THE shifter shootout
As is the fact that all bikes are not created equal, neither are the parts that make them up. Shifters, for one, come in different styles and functionality. Since this is a component of your bicycle that you will use often and on a variety of road conditions, I think you should be aware of their differences and abilities. I caution you that, like so many other things on a bicycle, while the choice is yours to make depending on your likes and dislikes, there are some real problems with some shifters that can cause you physical distress over time. Caveat emptor!
There are three major standard types of shifters on the market today, and two non-standard choices. I will look at the good and bad aspects of all five with respect to bicycle touring.
1. Grip Shifters – These are also known as Twist Shifters or Twist-Grip Shifters. Grip shifters are limited to bikes with straight handlebars because of their placement as your handgrip Grip shifters force you to rotate your hand forward or backward in order to shift gears. Some riders, especially mountain bikers, don’t want to move their hands off the handlebars when they shift gears, but there is stress on the wrist, which will most likely create discomfort eventually. Another drawback to grip shifters is that you need to shift one gear at a time and only when you are pedaling slowly; otherwise you might derail your bike’s chain or damage your gear’s teeth. I would recommend people stay away from these.
2. Trigger Shifters - These are normally light action shifters. Different styles will force you to use different fingers. However, they will all keep your wrist in a stationary position, and the light action should not adversely affect your fingers. These are an excellent choice.
3. STI Brake Lever Shifters - These are normally used on road and touring bikes. Since the shifter is incorporated into the brake lever, you can keep your hands on the hoods while shifting. You use minimal force on the wrist during shifting, so irritation is unlikely. These are an excellent choice.
4. Downtube Shifters – This type of shifter was the norm on road bikes two generations ago. Your entire hand needs to move to shift, so the stress is distributed among various positions, which tends to minimize the risk of injury. These are a good choice.
5. Thumb shifters - This was the standard shifter on mountain bikes three generations ago. The stress on the thumb is greater than all the other shifters, and these would likely cause some hand issues over time. I would recommend people to stay away from these.
Remember, I’m talking about shifters used for touring. When a rider tours he often goes long distances, over consecutive days, and does a lot of shifting because of varying terrain. That kind of repeated action can cause discomfort or injury over time.