Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Retroshift Update

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

It's getting to be cyclo cross season all across the U.S. now and one of the products I have been using all year fits right in with cyclo cross action- those being the Retroshift shifter mounts and levers. You can check out my last update on the Fargo with those shifters here.

Retroshift CXV Model
My perspective will be coming from that of a gravel grinder rider. I know cyclo cross can be a very abusive environment for components, but gravel grinding is no less so. My two sets of Retroshifters have been subjected to copious amounts of sweat and limestone dust. All with no detriment to the performance of these mechanisms.

And no wonder, when you think about it. These are dead simple, and therefore reliable, shifters and brake levers. There just isn't really much that can go wrong. The bar end shifters that mount on Retroshift levers are the ancestors of the first mountain bike thumb shifters, themselves co-opted from flat bar touring bikes. These shifters are simple, reliable, and have a friction option in case things get wonky with your rear mech alignment. That's a good thing for long, solo gravel adventures.

I  have a set of the CXV model levers, which are intended for linear pull brakes, or mechanical "mountain" type disc brakes. These would work quite nicely on your disc equipped cyclo cross bike, and leave the shift levers at your finger tips, without resorting to expensive "brifters", or having to use the less common road style mechanical calipers. They pull enough cable to make my Avid BB-7's feel really great, and at least as good as many hydraulic calipers out there. Of course, great housings, and a careful eye to the details of setting up the caliper are also key to a great brake feel on these Avids.

I also have had the pleasure of using the CX2 set on my Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" rig. (My name for the BMC, not the official model name) These are the set for anyone using "road" mech disc brakes or the traditional cantilever brakes. I am pulling a set of old Shimano STX cantis with mine.

The Retroshift CX2 model.
Obviously these are the set for your traditionally braked cyclo cross rig. I have had great performance with my set on the steel BMC frame.

There is a difference in the feel between the CXV and the CX2 levers having to do with the shape and feel of the hoods. The hoods of the CX2 set have an "old school" feel, are more minimalistic, and smaller than the CXV's hoods.

The CXV's, in contrast, have a more modern hood feel, are girthy in the hand, and have a better transition to the bar, in my opinion. The blade on the CXV is also a bit more substantial and curves and twists more dramatically to allow for an easier reach from the drops.

My preference is for the CXV shape, but I can and do ride the CX2's for many long miles with no issues. You'll have to decide what is right for you.

Some folks will lament the lack of a big protrusion, such as the latest STI levers have, which seem to lend themselves to being used as a climbing aid when seated. I would submit that the bar end sticking out from the lever on a Retroshift lever can be used in a similar way here. In fact, that odd ball looking lever on the brake blade really comes in handy not only for climbing, but as another place to drape the hands when cruising long grinder climbs or on the flats. Leaving your hands draped around the shifter also can work as a way to shift the lever at a moments notice as well.

And speaking of shifting, it may take you awhile to get accustomed to shifting, but if you are like me, it becomes second nature soon enough, and you may even invent your own grip positions for shifting on the fly, like I have. The only negative here is that it is impossible to shift from the drops without removing your hand to shift. Bummer that, but not a deal killer here. I have found my own personal way of shifting in these instances which requires a bit more of a motion, but is swift enough for my purposes. For some who never ride anywhere but the drops, these shifters may not work for you. 

Fargo V1 w/Retroshift CXV's
So- what do I think after using these for most of 2012? I have two sets of STI levers sitting in the bin, and two sets of bar end mounts as well. If I didn't really like the Retroshift levers, I could swap out to more "standard" style shifters in a heartbeat.

These Retroshifters appeal to me for their simplicity, robustness, and ease of use. They miss the mark as far as aesthetic appeal, shifting from the drops, and you may not like the hood shapes offered. I can forgive the looks, since the functionality is high, along with the durability factor as well. Shifting from the drops? Hasn't been a big issue for me, not as much as I thought it might. Hood shapes work just fine for me, so basically, there isn't much not to like here for my riding.

I'll close out by saying I don't think these are really for mountain biking, and to be honest, I'm not sure about the cyclo cross angle, since I just don't do that activity. (They say they work just peachy though.)For gravel, back roads, back-country touring, and for a killer commuter set up that is bomb-proof, this stuff makes a ton of sense.


ThisOneToo said...

I dont have these, but I want a set really bad... Everytime I go to get a pair they're sold out... One day... One day.

Unknown said...

Mark - Great update on the shifters. It is wonderful to hear they are such a good match for gravel as this is an area we have little knowledge of. We will say that being designed and tested in the harsh world of cyclocross we are pretty confident that they should do pretty well in any environment.

ThisOneToo - Yes we are fighting to keep up with demand! We now have most everything in stock except probably the most popular items (complete CXV and CX2 with shift levers). We should have this fixed in the next few weeks.


The Goats
Retroshift LLC
Portland, OR