Grip shifters were prolific on mountain bikes during the late 90’s, were replaced with thumb-index shifters, and recently made a comeback due to the fatbike craze. For that reason, it’s worthwhile learning how to replace/install a grip shifter.
I recently decided to fix up an old mountain bike to sell in the spring. Among other things, I wanted to replace the broken grip shifters that didn’t work anymore. The bike would autoshift about four gears (of 7) whenever I started from a stop in 1st gear. This made it so that I had to constantly keep my hand on the grip shift while riding. The reason for this is that the shifter body was cracked and the detents (or click-stops) wouldn’t hold the shifter in place at each gear. Here’s how I replaced my grip shifters.
Replacing the Grip Shifters
This is a job I’ve never done before, but was willing to tackle because I’m mechanically inclined and careful. The best advice from my repair class instructor was to go slow, take pictures, and be careful of flying parts and springs.
The first step was to detach the cables from the front and rear derailleur and remove the grip shifts from the handlebars. I like to work on one side at a time so that I don’t mix-up cable housings. To remove the grip shifters, the bar-ends were removed, then using a bit of soapy water, the grips were removed. My trick for this is to slide in a flat screwdriver a ways, then pour in a dribble of soapy water. The grips loosen up and slide right off.
To remove the grip shifters, find the setscrew(s) that hold them on to the handlebars. Some have more than one. The grip shifter should slide right off once the setscrew is backed out a bit. One important note: I found a thin plastic ring in between the grip shift and the handle grip on each side. I believe this is to allow the shifter to turn against the grip without sticking against the grip.
Now the tricky part: replacing the cables through the shifters. There are who-knows-how-many styles of grip shifters out there and I don’t claim any expertise in this area, but if you’re careful and take pictures, you might just be able to do it. The original bike came with SRAM 7-speed shifter for the rear and 3-speed for the front. The replacement parts I bought were some non-brand-name ones of two different styles: micro-shift and handy shift. Even though the SRAM was broken and going in the bin, I took it apart anyway. There was a spring, and a plastic ratchet-thing inside. I never figured out how it went back together (because I didn’t bother to be careful or to take pictures).
The Handy Shift was pretty simple. The cable end was easily seen at one end and there was one screw to remove a small cover at the other end.
One important note: shifter cables are meant to be installed with the shifter in a certain position; usually when the cable is the most slack (when the chain would be on the smallest sprocket or smallest chainring). If it’s not in that position, you may not be able to see cable ends or pull out or install the cable. If things look wrong and you can’t find the cable end, try moving the shifter to one or the other extreme. It should become obvious.
Once the small cover was removed, I gave the grip shift a twist and it popped apart. I was able to see how the cable was routed so that I could route the new cable.
It would probably be more tricky if there wasn’t a cable installed in the used shifter I bought. It was a simple matter to put in the new cable and close the shifter back up with the cover in place.
The Micro-shift grip shift I got for the left side was even simpler. There was a pry-out cover over a hole in the body, and once it was shifted to the right position, the cable end was right there. I just pushed it through the hole and installed the new cable the same way, then popped the cover back on.
A note about shifter compatibility: Indexing shifters (with distinct clicks for each gear) have to be compatible with the derailleur and number of gears (i.e. six notches on the shifter, six gears on the sprocket set or cassette). This goes for grip shifts, bar mounted shifters, etc. Non-indexing shifters may have clicks, but they will be able to shift through a range of positions from one end of the sprockets to the other. There may be clicks, but many more than there are gears. Most rear sprocket sets are the same or close to the same width, just the spacing between sprockets changes as you have more gears. So a 5,6,7 gear bike can use the same non-indexing shifter. In a pinch, a newer bike with a broken shifter can be used with an older non-indexing shifter with no clicks. Even 8,9,10 speeds!
According to my repair instructor, bike race pit crews sometimes have an older non-indexing shifter in their toolkit so they can repair any bike and get the racer back out, rather than trying to carry a spare shifter of every make and number of gears. Pretty smart!
When I first went looking for parts, I didn’t know about shifter compatibility and was looking for a 7-speed Grip Shift shifter. I left the store empty-handed. Later I realized that I could use a non-indexing grip shift, so I went back and that’s what I got. The Handy Shift is a non-indexing grip shift and it worked just great on my bike.
The shifters were then installed back on the bike by sliding them up the handlebars against the brake levers, with the first set of cable housings in place. Orient the shifter so that the cables aren’t twisted as they go into the first cable stops on the frame and so that the don’t interfere with the brake levers as the brakes are pulled. Tighten the setscrew(s) to lock the shifter in place. The crappy picture below shows the used Handy Shift grip shift installed beside the brake lever, with the handle grip slid in. Don’t forget the thin plastic ring in between the grip and the shifter! I decided to put my bar ends on the inside of the brake handles as more of an aero-commuting thing. I’ll test ride this bike and see if that works before selling it.
Well that’s about it for installing the shifter itself. The remaining steps are to run the cable back through the housing (be careful if it goes below the frame to get it in the right spot on the cable guide) and to attach the cable to the derailleurs. Adjusting the derailleurs is not covered in this post, but there are many online resources such as Sheldon Brown and Park Tools Repair Help. Thanks for reading!