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  1. #1
    Senior Member rothenfield1's Avatar
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    STI vs. Bar-End Shifters

    I started a post looking for advice about building a modern loaded tourer (as many have done before, and many will in the future). I have many questions about components and such, but there was one component that I Ďthoughtí I was settled on. The shifters. I have 2 bikes with brifters and am very comfortable with them. I also have had many bikes with down-tube shifters; and, although they do take a bit of a balancing act sometimes to reach down for, Iíve come to enjoy them.

    When I first thought to build a modern touring bike, the first picture that came to mind was a bike with barcons. After posting my build thread however, one of the respondents made a very good argument for brake shifters. The part that I could really relate to was that people who use brifters shift more often. I would add that they probably use the front derail more often as well. On a properly fitted bike, I most often ride with my hands on the brake levers. Therefore, it is quit natural to shift frequently.

    Iím a bit older and tend to lean towards that which is tried and true. But, Iím not above changing my ways if the evidence warrants. So I ask the question to you modern day road warriors, are brake shifters a better choice for a touring bike over the traditional bar-end shifter?

  2. #2
    One legged rider
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    I have bikes with all three systems, and my favorite is brifters, followed by downtube shifters, followed by bar end shifters....now with a caveat, on my LHT with bar end shifters, the only thing I don't like about them is my knee hits them sometimes climbing and shifts the gears. This could be caused by my riding style, stem length, handlebar width, etc. If I could correct this, which I have not tried to do, it would probably be my favorite shifting system for a touring bike. I like brifters, but mostly just for road cycling. They are too finiky for touring in my opinion.

  3. #3
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    I am not sure what you mean by brake shifter since you also are using the term brifter. Are you using these terms interchangeably or is the brake shifter something else (like a mountain bike brake and shifter unit)? I assume you will use drop bars, otherwise you would not be talking about brifters.

    For a long distance bike you want what works for you and some experimentation does not hurt. If you start with bar end shifters and change to something else, the bar end shifters did not cost much compared to brifters and you can write it off as a failed experiment. It took me a couple years to get the component mix that I finally settled on when I built my first touring bike.

    Other options also exist if you buy the bar end shifters and decide against them on the ends of the bars: (1) The bar end shifters can also be used on the ends of some styles of trekking bars if you decide to experiment with your bars, but there can be tubing diameter issues. (2) Some that did not like bar end shifters are quite happy with Paul Thumbies that allow you to use your shifters on the bars. (3) Another less common option to use your bar end shifters is Kelly Takeoffs. (4) I am not sure if the bar end shifters would fit on your down tube bosses and work as down tube shifters, they might but I have never seen anybody use them that way.

    If you choose to sell used bar ends shifters, there is a market for them. A friend of mine was quite surprised to see that I was using "tri shifters" on the ends of my handlebars, he does triathalons and he was unaware that they could be used for anything other than triathalon bars and he actually called them tri shifters.

    I have a bias to bar ends shifters, I started using them in the 1970s as the only option to have my shifters on the bars at that time. (I do not consider stem mounted shifters from the 1970s to be truly handlebar mounted.) I have only tried brifters once and did not like them, although with only one try I readily admit that I did not give them a fair chance.

  4. #4
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    I've toured with three systems - downtube shifters in the eighties, bar-end shifters more recently and now STI. I would unhesitatingly recommend STI. Much more convenient, and you do shift more often and therefore spend all your time in the right gear. They probably add fractionally to the weight of the bike, but hey - you're touring.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  5. #5
    Senior Member zeppinger's Avatar
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    You are probably correct that you will shift more often with STI but the big question is, does it matter? Shifting often and not shifting so often has more to do with riding style than actual efficiency in my opinion.

    Do this experiment: Ride a typical route that you often take, such as to work or the library, and count the number of times you shift, round trip, and record your time. The next time you take that route do the same thing except cut the number of shifts you do in half and see if it makes a significant difference in time or pleasure for the ride.

