Ah, the lowly shifter. The traditional triathlon shifter is a relic. It's a holdover from the when road cyclists would reach to their drops, and use the bar-end shifters mounted there. This was an improvement from downtube shifters, but eventually replaced by the integrated STI units in use today, that combine the shifter into the brake lever. Triathletes were stuck with that old technology sitting at the end of their aerobars.
And what's wrong with it? If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
The Problem with Bar-Ends
The principal trouble with these old shifters is that, simply put, they get in the way. It's not easy to grip a shifter that's pointed straight down or straight up, and yet that's precisely what happens with these shifters. So riders have traditionally been forced to ride with extensions that are longer than ideal, so that they're not gripping a strangely-placed shifter. What's more, when it's time to shift, the extreme positions of the bar-end shifters make for awkward shifting, often involving taking the arms completely out of the armrest just to get enough leverage to shift.
Return to Center
So, along comes SRAM, and introduces the R2C. It's supposed to solve both of these problems by making a racheting shifter that always returns to a forward position after shifting. The idea is that it's not awkward at all just to pull up or pull down a few degrees on a shifter, as long as it's going to be back at its starting position. Zipp, after being acquired by SRAM, started producing its own version, with the same mechanics, but different ergonomics. But both of these units retail at several times the cost for traditional shifters. The obvious question is whether these shifters are worth their price, or if they're just another gimmick to be dismissed? We've been testing the R2C's for several months, and have had the opportunity to see both Zipp and SRAM's versions. Read on to find out how we liked them on the road.