Review: Retroshift brake levers with shifters

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Integrated shift/brake levers have been around for a long time now, but they aren’t getting any cheaper. As more people take up racing cyclocross, it has become obvious these shifters don’t like the inevitable exposure to sand, mud, and power washers. And if you race long enough, one of your crashes are going to damage those expensive shifters hanging off the front of your bars.

That’s where Retroshift comes in. Taking off-the-shelf brake levers and grafting a modern version of the thumbshifter to the front, Retroshift created a durable and relatively inexpensive shifting alternative.

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I’m not much of a cyclocross racer, but I have broken my fair share of road shifters crashing in all kinds of places: icy commutes, off-road excursions on my road bike, general tom-foolery. In fact, for at least a decade, all my personal drop bar bikes either ran sans gears, or used bar-end or down tube shifters.

The Retroshifts come in a few configurations for single ring set-ups, long- or short-pull levers, and 8-, 9-, or 10-speed shifters. I used a 9-speed short-pull set on a road bike, and a 10-speed long-reach set on a cyclocross bike with disc brakes.

To be succinct: these things work and are surprisingly intuitive. It took me all of one ride to adjust to the new shifters, and after that, I spent little time thinking about them. The front shifter isn’t indexed and works well with double and triple cranks. The rear shifter fired off shifts with precision.

There are some drawbacks to this system, however. The levers can be awkward to shift in certain gear combos, and while it is possible to shift the entire range of the cassette in one motion, the throw of the shifter is too long for normal-sized hands to accomplish. The shifters are only reachable from the hoods, so those who spend a lot of time in the drops would be better off with bar-end shifters. The shape of the hoods is not as ergonomic as modern integrated shifters, but since I’ve started this review, the brake levers have been updated. And finally, some folks seem put off by the non-aero routing of the shift cable, but I have no such hang-ups.

All parts are replaceable at reasonable rates, and the shifters are available separately for future upgrades. There is even a crash replacement program: send back a broken shifter, get a new one for $24!

Prices range from $99 (brake levers and mounts only, provide your own shifters) to $189 for a full 10-speed set up. The shifter mounts are available in a bunch of colors for those looking to match your team kit or just add a little flair to your life. You can also buy a setup for a single-ring or even singlespeed bikes—yes, shifters for singlespeeds, just take a look.

For cyclocross racing or more practical uses, I’m sold on the Retroshift idea. Made in U.S.A. and Taiwan.

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