    Also, I would imagine that shifting more often, wether more efficient or not, will cause more wear and tear on the drive system and maybe once of several factors that contribute to STI shifters being, "finicky" on a long tour.

  6. #6
    Fred-ish rogerstg's Avatar
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    I prefer bar ends when using bars that flare, like nitto randonneurbars. I don't like how brifters mount at an angle, which changes the feel of shifting. I prefer brifters for normal bar styles though. The relatively shallow drop of rando bar styles tends to keep your torso at the same position whether your hands are on the hoods or holding the end of the bar (to shift)

    Also, I prefer either over downtubes shifters because I like to maintain contact with my bars while shifting.

  7. #7
    In the wind mercator's Avatar
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    I prefer brifters for the convenience and comfort. But I chose barcons for my touring bike since they are more fault tolerant. My only complaint about them is sometimes my knees hit the levers when standing. I think I shift as often with either system.

  8. #8
    Senior Member JeanM's Avatar
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    Preference to brifters. With a crankset that is MTB (22-34-44) and a cassette of 14-25, which means that every ratio is consecutive and that all three chain rings in the front are sollicitated, it is nice to be able to shift at will. Then again, there is the matter of repairability. In over 10000 km I haven't had a failure but, just in case, you could carry a down tube shifter in your bags for an easy fix.

    Those are unorthodox choices but it may help to be aware of such.

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    I prefer combined brake/gear levers, esp on hard descents.
    With my current Campagnolo Mirage ergolevers I carry a backup downtube shifter in my spares kit. This is primarily so I can use any Shimano replacement rear mech. Now that I cam converting to Tiagra STI levers Im not sure if I still need to carry this. It may be useful as a friction-mode option but I wont need it for compatibility issues.

  10. #10
    Senior Member deepakvrao's Avatar
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    If you are transporting your bike in soft bags, like I do, I would suggest bar ends. Less chances of damage I think, and cheaper as well as easier to repair in case they do get damaged.

  11. #11
    Macro Geek
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    I have been touring with brifters since 2004, and love them. There are down tube shifters on my old touring bike (bought 25 years ago), and as much as I like the bike, I find that removing a hand from the handlebar to shift is a nuisance. I would hate to go over a big bump or get a blowout with only one hand on the handlebars, but so far, my luck has held!

  12. #12
    Senior Member TonyS's Avatar
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    Just built my Nashie with barcons, and God bless 'em! Crisp, exact shifting every time that you can cycle through multiple gears at once... it's like having downtube shifters up where you can actually reach 'em. My knee does hit the right shifter if I stop too fast or back my frame up between my legs to reach for something (my girlfriend's bike, for instance) but as far as I know I am unable to hit them with my knees while actually on the bike. And my stem's too short, so there you go. Plus there is one moving part in a barcon. So for touring, that's what I'm gonna go with.

    (Oh, and I had to go with the barcons because I used a mountain groupset on my bike )

  13. #13
    Senior Member rothenfield1's Avatar
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    Are there issues with using brake shifters with an MTB drivetrain. I am thinking about using a Sugino XD 48/36/25t crank, an 11-32 9spd cassette, with XT RD.

  14. #14
    Senior Member TomT74's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rothenfield1 View Post
    Are there issues with using brake shifters with an MTB drivetrain. I am thinking about using a Sugino XD 48/36/25t crank, an 11-32 9spd cassette, with XT RD.
    No issues if you're using Shimano STI with your XT rear mech.
    Ride Bike.

  15. #15
    Senior Member TomT74's Avatar
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    I'm about ready to change out my touring bike from Tiagra brifters to regular aero levers and a set of Dura-Ace 9-speed barcons I have laying around. Regarding the aero levers, I see Tektro and Cane Creek. Anyone have a strong preference wither way?
    Ride Bike.

