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Bicycle front shifter compatibility. With which front derailleurs (FD-s) do which shifters work

Compatibility [06] Front shifters

Updated: 27/09/2019.

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

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 on Amazon
Bicycle Drivetrain Compatibility on Amazon
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20 thoughts on “Compatibility [06] Front shifters”

    • It’s a double – using limit screws to limit the FD movement allows it to shift and not move too far off. Tiagra shifters move the cable more than enough for that FD’s cable pull “needs”.

      Having said that: I have not been able to make it work as well as I’d like with a road crank and road FD that is not 11 / 4700 Tiagra compatible, with Tiagra 4700 shifters. Always either a bit “sluggish”, or at a risk of “over-shifting” off the largest chainring (depending on the limit screw setup). Haven’t tried 4700 shifters with MTB cranks and FD though. Took a lot of fiddling and trial & error to make it work OK – but not perfect. Playing with cable pre-tension and limit screws.

      Note:
      MTB FD-s pull ratio is a bit different than road FD pull ration – but for all I know, it still doesn’t match the “new” 11 / 4700 cable pull standard.

    • Hi Relja

      First of all thanks for your great articles! They are very helpful!

      For a conversion of my brothers trekking bike, we are planning a similar thing that Brian already asked for. I have done quite some research but I could still need you help. We would like to combine Tiagra 4700 shifters with a MTB triple crank and MTB FD (XT 10 speed) using only the two larger chain rings.
      A friend has a bike with Ultegra R6800 shifters. He measured the left shifter’s cable pull. It is 1mm from Low Trim to Low, 4mm from Low to Top Trim and again 1mm from Top Trim to Top, which makes 6mm in total. My brother measured his original MTB shifter pulls 7mm, when going from the middle chain ring to the large one. So, we need a little more cable pull than Tiagra 4700 gives us (in case it pulls the cable as Ultegra R6800).
      Therefore, I have two questions:
      1. Can you confirm that the Tiagra 4700 left shifter’s cable pull is the same as Ultegra R6800’s cable pull?
      2. Is there any possibility of alternative cable routing for the FD (similar to Hubbub used on RD) to increase FD shift ratio?

      Thanks a lot for your help,
      Christian

    • To answer the first question – I’d have to measure both. In terms of function – both don’t work well with previous generations front derailleurs (as in non “11 speed road” and/or Tiagra 4700 FD-s).

      Still, I would be surprised if the shifter didn’t pull enough cable to make the gear change. I would expect it to pull more than enough.

      FD alternate cable routing usually makes it too hard to pull on the shifter lever – so it’s not something I’d recommend.

    • Thanks a lot for your really quick reply. Do you have a Tiagra 4700 left shifter at hand? If yes, would you mind measuring its cable pull if this is not too much effort? This would help us very much. We have already tried to find anyone with Tiagra 4700 shifters on the internet and also kept our eyes open in real life. However, we have not yet been able to find anyone with these shifters. So, your help would be appreciated very, very much!

      Thanks and have a good day,
      Christian

    • I plan to take measures as bikes come, over time, and put it all in a table – similar to one for the rear derailleurs.
      Right now – no sources at hand. But over time, it will be full.

    • Making such a list is a great idea! That’s what is missing for shift mixing. At least, I haven’t found such list anywhere on the internet.
      I you want me to contribute the cable pulls of my bikes, please feel free to ask.

    • There’s a saying in my country: “two heads are wiser than one”. 🙂
      So that would be great, if for no other reason, then to cross-check the data.
      You can use the email: relja [at – @ ] this domain [ bikegremlin dot com ]
      – written like this to make it harder for the most persistent beings in the known universe – spam bots – to pile up my inbox. 🙂

      My measuring is:
      – loosening the cable pinch bolt
      – holding it tightened by hand
      – shifting so the cable is tightened all the way a shifter would pull it
      – marking the part where it enters the shifter housing (wherever it’s easiest to spot and measure), using some tape
      – shifting one gear and measuring the movement
      – shifting two gears and measuring
      – shifting all the gears, measuring total movement (total number of clicks is always one fewer than the total number of gears)

      This way I can spot any mistakes in measuring. Total movement is the most accurate and precise, as any slight errors in measurement don’t affect the result as much.
      But with Campagnolo rear derailleurs, it gives only an average, since cable pull per shift varies (and small movements of rear deraillerus are very difficult to measure accurately using only one click).

