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Compatibility [06] Front shifters

This post explains bicycle front shifter compatibility, i.e. which shifters can be mixed with which front derailleurs, chains and chainrings.

Before you start, to avoid any misunderstanding:
please take the 5 minutes needed to read the compatibility articles use instructions.

If you have any questions (or additions and corrections), please use the BikeGremlin forum’s compatibility section:

Front shifter lever is used to control the front derailleur, that is to change gears in the front. There are numerous designs of various manufacturers. However, for compatibility considerations, the only important factor is the amount of cable pull. It should match the front derailleur (FD in the rest of the post) required amount of cable pull that the shifter is paired width.

There are three major types of front shifters: friction shifters, double and triple shifters. Compatibility will be explained by these groups.

1. Friction front shifters

With friction shifters it is irrelevant what type of FD is paired – each will work with each. They pull enough cable for full FD movement range – regardless of the FD manufacturer, or type (double vs triple, road vs MTB). 

2. Double front shifters (indexed)

They are indexed with just one click – for shifting between the two front chainrings. Tensioning the cable moves FD and chain to the larger front chainring, while clicking to release the cable changes back to the smaller chainring.

Double shifters can be used with a triple FD, but they still only have one click. That means that, if there is a triple crankset, one chainring will not be used – either the smallest, or the largest.

Most double front shifters can be used with most FDs. Mixing different models of shifters from the same brand is no problem. Even mixing one manufacturer’s shifters with another manufacturer’s FDs is not a problem. Mixing road shifters with MTB FDs (and vice versa) works fine as well.

3. Triple front shifters (indexed)

They have two clicks, for changing gears between three chainrings.

Triple shifters work fine with double FDs, but one click will be unused. FD movement should be limited with limit screws (this should be done regardless of the shifter used on all derailleurs), so that shifter’s extra click doesn’t produced any effect and doesn’t move the derailleur.

In order to avoid damaging the shifter in case of moving lever hard, it is best to set the triple shifter on a double so that maximal cable tensioning puts FD over the larger chainring. That way, there are just two clicks left – first one will drop the FD to the smaller chainring, while the second will just loosen the cable, but the FD will not move because it is limited by limit screws.

The other possible setup, so that shifter is in the middle position when FD is on the larger chainring means that second click will drop the FD to the smaller chainring. The problem is when FD is on the larger chainring, there is still lever movement left to tighten the cable. Since FD is already on the large chainring, limited with a limit screw, this can cause damage to the shifter if the lever is pulled hard, since the cable will not move.

Mixing brands and models is the same as for double shifters – most combinations work fine.

Road vs MTB front shifters

Road double shifters can often be combined with MTB FDs and vice versa.

Road triple  shifters with MTB FDs and vice versa can be mixed. Tuning is a bit more tricky with some models, since there are three speeds, not just two, but usually works fine.

Combining front shifters and FDs of various manufacturers

Each should work with each. Friction shifters always, while indexed ones (whether double, or triple) in most cases.

Trim option

It was said before that double shifters have only one click, while triple have two. This, however, is not the whole truth. Many manufacturers and models have the trimming option. That is like a small click that doesn’t change gear, but moves FD cage slightly left-or right. It is used to avoid chain rubbing the FD cage when riding cross chained.

One exception in compatibility are Shimano road 11 speed shifters. They will work nicely only with Shimano road 11 speed FDs and Shimano Tiagra 4700 10 speed road FDs. Same goes for Tiagra 4700 10 speed shifters. Newest Campagnolo 11 speed system: Revolution 11+ (older one is Revolution 11) also requires matching (Revolution 11+) shifters and derailleurs.

Another exception is the new “gravel” group (with hydraulic brakes): Shimano GRX. Caple pull wise it’s the same as Tiagra 4700.