  16. #16
    ah.... sure. kayakdiver's Avatar
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    Love my sti shifters and wouldn't consider bar ends for touring but that's just me. My second choice would be downtube. We all like different stuff for different reasons but a modern sti shifter is far from being the weak link. So many worry about shifters and rolls on crap wheels that aren't going to be reliable and think nothing of it.

    I say go with what you like when it comes to this question and enjoy the ride.
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  17. #17
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    Just adding my two cents:

    I love bar end shifters... how solidly they shift, how tough the feel and somehow I even enjoy the slightly old-fashioned feel. Further, and perhaps more importantly, I like not having them coupled to my brake lever so that I have more flexibility in terms of how I set things up... and cheaper repairs, if something were to happen. Notably, I prefer linear-pull brakes (aka V-brakes) to cantilevers, and I very much appreciate not having to use Travel Agents because with bar-end shifters I could build my bike with Tektro RL520 levers (they're designed specifically to pull the amount of cable necessary for linear-pull brakes).

    -D

  18. #18
    Senior Member pasopia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TomT74 View Post
    I'm about ready to change out my touring bike from Tiagra brifters to regular aero levers and a set of Dura-Ace 9-speed barcons I have laying around. Regarding the aero levers, I see Tektro and Cane Creek. Anyone have a strong preference wither way?
    The tektro and cane creek levers are the same. The cane creek levers just have a pattern on the hoods, otherwise they are identical.

  19. #19
    Senior Member porter's Avatar
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    When I got my first touring bike I was a bit nervous getting bar end shifters having only used STI. After 5min on the road I had pretty much forgotten about them - easy to use and haven't had any safety issues using them. My girl friend and I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route last year using them without any problems; we were quite often on rough steep ground.

    I think rogerstg makes a good point about handlebar selection - we both have nitto randoneer bars on our bikes and these spray the drops out a bit (which I really like). I could see that with a more traditional bar there could be some knee problems with the drops closer to the frame depending on bike setup. I occasionally knock one of them when getting on/off the bike but it is very occasional.

    I don't know how long bar end shifters are supposed to last - we have both had rear shifting problems whilst on tour; with mine I think it was the shifters but Nancy's was a wearing rear derailleur. In both instances we could use most of the rear cassette except for one cog (so we wouldn't have stuck in the middle of nowhere if we had STI) but that cog was a gear we used a lot for climbing so it was useful to be able to switch to friction mode.

  20. #20
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    I rode for decades with downtube shifters. I faced the same choice last year when I was building up a new (actually, 30-year-old) touring bike. I just couldn't stand bar end shifters. For me, dealing with something on the end of my bars was just a destabilizing nuisance. Others obviously love them, and my lbs was annoyed that I would not go with them, but I really love my Campys.

  21. #21
    Senior Member digger's Avatar
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    I've gone from DTs to BEs to brifters. I'm not going back to DTs that's for sure.

    My choice, by far, are brifters. I like the ability to brake and shift at the same time, such as when slowing down and shifting to a lower gear.

    The only caution I would have about brifters on a touring bike is the....finickiness of a brifter. If/when the gearing no longer shifts smoothly, you'll be required to turn the barrel adjuster for better shifting. However, with BEs you can switch to friction mode and adjust later, which is especially good if you are not mechanically inclined.

    Brifters do have a "life" and will eventually wear and have more moving parts and thus increased chance of something going wrong. Whereas BEs can last almost forever and have no springs or gizmos inside of 'em. I had a set for 30 years and eventually gave them away (they were 7 speed) to a guy you uses them on a touring bike now.

    I helped a friend of mine build a touring bike just last year. She is older (mid 50s) and was debating on brifters and BEs. I gave my opinion of both and pros and cons. She decided on BEs because she did not want the hassle of adjusting shifting should they go out of adjustment, she was worried about them breaking down and she is not that mechanically inclined. She wasn't worried about "speed" when touring and since she would be touring on rural type roads (not the stop and go of more urban areas), the "braking and shifting" advantage of brifters wasn't high on the list.

