How to Fix Your Bike’s Jockey Wheel

Jockey Wheel
Maintaining your bicycle’s drivetrain is crucial for ensuring a smooth and efficient ride, and one often overlooked yet essential component is the jockey wheel. However, over time, these small but crucial components can wear out or become damaged, leading to poor performance and frustration on the road. 

In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the process of diagnosing issues and replacing your jockey wheels, empowering you to keep your bike in top-notch condition, and help you get back to enjoying your rides.

Table of Contents

What is a Jockey Wheel?

In a bicycle, a jockey wheel, also known as an idler wheel or pulley, is a small component found within the rear derailleur system. The rear derailleur is responsible for moving the chain between the cassette’s cogs, allowing you to shift gears. The jockey wheels play a crucial role in maintaining chain tension and guiding the chain as it moves between the gears.

There are typically two jockey wheels in a rear derailleur: The upper (guide) pulley and the lower (tension) pulley

  • The upper jockey wheel (guide pulley) and the lower jockey wheel (tension pulley). The upper jockey wheel guides the chain to the correct sprocket on the cassette, ensuring smooth shifting.
  • The lower pulley creates tension in the chain and helps maintain tension in the chain to keep it taut and prevent it from sagging or derailing.

Jockey wheels are designed to spin freely and smoothly on on ball bearings or bushings, reducing friction, improving shifting performance, and minimizing chain wear, and are crucial for the precise and efficient operation of the bicycle’s gearing system. Regular maintenance and occasional replacement of worn-out jockey wheels are essential for optimal bike performance and efficient gear shifting.

jockey wheel
Rear Derailleur
jockey wheels
Jockey Wheels

Signs of a Bent Jockey Wheel

A bent jockey wheel on a bicycle can cause poor shifting performance and increased drivetrain wear. Identifying the issue early can help prevent further damage and ensure a smooth riding experience. Here are some signs that may indicate your jockey wheel is bent:
  1. Poor Shifting Performance: If you notice that your bike’s shifting is not as smooth or precise as it used to be, a bent jockey wheel could be the culprit. The bend can cause the chain to catch, hesitate, or shift inaccurately between gears.
  2. Increased Drivetrain Noise: When the jockey wheel is bent, it may cause the chain to rub against other components or the derailleur itself, resulting in unusual noise while pedaling, such as clicking, grinding, or rubbing sounds.
  3. Visual Deformation: Visually inspect the jockey wheels while the bike is stationary, and look for any signs of wobbling or irregular movement as you turn the pedals. A bent jockey wheel may also appear misaligned with the other components of the rear derailleur, and can make the chain to not run straight.
  4. Increased Chain Wear: A bent jockey wheel can accelerate chain wear due to improper alignment, causing the chain to rub or catch on the cogs or other components.
  5. Difficulty Maintaining Chain Tension: If you’re experiencing difficulty maintaining proper chain tension, it could indicate an issue with the jockey wheels, as they play a crucial role in keeping the chain taut.
  6. Derailleur Cage Misalignment: If the entire derailleur cage appears to be misaligned, it could be due to the stress placed on the system by a bent jockey wheel.

If you notice any of these signs, consider consulting a professional bike mechanic to inspect and replace the bent jockey wheel if necessary. Regular maintenance and inspection of your bike’s components can help ensure a safe and enjoyable ride and prevent further wear and tear on your drivetrain.

A Step by Step Guide to Jockey Wheel Replacement

Replacing a jockey wheel on a bicycle is straightforward, but typically involves a few steps. Take your time to prep and follow these steps:

