How to Fix Mountain Bike Grip Shifters – Diagnosis & Fixes


Modern mountain bikes have a multitude of moving parts that can stretch or wear over time. When you notice that your bike is less responsive, you might think that it’s time for a major overhaul. But often a little tightening and tweaking will be enough to get your mountain bike back to its optimal performance. In this article, we discuss how to fix mountain bike grip shifters, common problems that might occur, and simple repair methods.

To fix mountain bike grip shifters that are stiff or stuck, clean the shifter and gear cable. To fix a sluggish gear shifter try replacing the gear cable and cable housing. To fix a gear shifter that jumps or skips gears, readjust the gear cable tension in the cable adjustment barrel on the derailleur.  

Twist Mountain Bike Grip Shifter Problems

Problem 1. Grip Shifter Feels Stiff or Stuck 

A grip shifter is also known as a twist shifter. A grip shifter that is stuck won’t allow the rider to rotate the barrel to select different gears when riding. A stuck grip shifter could be the result of a damaged shifter, a damaged or dirty gear cable, or a damaged derailleur. You will need to inspect each part of the mountain bike to determine where the problem lies. 

Problem 2. Grip Shifter Won't Click Into or Stay in Gear 

If your grip shifter is dirty then cleaning it may help with gear selection. Because mountain bikes traverse the roughest terrains, their gear shifters and other components on the bike are prone to ordinary wear and tear. If the grip shifter doesn’t have a distinctive click sound when shifted into gear, then the internal selector is probably worn and the shifter will need to be replaced. 

This may be a good time to try out other types of shifters for mountain bikes like this popular trigger shifter. Our article comparing grip shifters and trigger shifters discusses the pros and cons of both types of gear shifters to help you make an informed choice. 

Problem 3. You Shifted One Gear But Too Many Sprockets Were Jumped

When mountain biking, one gear click on the shifter should correspond with one gear shift onto the chosen sprocket in the selected direction, either up or down. If you twist the grip shifter over one gear and your chain skips that gear and lands on the next sprocket then your bike is jumping gears. This can be dangerous for both the rider and the bike because the gearing is unreliable and unsuitable for the particular terrain. When the gears jump like this it probably means the gear cable is threaded too tight through the derailleur clamp or cable adjustment barrel. 

Problem 4. The Gear Was Selected But the Chain Slipped Off the Selected Sprocket

The opposite of the previous problem is when the gear is correctly selected, but the chain slips off the selected sprocket onto a smaller sprocket. A slipping chain is dangerous because it can get caught in the wheel spoke or cassette and cause a serious accident, according to this article from Cycling Research International.  A slipping chain can be the result of a chain that is too loose or a gear cable that is too loose in the derailleur’s cable adjustment barrel. 

Problem 5. Gear Shifting is Sluggish

​​Gear shifting on a mountain bike needs to be fast and smooth because the rider makes quick decisions about which gear to select depending on each path he or she encounters. A shifter that feels unresponsive or sluggish can be dangerous for the rider. Sluggish gear shifts can be attributed to grime and debris build-up between the shift housing and the shift cable, kinks in the gear cable or housing, or worn-out cable housing.

Mountain bike shifters could be faulty because of the build-up of grime and dirt between the shift housing and the shift cable. To fix mountain bike grip shifters first diagnose what the problem is using our list above.
A dirty or damaged gear cable can affect gear shifting. Image Source: Amazon.

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How to Fix a Stiff Grip Shift or a Grip Shifter That is Stuck

When riding it could happen that your mountain bike grip shifter becomes stiff or gets stuck. This problem can easily be fixed - and you can even do it yourself.

To fix a stiff or stuck grip shifter, first disconnect the gear cable from the shifter by loosening the cable clamp, then remove the grip shifter from the handlebars by unscrewing the Allen screw located under the shifter. Next, clean the grip shifter with a good bike cleaning spray, and lubricate the shifter. Finally, reinstall the shifter on the handlebar and test it to check that the gears change smoothly. 

Step 1. Disconnect the Gear Cable from the Shifter

Loosen the gear cable clamp located on the top end of the grip shifter, and disconnect the gear cable. 

If the shifter isn’t working properly it probably needs to be removed and cleaned.
The gear cable is attached to the grip shifter by the cable clamp. Image Source: Sram.com.

Step 2. Remove the Grip Shifter

First, remove the handlebar grips using our step-by-step guide on how to remove mountain bike grips. Then unscrew the Allen screw underneath the grip shifter housing, and slide the shifter off the handlebars. 

Step 3. Clean the Grip Shifter

Many manufacturers apply copious amounts of grease to ensure the grip shifters are sufficiently lubricated when transported or stored for long periods. This grease can combine with dust and dirt from riding to form clumps that clog the shifter and make it stick. Once you have removed the grip shifter, carefully clean the grip shifter with this bike cleaning spray and using a microfiber cloth like this.

Step 4. Lubricate the Shifter

Next, apply a small amount of this MTB Lubricant remembering that a little goes a long way, and you don’t want to clog up the cable and shifter again. This video tutorial will explain how to lubricate the grip shifter and not over-apply the spray. 

Step 5. Reinstall the Shifter Onto the Handlebars

Place the clean and lubricated grip shifter onto the handlebars and tighten the Allen screw so the grip shifter is secure.

Step 6. Test the Shifter

Test the grip shifter to see that it is rotating smoothly and moving through the gears properly. If the grip shift is still stiff or stuck, then your problem is probably related to the bearings inside the mechanism, and it would be better to replace the grip shifter with one like this one. Once the shifter is installed you can re-install the handlebar grips using our mountain bike grip installation guide.