  1. Which triple shimano front shifter pull more cable dynasys mtb 3x or road 3x?

    Tiagra ST-4703 pull is the same as ST-4603 (unlike ST-4700 which is not the same as ST-4600)

    Reply
  2. Relja, which GRX FD should I use with Tiagra 4700 10s shifters (and a GRX 11s crankset) – 10s or 11s?
    Thanks…

    Reply
    • As far as I know Shimano GRX derailleurs have the same cable pull ratio as the rest of Shimano 11 speed road (and Tiagra 4700) derailleurs. So either should work.

      Disclaimer 1: I haven’t yet tested any GRX equipment.
      Disclaimer 2: Shimano, usually quite conservative, says only 10 speed GRX is compatible in their compatibility charts.

  3. Relja, I have an old M772 FD and need to replace it. Would most Shimano triple shifters be compatible? Thanks.

    Reply
    • As far as I know, when it comes to front derailleurs, Shimano road Tiagra 4700 and all Shimano road 11 speed front derailleurs require longer cable pull.
      With MTB derailleurs, different mounts and cable attachments were made (side swing), but cable pull hasn’t changed.
      So I would expect all Shimano MTB triple FD-s to work fine as a replacement.

  4. Hi Relja

    Hope you’re doing OK in these challenging times.

    I’m hoping you can help. I’m trying to convert a 90s MTB to an adventure bike with drop bars and road shifters. The bike hs a triple chainset and a 10-speed cassette, although I only want to use two chainrings up front as the 105 road shifters I have are 10-speed doubles. The problem is the bike needs a top-pull FD and one with enough range to reach the outer two chainrings (so plenty of MTB triple FDs I could use) but it needs to work with the road shifters. Have trawled the internet but am just getting more and more confused about compatibility. Any suggestions?

    Thanks

    Reply
  5. Hello,

    I was hoping you could help. I have a Tiagra 4700 10s crankset. The rest of the bike is 9s drivetrain except my front deraiuler which is 6s and old (Currently using friction shifters for FD). Im looking to get a new front derailleur and eventually sti shifters to replace the downtube ones currently equipped.

    My question is if I get a Tiagra FD, can I use Sora 9s sti shifters. This would be ideal to save money over buying a new cassette, RD and chain, but if its recommend to upgrade all to 10s then I will just have to consider that before replacing my downtube shifters.

    Thank you very much for your help,
    Dylan

    Reply
    • Or after reading more of your posts, would it be better to buy a 9 speed fd? Thanks

    • STI shifters are a great improvement ergonomically – no doubt about that. However – they are a lot more costly, and a lot less durable/robust, compared to down tube friction shifters.

      Tiagra 4700 FD will not work very well with Sora shifters. It has pull ratio compatible with new, 11 speed road shifters (they changed both the rear, and the front derailleur cable pull ratio with Tiagra 4700 and 11 speed road groups).

      Having said that – DT shifters are rather light – you could use STI-s, while keeping the front DT shifter. 🙂 Frankenstein, yes, but it would work wonderfully.

      Another option is to keep the current front derailleur and just mount the STI-s – 9 speed ones should work fine with the 6 speed FD.

      Now, there are older 10 speed shifters (105 5600, and 5700 for example), but the new Tiagra 4700 10 speed system shifts a lot more precisely (probably thanks to a lot longer cable pull).

      Having said all that, whenever someone mentions an “upgrade” I always ask:
      What does the current system lack?
      10 speed system, compared to 9 speed one will:
      – Give one more gear ratio between the highest and the lowest gear.
      – Allow a bit better rear shifting under load (though that’s something to be avoided, unless racing, or even then unless it’s critical).
      – Shift for a split second faster in the rear (and, with the new Tiagra 4700 – be a bit more “precise”, though 9 speed stuff also works very well, so that’s really marginal).
      – Cost more when it comes to chain and cassette replacement.

      In my experience, good quality tyres are among the better upgrades one can get (like Continental Grand-Prix 4 seasons, or Continental Grand Prix 4000s / 4000s II, or 5000 – haven’t tried the 5000 myself – the links are Amazon affiliate, but I’d recommend supporting the local LBS and shopping there).

    • First off, thank you for all the information!

      Next, I would rather not upgrade to all 10s because the 9s setup works just fine for me and doesn’t lack anything currently except for desired but not necessarily needed, sti-s. I just wasn’t sure if upgrading would be the best option to match the 10s crankset. Ideally, I would be able to leave everything alone and upgrade to sti shifters, which it sounds like I can do. Also it sounds like for my birthday i’ll be asking for some new tyres!

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