Join Date: Dec 2004
Bikes: 92 Giant Sedona ATX Custom
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The length of the cage is sometimes referred to as 'wrap' or 'difference' that the derailleur can handle. The difference between your smallest combination and largest combo is important to know, mainly that if you go into the biggest combination you will not rip the thing off its mount or kink the springs. Some setups with two front rings can require long cages, some tripples can have medium or short. It depends on the individual cassette and crank choices.
Rapid rise is a shimano rapidfire based system in which the direction of the spring is reversed. Referred to as a "low normal"(spring pulls to first gear) instead of the usual "high normal"(spring pulls to top gear). The idea was to facilitate smoother downshifts(less strain on the shifting from less force) and faster upshifts(being able to pull multiples in a swing). In practice, it has its drawbacks and advantages.
Some like it some do not, but many find it a challenge to relearn the techniques after so long on a 'high normal'. I will not speculate which side I stand on the matter since I have not had a good duration with them yet.