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Local entrepreneur dreams big with new “Retroshift” system

Posted by on December 2nd, 2011 at 3:40 pm

The world of bicycle shifting is dominated by two big names: Shimano and Campagnolo (and to a lesser extent SRAM). Now an upstart Portland entrepreneur is throwing his hat in the ring with a new product called Retroshift.

As its name implies, Retroshift is old technology with a new spin. The product is a lever for road bikes similar to an “STI” mechanical lever that allows riders to shift and brake at the same time. The big difference with Retroshift is that the shifter sits in front of the brake lever and the shifter itself is nothing more than an old bar-end or downtube shifter.

Watch the video below to see how it works:

As you can see in the video, with Retroshift you can slam through an entire gear range in less than one second. The system was invented by Adam Clement, a 44-year old Portland resident who came to the United States from Britain in 1993. After he got a job at the Hollywood Bike Gallery store, he worked his way up to manager before taking a job in international sales for Anodizing Inc., a Portland-based manufacturer that specializes in aluminum.

“This idea formed in my mind in about 1993,” said Clement during a phone interview yesterday, “around the same time that STI came out. Most people have gone to STI on road bikes; but I have never given up my Simplex shifters [a classic French brand] and I never will.”

The basic idea of the Retroshift system, says Clement, was a quest for a simpler way to shift on a bicycle.

For Clement, there’s an appeal to the Simplex-style shifters that goes beyond their ease-of-use and simplicity. “There’s something about them… Like vinyl records. There’s more to life than the click of technology. I like to think of Retroshift as simply advanced… Our lives are so complicated there’s an advantage to having a simpler system.”

When asked why he thinks the big companies, with their million dollar R & D budgets and huge staffs, haven’t come up with this idea themselves, Clement thinks it’s probably because they feel the market would never be large enough.

As for the idea itself, Clement is humble. “Nothing in the bike industry is totally new. There’s a 1978 patent that shows you STI before Shimano even did it. Am I brilliant? No. It was born as much from a simple mind as a complex one. I don’t even have an engineering degree and this is what came up in my mind.”

From photos and the video it seems pretty straightforward how to use it; but Clement says you’ve got to actually try it out to fully understand. “It shouldn’t work, but it just does. Your fingers reach around it easily, you can shift and brake at the same time. It’s very simple, very natural.”

The system has particular appeal for cyclocross racers who spend a lot of up on the hoods of their bars. Clement has had about 20 local racers using them for several months — everyone from beginner riders to well-known pro Erik Tonkin.

Tonkin, who also owns Sellwood Cycle Repair, loves the system and actually won his first race using them out at the Kruger’s Kermesse on Sauvie Island last month. Tonkin was quoted in BikeRumor last week saying, “I’m surprised that STI levers didn’t evolve by way of the Retro Shift design… The Retro Shift levers have that ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ quality.”

Clement knows that his product won’t appeal to some riders who favor flashy gear and who may have never experienced old-school shifters. His brother, a new rider, finds Retroshift “offensive.” “But older cyclists,” says Clement, “who have been around a while are thrilled with it. ‘This makes so much sense’ they say.”

Clement is dedicated to local production and says that 75% of the current production — the anodizing, machining and engraving — is done right here in Portland. The only thing that comes from overseas (Taiwan) is the Tektro lever that provides the base of Clement’s design (a design that was co-created by none other than famed local bike builder Mark DiNucci). “I dumped a lot of money into lawyers and patents, because I wanted to protect the design and I want things to be made in the U.S.”

Eventually Clement wants to make 100% of the product in Portland.

Response to Retroshift has already been strong, even without much marketing to speak of. Clement plans to sell them from his website; except for Portland customers who will have to get them from their local bike shop.

Retroshift costs $120 a pair and the first big production batch is set to be ready by December 15th. They come without shifters and will work with any type of old bar-end or downtube shifters. Another exciting aspect of the Retroshift system is that they give new life to older, 7-speed cassettes lying around. The system works with older parts that aren’t compatible with STI. It gives those old parts, “A new lease on life,” says Clement

Learn more at Retroshift.com. For a more tech-oriented perspective, read the BikeRumor story.

