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I just busted my 760 XT derailleur, not because it failed, but because my friend crashed into my derailleur and bent it. So, in looking for a replacement, I was wondering how the 952 XTR, 960 XTR and the 760 XT compare, in terms of shifting performance? Also, what is the difference between short cage, medium cage and long cage? Can they be used for any kind of bike?
 

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Short cage is what you'd typically want if you were running a road cassette or something similar, medium cage something like an 8 spd cassette, and long cage for most mega-9 applications (I'm open to correction, this is the way I understand them).
The longer the derailleur cage the more chain it can tension, which is what you'd want with mega-9 drivetrains.
As far as performance, I can't help you there as I've never had anything higher than XT on a bike.
 

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I understand the cage lengths the same way; however, I believe that you can run the medium cage with a 9 speed system (you just won't be able to run the 3rd ring 9th gear combo, which you shouldn't be using anyways).
I have never used an XT derailleur but I can speak for both XTR derailleurs. They're both awesome. I had the 952 on my stolen bike, and I loved it. No matter what hell I put the derailleur through it still shifted silky smooth. For my new bike I have a RR 960 derail and again, I love it. Once you get it aligned (little effort involved) all you do is shift and forget about it. Hits all the right gears ALL THE TIME. I don't think I'd get a non-XTR rear derailleur.
 

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The cage length basically determines how long the chain can be before the derrailleur is no longer capable of keeping it tensioned in the small front/small rear cog combo. Short cage is only used on road bike derailleurs now with small range cassettes of about 25t max. Road derrailleurs use medium cages on bikes with triple front rings. Medium and long cage are used on mountain bikes. A medium and long cage on a MTB can typically handle a regular 22-32-42 front crankset combined with a 34t max cassette with enough chain to do the big/big combo safely. The difference is when you drop them to the small/small the long cage can pick up the slack while the medium will leave the chain hang loose. A medium cage can handle about a 30 to 32t maximum cassette with the chain shortened accordingly and always be able to keep tension in all gears. Its really not such a big deal since the small/small combo is never or should never be used. Ideally its best to go with the shortest cage your setup will allow. Shorter cages weigh less, have better ground clearance (less likely to hit something) and shift quicker and more crisply. The longer arm on the long cage causes more leverage against the spring so the chain isn't as tense and likewise they are a bit slower moving from side to side.

As far as the derrailleurs go, the 952 is the conventional XTR derailleur thats been around for a long time. Its a high normal model. The 960 is the new XTR model which is rapid rise only. Its actually the evolution of the 953 which is exactly the same as the 952 but in rapid rise function. It has a few improvements most notably that the 960 rides further back without the need of excessive b-tension. The 952 was originally designed around smaller cogs and with the common use of 32 to 34t cassettes now was sometimes difficult to get it to not ride the top pulley against the cogs. The parallelogram was also designed to give a much more linear spring rate accross the entire range. This gives consistant shifting feel unlike the 952/3 in which the shifting force got heavier as the spring extended. The 760 is the XT version of the 960. Basically the same thing but slightly heavier and a slight bit weaker and about half the price. The body on the 760 is not forged like the 960.
 

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Ray_from_SA said:
Short cage is what you'd typically want if you were running a road cassette or something similar, medium cage something like an 8 spd cassette, and long cage for most mega-9 applications (I'm open to correction, this is the way I understand them).
The longer the derailleur cage the more chain it can tension, which is what you'd want with mega-9 drivetrains.
As far as performance, I can't help you there as I've never had anything higher than XT on a bike.
Long cage is a normal mtb set-up. For instance, a stock XT crank with an 11-32 or 11-34 cassette. Works best.
 
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