Retroshift indexed thumb shifter brake levers prototype for cyclocross

Founded by Adam Clement as an alternative to running (sometimes very) expensive mechanical levers on dirty, muddy, crash-prone cyclocross bikes, Retroshift takes an age old shifting idea and gives it a fresh spin.

Retroshift levers combine a metal brake lever with a simple indexed “thumb lever” style shifter arm, much like the ones found on down tubes from bikes a couple decades ago. Ergonomically, hitting the full range of gears with a single hand movement has now been race proven under Kona’s Erik Tonkin.

“What I most like about them is how quickly I can shift up into harder gears – I can easily go thru 4-5 gears at a time,” said Tonkin, after racing the levers to a win at the muddy Kruger Farm race in Oregon a couple weekends ago. ” I can also plow through a lot of gears on the downshift.  This is a feature only offered by down-tube and bar-end shifters–modern STI levers don’t really afford two-way, multiple-gear shifting with one throw of a lever.”

Check the video after the break to see it in action. Basically, you can dump (or climb) the entire cassette’s worth of gears in about one second, quicker even than the 1.5 seconds it takes Campy’s new EPS electronic group to do it.

Photos and a little Q&A with Adam and Erik after the break…

“I can’t believe no one’s done this before. I went through about a hundred years of patents looking for anything like it being done before and couldn’t find anything,” says Clement. “I’ve tested it with Shimano 7- 9- and 10-speed and it works great. I haven’t tried it with SRAM or Campy, but it should work fine.”

“I’d been playing around with the design for a while, but with the cyclocross craze growing, the timing was right. It’s cheap, and it works really well, and you don’t risk ruining expensive STI levers.”

retroshift prototype brake shift levers for cyclocross with indexed down tube shifter lever built into the brake lever

Right now it’s a Tektro R200A brake lever that’s then disassembled, drilled, machined and laser engraved in Portland, OR. The lever has a standard downtube shifter mount on the front of it. Then they put a standard downtube shifter on it and it becomes the Retroshift.

Retroshift indexed thumb shifter brake levers prototype for cyclocross

“I appreciate the simplicity of the design. I’m surprised that STI levers didn’t evolve by way of the Retro Shift design,” Tonkin said. “Of course, they kind of did if you include Suntour Command shifters as part of the process.  The Retro Shift levers have that “Why didn’t I think of that?” quality.

“They have a very positive index shift, thanks of course to Shimano down-tube shifters”

Retroshift indexed thumb shifter brake levers prototype for cyclocross

Pricing should be around $140 for the front and rear levers and then you’d mount your own shift levers on them. He’ll also offer them with Dura-Ace downtube shifters included for about $220. There will also be a third version that’s for 1x systems with only a rear derailleur. They’ll have about 400 units ready for sale in December. Weight’s not finalized, but Clement says it should be lighter than a set of Ultegra STI levers; less than Dura-Ace if you’re only running a rear derailleur.

In the future, Clement wants to move full production of the entire lever to Portland and add a carbon fiber lever option.

Retroshift indexed thumb shifter brake levers prototype for cyclocross

Tonkin on usage: “They’re surprisingly ergonomic and easy to use, especially in the middle of the cogset.  You can only shift from the hoods, and but that’s not really a problem for ‘cross – except if you’re trying to sprint in the drops and shift at the same time.  I do not feel that braking is compromised, the shifters just don’t get in the way (of braking).”

Retroshift’s website should officially go live in early December with products for sale. Right now, there are pictures of goats. We’ll get the first look at the finished product, so stay tuned to for the announcement!


  1. Scotty, you would need canti brakes, since V brakes pull a different amount of cable. Otherwise it should be just cutting housing to the right length.

  2. will be the site

    Scotty – You can indeed mount on your mountain bike, but first you have to mount some drop bars! 🙂

    Shawn – We are just at the start of this, carbon is a goal for a future version of the product. It will take some time though as we are letting racer feedback determine the design and so will work on these design implementations first.

  3. Love the concept – brilliant. I kind of like the feel of the wider hood on an sti lever though – most of the brake-only levers are a bit narrower at the hoods.

    @scotty – the closest thing to that for a flat bar is probably the Paul Thumbies… I’ve been using them for 6 or 7 years on my mountain bike – they work great.

  4. oh wow.

    could be the ultimate shift lever set-up for an off-road drop bar, disc brake bike (like a Salsa Fargo).

    Shift from the levers/hoods. maintain backcountry servicability and the back-up feature of friction in a pinch.

    Bring it on!

    Will they be available in a disc brake stroke option?