    SO, if you are going to be touring somewhere where help is not readily available AND if you are not that mechanically inclined, AND this bike is not going to be used for commutuing in an urban area*, then I would suggest BEs.

    Otherwise, brifters have come a long way since their introduction...oh, when was that? early 90s, me thinks?

    *Yes, many people use BEs on commutting bikes, and yes, they can be used without trouble. However, _I_ would prefer brifters and would recommend same for commuting. JMHO.
    Originally posted by Bones_McBones: Wow Digger, wow! You've earned my respect.... I know ashoposo got werked up. You are the gutter pig of Trollheim.

  22. #22
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    I'll second the bar top shifters ..... These can be had in friction(from cheap Sunrace to nice Suntour) or STI via Paul Thumbies using Shimano barcons. http://www.paulcomp.com/thumbies.html

  23. #23
    Senior Member TomT74's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pasopia View Post
    The tektro and cane creek levers are the same. The cane creek levers just have a pattern on the hoods, otherwise they are identical.
    Thanks. Makes the choice easy, as I can get tektro's for much less cash.
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  24. #24
    But wait... I AM the man. NoGaBiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zeppinger View Post
    You are probably correct that you will shift more often with STI but the big question is, does it matter? Shifting often and not shifting so often has more to do with riding style than actual efficiency in my opinion.

    Do this experiment: Ride a typical route that you often take, such as to work or the library, and count the number of times you shift, round trip, and record your time. The next time you take that route do the same thing except cut the number of shifts you do in half and see if it makes a significant difference in time or pleasure for the ride.
    ??? Timing your ride won't tell you whether you are burning more calories than needed or damaging your knees from grinding too big a gear. There is a best gear for every situation. Sure, that best gear may be different for different people in the same situation, but for any given person there is a best gear at all times. If you are one or even two away from that best gear and you know it, but there's a change in terrain up ahead 150 feet where you can tell you'll have to change gears, a barcon or downtube user may elect to skip the shift he should make right now, knowing that in a few seconds he'll just have to shift again. I know that has been my practice when using barcons and DTs in the past. Now, I have but to think that I might be more comfortable in the 15 than the 17 and my hands are hard-wired to my brain in such a way that I'm instantly in the 15. Ten seconds later I'll go to the 19 if warranted.

    I may not finish the ride faster this way, but I will have spent more time in the correct gear, which either matters or it doesn't. I think it does.

    If a person rode on the flat part of the drops all the time, of course, the Barcons would have the same advantage over Brifters that Brifters have over Barcons if you ride on the hoods or the flats. But even in the regular drops, up on the curves where you can grab your brakes, the brifters still have the big advantage of not making you move your hands to shift.
    Stick it to the man.

  25. #25
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mercator View Post
    I prefer brifters for the convenience and comfort. But I chose barcons for my touring bike since they are more fault tolerant. My only complaint about them is sometimes my knees hit the levers when standing. I think I shift as often with either system.
    Quote Originally Posted by deepakvrao View Post
    If you are transporting your bike in soft bags, like I do, I would suggest bar ends. Less chances of damage I think, and cheaper as well as easier to repair in case they do get damaged.
    STI shifters aren't nearly as delicate as all that. No index shifter is really all that delicate. I've been using index shifting since the mid90s and have had one failure. That's over 20+ bikes and 30 to 35 shifters (upgrades). Shifters just don't go bad that often.

    I have STI on my touring bike and on my commuting bike. The commuting bike shifters are the oldest (2003) and most used set of road shifters I own and they are still going strong even with nearly daily year around use. I certainly don't treat them with kid gloves, either.

    Cable adjustments are simple and take 30 seconds to fix. If your bike isn't shifting right, you should fix it rather than switch over to friction mode. Most of the issues can even be fixed while riding
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