We're riding an early 90's Santana Arriva. It's an 8 speed with bar end shifters. I would really like to ditch the bar ends and go with some brifters. I like the idea of the stronger chain/possibly easier to tune shifting that comes with an 8 speed so I'd like to keep it an 8 speed if possible. Are there any good options for using brifters and keeping this bike an 8 speed? Would it be better to convert to 9 speed if I would like brifters? Doing this as frugally as possible would sit better with my wife, but I'm wondering if there are any inexpensive choices besides Shimano Tiagra? Our rear derailleur is the original Shimano XTR that came on the bike. We ride a triple so that is also another factor to consider. I might even be willing to put flat bars on it and use mtn bike thumb shifters if that would work because I love the shifting on my mtn bike and it's an 8 speed, not sure what I'd think about flat bars for 4 hour rides though.
Any and all input is welcome and appreciated,