Is your shifting smooth enough? Are you dropping your chain or having a hard time finding the right gears? Maybe you just want swifter, faster shifting? It might be time for an upgrade. The best mountain bike shifters work under pressure and won’t leave you in the wrong gear.

You might rock simple bar-end twister shifters or the sportiest trigger-release levers. Either way, you want shifters that are reliable, lightweight and comfortable. Shifting is the most tactile aspect of biking, and smooth shifting makes a bike feel faster.

Here at The Adventure Junkies, we make mountain biking easy by taking some of the mystery out of the gear selection. We’ve created this guide to help you evaluate mountain bike shifters for compatibility and riding style, helping you find the best gear for your ride.

 

CLICK HERE to Download our FREE Quick Starter Guide to Mountain Biking

 

 

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FIND THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS

PICTURE
MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTER
BEST USE
TRIGGER
WEIGHT
PRICE
RATING
PICTURE
MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTER
BEST USE
TRIGGER
WEIGHT
PRICE
RATING
Shimano XT SL-M780
Overall
Yes
290.0g
$$$$$
4.8
Shimano Rapidfire Plus SL-M670
Overall
Yes
298.0g
$$$
4.6
SRAM X.9 Triggers
Overall
Yes
220.0g
$$$$
4.3
SRAM X.9 Twist
Overall
No
195.0g
$$$$
5.0
Shimano Acera SL-M310 RapidFire
Triples
Yes
265.0g
$$$
4.4
Shimano Tourney RevoShift SL-RS47
Triples
No
210.0g
$$
4.5
Shimano SL-4600 Tiagra
Conversions
Yes
297.0g
$$$$$
4.6
Sunrace SLM10
Friction
No
129.0g
$
4.5
Shimano Shifters SL-TX30 Tourney
Budget
No
283.0g
$$
4.2
Sram 3.0 Comp Twister
Budget
No
162.0g
$$
4.6

 

 

MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS 101

 

4 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTER

 

1. COMPATIBILITY: SRAM OR SHIMANO?

The two main companies are SRAM and Shimano, and they differ in one major way. SRAM pulls the cables at a 1:1 ratio, and Shimano at a 2:1 ratio. In practice, it’s not that different, and you’ll probably never notice the switch.

Shimano may feel slightly easier to shift, and SRAM may perform slightly better in inclement weather or mud. Diffen has a breakdown of differences between the two companies if you’re feeling uncertain.

The biggest issue is compatibility; you want to make sure that whatever your derailleur is, you buy the same shifters. If you don’t have SRAM or Shimano, you’ll have to check the ratio used and then figure out what you can buy. Whatever you do, stick with the same ratio; don’t try to hack it to work.

If your rear derailleur is made by Campagnolo, you have an extra set of headaches. The venerable Italian firm hasn’t made mountain bike components since the 90s, so you’ll need to consider replacing the whole drivetrain if you want new shifters.

 

2. THUMB SHIFTERS OR GRIP TWISTS?

The next issue is a preference once. Some are happy with simple “twist” shifters, which tend to be less expensive and fairly reliable. The bike handlebar grips turn in order to shift, similar to the shifters on most of our first bikes.

 

THUMB SHIFTERS

The step-up are triggers or twin levers; one lever goes up the gears, the other goes down. The levers usually “click” like a trigger, and provide a lot of tactile feedback. They feel fast and snappy compared to twist shifters, and are the default on any bike setup for racing or competition.

 

TWIST SHIFTERS

If you’re going for casual trail rides, the twisters are good enough; if you want to do sportier, jumpier riding or racing, you want triggers. If you have twister grips and are swapping them out for twin-lever triggers, you probably need new grips. See this guide to grips by fellow The Adventure Junkies writer Richard Bailey.

 

3. FRICTION OR INDEXED?

 

INDEXED

Indexed shifting is more accurate and precise. When you press the button, the bike shifts to the next gear. You can shift better under load, too, partially because of the way the shifter works, and partially because of advances in cog manufacturing. If you need a primer on shifting technique, see Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer’s article on shifting for The Adventure Junkies.

You probably will want to stick with indexed shifters unless you know you prefer friction shifters. If you do, you’re in luck; the improvements to modern cogs also benefit friction shifters, making them work even more reliably and snappier.

