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What is the typical life cycle of mid-range rear derailleurs assuming no accidents? More precisely, what's the average mileage after which it's better to replace it rather than doing tuning all the time?

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MTB or road? Recreational or compedative riding? Lotto winner or student? When you get tired of tuning it all the time or poor gear shifts is as good a time as any..... – mattnz Apr 11 '14 at 1:30
Probably before its weak enough to go into your wheel. Though the useful life before sloppy shifting is determined a lot by maintenance (cleaning and oiling). Shifting is also a function of the shifter condition and cable condition, though. – Batman Apr 11 '14 at 4:15
If you have trouble "tuning" then I'd suspect that components elsewhere are the problem -- worn cables, bent derailleur hanger, etc. And, of course, worn chain & cogs are a major reason for shifting problems – Daniel R Hicks Apr 11 '14 at 11:26

Derailleurs will last almost indefinitely. The jockey wheels will wear out in time (tens of thousands of km) but the rest of the mechanism shouldn't see significant wear.

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It could be that the spring will break at some point due to material fatigue, but that is also a relatively easy to replace part on most derailleurs. And the jockey wheels will go before that. – arne Apr 11 '14 at 5:47
Yeah, the wheel bearings are supposed to be loose, and the pivots could easily last for decades without getting "sloppy", so physical damage is the only real factor in their life, beyond jockey wheel wear. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 11 '14 at 11:25

My main road bike has campagnolo gran sport derailleurs. That was mid range when I bought it back in 1980. Probably over 100000 miles by now. I have replaced cables and jockey wheels a few times but it still shifts great.

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One thing to note that on a lot of newer derailleurs which arent high end, its usually nearly cheaper/easier to chuck the derailleur and put in a new one when the jockey wheels are gone rather than replace them. – Batman Apr 11 '14 at 13:42

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