Microshift 7-speed shifter fits the bill

Microshift 7 speed levers have an unusual shifting method.

Microshift 7 speed levers have an unusual shifting method.

UPDATE (Jan. 4, 2017): I corresponded with Microshift regarding the lever not working properly. After seeing a video I created, a new lever was shipped to me at no cost. Indeed, the lever was defective. It was purchased through Ebay from a seller called “microshift-bicycle” based in China and in no way affiliated with Microshift of Taiwan.

——————————————

This story starts six years ago when I finally threw in the towel and switched from down-tube index shifting to brake/shift levers on a new bike.

It didn’t take long to realize I had made the right decision. So much so that my second bike with down-tube shifting called out for a make-over. I still enjoy riding that 1986 frame built by Dale Saso, even though it has been through a lot. Another reason: Dupuytrens contracture is reeking havoc with my hands, making it painful to use the old Campagnolo brake levers — small and narrow.

When I started looking at cost, I discovered that Shimano has abandoned 10-speed cassettes for 11-speeds, and even worse, they’re not compatible. Enough already! Ten speeds in the rear was more than I needed. I would have to widen the rear stay another 4 mm, build new wheels, buy new cassettes.

I decided to try a 7-speed. I could swap my 6-speed screw-on freewheel for a 7-speed without widening the frame, as it turned out, and screw-on 7-speed freewheels are available. Your bike may be different and require a hub spacer or not work at all. The issue is chain clearance in the high gear. Gear stops cost $11 and screw into the down-tube shifter braze-on.

Microshift levers, derailleurs
Looking around I found Shimano still makes 7-speed brake/shift levers. I also found Microshift makes the levers and rear derailleur for a 7-speed. I had good luck with their shifters on my mountain bike, so I decided to give them a try. The price was right, $50 for the levers on eBay and $22 for the derailleur. A Shimano freewheel (13-28) runs about $9 on sale. I would need to buy cable housing ($20) and then a cable cutter ($25).

I bought through the mail, so I was on my own when it came to troubleshooting.

Would my Dura-Ace 7402 rear derailleur work? I wondered, so I held off ordering the Microshift rear derailleur. Dura-Ace 7402 was compatible with 8 speed SIS, so it might just work.

The levers went onto the bike with no issues. Cable routing is straightforward. They didn’t come with directions (they’re online in PDF), but Microshift has instructions on YouTube.

The moment of truth: I began shifting gears. I made barrel adjustments going from high to low speed on the rear derailleur and it worked well. However, I noticed that shifting from low (easy) to high gear (hard) didn’t work. I tried everything — barrel adjustments, checking the cable housing length, different ferrules, lubrication, checking the chain, rear hanger alignment, on and on. No matter what I did, the chain clunked from low gear to high gear without stopping between cogs.

Dura-Ace to blame?
I figured the Dura-Ace derailleur was to blame, so I ordered a Microshift 7 speed derailleur. I installed it without any issues (nothing unusual about how it works) and again the moment of truth: Argh!!! No matter what I did, I got the same result.

By the way, in the meantime I read about cable housing and discovered that Shimano SIS shift housing is different from brake housing. So much so that using shift housing on brakes can lead to sudden brake failure! So I had to go back to my old brake housing, which is a single strand of thick wire wrapped in a coil (helical). The Shimano SIS shift housing is multiple strands of thin, straight wire held together by plastic lining and then nylon sheathing. Brake cable undergoes compression, which puts a lot of pressure on the housing lining.

But I digress. Now I was really mystified by the problematic shifting. I couldn’t find squat about Microshift derailleurs and how they worked. YouTube videos only explain how to adjust derailleurs, not how to use the levers.

I tried opening the brake/shift lever and figure out how it worked. It was like a Sturmey-Archer hub in there.

Shifting works this way
As I was messing with the gears I decided to try something different. The shifter has two paddles. The large paddle is pushed to the left to shift from a high to low gear. Pretty straight forward. There’s a small paddle that you push in to do the opposite, low to high. Makes sense. But as I mentioned, every time I pushed the small paddle the chain shifted all the way into high gear. I wondered: What if I push in on the big paddle, holding it in place, and then push in on the small paddle?