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Comments
  • dan December 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Excuse me if I missed this: are these friction or indexed?

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    • Ben Guernsey December 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      Either, depending on the downtube shifter you attach to it.

      I dont think Id use these on my race bike, personally. But I’d happily toss them on my around town bike. Great to have yet one more bike element made locally.

      Not to be a stickler, but at the beginning of the article Jonathan mentions the three big component manufacturers. I’d say its more like Shimano, SRAM and to a lesser extent Campagnolo over the past few years. Campy has been largely absent except from racers already on Campy or high end euro brand bikes, because their price point is so high.

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      • Spex December 3, 2011 at 4:25 am

        I was gonna say the same thing, thank you for stating that.

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    • Scott December 2, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      Indexed

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  • FauxPorteur December 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    If they work like other bar-end/aero-bar/thumbie adaptors, the pods that accept the shifters should work with most downtube or bar end shifters. You could use pure friction shifters, micro-ratchet Suntour type or more modern Simano bar end index-right-side/friction-left-side levers. Indexing up front is silly and hardly ever works well (for long) and makes it very hard to mix/match parts or dial in shifting on even slightly unorthodox front chainring choices.

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  • Unotache December 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Very cool. Though SRAM might argue they are a bit more dominant than Campagnolo.

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    • davemess December 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      Depends where you live. Go to Italy.

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  • Chris December 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I have to admit I thought these were silly til I saw Tonkin’s endorsement. If fast guys say it’s cool it must be cool!

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    • sorebore December 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      sheeeeeeeeeeeep . must be cool if racers say so.
      I cant take it anymore. No more bike blogs for me.

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      • tonyt December 3, 2011 at 11:31 am

        Tonkin ain’t just any racer, he’s a freakin institution around here and a solid, no BS kind of dude.

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        • sorebore December 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

          Eric is awesome!!! And so are grass root engineering efforts!!! Here is to wishing that people could wrap their brains around an idea that is inspired in a garage and not a board room. Please do not misconstrue my note as a jab at Eric, it is more of a question on the topic of public acceptance of innovation. Please check out “Framing Production” by Paul Rosen. The most complete study authored on this topic.

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  • BURR December 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    those aren’t bar end shifters, they are either old downtube shifters or old bar top thumb shifters as used circa the mid 80′s on flat bar mountain bikes

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    • Tony Pereira December 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Typical bar-end shifters from Shimano mount on the same style boss as down tube shifters. Top mount thumb shifters are a whole different animal that usually uses their own proprietary mount. The shifter in the first picture of this article is a bar-end shifter. The rest are down tube shifters.

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      • sorebore December 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm

        Thanks for the kind clarification T.P., I was going to be far less so.

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      • BURR December 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

        Shimano, that explains everything…

        ;-)

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  • Adam December 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I would have to try these things for myself. It looks like the shifters would get in the way of braking.

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  • Jamesw2 December 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I have a Trek1420 that i put mt bike speed shifters on. I like this idea better because it opens up handle bar space

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  • daivd December 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    wow to think that you could go with monster gearing sing the indexing of say a 11/36 or 12/36 indless opps here. i’ll be nabbing a set of these.

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  • N.I.K. December 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Thirding the remarks on Shimano, SRAM, and Campy. Lots of mass-produced bikes of varying prices are coming stock with SRAM, and in the US, it’s *plenty* more than Campy. And I can count the number of times I’ve seen Campy-equipped bikes roll into the shop I work for on one hand for the past *year*, and we’re a high-end shop

    Relevant to this product, I wonder about how reliable these would be after a crash vs. brifter-style levers from the big three. And I’m not so much saying that brifters would be more reliable, but the reason brifters break in a crash tends to be that the handlebars get smashed into the ground and the brifters get damaged because they stick out from the front of the bars. The couple of times I’ve ever seen downtube or bar-end shifters break, they’ve been unsalvageable because of the shift lever or body suffering cracking or fatigue; the problem winds up being that the shifter won’t sit flush on the boss or tighten to it fully, and thus it can rotate more than 180 degrees, which means it doesn’t stop properly at either end of travel even in friction mode. Putting a different type of shifter on the front of the brake lever seems like it’d increase the possibility of this kind of breakage in a crash. I can’t see any advantage to this in reliability over a brifter other than to say that you can run it in friction mode and not worry about cable stretch effecting indexing as indexing isn’t there.

