Mountain Bike Trigger Shifter vs. Grip Shifter – What’s Best for You?

The type of gear shifter installed on a mountain bike should be suitable for the rider’s style and level of experience, as well as the type of terrain most frequently ridden on. Trigger shifters and grip shifters are the most popular types of shifters on the market, and both are suited to beginner riders and intermediate riders. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of mountain bike trigger shifters vs. grip shifters and help you choose the best ones for you.  

When choosing between trigger shifters vs. grip shifters, the rider’s experience level will be a determining factor. Grip shifters are better for beginner riders and trigger shifters are better for experienced riders. Trigger shifters allow for quicker gear shifting with minimal resistance while reducing wrist pain and hand fatigue.  

Grip shifters are easier for new riders to master quickly. Trigger shifters allow the rider to change between gears rapidly and are favored by more experienced riders, as they refine their riding technique.

When choosing between a mountain bike trigger shifter vs. grip shifter it comes down to the level of experience of the rider. 
Mountain bike grip shifters are good for beginner to intermediate riders. Image source: Amazon.

What is a Mountain Bike Trigger Shifter?

A trigger shifter is a type of mountain bike gear shifter that has two levers; one for shifting up and one for shifting down when riding. 

A trigger shift allows the rider to gear down by pressing the trigger with the thumb or gear up by pressing the other trigger with the index finger. A trigger shift is positioned on the handlebar so that the rider can easily shift gears without moving the wrist and occupies less space on the handlebar. 

Using a trigger shifter ensures that the rider’s wrist remains in a neutral position when riding which, as this article from MedPharm explains, minimizes injury to the hand and wrist. 

A trigger shifter requires you to use your thumb and your index finger to change gears.
Trigger shifters take up less space on the handlebars. Image Source: i.ytimg.

What is a Grip Shifter?

A grip shifter is the most common type of shifter on mountain bikes because they allow the rider to rapidly switch gears without adjusting their grip while riding. 

A grip shifter is commonly known as a twist shifter because of the rotating movement required to change gears. Rotating the grip shifter forward and backward will enable the rider to gear up and down while keeping the whole hand firmly on the handlebars. 

Grip shifters are popular because they don’t have any levers that protrude from the shifter and create a streamlined look on the handlebars. Our article about how to fix a grip shifter that is stuck explains how to replace a grip shifter if you want to try out a different type of shifter. Additionally, we have another article that helps diagnose and fix your mountain bike grip shifters. So be sure to check that out too.

Rotating the grip shifter forward and backward will enable the rider to gear up and down. 
Grip shifters or twist shifters take up more space on the handlebars. Image Source: Youtube.

Grip Shifters vs. Twist Shifters 

A grip shifter takes up more space on the handlebar, while a trigger shifter occupies less space. This means that you will need shorter handlebar grips when using a grip shifter, and longer handlebar grips when using a trigger shifter. 

A grip shifter fits under the index finger and thumb for maximum control through the gear changes and provides a comfortable cushion for the first dorsal interosseous muscle between the thumb and index finger. The narrower design of a trigger shifter allows for a longer handlebar grip with a more ergonomic design that will reduce hand fatigue while riding. 

Because these shifters require different size handlebar grips, our tips on how to choose mountain grip sizes could be a handy resource for deciding which handlebar grips to buy. Also, our article explaining how to choose mountain bike grip heaters may be of interest to you as well.

Pros and Cons of Mountain Bike Trigger Shifters vs. Grip Shifters

If you experience numb hands or painful wrists during or after strenuous rides, we recommend using trigger shifters instead of grip shifters. 

The pros of grip shifters are they are easy to install and operate and have a streamlined look on the handlebar. The cons of grip shifters are that they are not suitable for extremely rough terrain, they can aggravate wrist injuries, and they don’t allow the rider to change gears and brake at the same time. The pros of trigger shifters are less wrist strain, fewer accidental gear changes, and simultaneous braking and gear changing. The cons of trigger shifters are that beginner riders struggle to use them effectively.

The trigger shifter places less strain on the wrist because the wrists don’t have to rotate to change gears. Read our article about choosing mountain bike grips for numbness when riding. 

Accidentally Changing Gears

Many mountain bike enthusiasts have complained about accidentally changing gears when using grip shifters, especially on bumpy terrain. These accidental gear shifts usually occur when the rider is cycling on a route that has steep and rocky inclines—as the rider jolts forward or backward, their grip tightens, and their shifting weight gives them enough momentum to change gears forward or backward. 