  1. Gather Tools and Supplies: Prepare a hex wrench set, a new jockey wheel set, and some lubricant suitable for bike components.
    • New jockey wheels (make sure they are compatible with your derailleur)
    • Allen wrench (usually 3mm or 5mm, depending on your derailleur)
    • Cleaning cloth
    • Lubricant
    • Grease/ lubricant (optional)
  2. Shift to the Smallest Cog: Shift the rear derailleur into the smallest cog to release tension from the chain.
  3. Remove the Rear Wheel: This step is optional but can make it easier to work on the derailleur. If you choose to do this, release the quick release or thru-axle and remove the wheel. 
  4. Remove the Chain from the Rear Derailleur: Detach the chain from the lower jockey wheel by pushing it inward and pulling it gently away from the derailleur.
  5. Unscrew the Old Jockey Wheel: Using an appropriate-sized hex wrench, loosen and remove the bolt securing the old jockey wheel. Take note of the order and orientation of any washers or spacers present.
  6. Clean and Lubricate: Clean the area around the jockey wheel mount, ensuring that it’s free of dirt or debris. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the bushing or bearing of the new jockey wheel.  
  7. Install the New Jockey Wheels:
    • Grease the Bolts (optional): Apply a small amount of grease to the bolts to prevent them from seizing.
    • Position the New Wheels: Place the new jockey wheels in the correct position. Ensure that the guide pulley (upper jockey wheel) and tension pulley (lower jockey wheel) are correctly oriented.
    • Insert the Bolts: Secure the jockey wheels with the bolts. Be careful not to over-tighten them; they should be snug but still allow the wheels to spin freely.
    • Lubricate the Jockey Wheels: Apply a few drops of lubricant to the bearings of the jockey wheels to ensure smooth operation.
  8. Reinstall the Rear Wheel (if removed): Put the rear wheel back into place and secure it with the quick release or thru-axle.
  9. Check Chain Tension and Alignment: Ensure that the chain is properly tensioned and aligned. Spin the pedals and shift through the gears to test the new jockey wheels.
  10. Final Checks: Make any necessary adjustments to the derailleur to ensure smooth shifting. This may involve fine-tuning the limit screws or the cable tension.
  • Double-check that you have installed the correct jockey wheel in the correct position.
  • Ensure the jockey wheels spin freely without any resistance.
  • Regularly inspect and clean your drivetrain to prolong the life of your jockey wheels and other components.

These steps can help you effectively replace your jockey wheels and maintain the performance of your bike’s rear derailleur.

Common Mistakes Riders Make in Jockey Wheel Replacement

Replacing jockey wheels on a bicycle may seem straightforward, but there are a few common mistakes riders make during the process. Being aware of these pitfalls can help ensure a smooth replacement and optimal performance of your rear derailleur.

  1. Incorrect Size or Compatibility: One common mistake is purchasing jockey wheels that are not compatible with your specific rear derailleur model. Always check the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure you buy jockey wheels that fit correctly.
  2. Improper Installation: Installing jockey wheels incorrectly can lead to poor shifting performance or even damage to the rear derailleur. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and ensure that the jockey wheels are positioned and tightened according to the guidelines.
  3. Over-tightening the Bolts: Tightening the bolts that secure the jockey wheels too much can cause excessive friction and hinder their smooth rotation., directly affecting chain movement and pedaling. Use a torque wrench to ensure you tighten the bolts to the specified torque. Also ensure to remove any debris in the groove between the metal plate and the wheel that might add resistance.
  4. Neglecting to Replace Worn Components: If the bushings or bearings within the jockey wheels are worn, replacing just the wheels may not solve the problem. Inspect the bushings and bearings for wear and replace them as needed for optimal performance.
  5. Forgetting to Lubricate: Neglecting to lubricate the jockey wheel bearings or bushings can lead to increased friction and reduced lifespan. Apply a small amount of appropriate lubricant during the installation process to ensure smooth operation.
  6. Neglecting the Derailleur Cage Alignment: After replacing the jockey wheels, the derailleur cage should be properly aligned. Misalignment can cause poor shifting and increased wear on the drivetrain.
  7. Incorrect Chain Compatibility: If the chain and jockey wheels are not compatible, it can lead to poor performance. Ensure that the chain width and jockey wheel teeth match.
  8. Not Testing the Setup: After replacing the jockey wheels, it’s crucial to test the bike thoroughly. This includes shifting through all the gears to ensure everything is working correctly and making any necessary adjustments.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your jockey wheel replacement is successful and contributes to a well-functioning rear derailleur and improved shifting performance.

Jockey Your Wheels for Faster Shifting

fixing your cycle’s jockey wheel is a manageable task that can significantly improve your bike’s overall performance and your riding experience. By following the steps outlined in this guide and paying attention to the condition of your jockey wheels, you can ensure that your bike remains in top shape for many miles to come, and smooth gear shifts and reliable chain tension are just a couple of the benefits you’ll enjoy. 
Remember, regular maintenance and care are key to keeping your trusty steed ready for the adventures that lie ahead. 
Happy cycling!


I hope you found this information helpful. Check out my other related posts such as Rim Brakes vs Disc BrakesCarbon vs Aluminium Bike Frames and Disc Brake  Problems and How to Fix them. We also recorded a relevant podcast on injuries and prevention.

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