Last week, I had to abandon a training ride due to my chain slipping off my rear derailleur jockey wheel. This would only happen when shifting, and most often when either shifting chainrings or shifting multiple cogs in one go. I took the bike in to my LBS, and they diagnosed it as a bent derailleur hanger — a reasonable guess, given I took a spill in a crit the previous week (although, curiously, I did not have any problems in the race between my wreck and the training ride). They bent the hanger back into place and sent me on my way.

Tonight, on my first ride after the fix, the problem was happening again. Same deal, but less frequent. Shifting multiple cogs, especially right before/after a chainring shift would reproduce the problem with a high probability. After getting home, I put my bike in my stand and checked the alignment with a derailleur alignment gauge. It's absolutely perfect. And yet a little shifting while in the stand and I was able to easily reproduce the problem.

To recap:

  • chain slips off bottom derailleur jockey wheel
  • perfect derailleur hanger alignment
  • only during "significant" shifts
  • not limited to shifting under load
  • SRAM Force components

Pics are below. Any ideas? If more pictures are necessary in order to diagnose the problem, I'll be happy to provide.

Edit: After discussion in the comments, the problem is almost certainly that the derailleur cage is twisted and misaligned. Time for a new derailleur.

Edit 2: New derailleur purchased. Problem solved.

front view rear view side view (on pulley) rear view (on pulley)

  • Did you check the chain for a frozen/bent link? Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 3:31
  • I don't believe there's one. I will confirm tomorrow AM. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 3:32
  • Do you notice anything -- a sort of "hitch" in the chain, eg -- as the problem happens? Is it possible, eg, that the chain is sticking to a hooked front cog and then "galloping" as it comes unhooked? Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 3:34
  • Since you can reproduce it on the stand, I'd look at the chain coming off of the front sprocket as it happens to see if there's anything odd there. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 3:35
  • 2
    I love the internet. I had the same problem, checked hanger (straight), chain/rings wear (little) and starting to get stumped. Then I found this and realised my lower jockey wheel is very worn. Thanks to all those who take the time to post detailed explanations/photos etc - it really helps :-)
    – user4873
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 9:59

2 Answers 2


This type of problem has 5 likely causes, listed in order of elimination.

  1. Bent dérailleur hanger, or Bent derailleur cage. (Your derailleur hanger looks straight, but the cage appears slightly twisted in the upper photo. Could be the angle of the shot, though.) Edit: This turned out to be the correct answer, after all.
  2. Bent, twisted, or sticky chain link.
  3. Badly worn dérailleur pulley wheels. This means there is not enough tooth left to hold the chain on the pulley wheel. (In my opinion this is most likely, but I'd need a photo of the derailleur side on to confirm.)
  4. Worn chain. A badly worn chain will slip off the pulleys in this manner, sometimes. Usually, you would also experience slow and noisy shifting in the rear gears.
  5. Worn cassette. Usually, you would also experience slow and noisy shifting in the rear gears, not just the pulley derailment, and usually it would be preceded by a worn chain. But it is possible, especially if the chain has recently been changed.

You've checked the derailleur hanger, so #1 is less likely. Although I would look at the derailleur cage or body. It really does appear bent in the second photo, unless the derailment is putting outside pressure on it.

You would see and feel #2 on the repair stand, so I assume that is unlikely, although it's easy to check and eliminate.

'#3 is my guess, without a side photo to confirm it. This is a photo of the difference between worn and unworn pulleys. Keep in mind, this is an extreme difference, and yours don't need to look this bad to cause your problem. Edit: After new photos, there is some wear, but not enough to cause the issue.

Worn derailleur pulleys

A worn chain is easy to check. Use the Park tool gauge or a similar tool to measure the wear. On that gauge, to see this issue, I would expect close to 1mm of wear.

A worn cassette is usually preceded by a worn chain, so if your chain is badly worn, you may need to change the cassette as well. Worst case, you may need new chain rings as well, but that is less likely.

Edited to include troubleshooting steps and conclusion:

After talking through the issue with Stephen, and looking at new and more direct photos, it is clear that the derailleur cage or body is misaligned, as discussed in option #1.

There is pulley wear as discussed in option #3, but not to a major degree.

