This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of grip shifters and trigger shifters in relation to one another.
Grip Shifters – a shifter model controlled by rotating the wrist.
To shift across the cassette, the cyclist has to twist the right shifter forward or backward.
The front derailleur is controlled by the left shifter. To move up to a bigger chainring, the user has to twist the left shifter backward.
Trigger Shifters – a shifter model controlled by the fingertips.
To shift up, the cyclist presses the top lever. The motion is very similar to deploying the trigger of a weapon hence the name trigger shifters. To shift down, the user pushes the low lever with the thumb.
The front derailleur is controlled via similar motions but in reverse. The thumb shifts up whereas the index finger downshifts.
The Advantages of Grip Shifters
Grip shifters can provide a slick look. If you purchase a more expensive model, they will even come with matching handgrips making the appearance even more unified.
For that reason, some people find grip shifters more aesthetically pleasing than trigger shifters which have no choice but to stick out.
One of grip shifters’ strongest qualities is that the user can go up or down the gears with a single twist of the wrist rather than multiple presses of a lever.
- Limited Finger Movement
Grip shifters are controlled by the wrist rather than the fingers. People who have problems with their fingers joints might find it easier and less painful to shift via wrist motions.
- Lower Dexterity
Friction shifters do not require incredible accuracy and dexterity because they’re wrist operated. You don’t need to aim for a tiny lever. All you have to do is grab the grips and rotate them.
Grip shifters are easier to operate when wearing large winter gloves such as mittens. The same cannot be said about trigger shifters which require a lot more precision. Hence why many winter cycling gloves keep the index finger independent.
- No Protruding Elements
Grip shifters do not have protruding levers that may stab the rider in the leg during a fall.
- Less Likely To Be Damaged In a Crash
Grip shifters are harder to damage during a crash thanks to their position and the protection offered by the brake levers.
The Disadvantages of Grip Shifters
Grip shifters are known to become stiffer with time. If the model is of poor quality, it may completely stop functioning. To fix the issue, it’s necessary to clean the shifters. If the unit is made poorly, the effort may not be justified.
- Constant Re-positioning of the Wrist
A grip shifter prevents the rider from maintaining a steady position of the wrist. The wrist has to either flex or extend for a shift to occur. This creates a possibility for the wrist to end up in a compromised position during impact. The outcome is excessive joint stress and potential loss of control.
- Rain Becomes a Bigger Problem
Wet grips are never fun due to the decreased traction. However, grip shifters make this an even bigger problem because the only way to use them is to twist them. The shifting motion creates a predisposition for losing control.
- More Difficult Shifting in Hot Weather
When riding in hot weather, the sun can make the connecting rubber of the shifter softer. This results in non-crisp shifting. Of course, this downside depends on the particular model and doesn’t always manifest.
- Slow Braking Dynamics
Another downside of grip shifters is that they make it difficult to brake while shifting as well as to switch between braking and shifting.
Many competitive riders believe that the mechanics of grip shifters are less than ideal in a race.
For example, it takes more effort to slow down in a turn and then up or downshift when using grip shifters.
This is one of the reasons why most racers user standard grip shifters.
- Accidental Shifts
The mechanism of grip shifters makes it possible to shift accidentally when pulling on the handlebars or passing over a bump.
- Non-secure Grip
When manipulating a grip shifter, the grip of the rider is not as secure as possible.
- Fewer Choices
Grip shifters aren’t nearly as popular as trigger shifters. As a result, users have fewer models to choose from.
Also, grip shifters lack a “middle class”. The low-end models are of poor quality and offer non-satisfactory performance whereas higher-end models are pricey in comparison to what you can get on the trigger shifter market for the same money.
- Grip Compatibility
Unless the shifters come with complimenting handgrips, the existing grips will have to be cut/modified. Otherwise, the shifters won’t end up at the right place.
The Advantages of Trigger Shifters
- Stable Wrist Position
Trigger shifters are controlled by the fingers and thus the wrists remain in a fairly neutral alignment (the knuckles are almost in line with the wrist). This position offers more strength, stability and control while reducing wrist stress.
Even some of the cheapest trigger shifters (e.g., Shimano Tourney) are very reliable and work as expected for a long time. I’ve used Shimano Tourney and Altus trigger shifters for years without performance problems.
- Unaffected by Heat
Unlike grip shifters, trigger shifters do not have exposed rubber parts and thus the hot weather does not affect their performance.
- Fast Switching
The position and operation of trigger shifters facilitates switching between shifting and braking. This makes trigger shifters more dynamic and the preferred choice of most racers.
- No Accidental Shifts
Unlike grip shifters, trigger shifters are very precise and the chances of performing an accidental shift are close to none.
- Secure Grip
Trigger shifters allow the user to grip the handlebars firmly.
- Better Grip Compatibility
Trigger shifters allow you to install all kinds of grips without modifications.
- More Choices
Trigger shifters completely dominate the market. Thus, there are more brands and models to choose from.
- Friendly To Young Cyclists
Children seem to have an easier time operating trigger shifters. Part of the reason for that is that grip shifters on kids bikes are of low quality and often require a bit more strength to use.
(That said, this is a subjective point. Some children may actually prefer grip shifters.)
The Disadvantages of Trigger Shifters
- Potential Damage In a Crash
Unlike grip shifters, trigger shifters are exposed. Thus, it’s possible to damage them during a fall.
- Can Stress The Fingers
If you have index finger or thumb problems, trigger shifters may cause pain.
- Limited Gear Jumps
Expensive trigger shifters can go up and down 4 gears in 1-2 clicks. Meanwhile, grip shifters allow the user to go from one end of the cassette to the other in one smooth motion.
While grip shifters have a nice concept, trigger shifters are simply superior if the rider has healthy fingers.
Trigger shifters are cheaper, more reliable, more ergonomic and ensure greater stability and shifting dynamics. For those reasons, they completely dominate the market and it doesn’t look like grip shifters will ever change that.