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Adjusting derailleur with bike upside down, is it ok?

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I need to adjust the derailleur on my bike, I don't have a bike stand because I am on the bike trail. I have three options for pedaling while adjusting the the derailleur.

Turn the bike upside down, balancing on the handlebars and seat.

Tip it up on the kick stand

Lay it completely on its side (if no kickstand)

Upside down is easiest, but it seems like that might not be the best choice. Is it ok to adjust the derailleur when the bike is upside down? Is one method clearly better then the others?

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3 answers

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(For reference: I am a cyclist. I train with professionals, although I don't plan on becoming a pro myself, and I'm currently finishing up getting my cycling coaching license.)

Yes, adjusting your derailleur with the bike upside-down is fine. This will allow you to pedal while adjusting, which is kinda necessary to get a more-or-less accurate adjustment.

However, you should be aware that in the event that you have hydraulic brakes, leaving your bike upside down even for ten minutes will result in your brakes being temporarily useless for a minute - so don't immediately start riding a technical downhill trail after adjusting it upside down; wait a few minutes for your brakes to go back to normal after flipping it the right way up again.

(I once got my bike out from underneath a bus and immediately hopped on and starting pedaling, to make a connection five minutes away, and very nearly crashed due to the brakes not working yet.)

If you have hydraulic brakes, then make sure you aren't storing your bike upside down for extended periods of time either. If you're at home adjusting your shifting system, and it turns out you need to get a part, don't just leave your bike upside down for days - you can ruin your brakes that way. A few minutes or even a day upside down won't ruin your brakes, but leaving it for longer can leave you needing to replace the oil or other parts.

If you don't have hydraulic brakes, then you should be fine. Just note that you can scratch up your handlebars if you put it down on rough ground (yes, again I speak from experience).

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Yes, turning the bike upside down is the best way to adjust the derailleur without a bike stand. It puts the derailleur closer to you and keeps both wheels and pedals free of the ground. The only situation where this method would be problematic is in strong winds with the potential to knock the bike over, but you can stand with the bike partially between your legs to catch it if it falls.

You need to make adjustments while the bike is pedaled. This is very difficult if you're using an extra hand to balance it on the kickstand. Laying the bike on its side will cause one pedal to dig into the dirt, unless you try to balance it on something (generally precarious and may scratch your paint).

If you have additional work to do on your bike and access to rope and a wooded area, you can also hang your bike so you don't strain your back leaning over it. This is, however, usually unnecessary for the time needed for a trail adjustment.

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The derailleur can be adjusted just fine with the bike upside down. Flipping the bike doesn't change the side to side alignment of how the chain is fed to the gear set.

However, one thing to watch out for is pinching your brake cables. If the brake cables go straight up from the levers on the handlebar, then they will be squished against the ground when the bike is flipped. I usually put a 2x4 under the handlebar to act as a spacer.

When out on the road and the derailleur seems to need a little adjustment, I just give it 1/8 turn in the appropriate direction and ride some more. It shouldn't be far out of whack by the time you ride the bike anyway, so usually not more than two such adjustments (1/4 turn total) is necessary.

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