You can follow the logic in the comments below:

  1. Derailleur hanger is confirmed straight by my own DAG. Cage might be twisted. I'll check, and upload a pic with a dead-on shot. It's carbon fiber, though — will CF bend? No sticky chain links. I'll put a new chain on to rule out #2 and #4, though. How would a worn cassette cause the issue, given that this is happening before the chain enters the cassette? – Stephen Touset 42 mins ago
  2. A worn cassette can cause the chain to be out of line with the derailleur slightly. It's less likely, but possible. That's why it's at the end of the list. – zenbike♦ 34 mins ago
  3. A CF derailleur cage isn't likely bent, but the derailleur body might be. In the photo, it looks twisted to the outside, so check whether the pulleys run parallel to the cogs when there is no chain on it. Only your outer plate in carbon.If the inner plate is bent or twisted, the CF plate has enough give to move with it. – zenbike♦ 32 mins ago
  4. More pics uploaded. In the rear pic, the chain on the bottom derailleur looks a bit to the right, but this seems to be that the chain is just pushed all the way to one side of the teeth. There is about +/- 3˚–5˚ of play in the jockeys. Normal? – Stephen Touset 21 mins ago
  5. Actually, the play is normal, especially in th upper pulley. But that derailleur cage is not aligned correctly. The cog of the gear it's in, and both pulleys should make a straight line, as perfectly vertical as possible. In that photo, ignoring the chain, the upper pulley is twisted slightly toward the frame, and the lower is even farther out of line. It is still possible that it is the angle of the photo, but it doesn't appear to be. You're also showing wear on the derailleur pulleys, if not nearly as bad as in the photo I posted. I'd say it's time for a new rear dérailleur. The cage itself should be parallel to the cogs, and that isn't the case either. – zenbike♦ 13 mins ago
  6. One question: Have you recently disassembled the derailleur? Is there more float side to side in the lower pulley than in the upper? – zenbike♦ 8 mins ago
  7. No to disassembly. Much more float in the upper pulley than the lower. Looks like you're right with the alignment. New derailleur time. Anything I can do in the meantime to minimize the chance of problems this weekend? As in, what should I try and bend to correct the misalignment as best I can? – Stephen Touset 8 mins ago
  8. Ok. Well, you can try to bend the cage back in to alignment. If you take the photo you posted last, and lay a ruler through the cogs, it should pass through the points of the teeth of both pulleys. That's the goal. If its the derailleur body, trying to bend it back may make it worse, but given the problems you have, I'd try. Worst case, hit your LBS for a new one before the race. – zenbike♦ 3 mins ago
  9. Thanks a bunch. If you'll edit your answer to include the latest conclusions, I'll be glad to accept. – Stephen Touset 1 min ago
  • Thanks a bunch. If you'll edit your answer to include the latest conclusions, I'll be glad to accept. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 4:45
  • Done. I've included our comments in the answer, to allow other users to follow the logical steps to diagnose the issue. I will delete all these comments in a few minutes, to keep the site cleaned up.
    – zenbike
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 5:00
  • Heh, I suppose I can always bend the derailleur hanger out of alignment to "correct" the bend in the derailleur itself. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 5:05
  • 1
    On the off chance that wasn't a joke, don't realign the derailleur hanger to try to fix the derailleur alignment. There are too many angles of movement in a derailleur to consider, plus your derailleur cage or body is twisted. Changing the hanger alignment might fix it in one gear, but will only make it worse in others.
    – zenbike
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 5:11
  • 1
    Thanks for the detailed explanation. My DA 7800 was misaligned after removing to clean and I bent it back into place to fix it from falling off the lower pulley. Commented May 26, 2023 at 12:36

I ran into this problem after getting my bike back from a basic tune-up. It was especially bad for the 3 largest cogs. After over an hour of investigating and tinkering I discovered this gem from the Shimano Derailleur Installation Manual

Some tension pulleys have an arrow on them to indicate the direction of rotation. In such cases, install the pulley so that the arrow is pointing clockwise when seen from the outer side of the derailleur.

I had to pull out a flashlight to see the tiny arrow, but it turns out the mechanic put my jockey wheel on backwards. After switching the direction of the jockey wheel, my problems immediately went away.

Below is an example image of the directional arrow

enter image description here

  • 3
    Can anyone explain how Shimano managed to make a pulley wheel directional?
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 5:07
  • 1
    The pulley wheel has a tiny bit of angle on the teeth that places them slightly closer to the bike. Mounting the wheel in the wrong direction puts the teeth further from the bike. I'm not sure about the motivation behind this, but I think it might have to do with easing the chain transition from chain-rings to cassette. Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 22:40
  • Ah, that makes sense. I though they might have put in unidirectional bearings for some unknown reason.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 23:52
  • Look at the teeth. One side has a bladed edge, one a blunt edge. The bladed edge is the edge that must mesh with the chain at the 12 o'clock position in the picture.. It is bladed so that the chain will slip onto the pulley faster and more smoothly. When the chain leaves the pulley at the 6 o'clock position it will be leaving from the non-bladed edge. Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 16:01
  • Thanks, this was exactly my problem, but in my case it was my fault! Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 10:05

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