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    • sorebore December 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      Don’t crash

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  • N.I.K. December 2, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I should add that I realize that durability isn’t a touted feature above, I’m just saying, “We should be cautious not to pitch it in the light of, ‘This is durable, not like that new-fangled flashy stuff!’ ala every last retrogrouch over on place like VeloNews and Bikerumor.” :) The ability to fit these for just about any deraileur setup out there is quite cool, and once they’re picked up by a national distributor, I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind for when one of my customers breaks a brifter and then has a bought of sticker shock when I explain how much it’ll cost for a replacement!

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  • N.I.K. December 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Bout of sticker shock. Bah. [language!]

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  • dwainedibbly December 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Brilliant! (I guess that makes me an old guy, huh?)

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  • maxadders December 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Paul’s been doing essentially the same thing for years with its Thumbies…just not up front on the hoods.

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    • resopmok December 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      Paul’s thumbies are expensive too, trust me I bought some to replace the bar ends that came stock with my cross-check. I don’t really like standard road bars, but if I did, I would definitely go with this over brifters. I really hope more people than the standard retrogrouch get excited about them.

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  • Al from PA December 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Look like a variation on Kelly Take-Offs.

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  • Ross Nicholson December 2, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Brilliant.

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  • GlowBoy December 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Nice, but I’ll have to hold out for a V-brake compatible version. All three of my bikes use drop bars and two of those use V brakes or discs that require the same pull. STI on the bike with brakes that require road pull, barcons on the V bike, IRD thumbies (just like the Pauls) with barcons on the disc bike.

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  • A-biker December 3, 2011 at 4:45 am

    At least he acknowledges the fact that this isn’t a new idea. Its more of a he patented it first sort of deal, which is fine. I am glad to see a PDXer throwing something into the mix.

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  • Tourbiker December 3, 2011 at 6:13 am

    These would work well on fully loaded touring setups. Long as the levers clear any handlebar bag.
    would leave room at bar end for a mirror.

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  • joel December 3, 2011 at 6:50 am

    as usual, the french thought of it first, and 60 years ago :)

    http://www.blackbirdsf.org/rebour/1949.10.3.html

    http://www.blackbirdsf.org/rebour/1951.11.4.html

    and theres nothing wrong in the slightest with resurrecting a good idea! (or, for that matter, coming up with it independently some time later, as the case may be!)

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  • Jim Lee December 3, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Multiple gears are unnecessary.

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    • Machu Picchu December 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      So are bicycles, but some choose to enjoy the mechanical advantage of both.

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  • John S December 3, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I personally might not like the wrist action that is needed to do the shifts. But the simplicity of downtube or bar end shifters (they are interchangeable btw) is great !. So i might not use them for my main rear shifter, but they would be great for a front derailler setup, ie for a triple shifter, etc, where its nice to trim the cage.

    Also like someone already mentioned, hopefully they will as easily designed/mounted to a tektro v-brake lever. With the decreased leverage and cable tension, are the basis for less spongy/flexible brakes.

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  • Dabby December 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Interesting….
    They do really seem to hang out there though.

    The real gem of the thumb shifters was the Suntour XC(PRO?) with the red 8 on it.
    It allowed you to use the shifter for Suntour or Shimano. Friction or Index.

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  • Matt December 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    That’s a cool idea. Thanks for sharing. Although for $120 not including the cost of the shifters, that’s a bit steep for a set of modified cheapo levers. You can buy a set of 9 speed microshift on sale for about that much. Also, like another said, it looks like it could kind of get in the way of the brake. Still a cool idea.

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    • Dabby December 3, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      I do agree Matt, as Tektro levers would be my last choice to purchase.

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  • jim December 4, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Kudos to retrofit for their venture, I wish them well

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  • Joel Rebik December 4, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Indeed, there are road brake levers that have linear brake cable pull, why not modify these?

