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Ultegra brifters getting flakey

Old 11-06-22, 08:50 PM
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sunburst
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Ultegra brifters getting flakey

usual disclaimer, I mostly work on vintage bikes. However, when the stars align I can get indexing to work on a modern bike.

But my problem is stranger (to me) than indexing. When I release the rear brifter, using the inner lever, I get no click, the lever passes that shift point and nothing happens. This is an intermittent problem that has appeared recently, but today it was ridiculous almost to the point of having to terminate the ride (needed my gears for the hills). Sometimes when I repeatedly attempted the shift it behaved and the chain dropped down (in the rear). The outer lever always worked. When I got home and put it on the stand the symptoms almost totally disappeared. It was missing the shift maybe 5% of the time, instead of 70-80% on the road. Btw, this occasionally happens on the front brifter also, but much less often.

The brifters are Ultegra 10-speed, with Dura-Ace RD. Not too many miles on the bike even though it's 10+ years old. The shifting has been immaculate until this Jan when I put on a FSA K-Wing bar. I've had to tweak the indexing a bit since then in the rear, but this brifter problem just appeared the last two rides and seems unrelated. I did not change the cabling when I switched bars. I just loosened the brifter clamps and moved them from one bar to another. For completeness, it is a 3x10 setup. FSA triple with Ultegra FD.

Ideas/suggestions?
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Old 11-06-22, 08:55 PM
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This is common as brifters age, and usually means it's gunked up and needs to be cleaned and then re-lubed. Here's a video how-to.

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Old 11-06-22, 09:06 PM
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The other common shimano STI issue is frayed cable inside the brifter

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Old 11-06-22, 09:26 PM
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Two answers:
1. as Urbanknight said, Shimano brifters will gunk up with old grease over time. You need to flush it out with WD40, and then re-lubricate with Finish Line dry lube.
2. The Dura Ace/ Ultegra/ 105 10 speed brifter, even in the best of time, was vague feeling. Because the amount of cable pulled was so short, it's very sensitive to cable wear or friction. Make sure you have new Shimano SP41 housing, and slick type cable. Greasing the cable helps too. Especially the tight loops.
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Old 11-07-22, 01:12 AM
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What shifters? Ultegra is just a model range name, do you mean 6500, 6600, 6700 or 6800? as there are known issues with some of these designs which would help with answering a question like this
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Old 11-07-22, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by jimc101 View Post
What shifters? Ultegra is just a model range name, do you mean 6500, 6600, 6700 or 6800? as there are known issues with some of these designs which would help with answering a question like this
Shimano ST-6603. Fortunately, Giant included a few Shimano data sheets with the bike purchase. Otherwise, I could find no markings on the brifters, except "Flight Deck".

Thx for the tips everyone! I will keep you posted.
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Old 11-07-22, 08:15 PM
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I would agree the shifters might be gunked up. Try spraying out the inside with WD-40.

I doubt it's a frayed cable. If it were, it would take only a couple of rides between when shifting problems start and when shifting becomes non-existent.
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Old 11-07-22, 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Lombard View Post
I would agree the shifters might be gunked up. Try spraying out the inside with WD-40.

I doubt it's a frayed cable. If it were, it would take only a couple of rides between when shifting problems start and when shifting becomes non-existent.
Agreed, but new cables and housing is the logical starting point. Can't hurt to replace them, and might solve the problem. If that doesn't work, move on to cleaning and re-lubing the shifters as described.
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Old 11-07-22, 10:20 PM
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What is a brifter? I know what a shifter is and I know what a brake is but a brifter?
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Old 11-07-22, 11:09 PM
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Guess what I was working on last night?*

My experience has been the WD-40 flush doesn't get the old hard grease out - it just redistributes it and temporarily softens it (similar to flushing with White Lightning Clean Streak). Several weeks to months later, the problem will recur. It's the same problem that Rapidfire trigger shifters for mountain bikes develop with age.

