Picture yourself conquering rugged trails and steep inclines on your mountain bike, adrenaline surging as you deftly navigate the challenging terrain. A key element determining your success on these adventures is your ability to shift gears effortlessly. For any passionate cyclist, having a high-quality shifter is crucial to adapt to the varying demands of the terrain and maximize the efficiency of their ride.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of mountain bike shifters, focusing on how to find the perfect one for your biking escapades. Say goodbye to clumsy gear changes and hello to a smooth, efficient biking experience that leaves you feeling like a true trailblazer.
Keep in mind that different types of mountain bikes will require a different shifter than leisure riding, and certain types of bikes may work best with a specific kind of shifter. The first thing to consider when looking for a shifter is what kind is best for you.
Here’s our list of the top MTB Shifters on the market:
SHIMANO Acera SL-M310 Rapid Fire Shifter
- Right-side Acera SL-M310 Rapid Fire Shifter with cables and housing
- Compatible with most mountain/hybrid bikes with flat handle bars
- Rapid-fire dedicated up and down-shift levers; indexed speed indicator
- Rear shifter for 7-speed (rear) cassette setup
- Ergonomic design; two-year warranty
This shifter from Shimano is perfect for any beginning mountain biker. It is compatible with pretty much any mountain bike with flat handles and ready to be installed. This shifter sits on the right side and operates with the rear cassette.
It’s great because it is extremely easy to use but still has fantastic power and ability. It will allow you to transition between seven different speeds smoothly.
- Easy to use for a novice
- Shifts very cleanly
- Easy to install
- Issues with new shifters malfunctioning
Shimano Alivio Mountain Bike Shifter
If you’re looking for a shifter that will allow you to shift quickly and easily through multiple gears, this is the shifter for you. With a Rapidfire Plus shift lever, you can downshift three gears with only one stroke. This makes this shifter an extremely powerful and fast option.
Another great feature of this 9-speed shifter is its 2-way release that enables you to release shifts by either pulling your index finger or pushing your thumb. This feature increases the shifter’s ease of use.
- Great Shimano quality
- 9 speeds
- Works well right off the bat
- Unclear warranty
SRAM X.3 7SP Rear Index Front Trigger Shifter
- FD/Shifter Compatibility: X.3, Front/Rear: Set, Shifter Detail Color: black
This dual-lever shifter from SRAM will deliver on quality and ability. The two different levers will attach to each side of your bike, allowing you to use both hands to shift up and down like a top-notch twin-lever shifter.
This shifter would make the perfect addition to a bike already equipped with an SRAM 1:1 ratio derailleur, so if you already have committed SRAM, this shifter would make a great upgrade that is already compatible with your bike.
- 1:1 ratio makes shifting easy
- Great value for its price point
- Will not work if the derailleur is not 1:1
SHIMANO Deore SL-M590
- Right Shifter for Rear Derailleur
- Improved lever shape
- Positive index
- Improves rider feedback
- Easy access main lever
If you often find discomfort in your hands, you may find that this ergonomic Shimano shifter is a great solution. This shifter was designed with an improved lever shape and ergonomic touch points for maximum comfort. It is a fantastic 9-speed shifter that will cleanly and smoothly change through its many gears.
- Ergonomic design
- The trigger can be pulled or pressed
- Comes with all the necessary parts
- Cheap materials
SRAM GX Eagle 12-Speed Trigger Shifter
- MatchMaker X Integrated clamp puts everything in reach
- X-Actuation keeps shifting sharp and consistent
- ZeroLoss for instant cable engagement with zero loss of movement
This shifter is the most expensive out of the shifters on this list, but it is pricey for a reason. This shifter has a whopping 12 gears and many great features that make it a truly great product. For example, the shifter comes equipped with ZeroLoss which allows instant cable engagement without losing movement.
In addition, this shifter has a Matchmaker X integrated clamp to keep everything within reach and is designed to have a great trigger feel. If you can spend the money on this fancy shifter, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
- Impressive 12 gears
- Simple adjustment
- Instant cable engagement
- Higher price point
Sram Eagle GX Shifter V Sram X01
Different Types of Shifters and How it Works
Road Bike Shifters
Most of the time, shifters on road bikes are actually part of the brake lever. This makes them very convenient. They are conveniently located because they are within your line of sight while you’re riding and they are very easy to reach being part of the brake.
