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Bike Gear Shifters


If you ride a bike with multiple gears, you probably use gear shifters to change between them. But do you know how they work and how to choose the right ones for your bike? Read below for an explanation of the basics of bike gear shifters, how they work, and how to choose them.

What are bike gear shifters?

Bike gear shifters allow you to change gears on your bike. They are usually located on the handlebars, near the brakes. They are connected to the derailleurs, which are mechanisms that move the chain between different-sized rings or cogs on your bike.

There are different types of bike gear shifters, such as:

  • Trigger shifters: You push or pull two levers with your index finger or thumb to change gears up or down. They are common on mountain bikes and some hybrid bikes.

  • Twist/grip shifters: These have a rotating part that you twist with your wrist to change gears. They are often found on kids' bikes, city bikes, and some mountain bikes.

  • Integrated brake-shifter levers (a.k.a. "brifters"): These combine the brake and the shifter levers into one unit. You push or pull the lever sideways to change gears while braking with the same lever. They are popular on road bikes.

  • Bar-end, downtube, stem, and thumb levers: These are less common types of shifters mounted on different parts of the bike frame or handlebars. They usually have a simple lever that you move up or down to change gears.

How do bike gear shifters work?

Bike gear shifters work by creating tension or slack in a steel cable that runs between them and the derailleurs. When you move a shifter lever, it pulls or releases the cable, which moves the derailleur accordingly. The derailleur then pushes or pulls the chain onto a different ring or cog, changing your gear ratio.

The left-hand shifter operates the front derailleur, which moves the chain between rings on your crankset (the part where your pedals attach). The front derailleur usually has two or three rings (chainrings), depending on your bike's gears.

The right-hand shifter operates the rear derailleur, which moves the chain between cogs on your cassette (the part where your rear wheel attaches). The rear derailleur usually has more cogs than the front derailleur (typically 7-11), giving you more options for fine-tuning your gear ratio.

How to choose bike gear shifters?

Choosing bike gear shifters depends on several factors, such as:

  • Your type of bike: Different types of bikes may require different types of shifters that suit their riding style and terrain. For example, mountain bikers prefer trigger shifters for quick and precise shifting, while road bikers prefer integrated brake-shifter levers for convenience and aerodynamics.

  • Your groupset: Your groupset comprises your drivetrain (the system that transfers power from your pedals to your wheels). It includes your crankset, cassette, derailleurs, and shifters.

Your groupset may limit your shifter options, as some brands only offer certain types of shifters for their groupsets. For example, Shimano's current series of mountain bike groupsets only employs under-bar trigger shifters. You should also ensure your shifter is compatible with the number of gears in your groupset. For example, if you have a 3x10 drivetrain (three chainrings and 10 cogs), you need a 3-speed left shifter and a 10-speed right shifter.

  • Your budget: Bike gear shifters vary in price depending on their quality, features, and brand. Generally speaking, higher-end shifters offer smoother, faster, and more reliable shifting than lower-end ones. They may also have more ergonomic designs, better materials, and lighter weights. However, they also cost more than lower-end ones.

It’s also worth keeping in mind the law of diminishing returns. Once you reach a certain point in the groupset hierarchy, differences in shifting performance are almost imperceptible. The main differences come down to weight, materials used and overall cost.