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It's got to do with chan wrap capacity. A long cage deraileur has a higher chan wrap capacity, so if you go from small-small geraing to big-big gearing, the deraileur can take up all that chan length change. To determine your chain wrap- take your bigget front gear (probably a 44) minus your smallest (probably a 22) so 44-22=22, then do the same for the rear, worst case could be 34-11=23 - take the 22 from the front and add it to the 23 from the rear = 45 tooth capacity required. Long cage will work.

Short and med cage is for guys how aren't afraid of accidentally going into the big-big combo and breakinga chain or deraileur, or for guys running roadie cassets, 2x9, and 1x9 drivetrains (XC Weight weenies, dirt jump guys, and DH/FR rigs).
 
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