How to Change Shifters on Road Bikes

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If your bike isn’t shifting smoothly as you change gears, you may need to replace your shifters. Replacing shifters isn’t a difficult job, and requires only a few basic hand tools.

Follow these instructions to change the shifters on your road bike.

Do You Need New Shifters on Your Road Bike?

Generally speaking, shifters last longer than other drive train components on a bike. Before replacing shifters, inspect your cables, chain, and cassette and look for signs of wear or damage.

If you don’t see any visible damage, try thoroughly lubricating the cable and housings, seeing if you can flush out old dirt or grease. It’s also a good idea to try simply replacing the cables before replacing the shifter, since they wear out more quickly.

How to Change Shifters on Road Bikes

  • You will need:
    An allen wrench or hex key
  • A standard screwdriver, butterknife, or prying implement
  • A ruler or straightedge
  • A new/replacement shifter
  • If you haven’t already replaced your cables, it’s a good idea to replace them when you replace the shifter
How to Change Shifters on Road Bikes

To change the shifters on a road bike

Step 1: Preparation

  • Shift the chain onto the smallest gear. Keeping the chain on the smallest gears reduces tension on the cable of the shifter.
  • Remove the handle grips. Removing the handle grip exposes the shifter attachment. Some grips have edges that can be peeled back, exposing the shifter clamp bolt. In some cases, you may need to remove the grip altogether. The easiest way to remove the grip is to use a butter knife to create space between the grip and the bike, and then pour water into the opening. Pulling and twisting will loosen the grip. You may need to add water several times to slide it off.

Step 2: Remove the shifter

  • Unbolt the cable from the derailleur. Using the appropriate hex key, remove the cable and remove the crimp on the end of the wire (if you have one).
  • Remove the cable from the shifter. You may need to adjust the shifter levers in order to access the other end of the cable. Free the cable and set it aside.
  • Remove the shifter. Using a hex key, loosen the shifter and remove it from your handlebar. With some bikes, you may also need to remove the brake lever in order to remove the shifter.

Step 3: Replace the shifter

  • Attach your new shifter. With the hex bolt loosened, slide your new shifter onto place on the handlebar. Lightly tighten the bolt, with enough room for some movement, but not so much that the shifter falls out of place.
  • Check the placement of the shifter. Look at the shifter and make sure that it is vertically aligned with the drop section of the handlebar. Using a ruler as a base to line them up, create a straight line from the flat bottom of the handlebar to the tip of the shifter, so they are resting on the same level.
  • Snug the shifter into place. When it is aligned correctly, tighten the shifter into place. Do not overtighten and strip the bolt, and do not move it out of alignment while tightening.

Step 4: Replace the cable

  • Lubricate the cable. Lightly lubricate the whole cable (if necessary), or just add a drop of lubricant to both ends to ease re-threading.
  • Re-attach the cable to the derailleur. Being careful to not catch or fray the cable, feed it back into its housing, and route the cable into the clamp of the derailleur. Pull the cable snug and tighten the bolt with a hex key. Replace the crimp on the cable (if you had one).
  • Thread the cable into the shifter. Feed the thinner edge of the cable into the shifter housing until you see it poke through the other side. Pull the cable through the shifter and guide it into place.
  • Adjust the cable. Attempt to shift gears through the full cycle, adjusting as necessary.

Step 5: Finish changing shifters on your bike

  • If you removed brake levers, re-attach them
  • If you removed hand grips, replace them. If necessary, spray hairspray inside the grip, so that the wet hairspray will lubricate the grip sliding into place, but then the hair spray will dry and hold the grip in place
  • Replace handlebar tape, if you had any

Following these steps will allow you to change your road bike shifters in just a few minutes, and restore crisp, accurate gear movement.

Keeping your bike clean and performing periodic tuneups will help keep your bike performing well and prolong the life of your bike parts, so make sure you regularly clean, inspect, and lubricate your bike. 

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