Wednesday, October 7, 2015

There's an App for That: Derailleur Adjustment

After looking recently at Bluetooth pumps that use a smartphone app for a pressure gauge, I found that there really does seem to be an app for everything now -- even derailleur adjustment.
Clip these little gauges onto the cassette
 and derailleur then use the smartphone
 to fine-tune adjustment. (photo from OTTO)

That's right. The OTTO Tuning System (which sounds almost like "auto-tuning," doesn't it?) uses yet another smartphone app, along with a pair of cassette and derailleur position gauges, to make drivetrain adjustment as mindless as everything else now controlled by smartphone. For people who feel that virtually no task should be undertaken without the assistance of their phone, this must be welcome news.

According to the product introduction video, the system "doesn't require any prior bicycle service experience," and one should be able to achieve "perfect shifting in under 5 minutes." The company touts the precision of the system as being accurate to within +/- 0.125 mm. Holy cow.

They also claim that it can "diagnose bent dropout hangers, worn cables, and poorly adjusted limit screws." I suppose it makes sense that the system can diagnose dropout hangers and limit screws, since both of those things would be picked up by checking the alignment of the gauges. How on earth it can detect worn cables is beyond me. Then again, why would anyone possibly need an app to tell them their cables are worn? Are they frayed? Kinked? Rusty? Those should be clear just from looking.

I wonder if the app can diagnose THIS:

The OTTO website calls this phone screenshot "augmented reality." I'll say it's "augmented." somehow they got the drivetrain on the left side of the bike!

Apparently the phone's camera "reads" the dots on the alignment gauges, then uses some algorithms to determine what adjustments are necessary. Listen to the slightly robotic-sounding woman's voice explain, "Turn your barrel adjuster 4 clicks clockwise." (photo from OTTO)
So far, the app is only made for the Apple iOS operating system, but supposedly an Android version is in the works.

I will say that, at $39, (that's for the gauges - the app is apparently free, but useless without the gauges) the OTTO Tuning System is at least a relatively inexpensive tool. The company says the system is Shimano and SRAM 9-10-11 speed compatible -- but not Campagnolo. I find that partially odd, since I was under the impression that the cog spacing of 11-speed drivetrain systems was the same for all three companies (at least that's what Lennard Zinn says). I guess it doesn't matter, though, since none of my bikes goes to 11. In fact, most of my bikes still use friction shifting. It probably goes without saying, but the OTTO Tuning System is also incompatible with friction -- and mostly unnecessary in any case.

There are demonstration videos on the OTTO website, or you can see their product introduction video right here:

Useful tool? Or another example of smartphone addiction? I wouldn't mind hearing some thoughts.


  1. Well if you don't have a clue how to adjust your indexed rear derailleur and you ride a bike a lot it could be a helpful tool. I guess it could of helped me when I changed the cables and housing on my 10 speed indexed bike a couple of weeks ago. I'm not a novice but neither am I an expert mechanic. I couldn't make my rear derailleur happy in all of its gears so I thought perhaps my derailleur hanger was a bent. Fortunately its fall not July so a stop by the LBS that I frequent yielded a derailleur cable that had a bit too much tension on it. Diagnosed by an experienced mechanic checking my drop out alignment as requested, it was fine, and his experienced eye noticing that the pulleys weren't as straight as they should be. It only cost $10 and he also had a quick peek at my front derailleur. Which takes me to another thought. More people have trouble with their indexed front derailleurs, so where is the app for that?

    1. True -- it doesn't seem to address front shifting, does it?

    2. I wonder whether it makes certain assumptions about chainline or an initial installation by a professional.

  2. my thoughts? aaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!

  3. It seems rather ungainly, but assuming it actually works, this is leveraging the capabilities of a smartphone at the expense of increasing one's understanding of the apparatus at hand. This method would never permit learning about derailleurs. It would only make you dependent on the app. The learning curve for adjusting a derailleur is not so terrible that you can't teach yourself with a good tutorial and internalize with practice. The app makes increasing your confidence in maintaining your bike impossible.

  4. In a weird way, it all actually makes sense when you realize that indexed shifting was developed for people who wanted high-performance bikes but were too lazy or klutzy to learn shifting technique.

    In other words, people who want the best but don't want to get their hands dirty with it You know, the ones who want photos as beautiful as the ones Henri Cartier Bresson took with his Rollei (I think that's what he used) but don't want to learn about exposures and shutter speeds and such. Or those who want to write poetry without reading it.