Grip shifters literally launched SRAM into the bike market back in 1988. As a scrappy start-up, SRAM introduced grip shifters in the road market that year and just six years later the company had sales of $25 million (by 2010, the company would rake in just over half a billion dollars a year).
I first tried grip shifters on a mountain bike in the 1990s and I hated them right away, mostly because I would inadvertently shift every time I changed my grip going into steep climbs. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, grip shifters seemed to fade from industry consciousness over the last few years beyond just a few core riders (many of them in Europe; also dgaddis).
SRAM recently released X0 and XX versions of their signature grip shifters in 10spd configurations and I’ve been skeptically testing them over the past couple months. Over the course of that time a funny thing happened–I became a believer.
On paper, the X0 grip shifters are amazing–and yet, I still had little desire to give them a chance (funny how persistent first impressions can be).
One of the advantages grip shift riders have been crowing about for years is the weight savings, although those savings may not be obvious just by looking at the package. The shifters themselves (minus grips) weigh 207 grams for the pair compared to 232 grams for X0 trigger shifters. The grips weigh about 80 grams (again, for the pair) compared to 124 grams for the basic pair of Sette lock-on grips I replaced. Overall that’s about a 20% savings which is fairly significant.
Unlike a traditional trigger-shift system, grip shifters allow the rider to dump or jump multiple gears in a single motion. With a traditional high-normal derailleur, trigger shifters force you to press once for each downshift; grip shifters allow you to twist through as many gears as you like in either direction.
The new X0 Grip Shifters are offered in both 2X and 3X configurations.
Right out of the box I could see that the all new XO grip shifters were solid and expertly constructed–not that I expected anything less from XO-level gear. Having never run grip shifters on my own bikes, I wasn’t sure if the shifter would include a full grip or if I’d have to try to mate them with my existing grips. Fortunately SRAM includes an integrated 3/4 length grip for a seamless integration. Not only that, the grips are Jaws lock-on grips and they’re really solid–if you’ve used lock-on grips of any type you know there’s no going back to regular friction grips.
The entire system went together easily and without a hitch. Just slide the shifter onto the bar, then the grip, and finally the bar end caps. Tighten the clamps on either end and you’re done!
On the trail
Did I mention that I wasn’t looking forward to testing these shifters? During the first few rides I had a hard time remembering which direction to twist and even after a couple months I still get it wrong in panic situations (push the rear shifter forward to go faster, twist back to get an easier gear; it’s the opposite for the front shifter). From the beginning I haven’t had any issues with accidental shifts which is a relief–that was easily the biggest turnoff for me when I first tried grip shifters many years ago.
Like X0 trigger shifters, the grip shift version offers butter smooth shifting and precise action, even in nasty conditions. My grip shifters are still completely dialed after dozens of rides and the shifting is just as crisp as when I first installed them. According to SRAM there are three rows of ball bearings inside the shifters for a total of 120 which sounds like a lot. All I know is the shifting works great and has been very consistent.
After getting comfortable with the X0 Grip Shifters I found that my riding stance became slightly narrower as I shifted my grasp toward the middle of the bars. Gravity riders may cry fowl–wider is better they say–but for XC riding, particularly racing, there’s an advantage to a narrow stance.
Everyone, gravity riders included, will agree that more grip is better and grip shifters allow you to keep your thumb wrapped around the bar at all times. It’s the same theory behind using a single finger to brake–more hand coverage on the grips allows you to relax your grasp while maintaining the same level of control over the bike.
Look and Feel
Another reason grip shifters have so many fans is thanks to the streamlined, clean design. Handlebars become less cluttered and take on a more finished look.
The included Jaws grips are pretty inoffensive; the comfortable shape and medium amount of padding should work for most riders. The swirling pattern mates well with gloves in wet or dry conditions.
My single complaint about these grips is the way the thin aluminum cover attaches to the shifter itself. To secure the covers it’s important to set the clamps as tight against the covers as possible which can be tricky. Yet even after getting the clamps as flush as possible I still hear a slight rattle over rocky terrain. Is this a deal breaker? Not at all, but it seems like there should be a better way to secure the covers.
On paper, the X0 Grip Shifters have plenty of advantages over traditional trigger shifters: lower weight, quicker shifting, improved control, and even better looks. After testing the X0 Grip Shifters I can confirm these shifters aren’t just book smart–they’re trail smart too. I’m a converted believer in the new and improved grip shift and I suspect if you try them, you’ll become a believer too.
The X0 10spd Grip Shifters are available for $109-$225 MSRP. Thanks to the folks at SRAM for providing these shifters for review.