Retroshift Brake-Shifter Mounts: Quick Review: by Guitar Ted
In the realm of drop bar shifters there are what is commonly referred to as “brifters”, (The brake lever perch houses the shifting mechanism and is part of the shifting levers), or you have bar end shifters which mount off the ends of your drops. These are the most common types, but certainly there are other variations. One of those variations seeks to combine the old bar end shifter with the brake lever for a new version of the “brifter” called Retroshift.
Retroshift was started by some fellows living in Portland, Oregon that call themselves “The Goats”. These guys are in to cyclo-cross, and in the Pac-NorthWest, that means lots of mud, gunk, and rain. This isn’t very nice to your typical road bike shifting mechanism, so Retroshift was born in part as a way to answer that need for a bombproof, simple, easy to use shifter that didn’t cost an arm and a leg like “brifter” levers do when they get corroded by the elements, broken, or damaged in a crash.
The Retroshift component is basically a Tektro brake lever with an aluminum and steel mount for any Shimano type friction down tube shifter, or Shimano “bar end” shifter. Retroshift sells plain levers, a set of levers with one Retroshift mount, for 1X set ups, or as our test sample, with two Retroshift mounts. These are called the “zero”,”one”, and “two” models, respectively. The model “two” sells for $119.00 and comes in “Feldman Grey”, (tested), or “Werle Red”.
Installation: Retroshift sends you the lever/mount, you provide the shift lever itself in the form of a Shimano down tube lever or Shimano bar end shifter. Some other friction down tube shifters may also work, like Rivendell “Silver” shift levers.Retroshift does sell flat bases for switching out with concave based down tube shifter mounts.
I used a set of 9 speed bar end shifters that swapped over seamlessly. These replaced a set of older Ultegra “brifters” and in the process I saved about 100 grams of weight. I did use new cables and housings for the install, and I would recommend that you do as well. Using cut cables and housings from the old set up probably will prove to be frustrating, at the minimum, and not possible at the worst.
After getting everything tuned back up, and the bars re-wrapped, I was good to go. I was a bit concerned about the “flying” cable runs, which were somewhat reminiscent of non-aero levers, but my fears were unfounded. These cables are perhaps unconventional looking, but are definitely not in the way of riding at all. The only issue here was trying to decide how to route everything down the top tube cable stops on my Black Mountain Cycles “Monster Cross” rig, but I finally settled on an efficient solution.
Ride Performance: Retroshift levers will work best if you are a “hoods” riding type of guy or gal. Seems that is the way most folks ride their drop bars on roads these days anyway, so it probably isn’t an issue for most folks. However; if you are one of those rare breed of cats that hangs out in the drops all the time, the Retroshift levers will prove to be a challenge. The “Goats” at Retroshift freely admit these won’t work from the drops, and they are correct. So, it took me a bit of time to acclimate myself to riding on the hoods more than I do, but I figured it out.
The shifters do something I wasn’t considering at first, but they offer a new way to perch your hands and fingers while riding. I typically will drape my thumb on the inside of a shift lever and my index and middle fingers on the outer side of the shift lever.This was comfortable and actually spread out the pressure of my hands on the hoods in a different way that I happened to like.
Ergonomics aside, the levers were easy to operate from the hoods and of course, being bar end shifters, the action was exactly what you would expect: Crisp, positive, and reliable. The bigger question is how these shift levers would play with braking from the hoods. Well, I am happy to report that this was a non-issue, really. Braking from the hoods was as easy as any other road type shift/brake lever I’ve ridden.
Conclusions: The Retroshift levers just may be the ticket for you if you have access to the shift levers and can’t spend the literally hundreds of dollars for new 9 or 10 speed “brifters” for your cyclo-cross, adventure, gravel road, or drop bar mountain bike rig. I can see cyclo-tourists also gravitating to these for the ease of use, simplicity, and reliability they provide. One thing they don’t do just yet is work with linear pull or mountain bike type mechanical disc brakes, but Retroshift should have levers compatible with those brakes out soon.
They do not cotton to those who have set ups that are dialed for being in the drops all the time, unfortunately, but otherwise, the Retroshift system is an excellent alternative for those with the need to have durable, dead simple shift/brake levers. There is no doubt that my old Ultegra set up was more versatile, but it was also more prone to damage, and was degrading over time more quickly due to my use of them on gravel road rides. Once those Ultegra levers do degrade too far for my liking, the replacement cost will be much higher than this set of Retroshift levers, which probably would be still functioning at a high level in comparison. Is that worth anything to you? If so, the Retroshift products may be for you. For their designed intentions, I can find no fault with them; however, they are not for everyone.
For more information and videoed examples of these shifters in use, see the Retroshift site.
Note: Retroshift sent the Retroshift “two” levers/mounts at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches for test/review. We were not paid, nor bribed to do this review and I strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.