  5. @scotty, either an off road drop bar like a Salsa woodchipper or Paul Thumbies do the same thing for flat bars.
    I was at the Krueger’s farm race and it went from partially frozen at 8:30 to a sea of mud at 2:00. Personally I just slip a piece of old inner tube over my SRAM shifters to keep the mud.out. Once your derailleur cage loads up shifting is academic anyway unless you have a pit bike and somebody to wash it off.
    I can see these taking off with the retrogrouch set and people who either trash their shifters a lot or need to run the cassette a lot.

  6. fanboy: these would be absolutely awful for a dirt drop MTB — you need to live in the drops, and these can only be shifted from the hoods.

    The hoods are useless on true dirt drops. You use a boner stem to get the drops up higher, and spend all your time there.

  7. This is a great idea.

    Where do I get the 10 speed downtube shifters for this, though? I’ve tried to find some for a while to mount on an old beloved bike, but to no avail.

  8. Scotty – As Andy says (if you are using v-brakes) you will need a lever that pulls more cable than this lever will. I would not be surprised to see a v-brake version in the future.

    fanboy – Yes, friction is a great back up. I actually had a younger (younger as in had only ever ridden index) rider try a set up in friction mode and he was giggling with joy and thought friction was the coolest thing ever! Who knows after the single speed craze maybe friction will make a comeback like vinyl records.

    me thats who – I think you are referring to the Kelly Take Off’s? I think it would suprise few that I am a fan of these and also Suntour Command Shifters. The drawback however is simply that they do not shift as easily as STI which is really the bar that all are now judged. This system provides the same simplicity as both and bar end shifters but also the ease of shifting. Do note that they do not work from the drops but more than make up for it on the hoods, actually a little quicker!

    rick hellard – Shimano still makes and has available Dura-Ace 7900 10sp AND…. 7700 9sp shifters (which I think is very cool). I should have these available in the future on the site as well as bar end shifters. The bar end actually make a better set up. Just ask your LBS to set you up.

    Cheers all,


  9. Adam, can these retro shifters be swapped? I mean can you set up that the rear shifter is on the left? None of the makers of STI shifters have done that. I know the market maybe small, but I would love to have a system where I could shift the rear derailluer on the left side hood.

  10. Adam,
    any way in the future to hide the cables? say with the sram tt shifters?
    Great work.

    Maybe sram will buy your idea, you can retire from working, race your bike all the time and work on their design team.
    Wait, no that’s my dream.

  11. Nice idea. My only concern would be about hand position when riding on the hoods – does the shifter not get in the way of your fingers? Issues with accidental shifts?

    [quote]Will they be available in a disc brake stroke option?[/quote]

    You’d just need to use a disc brake caliper designed for use with road levers – Avid BB7 Road, Tektro Lyra or Shimano BR-R505.

  12. Sam – Braking is really not effected at all. Considering how simple the system is it is amazing how hard it is to visualize in use without actually trying it. I recognize this as a problem and so will try to get some videos up on the site when done to help.

    Eric says above: Tonkin on usage: “They’re surprisingly ergonomic and easy to use…”… “I do not feel that braking is compromised, the shifters just don’t get in the way (of braking).”

    It is even very effective at braking and shifting simultaneously.

    Thanks for info on brakes!


  13. Stephan – Yes I am quite sure we could figure out a way to mount the rear shifter on the left side. Of course with friction this would be simple, for index it might be a bit more complicated. I am thinking perhaps a solution might include a Rapid Rise or reverse sprung type rear mech….. I will give it some thought.

    Topmounter – We already have a Di2 compatible version! It not only replaces the Di2 shift levers at a weight savings but also the front and rear mechs and totally does away with the battery and re-charging issues. Total weight savings of about half a pound and advanced simplicity! ;p

  14. I have a spare set of Campy barcons, could they be adapted? Or perhaps the Rivendell micro-ratchet shifters?

    The mount for the lever on bar cons and also the post for DT shifter bosses is the same. These brake lever blades just replicate that mount. So I expect you can use any DT/bar end shift lever you like.

    Sam – Braking is really not effected at all. Considering how simple the system is it is amazing how hard it is to visualize in use without actually trying it. I recognize this as a problem and so will try to get some videos up on the site when done to help.

    No need for video, I would just like to see a side shot of the lever with shifter mounted. What is the gap between the lever blade and the shifter? If you can’t get a finger in there I don’t see how it’s not problematic. The first photo shows a finger behind the shift lever, it doesn’t look like there’s much gap, I’m curious about when the shift lever is in the ‘6 o’clock’ position?

  15. I don’t understand the benifit. So they are a bit less expensive than say Rival, but they get in the way of braking from the hoods. In cyclocross, remounting with hands on the hoods, I can see a high likelyhood of mis-shifts. And what happens during a crash when the shift lever is in the outer position?–it’s going to shift and when you get back on the bike, your chain is going to go crunch crunch then fall off. I don’t see a benifit for racing–for anything else, ok, fine–but not racing.