A trigger shifter like this one is less likely to cause accidental gear changes when riding on uneven ground because the gear shift is triggered by pressing the levers with either the index finger or thumb specifically. 

Ease of Installation

Both grip shifters and trigger shifters are easy to install. When installing trigger shifters on the handlebars there is an additional step of positioning the triggers so that they are easily accessed when riding. The triggers can be angled according to the rider’s preference, which adds an extra option to improve the rider’s comfort and reduce wrist and hand strain. Our article about how to choose mountain bike grip shifters gives an in-depth explanation of the various types of shifters. 

We suggest you check out our instructions for mountain bike grip installation in case you need to install or re-install grips when you install your gear shifter.

Ability to Simultaneously Brake and Shift Gears 

Grip shifters don’t allow the rider to brake and change gears at the same time—you will first need to brake and then gear up or down depending on the situation. If you're flexible you might be able to do both at the same time, but it's very uncomfortable.

Trigger shifters do make it possible to brake and change gears simultaneously, depending on the rider’s hand position and gear shifting technique. Experienced riders are able to operate the lower triggers with their thumbs or the upper trigger with their index fingers while also pulling on the brake lever with their middle fingers. 

Trigger Shifters vs. Grip Shifters for Different Types of Bikes 

Fat tire bikes like these are great for riding adventures that will take the rider over protruding tree roots and rocky paths. Their larger tires provide more traction but they still need careful maneuvering and a strong grip, so trigger shifters are a good choice because they reduce hand fatigue. 

XC mountain bikes like these are cross-country mountain bikes, that will be used on various types of level terrain like forest paths, sandy roads, paved paths, and connecting routes. Grip shifters are a good choice for XC bikes because the terrain isn’t steep or rocky. 

AM stands for an all-mountain bike like this one and is typically viewed as the most versatile type of mountain bike because it can be used on rough terrains with steep inclines as well as on flatter routes. The choice of grip shifter will depend on the type of track that the rider intends to navigate, with grip shifters being better suited to level paths, and trigger shifters for paths with steeper rocky gradients. 

Comparing the effect of trigger shifters vs. grip shifters, trigger shifters are better for experienced riders and can alleviate pressure on the wrist area.
The constant rotation to change gears with a grip shifter can aggravate wrist injuries. Image Source:

Summary of Which Shifters to Use for Different Conditions:

Type of Terrain/Situation Recommended Shifter Example from Amazon Price
Sandy Level Routes  Grip Shifter Bicycle Speed Shifter Mountain Bike Speed Shift  ~$20
Steep Paths with Rocky Outcrops Trigger Shifter Shimano, Altus SL-M2010, Trigger Shifter ~$50
Cross-Country Terrain with Exposed Tree Roots Trigger Shifter with brake Trigger Bicycle Brake Levers Shifter Liteone ~$20
Cross-Country Terrain with Long Stretches of Grassy Paths Grip Shifter SRAM Centera 9-Speed Twist Set ~$40

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Reversed Brakes - What's the Advantage and Does It Work Better with One Type of Shifter?

Most bikes have their brake levers set up so the right brake controls the rear brake and the left brake controls the front brake calipers, particularly in countries where people drive on the right side of the road. This configuration is ideal for left-handed people because their dominant hand is controlling the rear brake, which allows for safer braking in a city setting. Going downhill on a mountain bike with heavy front braking isn't as safe as using your rear brake.  

Mountain bikes with reversed brakes have front and back braking functions that are swapped around on the handlebars. This allows a right-handed rider to exert slightly more pressure on the front brake and ensures the rear tire doesn’t swerve outwards and cause an accident. A trigger shifter is a better choice for reversed brakes because it allows the rider to brake and change gears simultaneously if the conditions require that type of maneuver. 

Left-handed people account for about 10-12% of the world’s population, which means that many mountain bike riders may find this braking combination less effective because their dominant hand will be controlling the rear brake. A person who is right-handed may find that they press too hard on the right brake, which could cause the rear of the bike to skid out. As this article from Taylor and Francis Online explains, applying slightly more pressure to the front brake than to the rear brake is the safest technique to avoid accidents. If a rider is right-handed then reversing or swapping the brakes around is a good idea, and this video tutorial will show you exactly how to do that. 

Reversed brakes should not be confused with reverse breaks. Reverse brakes are also known as coaster brakes or backpedal brakes because they are activated when the rider moves the pedals backward and are most often found on kids’ bikes or adult cruiser-style bikes. They are less common and are not recommended on bicycles used for technical rides like mountain bikes. If you would like to know more about the types of bikes that people ride check out our article about what mountain bike you should buy.

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