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  • Tom M December 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    The reason these were rejected by the big parts companies is because they can’t patent them and because Shimano got far too greedy with planned obsolescence.

    The highest compliment that I can Adam is that these look easy to use and simple by design.

    To those who are skeptical, just remember how very expensive it is to replace a brifter. *When* your shifter mechanism gets gummed up your options are very limited with brifters. With the old style shifters it’s a very simple process to open them up and clean them.

    Last, I am very happy to see how much of these are locally sourced, enough said.

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    • davemess December 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      Unless you use Campy, then you can rebuild them! (one thing Shimano has never figure out how to do. Of just doesn’t care and wants their customers to continue buying STI’s).

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  • davemess December 4, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I do have to say that these would really be hard to shift while brake (STI-style brakes/levers will always be better at that). And forget about using them in the drops.

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  • fredlf December 5, 2011 at 10:40 am

    That’s pretty cool. I can see running a hybrid set-up, old school friction for the front derailleur, STI for the rear. I’ve always thought indexed shifting on front derailleurs is a solution in search of a problem.

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  • Doug Morgan December 6, 2011 at 7:24 am

    SunRace Thumb Shifters are one of the answers Rivendell provide, but they are $16. Heck that’s no fun when you could spend $500 on a set of DuraAce Bifters.

    I agree with them on index shifting which they really don’t sell. They sell shimano shifters that do both, but if it doesn’t friction Rivendell doesn’t sell it.

    I have never seen such an example of unnecessary technology as index shifting. It’s what bike component manufactures do. Take something as simple as a shift lever, which is a simple ancient machine, then make it into the bifter and sti technological monstrosity for little or no effective advantage. What’s the advantage to STI other than the neato factor?

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  • Curt Dewees December 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I think the biggest advantage to STI “brifters” is in racing, especially in the road-racing peloton and crits., where it is very important to keep your hands on both the brakes and the shifters at all times. You never know when you’ll suddenly (within a split second) have to hit the brakes to avoid a crash or suddenly shift up to a bigger gear to avoid getting gapped by a breakaway.

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  • Adam December 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Hi All,

    Lots of good points here. And thanks for all the interest. This whole process has been tremendous fun working with a number of riders to fine tune the system with testing and feedback. I welcome the negative as much or more than the positive as it is the negative that helps instigate change and improvements. As always I will say that this system is not for everyone or anyone all of the time. It is simply another option that brings with it a different set of attributes that depending on your circumstances might be the best at some time.

    BURR/Tony – The shifters pictued are Dura-Ace 7800 Down Tube 10sp and Shimano 9sp Bar End. We have tested the system with a number of Shimano products and all work well. There will be other brands supported in the future.

    Adam – You are correct. The shifters do look like they will get in the way of braking but as they are connected to the brake lever this somehow does not cause an issue. Perhaps the biggest hurdle I have to jump with this system is one of mis-conception. I will fully admit this system just does not look like it should work. It is hard to conceptualize a DT or BE shifter in a location other than is generally accepted. Even when I look at a picture of the system I can not really explain how it works as far as ergonomics. The only way really is to ride it. I will be adding more video for the site in an attempt to better explain how it just functions with little thought needed.

    N.I.K. – Regarding durability. In a crash it might well be a toss up as to which (STi or RetroShift) comes out best off. The difference however is that you are looking at $30-$40 to fix the RetroShift unit (user serviceable with a replacement brake lever body) with just a 5mm and 4mm hex wrench. STi will take a few more dollars and time.

    Also if you have a bike with DT bosses attached it makes for another level of security on a ride/tour. If needed the shifter can be detached from the brake lever and mounted on the DT. Might be good for a cable that breaks and is still long enough to do this. Yes friction mode is a good back up.