Compatibility posts are also available in eBook (printable and Kindle) and paperback editions on Amazon:

Bicycle drivetrain compatibility book
Bicycle drivetrain compatibility book

If you have any questions (or additions and corrections), please use the BikeGremlin forum’s compatibility section:

The existing comments posted under this article (questions and answers) have been moved to this BikeGremlin forum thread:

33 thoughts on “Compatibility [06] Front shifters”

  1. Hi, dear Relja.
    Thanks for your Compatibility series artile, it’s really helpful.
    I’ve read the article about Shifter and FD, It said the new 4700 have new pull raito it isn’t compatible with old shifter. And I need help about FD-4703.
    The issue is that I don’t want to use the ST-4703 flat bar shifter, because I need to buy a extra pair of shifter only for this crankset, it’s rare and about 100 buck. Which front derailleurs flat bar shifter can I use? Or anyother FD and flat bar shifter, for the 4703 crankset by 50-39-30 teeth?
    I’m planning use the M8000 RD and right hand shifter, which is alreay have, It’s better to use the same set shifter for FD.

    • Hi Luigi,

      Derailleur must be compatible with the (indexed) shifter. For a 50T largest chainring, and triple cranks, you generally need a triple road derailleur (for best shifting performance).

      If you already have M8000 shifters (and they work well for the rear shifting), using a matching M8000 series FD would result in the FD’s cage not following the curve of your largest chainring, for your 50-39-30 cranks. It would probably have to sit too high, affecting the shifting performance.

      If you already have a FD-4703, see if it can work well-enough with the shifters you have. I expect it won’t (the shifter won’t pull enough cable for it to work properly) – but it doesn’t hurt to try.

      If you confirm the cable pull is insufficient, you could try with an older style 10 (or 9, or 8) speed Shimano road triple FD.
      9-speed Sora is not expensive, and should work fine. Old, 10-speed 105 is also quite good.

      Just make sure you use a triple (not a double) FD for road bikes – i.e. a triple FD for a 50T largest chainring. Most MTB FDs are designed for up to 48 or fewer teeth (44, or even only 40 and similar).

      I haven’t tried this particular combo, so can’t 100% confirm it will work.
      Shimano says that 8000 shifters are only compatible with FD-M9000 and FD-M8000.
      Those FDs, on the other hand, will only work nicely with 40-30-22T and similar cranks (that’s where I completely agree with Shimano 🙂 ).

  2. Hi, Relja.
    Thanks for the article and replys.

    After read the article, it said the shimano 11s FD only compatible with 11s shifter.
    Is there any flat bar FD shifter compatible with 11s FD, excepet SL-RS700 & SL-4700?

    Thanks Relja

    • Hi Luigi,

      I can’t think of a model off the top of my head. However, here’s how I’d look for an alternative:

      – Shifters are usually made in pairs – front and rear.
      – I’d look for a model where the rear shifter is designed for Shimano 11-speed road RDs (or Tiagra 4700, or one of the GRX groups).

      With such shifters, there is a high probability that the front shifter will also be compatible – as all those groups also use the same, long(er) FD cable pull system.

      Of course, it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s specs or with the seller – before buying.


  3. Hi Relja,
    Thank you for the helpful info (a lot of other info online is specific to rear derailleurs)
    In the article you say the exception is 11 speed Shimano, however, as one comment pointed out, there is a Salsa bike using a Tiagra 4700 front shifter with an XT 10 speed front derailleur. And as we know, Tiagra 4700 is compatible with 11 speed (or at least it is in the rear). My question is, will an 11 speed road/GRX front shifter be able to shift an XT 10 speed/double front derailleur? And if not, would using a 4700 front shifter be a good workaround? (if indeed that is actually different to an 11 speed front shifter). Obviously I’d be using it with a mtb chainset. Would I run into issues with the trim?

    • Hi Neil,

      As far as I know, Tiagra 4700 front shifter pulls the same amount of cable as other Shimano 11-speed road shifters. So, if a derailleur works with one, it should work with the other as well.

      Having said that, I would expect a GRX derailleur to work better than an MTB derailleur. With GRX (and road 11-speed and Tiagra 4700) derailleurs, the shifter’s cable pull is spot on, while with an MTB FD, the cable pull is good-enough.


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