As a matter of interest, we also provide tips on how to fix a mountain bike grip that has fallen off.

To fix a mountain bike gear shifter, spray a lubricating spry into the shifter to get it to work properly again.
A stuck grip shifter can easily be cleaned and lubricated so that it rotates smoothly. Image Source: Amazon.

You may also be interested in learning how to choose mountain bike grip heaters. If so, be sure to read our related article for more information! Similarly, you may have wondered what the benefits of clipless pedals on a mountain bike might be. Take a look at that article to find out more.

How to Fix a Grip Shifter That Won't Stay in Gear or Click

It is also possible that a gear shifter doesn't stay in gear or click into gear. We provide the steps below to fix this problem.

To fix a grip shifter that won’t click or stay in gear first check that the gear cable isn’t frayed or kinked anywhere, check that the cable housing is completely intact, and properly secured to the bike frame. Locate the gear cable adjustment barrel on the derailleur and check the cable tension. Lastly, lubricate the gear cable and the housing. If the shifter still doesn't click properly into the selected gear then it should be replaced with a new one. 

Step 1. Check That the Gear Cable Isn’t Frayed or Bent

Run your hand along the gear cable to feel for frays or kinks in the cable. Replace a damaged cable with a replacement shift cable like this

Step 2. Check the Cable Housing Isn’t Damaged

The cable will probably show signs of wear and tear before the cable does because its purpose is to protect the cable and secure it to the bike frame. Cable housing is inexpensive and often comes included with the gear cable like this one so it would be worth your while to replace the housing while you are already replacing the cable. 

Step 3. Check the Gear Cable Tension In the Cable Adjustment Barrel

If the gear cable is pulled too tight or left too loose in the derailleur clamp it can cause the gears to jump or slip. This video explains how much tension to apply to the gear cable as it feeds into the derailleur. 

Step 4. Lubricate the Gear Cable

Remove the gear cable from its housing and apply a small amount of lubricant to ensure smooth gear changing, and then slide the cable back into the housing and clip the housing back onto the bike frame. 

Step 5. Replace a Worn Shifter With a New One

If you have cleaned and lubricated all the components but the shifter continues to disengage from the selected gear then you probably need to replace it with a new shifter. Our step-by-step guide on what to do if a grip shifter is stuck will explain how to detach the shifters easily. And we also offer helpful tips on how to choose mountain bike grip shifters.

A mountain bike grip shifter could be malfunctioning due to the tension cable needing a bit of lubricant.
A taut tension cable that is properly lubricated will ensure smooth gear shifting on tricky terrains. Image Source: Amazon.

How to Fix a Shifter That Jumps Gears

If you are riding and find that the gear you have selected isn’t engaging and that the wrong gear (up or down) is engaging, it means that your shifter is jumping gears.

To fix a shifter that jumps gears, first, clean the chain and the gear cable of excess grease and dirt, and then clean the grip shifter. Next, loosen the gear cable barrel on the derailleur and adjust the cable tension so that it is taut, and fasten the cable back into the barrel clamp. Finally, test the grip shifter to see if it engages the selected gear properly. If it still jumps then check that the derailleur hanger isn’t bent. 

Step 1. Clean the Chain and Gear Cable

The combination of sand and lubricant can cause a greasy goop to accumulate on the chain and gear cable. Use soapy hot water and a soft cloth to remove these clumps of dirt from the bike. 

Step 2. Clean the Grip Shifter

A grip shifter is put through its paces during lengthy rides and will need to be cleaned often to ensure it continues to operate smoothly. Use a good quality bike cleaner that cuts through grease while also offering protection for the bike components like this one

Step 3. Locate the Barrel Adjuster For the Gear Cable On the Derailleur

The gear cable is attached to the derailleur with a small screw barrel. The tension of the cable through that clamp can affect the ease and efficiency of gear shifting.

Step 4. Loosen the Clamp

Unscrew the clamp. If you need to pull the cable out of the clamp to inspect it or rethread it through the cable housing, then you will first need to cut the cable cap-end off with pliers. This section of cable should also be cleaned and lubricated before reattaching it to the derailleur. 

Step 5. Readjust the Gear Cable Tension Through the Barrel

Thread the gear cable through the barrel with enough tension to keep the cable taut, but not too tight. Once the barrel is tight, attach a cap end to the cable.

Step 6. Test the Grip Shifter

Finally, test the grip shifter to ensure the gears are transitioning smoothly without any skipping of gears. If the shifter is still jumping gears then check to see that the derailleur hanger is not bent. A bent hanger will need to be straightened or replaced with a new one like this

The tension of the cable attached to the derailleur affects the ease and efficiency of gear shifting.
The clamp where the gear cable attaches to the derailleur is called the cable anchor bolt or cable adjustment barrel. Image Source: AppletonBike.com.

Summary of Mountain Bike Grip Shifter Problems

Problem Possible Solution Amazon Product Price
Stuck Grip Shifter Check gear cable and cable housing isn’t damaged Universal Bicycle Shifter Cable Housing Set for Shimano Sram Derailleur ~$10
Grip Shifter Won’t Stay in Gear Clean the gear cable and gear shifter and lubricate them  Premium Bike Care Ceramic Maintain | Ceramic-Infused 3-in-1 Waterless Scratch-Free Bike Cleaning Spray ~$20
Gears are Jumping Across Too Many Sprockets Loosen the tension on the gear cable on the cable adjustment barrel     
The Cable and Shifter are Fine But the Gears Keep Jumping Check the derailleur isn’t damaged and the hanger isn’t bent from a fall — replace them if necessary Bike Rear Derailleur RD-TY21B 6/7 Speed Hanger Mount ~$20

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