Catch up on the Project Any Road build here.
When the Project Any Road bike started to take shape on paper, I knew immediately that the shifters were going to be Retroshift. At BikeRumor we often get spoiled with SRAM Red, Dura-Ace, and Campy SuperRecord, so why would I want to run this clunky antiquated technology after riding the best? Well, in short, because it’s simple, reliable, and cheap enough for anyone to obtain. Adam Clement and crew have to put together a well thought out product that, while intended for cyclocross, has many enticing applications across the cycling spectrum. Personally, I wanted to find out how these levers would do day in and day out on my go anywhere rig.
Shift through for the full review.
The Retroshift levers are a smart design. The base lever for our CX2 model is a Tektro R200A brake lever. It’s then transformed into a Retroshift lever by being dissembled, drilled, polished or left black, laser etched, and then reassembled with the shifter mount added. The CX2 model sent our way included custom 10 speed compatible bar end shift levers sourced from Microshift that have a been optimized specifically for the Retroshift bracket. That said, the shifter mounts are compatible with the majority of Shimano bar end and downtube shifters. The mounting bracket for the shifter has a star burst style pattern cut away behind it, and the square pin can be turned slightly to fine tune the final angle your shifter is set at. This allows you to fine tune the lever position when running something other than a 10 speed shifter (it comes ready to go for 10s out of the box).
The build quality is good as long as you don’t directly compare it to the top of the range shifters from the big three. The CNC’d shifter mount is well made, and truth be told, the Microshift levers feel solid. There is some side to side play in the brake lever arm, but it isn’t noticeable when traveling down the road, and has never affected the performance of the product. The aesthetics of the lever seem to be a love it or hate it affair. Me personally, I love it. But to each their own.
Setting up the levers on the bike was very straight forward. Once the lever is placed on the bar and tightened, and the cables fished, the brake cable gets run under the tape, and the shift cable is angled out the top of the shifter bracket. Tape up the bars and you’re done.
The levers are designed to work specifically with Shimano systems. Ours is paired with an Ultegra 6700 front and rear derailleur, 6700 chain, an Ultegra 6600 12-27 cassette, with an FSA SL-K crankset fitted with 52-36 Praxis Works chainrings (more on those soon!)
Shifting performance from the Retroshift levers has been fantastic. You get a nice solid, but not alarming, clunk with each indexed click for the rear. One advantage of the system is that you can sweep the entire cassette (in either direction) with one motion. That said, it’s not a graceful maneuver, and is accompanied by a fair bit of noise. It is however, very useful when you hit the bottom of a hill and you are faced with a steep incline immediately.
The front shifting is friction based, and with the derailleur limits set correctly, it is the best front shifting performance I have ever had. Granted I am using a double, which means I slam the lever all the way in one direction and keep on pedaling. With finer movements, you can get a bit of trim out of the system, but I almost never find myself needing to trim the front derailleur. The front shifter, being friction only, can be used with a triple as well, but would require a bit of finesse. It is nice to have the option.
Speaking of options, Retroshift has many. The Retroshift crew will be the first to tell you that the product was designed for cyclocross racing first and foremost. It’s durable, cheap, easy to rebuild, and lightweight all at the sometime. So of course, it makes sense to use on a commuter, adventure bike, and even for touring. The advantages are certainly there. The levers, with shifter mounted, weigh close to 40 grams less than the current gen Ultegra “brifters”. Oh, and they cost $360 less. Pair a set of Retroshift shifters along with one of their new Derailleurs and you have a cheap, reliable, and rebuildable setup.
As with any product there are some downsides however. The overall ergonomics aren’t up to par with the levers from the major players, but they aren’t far off. I rarely notice any discomfort when riding on the hoods. It usually only occurs if I am wearing winter gloves. Miss-shifts do occur from time to time as well. When the right lever is pointed further out in either direction, accidental contact can cause it to shift a gear. It’s a pretty easy issue to overcome after just a few rides. And last, but not least, you just can’t shift from the drops. For some I have talked to this is a complete deal breaker. For most of us however, it’s simply a minor inconvenience. And considering these replace downtube shifters for some, it’s one hell of an improvement.
My CX2’s have been in use for about 9 months now. They’ve seen rain, cold, heat, cross rides, and epic all day journeys. Their performance has been far better than expected, and they have needed very little adjustment. I have a new set of Shimano 105 shifters sitting in my parts bin. They were my back up for this build in case I didn’t like the Retroshift. They are still in the parts bin nearly a year later, and that’s where they are going to stay. Retroshift has put out a great, affordable product that meets the needs of so many different applications. It wouldn’t be the option to go with for the full on road race bike, but for just about anything else from a commuter, to a cross racer, to a touring build, to a gravel grinder, it’s worth a look and then some.