to more closely parallel the chain to avoid chain rub in cross gears), normal adjustment procedures are insufficient to get it right. Also, the written instructions that came with the Yaw front derailleur don’t actually show the correct procedure and have a couple of steps that tend to throw you off.

Once I learned how to do it and embraced the method, which is far different from what I’ve done in the past, I have come to really love the setup of the SRAM Yaw front derailleur, and that includes on subsequent adjustment. It’s actually quicker than setting up other front derailleurs, and it comes out very nicely with no subsequent adjustment required on the road. I think that using the Yaw front derailleur would be the way to go with what you’re trying to do; I’ll explain how you can reproduce the initial setting, and I would bet against that Shimano front derailleur working with your shifter.

The adjustment procedure for the Yaw front derailleur and its inner chain stop are on this video, from 2:26 to 7:43. The key things that are different from normal front derailleur adjustment are: straight out of the box, the front derailleur has the limit screws tightened down to pinch it in a set position, rather than having a plastic setup block holding it in a fixed initial position; you set the derailleur height by aligning a mark on the inner cage plate with the top of the tallest chainring tooth, rather than by measuring the gap between the tooth and the lower edge of the cage plate as it passes over the big chainring; you align the derailleur rotationally by lining up marks atop the tip and tail of the cage with the big-chainring teeth; you shift to the inner chainring and set the inner limit screw adjustment entirely by turning the screw, not by removing the plastic setup block or by operating the shifter; you set the cable tension adjustment entirely by eliminating backtracking of the front derailleur after shifting to the big chainring; it has an integrated chain-drop arm; the front derailleur has a hollow mounting bolt into which the inner chain stop threads, and you adjust the stop by means of a micro-adjust screw on the side.

The text at 3:26 on the SRAM derailleur-setup video makes it look like you’re screwed on setup after the first time you do it, but I’ve found that you can recreate the initial settings quite easily by means of taking two steps. Here’s how:

Before loosening the derailleur mounting bolt and releasing the cable when you change to your other crankset, shift to the big chainring and tighten the inner (low-gear) limit screw until it holds the derailleur in that position over the big chainring when you release the shifter. Now you can move the derailleur and release the cable.

When you are setting up the derailleur on your second crankset, you may need to turn the low-gear limit screw counterclockwise until the alignment marks atop the front derailleur are straight over the chainring. (By this I mean that, you will be not only rotating the position of the entire front derailleur so that the alignment marks are parallel with the big chainring, but also moving the front derailleur inboard if need be with the limit screw to get both lines directly above the chainring.)

When setting up the derailleur on another crank after having ridden it for a while, the other critical point is that the initial height-alignment mark will be gone, scraped off by the chain over time. Note where the mark is at 3:11 in the SRAM video. Before trying to set up your derailleur on your second crankset, wipe the inner cage plate clean and draw in a new alignment line with a Sharpie in the same location as shown in the video. If you are only moving between two different positioning setups on your bike, you could mark those two derailleur heights on your frame so that you just go right there immediately without looking at the cage plate after you’ve positioned it properly once with each crankset.

A third, more minor issue on subsequent setups you’ll have is that there will be a chain on the chainring already, unless you also change chain lengths when you change chainring sizes. If you do have a chain on, when you line up the marks on the top of the cage with the teeth, you’ll have to look more carefully to see the teeth sticking up through the chain.

SRAM’s written manual that has thus far come with Yaw front derailleurs and that is still the one online does not help much, since it doesn’t completely follow the procedure on the SRAM setup video. It shows how to set the height with the mark, but then it muddies the waters with a step (specifically, step 7) that serves little purpose other than to send the mechanic to his normal methods. Equally importantly, it omits the critical verbal description of how to set the inner (low-gear) limit screw.

Step 7 in the written owner’s manual says: “The gap between the tallest teeth of the large chainring and bottom edge of the outer cage plate must be 1-2 mm. If it is not, adjust the height of the derailleur (1 & 2), then repeat steps 4, 6, and 7.”

While this is of course totally normal with most front derailleurs, aligning the top of the large chainring with the mark on the inner cage plate will have already ensured this position, unless you have a non-round chainring (Rotor, Osymetric, etc.), or you have teeth of varying heights on your chainring and didn’t pick the tallest teeth to align with the mark. It also tends to attract the eye visually when reading the instructions, so a mechanic accustomed to setting derailleur height this way will tend to see that illustration and do his initial height setup as he always does, ignoring the align-the-tooth-with-the-mark step.

Step 6 (actually, just Illustration 6) in the owner’s manual leaves a lot out. It just shows turning the inner (low-gear) limit screw until the inner cage plate is 0.5mm from the chain in the lowest gear entirely with an illustration and no text. This replaces the entire section on the video from 5:08 to 5:42 that shows that the chain movement to the inner chainring is completely achieved with the limit screw and not by shifting the lever or removing the plastic setup block, as one normally would do. And with the derailleur and chain grayed out in the illustration, it’s not that easy to see either.

And establishing SRAM’s “Zero Loss” setting of the high-gear limit screw and cable tension, which is described on the video from 6:16 to 7:11, is described in steps 9 and 10, but step 10 doesn’t actually say to tighten the cable until the derailleur doesn’t move back after making the upshift. (There’s a mistake on the video as well; at 6:30, the soothing woman’s voice says “then, turn the high limit screw counterclockwise,” when it should say “continue turning the high limit screw clockwise”).

Step 10 says: “With the chain as illustrated, move the shift lever inboard as far as possible (A) and then release. Rotate the cranks (B) to upshift to the large chainring. Use the barrel adjusters (C) to add cable tension until the chain upshifts smoothly. Repeat A – C as needed.”

Nowhere does it say to tighten the cable until the derailleur doesn’t move back after making the upshift. And there’s only one barrel adjuster.

As for using the Shimano Dura-Ace FD-9000 front derailleur with your SRAM shifters, your analysis neglects whether SRAM and Shimano front shifters pull the same amount of cable per shift. I haven’t measured it or tried this combination, but I would bet that they don’t have the same cable pull. And in that case, you would not get the shift range the derailleur was designed for. Go with the SRAM Yaw front derailleur (10-speed for your bike, of course) and follow my steps above for setting it up the same way on subsequent setups as on initial setup.
― Lennard