Disposable brifters

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I have two pairs of old non-functioning Shimano STI shifters sitting on my workbench at the moment- a 9-speed Ultegra set and a 9-speed Dura-Ace set. Unlike Campy and SRAM shifters, Shimano’s are not intended to be serviceable. Basically, when they wear out Shimano expects you to just pony up the cash for a new pair. I have successfully extended the life of STI shifters in the past by flushing them with something like carburetor cleaner to remove the gunk built up inside, but I have never attempted to take one apart and do a complete rebuild.

Well, it’s about time to give it a try. I need to use of the pairs on my cyclocross bike, so I am ready to take on the challenge. Norvil.net has good step-by-step instructions for disassembling a ST-7700 lever like the one I have. That, along with the exploded parts diagram from Shimano should be enough to get the right lever apart (and hopefully back together again). My plan is basically just to disassemble and clean them. If any parts are obviously worn, I’ll have to seek them out since Shimano does not make replacement parts available.

Anyway, I’m just curious if any of you have done any work like this on STI shifters? If it doesn’t go as planned, I can always upgrade my cross bike with a pair of these new Di2 shifters with satellite buttons for shifting in the drops. Yeah…maybe not, but the price of new shifters definitely serves as incentive to get the old ones working again. Wish me luck, and feel free to share any tip you might have.

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30 Comments

  1. Tarzan, Tonto, and Frankenstein December 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm -  Reply

    May god have mercy on your soul.

  2. Mike December 15, 2010 at 5:34 pm -  Reply

    I tried this once. They’re spring loaded so be careful when you’re disassembling them or parts will shoot everywhere. I never got mine back together.

    I ended up going with a bar-end shifter on my cross bike. Its super serviceable and simple, which means i don’t have to worry about it breaking or getting clogged up when i wreck in the mud.

    • James T December 16, 2010 at 9:55 am -  Reply

      I have bar-end shifters on my old Litespeed commuter bike at the moment. They are simple and maintenance free, even on a bike that gets left out in the rain from time to time. They are also easier to shift with heavy gloves, so they work well on a commuter. The only drawback is that the shifting position is different from my other road bikes, so it doesn’t feel as natural going back and forth.

  3. Riddle December 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm -  Reply

    Can’t offer any advice or tips, only encouragement and power to ye!

  4. Champs December 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm -  Reply

    As a furniture man, I’m sure you can picture the worst IKEA assembly ever. Now imagine doing it while performing your own oral surgery.

    There are many things we do as cyclists for the challenge, but this one is simply maddening, for an unlikely reward, and I can’t even claim to feel better for the experience..

    • James T December 16, 2010 at 10:02 am -  Reply

      Yeah, it doesn’t look easy at all. To be honest, I already upgraded my wife’s bike (the source of one of these pairs of worn out shifters) to an Ultegra 10 speed drivetrain. I guess I don’t really have to fix these, but I just feel the need to try. It is the one part on the bike that I have never really messed with, so I am pretty sure I will feel good about it if the rebuild is a success.

  5. Pierre December 15, 2010 at 6:42 pm -  Reply

    Hi James, I have the same problem on a couple of my race bikes with STI levers but don’t have the guts to try what you are about to do because reassembly must be a nightmare.
    It could be helpful to film the dissassembly so you can record everything and preferably do this surgery in a cean empty room so that if a spring jumps out you’ll be able to find it quicly.
    Before dismantling the lever, have you tried soaking the whole thing with a lubricant spray to see if anything gets better? Often the problem of gearshift levers is that the grease inside the mechanism gets harder and stickier with age so they don’t work properly anymore. But if you manage to force enough lubricant inside with the spray, it may be able to reach that sticky grease and dissolve it. No need to take everythig appart then.

    Check this out:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=100856572916
    It seems some make a living from fixing those unreliable levers!

    • James T December 16, 2010 at 10:12 am -  Reply

      Yes, I have tried flushing with carburetor cleaner and WD-40 to try and dislodge the built up gunk in these. That worked for a while on the Dura-Ace pair, but it seems to be past that point now (probably worn out parts).

      I know of a local guy who has an eBay business doing STI rebuilds. I should probably get him to do it, but it is really more a personal challenge than anything else at this point. From what I heard from him, the Ultegra levers are easier to work on than the DA ones.

  6. Tim December 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm -  Reply

    I did this once. Not sure why, but it seemed like a great idea at the time. Even managed to get them back together without any diagrams or instructions: a small feat of engineering! They worked better for a while, but certainly never as good as new. If I remember correctly, some of the pawl/gear profiles were worn, which limited their useful life after re-build. I also found small bits of gear cable that had made there way into places they shouldn’t have been. Removing them, helped.

    • James T December 16, 2010 at 10:13 am -  Reply

      Worn parts are what I expect to find. These are both pretty old shifters.

  7. Kieselguhr Kid December 15, 2010 at 10:53 pm -  Reply

    FWIW I’ve successfully revived a pair of 9spd XT shifters by removing the cover & lubricating them with Tri-Flow. Don’t know why but it seems to be the secret sauce as no other lube I tried worked.
    Of course the issue with mine was the pawl was not reliably catching the ratchet, if the issue with yours is more serious…

    • James T December 16, 2010 at 10:21 am -  Reply

      The parts in an STI lever are generally a bit more delicate than in a MTB trigger shifter, so oil or dirt residue is usually the problem when a lever is sticky and starts missing a few shifts. Tri-Flow might add to that problem in the long run, but it’s worth a try at this point. I’ll let you know if it works.

