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I took a look at my friend's city bike's gears, as his rear gear shift levers felt almost completely "limp". Other (cleanliness and wear) issues aside, one thing that struck me as odd was that when I pulled the derailleur cable by hand, the derailleur moved outwards, i.e. towards the heavier gears. As far as I know, the derailleur moves towards the wheel when the cable is tightened whatever the model (here it was some standard Shimano). He told me he had bought the bike used, but the gears had been working during his time and he hadn't touched them.

How can that kind of "opposite" mechanics be possible?

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There exist now rare Shimano Rapid Rise shifters, which have the opposite direction of action. Please check if the words "Rapid Rise" are anywhere to be found on the derailleur/shifter. Or at least knowing its model number, or having a picture should resolve the uncertainty.

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    "Low normal" derailleur may be a synonym. – Weiwen Ng May 20 at 13:42
  • I think some other brands might have played with low normal as well. – mattnz May 20 at 21:56
  • I believe there are many MTB deraileurs that work the same way. – whatsisname May 21 at 22:00
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That’s a “rapid rise” rear derailleur. The spring moves it to the larger cogs and the cable pulls toward the small end of the cassette. It’s not black magic, the cable just pulls on the opposite side of the parallelogram.

It was a thing. It wasn’t universally popular, and some people attribute SRAM’s rise to prominence to rapid rise and the brifters that accompanied it.

The rationale for rapid rise, aside from the different shift logic itself (same hand movement to upshift or downshift in the front or the back, potentially more intuitive for some users, able to multi shift towards higher gears and release cable for easier gears) had to do with spring/cable tension and working better with the integrated brake/shift levers like M960, iirc. XTR M960 used a sideways (downwards) movement of the brake lever itself to pull cable, and it’s my understanding that rapid rise was found to work better than the conventional arrangement with that style of shifter.

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