 

FRICTION SHIFTING

Friction shifting is largely disappearing from the market. Think 1970s road bikes with downtube shifters: That’s friction. You push the chain left and right, and feel when it’s in place.

If you’re curious about friction shifting, you can learn more in this short video with a demo.

 

VIDEO: HOW DOES FRICTION SHIFTING WORK?

 

4. RANGE OF GEARS

How many gears do you have? If you’re just upgrading the shifter, count your gears, and make sure the shifters accommodate them. Most of the sets we’ve recommended can be bought as singles, too, if you’re running a single chain ring in the front.

If you’re making up your mind about gearing, Bikeradar has a detailed article on the pros and cons of various gear combinations. Look through their breakdown to determine what works best for you.

 

mountain bike shifters must-have

Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/mel-nik

 

MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS REVIEWS

 

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS FOR OVERALL

SHIMANO XT SL-M780

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | Jenson USA

BEST FOR: Fast, snappy riding on hard trails and cyclocross racing

GEARING: 1×10 or 3×10

TRIGGER: Yes

WEIGHT: 290 g

PROS: Fast, easy install, smooth shifting

CONS: Price, weight

 

 

 

SHIMANO RAPIDFIRE PLUS SL-M670

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Comfortable levers for flat-bar mountain biking

GEARING: 1×10 or 3×10

TRIGGER: Yes

WEIGHT: 298 g

PROS: Ergonomics, speed, compatibility

CONS: Weight

 

 

 

SRAM X.9 TRIGGERS

Check out the latest price on:
AmazonJenson USA

BEST FOR: Low-weight race shifting at high speeds

GEARING: 1-3×10

TRIGGER: Yes

WEIGHT: 220 g

PROS: Weight, speed, quality, range of gears

CONS: Durability

 

 

 

SRAM X.9 TWIST

Check out the latest price on:
AmazonJenson USA

BEST FOR: Bar-end shifters at race speed and performance

GEARING: 1-3×10

TRIGGER: No

WEIGHT: 195 g

PROS: Weight, precision, speed, easy install

CONS: None we could find

 

 

 

 

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS FOR TRIPLES

SHIMANO ACERA SL-M310 RAPIDFIRE

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Fast-shifting on older gear ranges

GEARING: 3×7/3×8

TRIGGER: Yes

WEIGHT: 265 g

PROS: Price, easy install

CONS: None we could find

 

 

 

SHIMANO TOURNEY REVOSHIFT SL-RS47

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: High performance grip shift for older rear derailleurs

GEARING: 3×8/7/6

TRIGGER: No

WEIGHT: 210 g

PROS: Price, wide gear range, easy install

CONS: None we could find

 

 

 

 

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS FOR CONVERSIONS

SHIMANO SL-4600 TIAGRA

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Road-bikes converted to flat-bar cyclocross or gravel bike use

GEARING: 2×10

TRIGGER: Yes

WEIGHT: 297 g

PROS: Quality, speed

CONS: Price, weight, incompatible with mountain bike derailleurs

 

 

 

 

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS FOR FRICTION

SUNRACE SLM10

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Old-school tactile friction shifting

GEARING: 1-3×5-11

TRIGGER: No

WEIGHT: 129 g

PROS: Old school style, compatibility, price, weight

CONS: Speed

 

 

 

 

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE SHIFTERS FOR BUDGET

SHIMANO SHIFTERS SL-TX TOURNEY

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Inexpensive trigger-like shifters for triple chain-rings

GEARING: 3×7

TRIGGER: No

WEIGHT: 283 g

PROS: Easy install, price

CONS: Weight, hybrid twist/trigger

 

 

 

SRAM 3.0 COMP TWISTER

Check out the latest price on:
AmazonJenson USA

BEST FOR: High-end performance on budget bar-ends

GEARING: 3×7-8

TRIGGER: No

WEIGHT: 162 g

PROS: Weight, quality, reliable, tactile

CONS: Grip position can be uncomfortable

Best Mountain Bike Shifters - Best Mountain Bike Gear Articles – MTB Equipment and Accessories for Men, Women and Kids – Mountain Biking Products Articles and Reviews
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