What I've been doing with the Rapidfire trigger shifters is placing them in an ultrasonic cleaner with a heated 4:1 citrus cleaner solution for 5 to 6 8-minute duration passes, working the shifter pawls with an awl or scribe in between each pass to loosen up the mechanism and dislodge the old grease. Unfortunately, road brifters hide the pawls inside the mechanism and they can't be accessed without dismantling; e.g. destruction. I run the brifters thru the cleaner, and once the brifter starts shifting across the full range (typically after 1-3 passes), I'll continue cleaning it in the ultrasonic cleaner on high heat for another 40 minutes (5 passes) to try to get as much grease and gunk out as I can. Then let them thoroughly dry, and lube up with moly disulfide for a low-residue lubrication film. Using this method, I'm having near-100% success with MTB Rapidfire rehabilitation, and good success with brifters, even with shifters what wouldn't move or would stick in one spot mid-shift. Yes, it's a time and effort commitment (plus the need for an ultrasonic cleaner and solvent), and requires removal of the shifters from the bike (which means unwrapping and pulling cables), but I estimate I've saved many hundreds of dollars for myself and the nonprofits I work with in bringing gunky shifters back to life.

* Just finished two sets of brifters (105 and Tiagra, both 9-speed) for bikes I'm taking down to Tucson on Sunday for donation. I think I'll wear the moly stains on my fingers as a badge of hard work and success.
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Old 11-08-22, 06:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Agreed, but new cables and housing is the logical starting point. Can't hurt to replace them, and might solve the problem. If that doesn't work, move on to cleaning and re-lubing the shifters as described.
Agreed. And some older cables are the cheaper galvanized ones which oxidize and become rough causing friction and poor shifting.
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Old 11-08-22, 07:04 AM
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Are the cables now routed internally through the new handlebars? If so it may be the housing/cable may be at a harsher angle causing just enough friction to restrict smooth shifting.
I had this problem with me new Enve h'bars. They allow for internal routing but the angle is so harsh they just didn't allow for smooth shifting. I just placed the housings under the bars and the problem is solved. Shifting is smooth and fast as always.
It is never a bad idea to replace cables/housings periodically...make sure you have smooth arcs for fast and smooth shifting.
Good luck and keep us informed.
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Old 11-08-22, 07:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Lombard View Post
Agreed. And some older cables are the cheaper galvanized ones which oxidize and become rough causing friction and poor shifting.
Just to be clear, though, I think you are correct.: This does not sound like frayed shift cables. As you wrote, that usually manifests and escalates quickly within one ride. Ask me how I know.😃
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Old 11-08-22, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Just to be clear, though, I think you are correct.: This does not sound like frayed shift cables. As you wrote, that usually manifests and escalates quickly within one ride. Ask me how I know.😃
Not that it's ever happened to you, right?
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Old 11-08-22, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur View Post
My experience has been the WD-40 flush doesn't get the old hard grease out - it just redistributes it and temporarily softens it (similar to flushing with White Lightning Clean Streak). Several weeks to months later, the problem will recur. It's the same problem that Rapidfire trigger shifters for mountain bikes develop with age.
You gotta really flush them out, like to the point that there's a puddle on the ground and your can of WD40 feels noticeably lighter. But yes, even that is borrowed time in my experience, and it gets more and more frequent until you get tired of it and replace the brifters (or I've heard you can rebuild them?).
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Old 11-08-22, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
You gotta really flush them out, like to the point that there's a puddle on the ground and your can of WD40 feels noticeably lighter. But yes, even that is borrowed time in my experience, and it gets more and more frequent until you get tired of it and replace the brifters (or I've heard you can rebuild them?).
Rebuild them? If you're talking about Shimano, they aren't even serviceable. IOW, there is no way to take them apart. Welcome to the throw-away generation.
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Old 11-08-22, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Lombard View Post
Rebuild them? If you're talking about Shimano, they aren't even serviceable. IOW, there is no way to take them apart. Welcome to the throw-away generation.
Yeah I don't know. Someone once claimed they knew how to do it anyway, but I have no idea if he knew what he was talking about, let alone actually done it before.
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Old 11-08-22, 02:12 PM
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I've found on my 6600 STI that when it shifts down (adding tension and small to bigger cogs) but starts balking on up shifts (releasing tension bigger to smaller cogs) and the RD spring provides the movement it's time to replace the cable.
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Old 11-09-22, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by dedhed View Post
I've found on my 6600 STI that when it shifts down (adding tension and small to bigger cogs) but starts balking on up shifts (releasing tension bigger to smaller cogs) and the RD spring provides the movement it's time to replace the cable.
This makes a whole lot of sense to me. And it had crossed my mind also. I'm always suspicious when movement depends on a spring AND smooth cable operation. It's why replacing cable/housing is the first step when I have V-brake retraction problems (which seems to be every time I work on someone's V-brakes).