Lo and behold, that was it. Perfect shifting. Microshift might have a patent on that process. I couldn’t find one though. If only they had instructions. It’s not intuitive.

After riding, I got used to the shifting, but I wouldn’t want to use it in a race. It’s way too complicated to have to think about it during the heat of competition. However, for an old geezer riding around town, it’s fine.

So how about the levers for comfort? They’re far better than Campagnolo and with padded gloves my hands can tolerate them. They’re a bit narrower than Shimano Ultegra 6700 levers, but not enough to be an issue. All in all, they have a nice feel.

By the way, I kept the Dura-Ace front derailleur. It works fine with Microshift. I didn’t notice a long throw as some have reported. It has three clicks, but I think one of them is for trim and not a triple crank. As for the Campagnolo brakes, their 1-1 pull ratio isn’t any different. The 4-1 ratio found in modern brakes is much preferred by me since my hands aren’t all that strong, but I can live with it. In terms of hand size, larger hands are probably better for Microshift levers.

Finally, I still wasn’t sure about the Dura-Ace derailleur. Would it work? I reinstalled it and gave it a try. This is an old derailleur. Maybe that has something to do with it, but the results were not great. It could work in a pinch, but I would go with the Microshift derailleur, which shifts as smooth as glass. It’s light years better than my down-tube index shifting.

Note: The official Microshift instructions for the levers do not say that it’s necessary to push in on the large paddle while shifting the small paddle. I doubt that my levers are defective. The instructions may be wrong. Microshift has not responded to my email, so hard to say.

More reading:

Drive-train history

Dura-Ace 7402 rear derailleur

Microshift rear derailleur. Cable housing should be about 30 cm long.

Microshift rear derailleur. Cable housing should be about 30 cm long.

4 Responses to “Microshift 7-speed shifter fits the bill”

  1. Brian Ward Says:

    I rented a bike with the 10-speed version of these about a year ago. They worked fine–I think Microshift have really tried to come up with good, functional shifters/brake levers like this. I think they mostly sell to the OEM market, though.

    While we have this post, my personal desires for shifters are:

    1. Indicators for which gear you’re in, like on some of the older-design Shimano STIs. The “pros” may whine about that, but when you actually bother to stop at stop signs, traffic lights, and stuff (as you tend to have to do when commuting), this is pretty nice.

    2. Smaller-scale versions to put on my wife’s bike so that she stops complaining that the shifters are too big. She has a point there–her hands are rather small. Microshift lists (S) versions of a few of theirs as short reach for small hands, but what we really need is proportionately smaller in other dimensions, especially width/girth.

  2. Jon Blum Says:

    To clarify about the housing, SIS housing has longitudinal wires which make it very noncompressible axially, for optimal shifting performance. Despite that stiffness, it is not as strong against compression as brake cable housing, which can give a bit, but resists the high compressive forces of braking because of the spiral reinforcement. If you use brake cable housing for shifters, shifting may suffer; if you use SIS housing for brakes, you could have a disastrous housing failure with complete loss of braking. This will tend to occur when you least want it – under hard braking. The moral of the story is pony up for the correct housing for your application. And you were wise to buy a proper cable cutter; using anything else (e.g., wire cutter) is a pain, and it pays for itself when you can install your own cables and housing without ruining them.

  3. Ray Hosler Says:

    I’ve always used helical wound cable housing for all cable fittings. It works well enough for shifting, but from now on I will use Shimano SIS for shift cables. That’s why I had to buy a new cable cutter. I had never used Shimano SIS housing and standard cutters just don’t “cut it.”

  4. Brian Mac Giolla Bháin Says:

    I just installed these shifters along with an older Shimano 105 derailleur. The reach was way off but it was easy to fix be screwing the B-tensior bolt into the other side of the tab such that the head of the screw was meeting the drop out’s stopper.

    The 7 speed I have has one over sized 1st gear for extra steep climbs, it wasn’t over the 32t sprocket limit so I figured it HAD to work somehow.

    What I love is how the brake levers have only a single degree of freedom. Spirited riding with floppy brake levers sounds like a death trap.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: