Grip shifters are cool but just don’t cut it.

from Rookie’s Keyboard,

Hello, friends

Today, I saw a locked, beaten commuter that had a set of grip shifters – the type that I had on my bike as a kid. The find made me nostalgic but also gave me an idea for a new post. 

So, let’s analyze grip shifters. 

For those who don’t know, grip shifters allow you to shift between the gears on your bike by twisting your wrist as if you’re revving a motorcycle. 

The right shifter controls the rear derailleur whereas the front derailleur is controlled by the left shifter. (To switch to a bigger chainring, you have to twist the left shifter backward.)

Before telling you why I prefer standard trigger shifters over “grippers”, I will first list the pros of grip shifters to make this post as honest as possible.

  • Looks

There is no denying that grip shifters have the potential to be very aesthetically pleasing thanks to their clean lines.  

More expensive/sophisticated units have matching handgrips making everything just super neat.

Meanwhile, trigger shifters…well…they just stick out (as if they have any other choice).

  • Speed and Efficiency

You can go up or down the gear range with a single twist of the wrist. Trigger shifters, on the other hand, take multiple presses (or pulls) of the lever.

  • Finger-friendly

The wrists rather than the fingers do the work. People who have limited finger mobility may find this point important. 

  • Less Accuracy Required

You don’t need the dexterity and accuracy of a pro archer or a pianist to operate a set of grip shifters. You also don’t have to aim for a tiny lever. 

  • Compatible With Mittens

The points above make grip shifters better for people who like to ride with large mittens during the winter. I am not one of you, but I know there are plenty of you. 

The same cannot be said about triggers – those require a lot more precision – something that mittens are not known for. For that reason, many winter cycling gloves keep the index finger autonomous.

  • Nothing to Poke At You

The absence of levers that could potentially stab you or at least poke you makes grip shifters somewhat more user-friendly. But I’ll be honest – this point is kinda stretching it as many variables need to align perfectly to get “stabbed” by a shift lever. It’s theoretically possible but practically highly unlikely.

  • Less Likely To Break In a Crash

Grip shifters are super unlikely to suffer damage during a crash as they are slick and protected by the brake levers (and your hands – lol). 

Trigger shifters, on the other hand, stand out and may get hurt during a fall.

A lot of pros, right?

Yes…but many of them have low practical value for the average cyclist. 

Now, it’s time for the downsides that functionally make grip shifters something you should avoid IMO: 

  • Less Reliable

Grip shifters become notably stiffer with use. And if your particular model is of low quality, it may fail you completely. 

If you clean them thoroughly, they should restart working. But if the manufacturing quality is bad, just do yourself a favor – throw them away for recycling and get a decent set of triggers.

  • The Wrists Could Be Compromised

Grip shifters require the wrists to be constantly moving. The wrists are either flexing or extending when shifting. The motion could put your wrists in a bad position during impact. The result is extra joint stress and compromised control.

  • Wet Conditions Become More Dangerous

Having wet grips always sucks. But grip shifters exacerbate the problem because the wrists are very active. Thus, the shifting motion makes it even easier to lose control.

  • Hot Weather Is Problematic Too

On a hot day, the connecting rubber of the shifter stretches and gets softer. The outcome is less accurate/crisp shifting. 

  • Delayed Braking

This is big. 

Grip shifters make it difficult if not impossible to stop and shift at the same time. Also, the switch between shifting and braking (or vice versa) adds a delay that just can’t be ignored, especially by racers.

But even if you aren’t racing, having delayed braking mechanics is just not ideal. The faster you can brake when needed, the better.

  • Ghost Shifts

Ghost shifting (a.k.a. accidental shifts) are not unheard of. If you go over a bump and move your palm around the grip, a shift might occur.

  • Super-limited Choices

Grip shifters are not popular, and the demand for them is low. Hence you get no variety. Most models are either poorly made and cheap or super expensive.

  • The grips may require tinkering

Unless your shifters come with dedicated grips, the existing grips will have to be cut/modified. Otherwise, the shifters won’t be positioned properly.

IMO, grip shifters have some nice things going for them, but the downsides are simply too annoying to deal with. 

For me, the biggest issue is the delayed braking and switching between shifting and braking. I can’t get over it. 

The lack of models to choose from is also annoying. If you have grip shifters on your bike right now and they work just fine, don’t change them…yet. Keep using them until they start to complain. But if you’re looking for new shifters do yourself a massive favor and stay away from grippers. 

Get yourself a decent set of triggers (even Shimano’s low end e.g., Tourney are just fine) and go ride. 

Trigger shifters are:

  • Faster
  • Safer
  • More accurate
  • Allow you to brake and shift simultaneously 
  • Provide faster braking
  • Come in a greater variety
  • Easier to replace
  • Don’t require custom grips

You get it. 

Until next time, friends. I have to go back to the cubicle now. 

– Rookie






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