UPDATE (Jan. 4, 2017): I corresponded with Microshift regarding the lever not working properly. After seeing a video I created, a new lever was shipped to me at no cost. Indeed, the lever was defective. It was purchased through Ebay from a seller called “microshift-bicycle” based in China and in no way affiliated with Microshift of Taiwan.
This story starts six years ago when I finally threw in the towel and switched from down-tube index shifting to brake/shift levers on a new bike.
It didn’t take long to realize I had made the right decision. So much so that my second bike with down-tube shifting called out for a make-over. I still enjoy riding that 1986 frame built by Dale Saso, even though it has been through a lot. Another reason: Dupuytrens contracture is reeking havoc with my hands, making it painful to use the old Campagnolo brake levers — small and narrow.
When I started looking at cost, I discovered that Shimano has abandoned 10-speed cassettes for 11-speeds, and even worse, they’re not compatible. Enough already! Ten speeds in the rear was more than I needed. I would have to widen the rear stay another 4 mm, build new wheels, buy new cassettes.
I decided to try a 7-speed. I could swap my 6-speed screw-on freewheel for a 7-speed without widening the frame, as it turned out, and screw-on 7-speed freewheels are available. Your bike may be different and require a hub spacer or not work at all. The issue is chain clearance in the high gear. Gear stops cost $11 and screw into the down-tube shifter braze-on.
Microshift levers, derailleurs
Looking around I found Shimano still makes 7-speed brake/shift levers. I also found Microshift makes the levers and rear derailleur for a 7-speed. I had good luck with their shifters on my mountain bike, so I decided to give them a try. The price was right, $50 for the levers on eBay and $22 for the derailleur. A Shimano freewheel (13-28) runs about $9 on sale. I would need to buy cable housing ($20) and then a cable cutter ($25).
I bought through the mail, so I was on my own when it came to troubleshooting.
Would my Dura-Ace 7402 rear derailleur work? I wondered, so I held off ordering the Microshift rear derailleur. Dura-Ace 7402 was compatible with 8 speed SIS, so it might just work.
The levers went onto the bike with no issues. Cable routing is straightforward. They didn’t come with directions (they’re online in PDF), but Microshift has instructions on YouTube.
The moment of truth: I began shifting gears. I made barrel adjustments going from high to low speed on the rear derailleur and it worked well. However, I noticed that shifting from low (easy) to high gear (hard) didn’t work. I tried everything — barrel adjustments, checking the cable housing length, different ferrules, lubrication, checking the chain, rear hanger alignment, on and on. No matter what I did, the chain clunked from low gear to high gear without stopping between cogs.
Dura-Ace to blame?
I figured the Dura-Ace derailleur was to blame, so I ordered a Microshift 7 speed derailleur. I installed it without any issues (nothing unusual about how it works) and again the moment of truth: Argh!!! No matter what I did, I got the same result.
By the way, in the meantime I read about cable housing and discovered that Shimano SIS shift housing is different from brake housing. So much so that using shift housing on brakes can lead to sudden brake failure! So I had to go back to my old brake housing, which is a single strand of thick wire wrapped in a coil (helical). The Shimano SIS shift housing is multiple strands of thin, straight wire held together by plastic lining and then nylon sheathing. Brake cable undergoes compression, which puts a lot of pressure on the housing lining.
But I digress. Now I was really mystified by the problematic shifting. I couldn’t find squat about Microshift derailleurs and how they worked. YouTube videos only explain how to adjust derailleurs, not how to use the levers.
I tried opening the brake/shift lever and figure out how it worked. It was like a Sturmey-Archer hub in there.
Shifting works this way
As I was messing with the gears I decided to try something different. The shifter has two paddles. The large paddle is pushed to the left to shift from a high to low gear. Pretty straight forward. There’s a small paddle that you push in to do the opposite, low to high. Makes sense. But as I mentioned, every time I pushed the small paddle the chain shifted all the way into high gear. I wondered: What if I push in on the big paddle, holding it in place, and then push in on the small paddle?
Lo and behold, that was it. Perfect shifting. Microshift might have a patent on that process. I couldn’t find one though. If only they had instructions. It’s not intuitive.
After riding, I got used to the shifting, but I wouldn’t want to use it in a race. It’s way too complicated to have to think about it during the heat of competition. However, for an old geezer riding around town, it’s fine.
So how about the levers for comfort? They’re far better than Campagnolo and with padded gloves my hands can tolerate them. They’re a bit narrower than Shimano Ultegra 6700 levers, but not enough to be an issue. All in all, they have a nice feel.
By the way, I kept the Dura-Ace front derailleur. It works fine with Microshift. I didn’t notice a long throw as some have reported. It has three clicks, but I think one of them is for trim and not a triple crank. As for the Campagnolo brakes, their 1-1 pull ratio isn’t any different. The 4-1 ratio found in modern brakes is much preferred by me since my hands aren’t all that strong, but I can live with it. In terms of hand size, larger hands are probably better for Microshift levers.
Finally, I still wasn’t sure about the Dura-Ace derailleur. Would it work? I reinstalled it and gave it a try. This is an old derailleur. Maybe that has something to do with it, but the results were not great. It could work in a pinch, but I would go with the Microshift derailleur, which shifts as smooth as glass. It’s light years better than my down-tube index shifting.
Note: The official Microshift instructions for the levers do not say that it’s necessary to push in on the large paddle while shifting the small paddle. I doubt that my levers are defective. The instructions may be wrong. Microshift has not responded to my email, so hard to say.