Used on mountain bikes, these shifters are used by each hand to shift up and down from different gears. One hand makes the gear harder while the other shifts the gear to an easier one. These shifters require attention and focus from both of your hands.
Twist Shifters are the other type of shifter commonly used on mountain bikes for beginners or Kids MTBs. These shifters only require one of your hands and they operate by twisting the grip of the handlebar. Twisting one direction moves up gears while twisting the other direction moves down.
How Shifters Work
The goal of using shifters is to change gears. Changing gears makes the bike harder or easier to pedal, so the goal of changing the gear is to help you maintain a constant pedaling speed over various terrains and inclines.
When biking, you typically aim for a high cadence in easy gear. Your body will be working aerobically and you’ll be getting greater benefits from your cycling. When you cycle in a low cadence, your body has to work extremely hard and you will most likely tire out quickly.
When you shift gears, ensure you’re only using one shifter at a time. A good rule of thumb is to anticipate any new terrain or incline you’re about to encounter and shift your gear ahead of time. For example, if you’re coming up to a hill, change your gear right before you reach the hill.
Benefits of MTB Shifters
Benefits of a Shifter
Basically, an MTB shifter will make your mountain biking experience much easier and smoother! Using a shifter will prevent your bike from slipping gears or being misaligned. Indexed shifters do this by making sure your shifting is precise and keeping your bike in the right gear the whole time you’re riding.
Each kind of shifter has its own advantages and disadvantages. The great thing about trigger shifters is their versatility of placement. You can easily position a trigger shifter on multiple locations of a handlebar at multiple angles. This is going to give you so much more flexibility than with other shifters.
On the other hand, Twist Shifters can not be positioned in as many locations because they are confined to the grip. They do, however, give you a lot of variety in grip length. They are also much more simple and clean looking than lever shifters; many will even show you which gear you are on. This is a great advantage to give you a reference point when shifting gears.
Guidelines in Choosing
Friction or Indexed
An old-fashioned mountain biker may prefer a friction shifter, but otherwise, the friction-shifting method is really going out of style. Friction shifting takes a good amount of bike knowledge and is much more manual than indexed shifters. In order to use one, you have to manually move the chain in order to get the gear you want, which is difficult to do.
Indexed shifters, on the other hand, are much simpler and popular with modern bikes. All you have to do is press a button and the shifter will automatically change gears. It is a much more precise means of changing gears and eliminates a lot of the human error factor.
Thumb or Grip Twist
While thumb shifters are the more precise, neater and faster option, twist shifters are good enough for casual riding. Thumb shifters are definitely the best option for extreme mountain biking and biking sports because they will provide a lot more accuracy and feel. However, they are a bit more expensive, so if you don’t need that high level of proficiency, you’ll be fine with grip shifters.
SRAM or Shimano
A huge thing you need to consider when looking for a shifter is whether SRAM or Shimano will be more compatible for your mountain bike. Basically, you need to ensure you buy the same shifters as your derailleur. If your derailleur is SRAM, you should probably buy an SRAM shifter and vise-versa.
If you’re deciding between SRAM and Shimano, know that SRAM pulls the cables at a 1:1 ratio while Shimano pulls at a 1:2 ratio. This means that Shimano shifters are easier to shift, but SRAM ultimately is going to perform better on rough terrain. Whichever one you choose really depends on your riding style and the places you enjoy riding.
How to Change a Mountain Bike Shifter
If you are not great with mechanical things, we recommend taking it to your local mountain bike shop.
The video below by the ‘Regular Guy Mountain Biking’ is a great tutorial for those looking to get their hands dirty.
When buying a shifter, there are many things to consider. You need to decide what kind of shifter you want by considering what’s comfortable for you, how you want to use it and what is going to be compatible with your mountain bike. Thankfully, both SRAM and Shimano have multiple great shifters out there that will provide smooth shifting.
The goal of all this is to have fun, so don’t worry too much about choosing the right or wrong shifter. Simply think about how you want to have fun riding your mountain bike and choose a shifter that will allow you to do that.