  16. sam – you are correct they should work fine with Campagnolo bar ends BUT I will hold off saying for sure until I have tested them with these. Same also for Rivendell Silver Shifters. So far all Shimano have worked fine. SRAM use a different mounting for their bar ends which will not work but could quite easily be included in a future modified mount if requested.

    Fingers will fit under the shifter but for the most part braking works with fingers over the shift lever. Shifting to easier gears while breaking is also quite possible.

    mike – Kelly take offs are cool (I am a fan!), and barcons have been around for ages longer! Both systems are super in many ways but don’t measure up to STI in ease of shifting. Like it or not STI has set the bar in this area. Retroshift allows many of the same plus’s of barcons but with close to STI ease of shifting.

    cody – This is just another option, it is better than some existing systems in some areas and not as good in others. It’s just up to each rider to see if the particular mix of attributes is best for them. If for instance you live and shift from the drops then ‘forget it’ these will not be for you. If you want an integrated brake/shifter that is capable of friction then it might well be the cats meow for you. It has been through a season of cross with riders from beginner class to Cat A and has been a great success (loved and continued to be the choice of these riders over their STI and Bar Ends) but this does not mean it is for all.

    Another area I hope to see some benefit from the system is with everyday riders who would like to use old 5, 6, 7sp cassettes and older derailleurs that have become ‘obsolete’. With hope this system will allow much old gear that might otherwise head to the tip get some extra life as another integrated brake/shift system.



  17. MichaelS – Do these levers work with disk brakes? I’d love these with a Salsa Vaya.

    Might do if they will work with the brake lever we are currently using. I am looking into a version for v-brakes and will happily look into disc brakes also.



  18. really slick idea.

    I’m hoping (though not holding my breath) that you’ll make a version for the all-mighty HS-66; which in my fantasy Magura starts making again, and cyclocross will have real brakes available, finally.

  19. Thanks for the recognition of my design out there in the net ether. The Budd Bike Works De-integrated shift system (BDISS) is a similar concept to both Retroshift and the Kelly system with some key differences that I feel make it work a little bit better to meet my demands for a fool proof system to work with old school down tube or bar end shifters. Namely that it isn’t as obtrusive looking as the Kelly/Suntour System and can be accessed from more positions on the bar and can work with any brake lever unlike Retroshift’s iteration.

    Hopefully there is room enough for all of our products to share what I hope to be a growing sector of the market, i.e. folks fed up with increasingly fragile and expensive bike parts getting in the way of the experience of riding the dickens out of a bicycle.

    Matt Budd
    Budd Bike Works

  20. Really cool idea, as a touring/long distance rider who lives on the hoods these would ideal except for the cable routing prevents using a handlebar bag.

    Still seems like a great solution for older bikes that don’t have DT shifter braze-ons.

    Adam-market these to commuters hard, a lot of us have old/cheap bikes and want the convenience of brifters but don’t want something that expensive on our beaters.

    Already bookmarked your site, looking forward to your launch and Good Luck!

  21. A quotation states “This is a feature only offered by down-tube and bar-end shifters”. Not Really. This is why I’ve stuck with Grip Shifters on my XC bike. Somebody should turn the body (hood area) of Road-style levers into big gripshifters for cross!

  22. This appeals deeply to my inner retrogrouch. I will gladly line up for a set of these!

    Now, make a hydraulic version, and I’ll pay whatever the price. Hell, will someone, anyone please make a hydraulic brake-only lever, please?

  23. You guys are excited, like a pair of nine or ten speed shifters are expensive. I just sold a pair of barely-used 5600 levers on eBay, and it was a stretch to get $110 for them.

    This is the answer to a question that someone asked twenty-five years ago, and Shimano answered.

  24. Pretty cool idea – one note however – you can already dump multiple gears in both directions with Campy. It’s SRAM and Shimano that you have do the one-cog-at-a-time shifting.

  25. Adam, I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but Campy Ergopower does much the same thing and has for years. Yes, it will take three sweeps the downshift lever to shift from the smallest to largest cogs on the cassette, but you can “dump” almost the entire cassette with single press on the “mouse ear”, without the awkwardness of having the lever in a different location on each shift. Additionally, the shifting mechanism is inside the lever body, rather than being exposed to the elements.

    I agree that this is a significant improvement on STI and Double-Tap, but not really on Ergopower. Frankly, I don’t understand why more people don’t use Campy 10 speed for ‘cross, unless it’s just a price issue. However, if you combine Record or Chorus 10 levers (which are still widely available at good prices) with a lower line rear derailleur such as Centaur, you get great shifting with reasonable cost. If you want a 1×10, it’s easy to remove the shifting components from the left lever. I really like my Record/Centaur 1×10 setup. It’s simple, reliable and effective.

