Why bar end shifters ?


New Member
Sep 27, 2003
I've been a road bike rider for 25+ years.
I'm looking to get into long distance touring. Panniers...etc.
I never understood why tour bike riders prefer bar end shifters.
What's the deal?

I think its more a reliability issue. Tourers tend to often be in remote areas, away from bike shops in the bigger cities. The bar end shifters can be converted from index to friction mode if needed, and they seem more trouble-free than brifters. If you never take your touring bike far from home and you ride more in the cities, brifters may be more to your liking.

I commute with barcons on my Surly LHT, and had no trouble adjusting. I still have brifters on my CF road bike.
BikeyGuy said:
I've been a road bike rider for 25+ years.
I'm looking to get into long distance touring. Panniers...etc.
I never understood why tour bike riders prefer bar end shifters.
What's the deal?
Shimano's bar end shifters ARE certainly more reliable than the 8-speed Shimano STI shifters which could be jammed if you were either hamfisted or unlucky (I never had a problem with the 8-speed Shimano shifters, but I know one person who lent his bike to someone & it came back with a jammed 8-speed Shimano shifter and I have read about others having had problems, too) ... by my reckoniing, the 9-speed Shimano shifters were less likely to jam up but the stigma of the 8-speed STI shifters failing certainly hangs over them. The reliability of Shimano's 10-speed shifters is at least as good as that of their 9-speed shifters (whatever THAT may be!?!).

FWIW. One of the reasons bar end shifters were/are preferred for touring is because the rider does not have to significantly change his/her position on the bike to shift vs. shifting when using downtube shifters -- that is, there is minimum change in the riding position -- particularly if your hands are already on the drops -- to reach the shifters since you don't have to reach down to the downtube to shift a bar end shifter.

An alternative shifter (which was looked down upon by experienced riders) would be the shifters which mounted to the stem BECAUSE there was the small chance that you could potentially impale yourself on the levers.

BTW. The combined weight of Shimano's bar ends + brake levers is pretty close to the weight of a pair of 9-speed Ultegra STI shifters; so, there is no weight saving in using bar ends ... and, Shimano's indexed bar end shifters seem to introduce a sizeable weight penalty when compared with downtube OR vintage (friction-only) SunTour Barcon shifters.

While I have found that the Shimano STI shifter balks when downshifting under load (i.e., going uphill) to a larger cog, you can easily 'muscle' a downshift with a bar end shifter.

BTW2. Personally, FWIW, if you are not keen on bar end shifters then I would recommend you consider 10-speed Campagnolo shifters for your touring bike ... BECAUSE I have found that Campagnolo shifters can downshift smoothly when under load ...

AND BECAUSE the 10-speed Campagnolo shifters can be readily mated to EITHER 9-speed or 8-speed Shimano drivetrain components OR to 10-speed SRAM derailleurs with a 10-speed Shimano/SRAM-compatible cassette. While the 10-speed Campagnolo shifters can obviously be mated to a 10-speed Campagnolo drivetrain, the largest cog on their woosiest cassette is only a 29t; so, if you want/need a cassette with a broader range, a Shimano(-compatible) rear wheel is a better consideration for touring.

I use Campagnolo shifters with Shimano MTB-and-road rear derailleurs + wheels which have Shimano 9-speed & 8-speed cassettes.

If a Campagnolo shifter jams up, it can be disassembled & reassembled and/or rebuilt with new parts (kids, don't try this at home!) ...

Supposedly, you can disassemble & reassemble a SRAM shifter, but apparently there aren't any spare parts short of cannibalizing another SRAM shifter.
:eek: eeerrrkkk. Bar end shifters! Drop bars are surely the last sort you'd want on a touring bike.... having to bend down to reach them each time you wanna change, fine on a race bike, but touring? I used Euro touring bars on my tourer i built this year & suited me fine, this has a Rohloff hub, after riding 3500 miles on it so far there's no regrest now on the big out-lay.

Mark. :D

Well, each to his own but bar ends and drop bars are by far my choice for touring. As noted, they are very reliable. I've used bar ends in various forms for more than 30 years.

Drop bars allow more hand positions -- relieving pressure -- and are more aero for those days when the wind is in the wrong direction.

Not that I haven't used straight bars on a long trip ... I have the nerve damage in my hands to prove it. A compromise might be had in trekking bars, but I'll give my :eek: to straight bars.

I have two bikes sporting bar ends. This is my favourite.

Racers don't use bar ends.
I have bar ends on this 1975 Paramount.This was a Schwinn option for $8.95 in 1975

Nice Paramount. Looks just my size :) If my eyes are working properly, those look like Suntour friction shifters. I have those (and they are still good after 32 years) on my old Nishiki Landau, viewable here.
The only real reason for touring bikes having bar end shifters on their drop bars is for control when riding a loaded bicycle, especially on descents. With bar end shifters, you don't have to take your hands off the handlebars much, and so you have less chance of losing control of a heavy bike. In control situation you would likely be riding in the drops anyway, and so bar ends are handy for that.

