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Grip Shifters Vs. Thumb Shifters, Which One is Better for You?

grip shifters and thumb shifters

One unique thing about bikes is that they come in all shapes and sizes, and you also get loads of different types of equipment. You have various wheels and tires for different terrains, handlebars that come in wide varieties to help you control the bike, and even frames designed to make you faster or more comfortable.

One piece of equipment that is often overlooked is gearing shifters. Shifters have the job of changing the gears on your bike for you. They come in many different styles and can completely change your riding experience. Our readers often ask us about grip and thumb shifters.

In this article, we’ll be telling you about grip and thumb shifters, the differences between the two, and also discuss which is best for you.

What Are Grip Shifters?

Right handgrip and 3-speed shifter on a Capital Bikeshare bike, in Washington, DC.
Image by Mr.TinMD from Flickr

Grips shifters are traditional and typically seen on older bikes more so than newer ones. They were originally released by SRAM in 1987 and were not just excellent because they were aerodynamic but were an excellent way of changing gear while keeping full grip and control on the handlebars.

Typically the speed on grip shifters was 5-7 on the rear cassette and 3 on the front chainrings. They were originally designed for aero bikes and to sit on time trial bars, but then a few years later, people realized that they were perfect for mountain biking.

A grip shift, or some refer to it as a twist shifter, changes gear by turning the gear cable around your handlebars. Turning it forward will move it up the cassette, and backward will take it down the cassette. They are simple to use, easy to maintain, and very cheap to buy.

What Are Thumb Shifters?

thumb shifters
Image by wikimedia.org via Wikimedia Commons

Thumb shifters are what you will see on all modern mountain bikes and originally came out in the late 1980s by Shimano on the Deore XT groupset. They were much easier to use than a grip shifter and quickly became very popular, and in modern days what nearly all mountain bikers use.

Thumb shifters generally were 6-13 speeds on the rear cassette. Then typically, 2-3 speeds on the front chainrings. These shifters quickly became popular with mountain bikers and have been the most popular mtb shifting system since.

A thumb shifter works by using your thumb and finger to push and pull a lever to shift the gears up and down. They come in various types, but all work on the same principle that you need to use your thumb to control it. Classic thumb shifters were just a lever you push with your thumb, and modern thumb shifters are more like buttons and even come in electronic versions.

What Are the Differences?

Bike parked and a sunset view
Image by Adam Stefanca on Unsplash

How are they controlled?

Grip and thumb shifters work in entirely different ways. With a grip, you have to twist the shifter to adjust the gears, and with a thumb shifter, you have to push the shifter buttons to change gears.

Typically most people who get a choice opt for thumb shifters because they are easier for quick, smooth shifts. For long-distance riding, thumb shifters are a little easier as they keep your hands in the same position. It’s only your thumb that moves.

Grip shifters are great but typically are a bit tighter, and this will eventually get into your hands over time, especially on longer rides. You have to turn your whole wrist and it does feel much more fatiguing.

The amount of speeds

Then we have the amount of speeds and this is vital to getting a good range of gears. Grip shifters typically have around 5-7 gear options on the rear cassette and 1-3 on the front, which is very low compared to thumb shifters. This is because grip shifters are old technology and were designed when the rear cassette only had around 6 speeds.

Thumb shifters have 7-13 speeds on the rear and 1-3 on the front. Thumb shifters are much more modern than grip shifters, and because of this, they do offer more speeds. A 13-speed grip shifter doesn’t exist as it wouldn’t be able to cover 13 speeds as it would have to move too far around the handlebars.

Reliability

When it comes to reliability, both offer a good level of service. The thumb shifter typically has more moving parts and is more prone to breaking than a grip shifter. A grip shifter is very reliable, and there’s very little that can go wrong compared to thumb shifters.

Availability

Both shifters are readily available to buy online from many shops. However, thumb shifters are going to be easier to find and replace. Grip shifters are something a shop would typically order in and not kept on the shelf, while thumb shifters are something a shop would be changing out regularly.

Cost

The cost will be an important factor when buying a replacement shifter or a groupset with either grip or thumb shifters. Grip shifters are very cheap and you can buy the shifter alone for less than $10 currently. Thumb shifters you’re going to be looking at anywhere from $10 all the way up to electronic thumb shifters coming in at $100+.

Which is the One for You?

A bike handle with a flowery brick wall background

Both grip and thumb shifters are great to use and will make changing gears easy. Grip shifters are quite old technology now, and thumb shifters are all you see on modern bikes from the leading brands. We recommend if you buy a new bike go for thumb shifters as they are better, and parts are still produced when grip shifters are fading out.

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Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri is a cyclist living in Norfolk in the UK. From breaking World Records to competing in some of the hardest Bikepacking races in the world he is not shy of riding the miles. He has been lucky enough to work at some amazing shops and with some big cycling brands. Alongside this he even had input in designing bikes and has also been a tester for unreleased products. He absolutely loves cycling and believes everyone should have a bike.