    I have been approached by more than one national distributor. One even offered to help get the system made in China and sell for a lower price and more profit. I will pass for now. Cycling means more to me that a quick buck and contributing to the drain of jobs on the US. The final prices are not set but I hope when the site goes live are you will be reasonably happy. We will be selling the first run via the web site in December and will also be open to dealers picking up and selling the product at the same price as the website. 75% of the total cost of the product is related to the parts being made in the US. This does bring a bit higher of a cost but also enables ongoing development of the product. I walked into my machine shop the other day for instance and explained some changes I wanted to look into. Within a morning they had a newly machined proto part for me to drop off with my racers. I love the people I work with and will eat Ramen Noodles before I give their work away.

    maxadders – The Paul Thumbies are cool and bar end shifters have been doing it even longer (attaching the shifters to a handlebar, as do Kelly Take Off’s). Some of my early attempts did this, then I made the leap to the brake hood body itself but ultimately made the step of attaching the shifters directly to the front of the brake lever. It seams so obvious to me now that I am sure it has probably been done before but I have not yet found any evidence. RetroShift will also allow simultaneous shifting and braking.

    GlowBoy – v-brakes…. Tektro RL520. Proving hard… The 3D curve on the top face will require a different part to be fabricated. I had hoped to be able to machine each lever face but this is not looking viable. You WILL get your wish, just please understand to do this ‘right’ it all takes many hours of work, testing and CNC programming time. The Goats are working as fast as they can!

    joel – I LOVE these pictures. Systems pictured shows shifter attached to a mount off the front of the brake hood/body. I did try this in my journey to the current design but the shift lever got in the way of braking. Moving the shifter to the front of the lever itself was an important step.

    Jim Lee – Perhaps we can interest you in just two gears? …. No rear shifter, just a front one. Think about it, the best of both worlds :)

    John S – Please note the wrist action you see in the video is for a shift across 10 gears! Actual lever angle change to shift each gear is less than that of STi.

    Dabby – I still have XC Pro on my US made Stumpjumper. Sooooo good stuff!!!!

    Tektro R200A’s were chosen due their being best ergonomic fit for the system. I actually rode the summer with Dura_Ace 7401 levers set up with RetroShift on my road bike this past summer and loved it. We might look at providing this in the future. Issues are most people now find this break top kind of cramped by today’s standard. Also R200A has a less pointy top that aids in shifting. Tektro’s are also inexpensive $34/pair and so offering a crash replacement/fix option will be very cost effective.

    I hope to have a feedback page on the site at some point. This system was my idea but most (to all!) of what it actually great bout it is a result of the feedback from riders. I hope you get to try the system and add your voice to the design. I am confident that real everyday cyclists can do as well as the engineers in the lab, even if not we will always have more fun doing it!

    Adam
    RetroShift

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  • Bob Fairlane December 22, 2011 at 3:17 am

    This looks great, but unless there is a rule that says cyclocross bikes HAVE to have drop bars, i think the way to go (for practicality and for savings) would be a mustache bar or flat bar with short barends, and conventional MTB gear. My bike has drops, with mtb grips and mtb v-brake /combo shifters on the “elbows” I ride everything in the drops except sidewalk paths (on the tops, screwing around). I think it owns on mtb singletrack too.

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  • haphazardlynamed September 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I really like the concept. Always been a fan of barcon/dt shifters with their nice friction ‘power ratchet’ feel. plus they’re durable and cheap.

    At 120$ though, your retroshifters fail me on the cost angle. from my perspective, that puts them into the same innaccessible budget range of the tech-elite shimano and campy STI options….

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    • Bob Fairlane September 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      You can get Microshift/Nashbar branded STI knock-offs for $150 in 8, 9, and 10 speed at Nashbar

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  • Dwainedibbly September 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    The point isn’t just the upfront cost but also the repair costs. Crash with these and you can repair a lot cheaper than if you have Shimano or Campy.

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  • Paul in the 'couve September 11, 2012 at 12:08 am

    I’m looking forward to eventually trying them. Currently I have several bikes running friction on the DT, a couple with flat bars and friction thumb shifters, one bike with bar ends, and one 8 Speed STI. One appeal to me is shifting with hands on the bar and while braking which are both sometimes helpful in fast commuting yet not having to give up the flexibility to use whatever wheel / cassette / freewheel setup I want when I want. Having to have a particular cassette spacing doesn’t work for me.

    I also appreciate Adam’s points about repair and replacement cost.

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