Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shimano Shifter Hell

Welcome to Shimano hell, I'll be your tour guide.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a Shimano fan - they make great stuff.  However, I'm cursing 'em a bit at the moment...

Replaced the rear derailleur cable on my zippy Ibis carbon road bike, which runs Ultegra STI shifters.  Piece-O-Cake, done in no time flat, been through this routine before.  Bike in workstand to adjust shifting - won't shift all - nada, ziltch.  What the heck?

Closer inspection reveals cable end in shifter not sitting where it should be, appears to be above the grooved slot.  Either I threaded the cable incorrectly, missing the grooved slot and housing (most likely), or the barrel cable end somehow pulled through the housing (unlikely).  No big deal, I'll push the cable back through the shifter and reseat.  Not so fast Bunky...

After an hour of screwing around, along with an additional 20 minutes from a neighbor - seems to be impossible to push the cable back through - gap is too tight.  Attempted to push cable with a thin awl from the back - sorry.  Grab from the front with needle nose pliers - sorry.  Removed two screws to hopefully access via plastic hatch - sorry.

Cutting the new cable would do nothing but allow the cable end to drift somewhere into the shifter housing.  Crap!

Considered removing pivot bolt lock nut and see where that gets me. I chicken out knowing STI shifters are not really designed to be taken apart.  You can just see the tiny springs, spacers and various watch like parts waiting to explode all over the garage.

After some online searching, discover this is a fairly common problem, though usually occurs when a worn cable snaps in the shifter, leaving the barrel end stuck.  My dilemma is similar, though my cable is intact.  From the online pics and stories that I read, some wound up buying a new shifter after unsuccessfully trying to remove the cable - some bike shops unable to remove as well.  Others drilled a small hole into the shifter housing to access the snapped cable.  Most removed after hours of poking and prodding with various awls and dental type tools.

Man, you'd think Shimano would have designed some kind of access hatch to remove a broken off cable end.  Replacing an expensive shifter assembly because of a broken cable is just plain nuts.  Even though my problem appears to be self induced, amazing that I can't easily remove the cable.

I plan to cut the new cable a few inches back and remove the shifter from the bike.  Then sitting a table with good lighting, can twist and access the shifter internals as needed.  Neighbor lent me a thin awl and really skinny needle nose pliers to poke around with.  What a pain in the uh, shifter.

Wish me luck.  


  1. I have to say that shimano road sti units are just a pain when it comes to changing cables. At least more so than other brands. There just seems little room to get to the mechanisms. Maybe its just me and that I find mtb shifters much easier by comparison, but when you have to replace a shifters because you can't get a broken part out then something is wrong in the design.
    At least they are more reliable than sram!

  2. OUCH!!!! Painful no doubt. I hear ya. I do like Shimano myself, I switched my FatBike, HT and CX all over to Shimano Tiagra STI in the last 18 months, I like the comfort and easier shifting for dirt riding and the larger hoods and levers then my previous Scram that work better wearing winter gloves.

  3. I've run various shifter combos over the last 25+ years. Currently 10 speed Ultegra on the carbon Ibis, old school 8 speed STI on the steel Ibis. Main mountain bike is running SRAM X7 shifters and X9 rear derailleur - my first SRAM bike. It works well. Son Ian's 'cross rig is also running SRAM Rival - pretty nice.

    When it comes down to it though, I'd take Shimano if given the choice. I like the lighter action to the shifting. The SRAM stuff works well though. I've never owned anything Campy wise. If I build up the dream road bike, I'd for the Chorus group, just for something different.

    Oh yeah, I removed the cable from the shifter today. Pulled the shifter off the bike to make things easier. When I flipped the shifter upside down, could see the cable had pulled all the way across the inside of the housing - so the barrel end was against the cable exit hole, but was too big to pull all the way through. I was able to pull it out using needle nose pliers, between the shifter itself and the housing - barely had room - but it worked. Much relief. I'll pick up a new shifter cable and handlebar tape this week. I'll also be extra careful routing the new cable...

  4. First, as a matter of full disclosure, I am a fan of Shimano. I just did a ride with a friend of mine who works at a bike shop. He couldn’t get his XT derailleur to stop shadow shifting. He turns to me and asks what the problem was. I pointed out the fact that he works at a bike shop, and I was riding a single speed. It seems to me shifting shouldn't be this complicated.