  8. Campy Fan December 16, 2010 at 8:51 am -  Reply

    The title says it all. You should give up on Shimano and make the switch to ErgoPower Levers.

    And for what it’s worth, the word” brifter” makes me cringe. It sounds so crude.

    • James T December 16, 2010 at 10:44 am -  Reply

      I definitely like the fact that Campagnolo shifters are serviceable, but switching is a not an option for me. I would consider SRAM shifters before Campy, but I still prefer the feel of STI shifters to both. ErgoPower shifters just don’t seem to fit my hands like the DA ones I am used to. Maybe it is something I could get used to, but I just don’t want to try.

      I do see your point about the word brifter though. Portmanteau words in general are annoying, but at least brifter is not as bad as advertorial, frenemy, gription, mockumentary, or any of the other increasingly popular combined words. I do have to say that I am OK with the word spork though. Brifter sort of fits into that category.

  9. latron December 16, 2010 at 4:03 pm -  Reply

    I have not rebuilt brifters, but have done a number of sets of rapidfire shifters, and while the former are more complicated, it can be done, I’m sure. First, though, if you think it’s gunk build-up on your shifters, soak the entire unit in solvent at least overnight, letting it dry, and then relube with a touch of triflow. If that doesn’t work, then try disassembly. With each step, take extreme close-up shots of the mechanism. As parts come off, lay them out from right to left (or left to right) in the sequence and orientation they came off. Clean all the little bits and pieces, lube lightly, then reassemble, watching in reverse order the photos you took. You can do it!

  10. adam December 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm -  Reply

    A friend and I went for a similar project once. I would recommend doing your work inside a clear plastic bag. If a little spring or clip shoots out you still have it. On the shifts we had the parts were warn away significantly. If you find a source for replacements please share.

  11. Mike C December 17, 2010 at 7:59 am -  Reply

    Before full-on disassembly, stop once you have the lever/shifter unit off, covers removed, and attack it from there with carb cleaner or speed degreaser. You have better access to the internals. Also more convenient to dip-soak than a whole shifter.

    • latron December 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm -  Reply

      I neglected to say that the shifter guts (which come out as a chunk, as I recall) should be removed first, then soaked. Requires less solvent, at the very least.

  12. James T December 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm -  Reply

    Latron, Adam, and Mike C, All good suggestions. Thanks!

  13. Shozaburo December 21, 2010 at 6:54 am -  Reply

    I recently overhauled a 1936 Sturmey-Archer AW hub. It needed a few repair parts which are still manufactured and I was able to order without any problems. It’s now as good as new and ready for several more decades of use.

    Just sayin’.

    • James T February 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm -  Reply

      Nice! Any pics of the process?

  14. Casey Clark December 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm -  Reply

    Getting a little off-topic, but I thought some readers
    might like to know about this trick. I prefer Campy shifters
    because they are serviceable, but like to use Shimano components
    everywhere else because they are less expensive, easier to find,
    etc. I use the Brian Jenks cable re-route described on page 6 of
    this article: http://www.precisiontandems.com/gearcompat.html I’ve
    been running this setup for a few years now with no
    problems.

  15. C.P. February 18, 2011 at 3:52 pm -  Reply

    Been There. Done That. Several Thousand Years ago. The result was spectacular. They worked better than the factory build. The process was……well it made me want to poke myself in the eye….

  16. James T February 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for the comment, C.P. It reminds me that need to update this post. I was actually able to get the Ultegra shifters working again with only a partial disassembly and a lot of soaking in carburetor cleaner. Those shifters are now back in action on my cyclocross bike and are working quite well. The Dura Ace shifters have proved to be more stubborn. At the moment, they are still in a bucket on my workbench. I don’t have a pressing need to fix them now that the other pair is working, but whenever I have a few spare hours and a desire to torture myself…I know where they are.

    • C.P. February 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm -  Reply

      Cool. Indeed, and thanks for sharing as Misery must have company :) Andy Shen from Velocity shipped me his Ultegra’s several years ago with a spring a wee bit out of place behind the cosmetic plastic piece on front. If I win the Lottery and get bored who know’s *maybe* I’ll beg for a pop at your 7700’s. Ttyl Chris.

  17. Kimmo June 14, 2011 at 5:18 am -  Reply

    STIs are a rubbish design; far too complex… Ergos are miles better. Both my Ergo-equipped (brifters and RD only) bikes were pinched though, so I’ve had to make do with these stupid STIs…and was blown away that a device containing tiny pawls on hair springs is factory lubed with a grease that hardens into sticky crud. It’s a capitalist plot.

    Anyway, I’ve had a couple of sets of these bastards apart. My advice is to work on a white sheet on the floor, and rather than laying all the parts out in the order they come out, IMO it makes more sense to clean, lube and reassemble little sub-assemblies as you dismantle, cause of the sheer number of parts and complexity of the mechanism. I’d recommend that approach until you’ve done it like half a dozen times, or you’ll risk being one of those folks who never complete successful reassembly.

    Here’s my rebuild guide… sorry about the crappy pics.

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