Ergopower or STI? Handlebar or downtube shifting? What's the difference? Which is best? Our expert, Tim Laflin examines these questions in Issue #6 of Tech Talk:

Campy and Shimano both offer the same array of shifters. The STI from Shimano and the Ergo from Campy are just about the entire market. Both makers still offer bar end shifters and down tube shifters. Over the past few years the functionality has improved and the weight has decreased from the initial versions. The record should show that Shimano was the first to offer the public a dual control shifters with its STI levers. Campy followed about 2 years later with their version of dual control shifting called Ergo. Shimano and Campy had some functional bugs to work out of the systems, but todays versions are very predictible and easy to use.

The STI levers being the first out let Campy work on a more elegant solution to the dual control delima. Shimano chose to leave the shift cables exposed (flying) from the dual control levers. This is not a real problem and makes some aerodynamic drag, but it allows the shift cable to pull easily through long, sweeping bends in the cable. Campy chose to route the shift cable along the handlebar with the brake cable. This makes for a little more cable friction, but the shift system seems well matched. Not having the cables loose on the bike is also aesthectically better. There is also a certain degree of safety offered by this. In several triathalon events I have seen bikes get racked in overlapping positions and when the first runners come in they grab the bike off the rack only to have it tangled with the other STI-cabled bike next to it. The Ergo cables are fairly easy to route, because most handle bars offer dual cable routes so the cables are practically invisible.

The big benefit I see in the two design approches are the long term performance and maintainence. The STI levers put the shifting mechanisms on the pivoting lever for the brakes. Ergo places the shifting mechanism on the stationary part of the dual control lever, next to the bar. Big deal. It is. The STI levers open the brake cable and shift cables as well as the shift mechanisms up to road debris each time you hit the brakes. If you are riding in the wet on long decents you will notice this very quickly. The STI dual control levers open wide to gobble up all the trash coming up off the road. Shimano did take care of covering the top of the mechanism to help protect it from debris. I honestly expected to see crashed STI levers that did not work, since the front most part of the dual control is the shifter. That does not seem to be the case. Crashed Shimano levers I have seen still operate well.

The Ergo levers allow a greater degree of protection for the cables and shifting mechanism. I find the Ergo levers easier to work on and keep clean. For most purposes the STI levers are not user servicible. A Swiss watch maker is required for most STI repairs. [Editor's note: Our contact at Campagnolo points out that Ergo levers can be disassembled and serviced easily, unlike the ShimaNo version.]

Ergo levers (all models) are triple compatible. Not a huge deal. But if you want to triple-ring your Dura-Ace (same for 600) bike you will need to buy bunch of non-matching 105 equipment. Campy keeps the finish across the Record, Chorus, Athena, and Veloce groupos the same so you can mix and match parts, but in this case Campy offers triple ring front setups for all gruppos. No need to down grade equipment for a triple from Campy.

The one thing I like about riding with other riders that have STI is that I never have to guess when we crest the top of a hill if they are going to charge down the other side. It is also no surprise when the STI equipped ridder is going for the sprint. The STI levers give you one down shift at a time. If I hear a short burst of two or three shifts I know somebody is getting ready to pass. Ergo allows you to jump several gears at once in down shifts. If you hit the top of a hill and want to drop several cogs, Ergo allows it in a single motion.

Riders will debate the benefits of the up and down shifting being seperate or together at length. Which is easier? It is all a matter of taste. Both Shifters work well and the choice is up to you. The one note here is that the STI levers make for a shorter reach for smaller riders than the Ergo. If you have small hands or like a short reach the brakes STI may be a more viable choice. If you want to go Campy and you are a smaller rider the older (non-ergo bend) smooth bend drop bars get your hands closer to the levers. Terry bicycles also makes a special bar to reduce the reach to the levers even farther.

As a last note for all those weight saving people and retro grouches. Campy has not forgotten you. The down tube shifters have a significant feature that has been lacking for years. There is a trim adjustment for the rear deraulleur on the shift lever. You don`t have to get off the bike to make a tweek. Shimano forgot about this one.

Tim Laflin


We created this page on April 16, 1997

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