Now, that was before the integrated brake/shift levers. These make the above issue moot, because they are even better for maintaining control than bar end levers are. At this point, tourists who choose bar ends do so more because they are simpler than integrated levers. But the latter are pretty reliable nowadays, and many tourists ride with them. I guess it might depend on how far away from civilization you plan to ride.
longfemur said:
I guess it might depend on how far away from civilization you plan to ride.

Sure. But who wants to deal with rebuilding a shifter in the middle of a tour? And those that can be rebuilt (I just had my 2006 Campagnolo Centaurs refurbished) do eventually wear out springs; those that can't are rubbish once they fail.

While I'd be fairly confident setting out on a long tour with new or rebuilt integrated shifters, I'd be reticent to do so with anything older than a couple of years.

The other thing to consider besides general reliability -- I've never had any bar-ends fail in 30+ years -- barcons are also resilient in the event of a crash ... and I've crashed many times on barcon-equipped bikes. The latest was 3 weeks ago. Not a scratch on the barcons. The same can't be said for the adjacent aero levers which both suffered extensive abrasion ... not to mention my epidermis. Had they been STI or Ergos, I fear they would not have remained functional. I've seen it happen.

That's where my bikes w/ bar ends come in. Right mech for the job.

The movement from hoods (where we spend majority of time) to shifter is insignificant and becomes second nature. The only problem is switching regularly between integrated and bar-ends. After riding, say, my Bleriot for a while, at the start of a ride on my Ergopower-equipped bikes, I inevitably reach for the non-existent barcon. :eek:
I don't get it, if the worry of failure of brifters seems to be a problem, why not bring as pair of downtube shifters as backup in your pannier, they don't take much room or weigh much. I have toured with my campy chorus brifters for three years with no problems, the tours are supported but I doubt that the support crews have a set of campy chorus as spare parts. I may bring my downtube shifters as backup next time.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with either downtube or bar end shifters. Just explaining the origins of that choice. The only thing I cannot understand is someone preferring upright riding with flat bars or some of those so-called touring bars rather than drops. I can't ride pleasantly even for 25 miles setup like that, let alone a cross-country tour. If you don't want to bend over in the drops as much as a racer does, just set your drop bars higher. With the tops at saddle level, it shouldn't be uncomfortable at all to reach those drops. And as I said, drop bars are not only for hand positions, as good as that is. They are also for good control of a loaded bike, especially on descents.
I agree with a drop bar on a touring bike, I need the additional hand positions that the drop bar provides.
But it seems bar ends are preferred for touring over brifters, and the reason for this is that the brifters can breakdown and are difficult to maintain in this situation. I on the otherhand have not had a problem with the brifter in the 4 years that I have owned them on three different bikes (and I still own all of these bikes). So I don't see what the problem is with having brifters on a touring bike. If I were that worried that they would fail I would keep a set of downtube shifters in my bag for emergencies, this would allow an easy fix and function til I get an appropriate repair.

sorry to veer off point.
It seems that bar-end shifters are traditionally the way to go, because of simplicity.
Personally, I think it's a very strange place to put a lever, but where else can you put it?
I've had no problem with STI on drops on several month-long tours in the UK, Malaysia, and across Borneo. I've now gone to flat bars with cow horns, and Grip-shift, which I find more suitable for control on New Zealand's deep gravel back roads.
My only major failure has been a Topeak aluminium bar rear rack, that quickly work hardened and snapped in four places, like crispy noodles.
:eek: well i went out and bought a fuji with sti shiftetrs i have gone 500 miles with it and the shifting is not always good into the big ring on the front. I have to keep the cable banjo tight. Also shift into the small ring on the rear helps the front to jump up on the big ring. Also with sti shifters you cant have abag on the handle bar. I still wounld trade because i stay in mn so repair is not an issue
I am using Dura-ace 9spd STI on my touring tandem which has done over 13,000kms with no problems. I do carry a bar-end lever in my tool bag just in case.
You can use a H/B bag with STI by using rollermajigs where the cable comes out of the brifter. I have an ortleib medium that has done several tours
I have a set of Dura Ace 10 speed bar end shifters on the bike - they work great.
Riding road bikes since 1970, you can imagine that I've had every kind of shifter, including barends, downtubes, mounted on the handlebar stem... you name it. Also both integrated Shimano and Campy. I've also moved back and forth between different types. Personally, I find that everything else, including barend shifters, feels a little odd and inconvenient after using brifters for a while. It's hard to go back. I could if I really had to, but I don't think I would deliberately make that choice at this point. My full touring bike has the downtube shifters it originally came with in the mid-80's (Suntour ratcheting levers), and I actually prefer that over bar end shifters.

In my opinion, as I've said before, bar end shifters we're always a more complex setup because of the extra cables coming off the handlebars. So, we weren't talking about simplicity, like that of downtube shifters. The only real advantage was that of being able to shift without taking your hands off the handlebars... which is useful sometimes when riding a fully loaded touring bike. But modern brifters take care of that requirement.
For anyone with abrs that end up pointing upwards (eg. Under Seat Steering Recumbents) they're the bees knees.
Forefinger & thumb for the gears, 3 fingers left for the brakes!

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