However, no one, as yet, has commented on why this problem shows up on the road but not on the stand. That is definitely a confusion factor for me. This behavior is common among shifting problems, I know, but if my cables were sticky, or shifter gunked up, why would it work so well on the stand? There is a night and day difference.
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Old 11-09-22, 06:00 PM
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Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
However, no one, as yet, has commented on why this problem shows up on the road but not on the stand. That is definitely a confusion factor for me. This behavior is common among shifting problems, I know, but if my cables were sticky, or shifter gunked up, why would it work so well on the stand? There is a night and day difference.
You fine tune your shifting while riding. Doing it while on the stand is good for ballpark tuning but you might get lucky, and it will work on the road too. Lots of reasons why it's different on the road such as frame flexing or the chain catches the cassette teeth differently when real power is applied, etc.
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Old 11-10-22, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
You gotta really flush them out, like to the point that there's a puddle on the ground and your can of WD40 feels noticeably lighter. But yes, even that is borrowed time in my experience, and it gets more and more frequent until you get tired of it and replace the brifters (or I've heard you can rebuild them?).
If the shifters were on one of my own bikes, I'd be OK with this approach, and I'm sure the WD-40 Company and Finish Line Products would be too.
But nearly all the bikes I'm working on right now are for donation to foster kids or for sale / work trade at the nonprofit co-op. The plan is they go to families with limited maintenance experience, sometimes in other cities, and I'll likely never see them again. I'm not comfortable sending out shifters that I know are likely to be a ticking time bomb in terms of eventually failing, and the organization's budget is limited in terms of buying new shifters for every bike that has gumminess.

That's why I'm glad I discovered the ultrasonic cleaner (and patience) is being remarkably effective in getting the gunk out permanently. To be safe, I tested the concept on my own bikes first, swapping in cleaned Rapidfire shifters or road brifters and then using them on rides for over a year. I had one road brifter stick again, but a second cleaning cycle seems to have solved the problem. The Rapidfires have been just about 100% successful, unless they had been crashed or another problem (although the ST-M290s that are currently bathing in the ultrasonic cleaner are being ornery, but when I started nothing was moving on them at all).

Yes, this method requires considerable work in terms of disconnecting & rethreading cables, removing and reinstalling grips or bar tape, removing other items if needed, and removing and reinstalling covers, adjusting barrels, indicators, etc. But it seems to work for the long term when nothing else does.
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Old 11-10-22, 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Yeah I don't know. Someone once claimed they knew how to do it anyway, but I have no idea if he knew what he was talking about, let alone actually done it before.
Before I discovered the ultrasonic method, I was rather frustrated with my earlier system, which involved long (as in multi-day) soaks in a WD-40 / Liquid Wrench solution, then working the mechanism. So I undid the nuts, popped off the retaining clips on the pawls...

...and I keep the parts around to remind me to never do it again. Reassembly, even with careful notes and photos, seems to require 5 to 7 sets of teeny hands to hold multiple items in each spot to get it right. Being that I am roughly anatomically normal and don't have ready access to several very patient small-fingered volunteers, it was an utter failure.
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Old 11-10-22, 04:37 PM
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RCMoeur Hmmmm, I have a small ultrasonic cleaner. Might give it a try next time I have a sticky shifter. Thanks!
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Old 11-14-22, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by icemilkcoffee View Post
Two answers:
1. as Urbanknight said, Shimano brifters will gunk up with old grease over time. You need to flush it out with WD40, and then re-lubricate with Finish Line dry lube.
2. The Dura Ace/ Ultegra/ 105 10 speed brifter, even in the best of time, was vague feeling. Because the amount of cable pulled was so short, it's very sensitive to cable wear or friction. Make sure you have new Shimano SP41 housing, and slick type cable. Greasing the cable helps too. Especially the tight loops.

This worked!

I used WD40, then Tri-Flo, with the bike upside down like this video. I rode in the hills yesterday and it didn't miss a shift.
I will return with a long-term report the next time this is necessary. I have no idea about longevity, but if it lasts a year, that will be a big win.
If the problem returns fairly soon, I'll replace the cable and housing before cleaning again.

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Old 11-16-22, 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
I have no idea about longevity, but if it lasts a year, that will be a big win.
My experience was more like two months, then gradually shortening intervals until I finally gave up and replaced the shifters. Hopefully your experience will differ.
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