Downgrading: A Tough Decision

I’ve written about my recent efforts to upgrade my bike.  So have my guest posters, Don Blount and Jeff Hemmel.  So after my problems Saturday, I faced a difficult decision.

As you’ll recall, I broke my right shifter — the one that controls the rear derailleur.

I took the bike into the LBS, and the guy looked over the shifter.  He had bad news: The shift cable had broken off inside the shifter, and he couldn’t get it out.  “These things aren’t really made to be serviced,” he said.  “You’ll have to replace it.”

Ouch. I didn’t want to hear that.  Shifters are expensive.

The Sora shifter, with its characteristic thumb trigger for upshifts.

“Lemme see what’s in stock,” he said.  He came back with a Shimano Sora shifter.  My bike has Tiagra shifters — one level up in the Shimano hierarchy.  The Sora is at the low end of Shimano’s lineup.

I asked about getting another Tiagra.  He said it would have to be ordered.  On top of that, it would cost 50 percent more than the Sora.  Another ouch.

I hemmed and hawed.  If I ordered the Tiagra, it would be several days before I had a bike.  If I had him put on the Sora, I would be downgrading my bike.

On the other hand, I recalled my only previous experience with Sora equipment: On a rental bike two summers ago.  It worked fine.  I thought about the price.  I thought about making the ride the next day that I had been wanting to do.

“Go ahead and put on the Sora,” I told him.  “And while you’re at it, the headset needs adjusting, and I need a new chain.”

An hour later, it was all ready.  I made my ride the next day.

The shifter performed well.  Not flawlessly.  It’s less precise than the Tiagra, which is not in itself the most precise shifter.  I learned on the ride that it helped  to plan my shifts more than I’d been used to, and to click the little thumb trigger very definitely — no flicking the thumb at it and expecting a clean shift.

This evening, I took the bike out to our local time trial.  I had to turn the barrel adjusters to tighten the derailleur cable, because it was jumping cogs, popping off the cog when I applied force, and being generally cranky.  I went out on the eight-mile course, and it appears from my unofficial time that I set a personal best, beating my old mark by at least 30 seconds.  I was very careful and deliberate with my shifts out there.

I think it will take several more rides before I’m used to it.  There will be lots more time spent adjusting the cables in the coming week.  But after my experience with it over the past couple of days, I intend to make it work.


  1. says

    I’ve been using Sora on my ’02 Trek since…well ’02. Though I’ve never ridden anything newer (I refuse since I can’t afford it) I haven’t had any real complaints.

    I have thousands of miles on my bike, with the same cassette, shifters and dérailleurs, and the only reason I’ve been thinking about upgrading is to put the Sora on my currently-friction-shift ’70’s Raleigh commuter.

  2. says

    I broke two 105 shifters in less than 2 weeks and have since sworn off Shimano. I like SRAMs ablity to be serviced should something break, the shifting seems crisper, and the price point is much better. Should you find yourself in need of an upgrade it is something worth considering especially with the newer lower pricepoint Apex line.

  3. Torsten says

    Hey, I messed up my shifters trying to replace a cable and faced the same dilemma you did. My 105s were 12 years old at the time and to replace them, I’d pretty much have to go with all new derailleurs and rear cassette. I found some used shifters on e-bay from someone who had gone from a double to a triple crankset. Cost about 1/2 of what they are new and I was back in business.

    Something to keep in mind the next time or if you decide you want to restore-grade to your Tiagras.

    • says

      A friend who is a bike mechanic says it’s difficult, although he has done so successfully — even fixing a broken cable like mine. It might have just been easier for the LBS to sell me a new shifter.

      • says

        Another reason to go Campy. Campagnolo designs their stuff to be completely serviceable meaning the shifters can be taken apart and each piece replaced. Shimano has always taken the view of building components to be replaced instead of serviced. It was not the LBS just wanting to sell you a replacement.

        Yes, Shimano is cheaper at point of purchase, but if you use your stuff a lot and don’t want your shifters to end up in a land fill, Campy is the way to go.

  4. says

    they CAN be serviced…the mechanic in our shop keeps some dental tools & tweezers for this exact issue. it just takes a hell of a lot of patience & precision, but more times than not, the shifter can be saved :)

    (recently, I’ve seen this issue on a 105 right shifter and an older generation ultegra shifter…he’s also salvaged a tiagra shifter from this woe, as well)

  5. says

    I had to replace the LH shifter a while back. Never even considered downgrading, and the LBS never mentioned it either. Will remember to put in in the options next time. Thanks

  6. says

    I think you made the right decision. You were able to continue riding and now you have the option to re-upgrade on your own terms. Now you have the luxury of shopping around and budgeting for it.

    • says

      Yeah, you’re probably right. I fiddled some more with the barrel adjuster and the limit screws before going out today, and it was much better than it has been this week.

  7. Mel Hughes says

    A few years ago, I was was trying to slowly upgrade a used frame I had bought. The previous owner had an old, seven speed indexed freewheel hub on the rear with down tube, indexed 105 shifters. After trying to buy a couple of sets of Tiagra STI shifters on ebay unsuccessfully, I finally decided to try the 7-speed Sora shifters. They worked fine with the old 105 derailleur and the freewheel.

    As time progressed and I could afford upgrades, I found that the Sora shifters could even run a set of Dura-Ace derailleurs (front and rear). And that was using a long cage rear and controlling a triple chain ring on the front! Ultimately, I ended up with the new Ultegra (6700) shifters and brakes. But the Sora still sees duty on my late 1980’s Bianchi Tangent, as the old, 7-speed freewheel hub and a much newer long cage, 105 rear derailleur replaced the old Suntour indexed, bar-end shifters.

    As you noted, Sora lacks the finesse of some of the more expensive components. But at the end of the day, it gets the job done. I have been using them on these two bikes for at least four years with no problems. I really love the new Ultegra shifters and brakes. But I don’t have any problem using the Sora’s on my almost vintage Bianchi!

  8. l33boy says

    Well my ’89 TREK runs 8 speed Sora, upgraded in the mid 90’s and it shifts every bit as well as my Record shifters on the race bike. Love the thumb shift.
    You get cable stretch & settle after 1st installation so adjustment is a necessity…

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