Dec 10 2005
Back in August, I was looking to throw together a passable ‘cross bike from an old Kona Lava Dome. I had a good, 8 speed XT drive train together, but wanted drop bars and the ease integrated shifters/brake levers. OEM Shimano was hard to come by, Sora was unaccebtably poor, and Campy wouldn’t be compatable. But then I stumbled across these weird Italian things. Alleged to be both Shimano and Campy compatable, 100g lighter and (most importantly, for me) $100 less than the competition, these oddballs seemed worth the chance.
Set-Up: 1. Good lord, this was difficult. And let’s keep in mind that I learned how to work on bikes by making parts work that were never intended to go together. Mechanically, these are pretty straight-forward, but very finicky to get right. Certainly the “English” section of the manual (which calls for a 5mm “Alien Wrench”, among other hideous mistranslations) is no help; best to find a patient, professional, and preferably Italian mechanic to get these guys going.
Weight: 4. 320g. Much lighter than Dura-Ace and Record. I feel guilty about using “weight” as one of my cateories, so I’ll add that they look nice, too, especially if you want every bike geek you meet to be like “crazy-lookin’ levers, man.” Up close, though, you can see they’re put together pretty cheaply.
Function: 3. Bottom line, they work. Once you dial the set up, they shift acceptably well. They come with pre-made settings for Shimano 7, 8 and 9 speed, Campy 8 and 9, and “index” for 5 and 6 speeds. I tried all the Shimano set-ups and the 6 speed index, and they worked well, just not perfectly. Like Deore-level mountain shifting, in that occasionally, you gotta feel around for the index click.
Durability: 4. So far, pretty dang good. After two months, function is as good as ever, and let’s not forget I used these on a ‘cross bike that I packed in a sand-pit as well on pavement. The only bad thing is the faux-carbon-weave paint job is scuffed up easily by each impact.
Ergonomics: 2. The brake pull is great. I love it, and might use these just as brakes someday. The body is also extremely comfortable to simply drape your hand over. And the “thumbs-only” shifting is marginally easier than anything else to use in the drops. But the good points end there. It’s technically impossible to shift from the hoods due to the shifter lever locations, and the action of the shifters does not match the natural movement of your thumb. This, combined with the hard plastic of the lever, can be quite painful if it’s cold.
Final Thoughts: It’s a niche part. If you’ve got a classic road bike and want the ease of integrated shifting without changing anything else, these will be perfect, provided you can get them set up right. They’re even really comfy for just cruising on. Beyond that, though, they’re a novelty. The smooth precision of an all-Campy or all-Shimano drivetrain far outweighs the handful of grams these guys save, not to mention that racing on them is unbelievably frustrating. Yes, I put in a half a ‘cross season on them, but I am cheap and weird. Trust me, you want your race-day shifting to be on reflex, and these shifters simply don’t let you do that.