Aug 01 2009

Making the Shift to Bar-End Shifters

The Surly Long Haul Trucker is a versatile bicycle, well suited to a variety of uses from commuting to world touring. And the stock (“complete”) Trucker is well-appointed, too, with serviceable components that strike the right balance between function and fashion. But there’s one thing that may give prospective buyers second thoughts — the unfamiliar bar-end shifters (aka Barcons, a Sun Tour trademark).

You can see them in this photo:

Bar End Shifters

They’re the things sticking out from the ends of the drops. You can’t tell it from the photo, but these are Shimano BS77 bar-end shifters, not Sun Tour Barcons. Don’t be misled, however: The Shimanos are no-BS shifters. I’d never used bar-end shifters before I bought my LHT, but I had no difficulty making the shift. The left-hand shifter is friction-only, but it makes shifting between the three chainrings a breeze. And the right-hand shifter? It controls the rear mech (derailleur), giving you the choice between friction and indexed shifting. The latter is ideal for new riders — once the shifter has been properly adjusted and the cables have “settled in,” that is — while the friction mode affords experienced cyclists a low-maintenance option that’s ideally suited to long tours.

Here’s how they work: The left-hand shifter moves you down from the largest chainring to the smallest as you move it down, while the right-hand shifter takes you from the smallest cog (and highest gear) to the largest cog (and lowest gear) as you move it up. In other words, to shift up (into a higher gear) you move the left-hand shifter up and the right-hand shifter down. To shift down, you do the opposite.

Confused? You won’t be once you’ve spent a few minutes on the bike. As in most things, practice makes perfect. Just make sure you serve your apprenticeship someplace where there’s little automotive traffic.

Now let’s look at typical hand positions. Here I’m downshifting on the rear:

Bar End Shifters

You remembered that moving the right-hand lever up shifts the rear mech to a lower gear (and larger cog), didn’t you? Now here I am going the other way:

Bar End Shifters

By and large, I use my fourth and fifth fingers to move the shifter’s lever up, my palm to nudge it down. With index shifting engaged on the right-hand shifter, shifts are crisp and definitive. The friction-only left-hand shifter requires a more sensitive touch, however, and it may be necessary to fine-tune the position of the front mech’s cage from time to time as you move through the gears. You’ll hear the chain rubbing on the cage if this is required.

The bottom line? Bar-end shifters are mechanically simple and operationally straightforward. If you’ve already mastered the art of shifting on a bike with down-tube shifters, you’ll take to them in no time. Even if your previous bike had twist-grip shifters, it shouldn’t take you much longer. And if you prefer to have your shifters under your thumbs, so to speak? Then Paul’s Thumbies may be just what you’re looking for. These clever gadgets allow you to move your bar-end shifters onto the bars. How’s that for versatility?

Me? I’m happy with my bar-end shifters right where they are. They’re the best shifters I’ve ever used, bar none!

Bar End Shifters

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