Price: $39 for the gauges; the Otto app and Check function are free; Tune function is an in-app purchase 7 days for $3.99, 90 days for $12.99, and a year is $39.99
Source: Otto Design Works
Drivetrain compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9-/10-/11-speed derailleurs including most MTB (1x, 3x drivetrains not currently supported)
iPhone compatibility: iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 & 6+, 6s running OS 8.1 or newer including iOS9
How obtained: Sample from company
RBR sponsor: No
Amazing App Aims to Make Derailleur Adjustment a No-Brainer
I first learned of the Otto Tuning System during the crush before the 2015 Interbike show last fall. We receive dozens of new product press releases every year around then and not always exciting ones. But I was immediately intrigued with this new system and requested a sample.
An interactive app plus engineered gauges
Otto is for checking and tuning your rear derailleur alignment and adjustment. There are two parts to the system: an iPhone app plus a tuning kit composed of 2 plastic pieces – engineered gauges that allow checking alignment. One fits onto the back of your rear derailleur and the other fits onto the back of your cassette (see the photo at top).
Once you’ve downloaded the app, you follow its great videos and spoken directions through a series of steps to use Otto’s Check function that quickly tells you (in Siri’s voice) if your derailleur is A-OK; and then (if you’ve purchased access – keep reading), you can use its Tune function that speaks to you and tells you how to adjust your rear derailleur to get it shifting perfectly again.
Otto sees the Check feature as like a tire pressure gauge, i.e. it’s so quick and easy to use, you can check your derailleur as fast as you can your tires. You’ll want some way to elevate your bicycle, like a repair stand or vehicle rack that lets you pedal by hand.
There are lots of YouTube videos you can watch to learn how to adjust your rear derailleur. But what’s special about the Otto system – and why I am so impressed by it – is that it does something I’ve never seen before. It actually visually checks, analyzes and measures how well aligned your rear derailleur is with your cassette cogs. And it gives you an index score of how accurate your shifting is to +/- .125-inches (one barrel click) so you know how far out of alignment it is. (Seephoto at left.)
The way the system does this is ingenious. The 2 plastic pieces in the kit fit snugly over the cassette and derailleur pulley. You install them the way the app tells you. On the back of each plastic piece are little visual targets.
The Check function uses your iPhone’s camera to see all the targets, line the ones on the top piece with the ones on the bottom piece and then it gives you the reading of how well or how poorly aligned your bike is. If it’s out, the app explains what it recommend to solve the issue.
A frame- and money-saver
Having access to the Otto system and its Check function lets you do something for about $40 that would cost you a lot more if you bought your own frame derailleur hanger alignment tool. Plus, the app shows and tells you if you’re out of alignment so that you can have it fixed before risking shifting into your spokes and having to spend a lot more to fix the damage.
Consider, too, that hanger misalignment is a common issue with so many road bikes having soft aluminum hangers now. All it takes is your bike falling over, or even putting the bike in the back of the vehicle with others on top so that the derailleur hanger is taking too much weight. With Otto you can check and find these issues easily.
Possibility of more helpful alignment functions
While at Interbike, I spoke with the Otto folks, who told me that in the future they can use the same technology to add more helpful app functions and tools; such as for aligning your handlebars and seat.
Those are great uses, too, because it’s so difficult to align a round stem or seatpost since they have almost infinite possible positions. To have these additional functions would add a lot of value to the app.
Since the Interbike show, the pricing has changed a little. I asked Otto to explain. They wrote, “The hardware still retails for $39 and the app is still a free download. The Check function that takes maybe 30 seconds, and gives the alignment index reading (to diagnose bends or twists) is a free function of the app.
“The second function, Tune, now must be made through an in-app purchase (IAP) and you get to use it for 7 days for $3.99, 90 days for $12.99, and a year is $39.99. We have grandfathered all purchases and users who have units from 2015 for free.”
How’s it work?
Using the Otto app and tools was just as quick and easy as they said it was, with one exception. The video and spoken directions are clear and easy to follow and only take seconds. The gauges fit on only one way so you can’t get them wrong.
The thing I found a little tricky was getting the iPhone camera to see the targets on the gauges. If you can’t hold the iPhone just so, the app repeatedly prompts you to keep trying. You use the iPhone’s camera the same way you take a selfie, and I take lousy selfies, so it could just be me.
Once I satisfied the app, though, it immediately gave me a reading. To see if it could tell, I messed with the alignment and the app correctly saw the misalignment, changed its score and recommended I use its Tune function to fix the issue.
Your own mechanic on hand
Following the Tune’s step-by-step instructions was like having a professional mechanic at my side teaching me derailleur adjustment. It correctly told me that if turning the high gear limit screw counterclockwise would not move the derailleur closer to the dropout, that the cable tension was probably too tight, and what to do about it.
As ingenious and fun as the Otto system is, I don’t think I’d recommend it to a complete beginner mechanic. It does tell you what to check and provides accurate instruction on how to fix issues. But it doesn’t fully explain what you’re checking for and what’s wrong and why it’s telling you to take a certain action to fix it.
So, I could see a beginners getting in over their head, empowered by the app and then not being able to get things sorted. But the solution is relatively easy. The Otto system could include all the background information about derailleur alignment and adjustment so a newbie could read and learn what they don’t know.
Overall, I think Otto has invented an ingenious and important new tool, and I hope they keep adding to it and make it more powerful and essential.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.