  26. Bnystrom – You are correct and I hope I have not said personally myself that Campy can not change multiple gears at once. I think if I am not mistaken Campagnolo will do 3 up or 5 down. I do not want to get in between the Shimano/SRAM/Campagnolo groups and their spirited discussions on which is best. Personally I have a preference for Campy but have no worries riding even 105 as it all affords me the fun of the miles.

    RetroShift is just another option just like the one you state above with the Campy mix. The reason I think more people don’t run Campy for CX is simply that it is (at least in the U.S) not as prevalent so Shimano or even SRAM. Shimano and SRAM also run the same specs on cassettes that further makes this easy for most. What I like about using RetroShift myself is that it is very easy to find an Ultegra or 105 rear mech for pretty cheap and a matching cassette. Bar end shifters and Down tube shifters really are relatively bomb proof and more likely to become obsolete in as far as 8sp gives way to 9 and to 10 etc than to die. The brake lever we are using is the best ergonomic shape we found for the job and not very costly in itself. If it is crashed and broken I can simply grab another brake lever assembly (with some minimal machine work) and move the RetroShift parts across to it. We will be offering a re-build service and perhaps even user replaceable levers down the road. It should be very possible for a racer might to crash and trash a lever in a morning practice and have replaced for the race later that day simply by having a spare lever body on hand and a 4mm hex wrench).


  27. Think this is rad…..but they need to get the pricing down before someone else beats them too it.

    for me, i love this idea and I’d throw it on a bike as is today if I was building something. For me, i don’t race on a road or cross bike, it’s my training bike…my bike to do road rides with…my bike to put on the trainer at CTS when i do my morning classes. It’s the bike I use to ride into town for breakfast on a Saturday or to bar hop on Saturday night. A cheap simple solution like this is all I want or need. Its’ greta for commuting too.

    But i’d like to see the levers mounted for $100 to a brake lever set ready to be mounted. Just add old down tube levers you can give a friend or a bike shop a 12 pack of PBR as trade for. Done.

  28. nevermind on price complaint, re-read. that said…..I could see this coming down in price and being a sweet option for not just cross bikes but commuters too.

  29. If I could get the set with included generic 7 or 8 speed shifters, for $50 or even $100, I’d whip out my credit card now. $100 for downtube shifters is stupid though. They should be able to make fric shifters in USA., even out of some kind of molded hard plastic.

  30. good news for you, Adam! BBW has virtually no info on the website about their brake-mounted shifter, and the “Contact Us” facility on their website does not work either. You shoud be able to sell an unlimited number of the retro without fear of any competition from Matt.

  31. This is a great idea.

    Definitely market this to commuters and bike tourists. They will love this. I dont ride cross (looks fun though) but love to rando/tour and commute. This is an ideal technology for the simple, practical cycling crowd. You will sell units in those circles for sure.

    best of luck with your business.

  32. This is a real world component for regular riders who like simplicity, function and durability. Maybe they’re not for racer types and coffee shop show off, but for the rest of us here are the advantages of bar-cons mounted just about anywhere:

    One moving part. That’s it.

    They work just fine even when they’re technically broke. (The left shifter on my Paul mount was broken for two years before I replaced it. My riding buddy has been riding with a broken plastic washer for three)

    They last a LONG time. Even if you crash. Alot. (Five years on mine broken in a crash. Mostly replaced because I’m a Devo. Six and counting on Frankie’s. He’s pretty smooth.)

    They’ll work with ANYTHING if you don’t mind friction. 5,6,7,8,9,10,11 speeds. Any derailleur the chain will pass through. Any cog-set you can attach to the rear wheel. Any chain that will lay on the cogs. That means ANY bike shop with drivetrain components should be able to get you rolling home again.

    Pinned, ramped sure if you got it. If you don’t the front derailleur will still shift. I’ve run a 20-36 with on an old set of White Industries cranks with a single speed style big ring. Shifting was a non issue. In the woods. In the mud.

    Bent hanger? Bad cables? Junior bike monkey at the local bike box store tuned up your bike? No worries. Flip the bail and go friction until you can get a pro to fix it.

    You can shift the WHOLE cassette in either direction.

    They’ll shift under load, and by load I mean 270lbs of Viking Warrior mountain biker climbing some of the nastiest stuff on the East Coast with no mechanical sympathy what so ever.

    Like I said not for everyone. They’re definitely for me!

  33. I’ve been rockin’ them all year and have no plan’s to change ’em out!The feel really connects you to the cycling experience.Great talking to you at Battle at Barlow Adam and I’ll keep spreading the word.

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