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Wrenched & Ridden bike reviews: Zipp Vuka R2C shifters with VukaShift aero extensions

Review: Zipp Vuka R2C shifters with VukaShift aero extensions
Expansion plugs aside, the Zipp and SRAM R2C shifters are shaped such that you can wrap your hands completely over the top of them for a firm, fat grip.

A big chunk of the fun (and pain) that comes from racing time trials is the excuse to play with slippery aero gear. For example, a few months ago for VeloNews magazine (September 2010), we rounded up six pairs of deep aero wheels and tested them on the road and in the lab. I swear the fastest wheels in the wind tunnel from the group actually did help me set a new PR in the local TT series.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the same for Zipp’s Vuka R2C shifters and integrated VukaShift aero extensions, but they’re totally sweet nonetheless. The shifters themselves are based on SRAM’s R2C Aero shifters, but they have a different lever shape. What’s more, with VukaShift aero extensions, the shifter perch is actually co-molded with the extensions. No expansion plug is needed to mount the shifters to the ends of the extensions, making for an extremely simple installation. Plus, the grips on the extensions are shaped to integrate with the shifters, creating a comfortable and natural hand position.

The real novelty of R2C shifting is that the shifters always remain centered and neutral. You don’t wind up with levers cocked up or down at wild angles because after a shift, they snap back to their centered starting point. Zipp says they’re more aerodynamic, but with your hands gripped over the shifters (as their shape encourages) I can’t imagine the aero benefit is tangible.

Zipp R2C shifters and VukaShift extensions

MSRP: $375 for the R2C shifters. $250 for the VukaShift extensions.
The Scoop:Re-centering bar-end shifters for time trial bikes, with shifter mounts co-molded into the aero extensions.
Pros: Smooth shift action, comfortable hand position, intuitive shifting.
Cons: Compatible with SRAM derailleurs only.
More info: www.zipp.com, www.sram.com

The real benefit of R2C shifters is easy, tactile shifting and great hand position. I don’t know if I’d replace an entire time trial component group to make this one upgrade, but if you already have a SRAM drivetrain or if you’re building something from scratch, I’d highly recommend hopping it up with the R2C system.

The Wrenching

If you want to try R2C shifters from either SRAM or Zipp, you’ve got to install a SRAM drivetrain first. My bike was set up with a complete SRAM Red group, including derailleurs, cogs, chain, and cranks. If you think about it, SRAM Red is possibly the perfect TT group — the parts are exceptionally light and won’t set you back an arm and a leg.

Next came a 42cm Zipp VukaBull base bar. It’s light, at about 200 grams, and UCI compliant (for those that need to worry about such things). Nothing too remarkable about it, other than it seems aero enough and the stem clamp section is wide enough to accommodate a reasonable range of clip-on width adjustment. Of course it’s designed for internal brake cable routing.

Zipp VukaShift extensions require the approximately 400-gram VukaClip elbow pad/clamp parts. They’re basically bullet-shaped compression sleeve receivers for aero extensions, with machined handlebar clamps and elbow pad perches. As you’d expect, the elbow pad perches sport a wide range of width and fore/aft adjustability. The handlebar clamps are sleek and it’s easy to install the VukaClips on whatever 31.8mm base bar you’re using (included shims allow mounting to 26.0mm bars). There are several exit points for internally routed shifter cables.

VukaClip clamps use a slick compression sleeve and collet system to hold the VukaShift (or any of the Zipp Vuka series) aero extensions. You cut the extensions at their insertion end to your desired length, and then they slide into place and tighten via the compression collet. They look clean and are easy to work with.

VukaShift aero extensions come in chicane (s-bend) shape and weigh about 120 grams per pair uncut. There are two versions — one for standard shifters, and one for R2C.

R2C shifters with expansion plug mounts for standard aero extensions weigh about 85 grams each. Remove the plug, and you save about 30 grams. A standard SRAM 900 TT shifter (minus the expansion plug) weighs about 35 grams. If you’re keeping track, that means R2C shifters come with about a 20-gram-per-shifter weight penalty compared to a standard shifter. Not much, in my opinion.

When it comes to installing the R2C shifters on VukaShift aero extensions, you simply remove the shifter from its perch on the expansion plug mount and transfer it over to the molded perch on the VukaShift extension.

Actually, when you factor internal cable routing, it’s not quite that simple. It took me some work to figure out the best way to get my shifter cables and housing in place, because it’s easier to have everything lined up ahead of time, before it’s all bolted down.

Review: Zipp Vuka R2C shifters with VukaShift aero extensions
With all the SRAM Red parts installed on my TTX, the setup is a bit like what the Astana team used to ride, before the Speed Concept frames arrived from Trek.

I started by routing all my shifter housing from the derailleurs up through the frame first (I have a Trek TTX).

With lots of extra length, I ran shifter housing up and out of the frame at the head tube, into and through the VukaClip clamps, and out to about where the shifters would be.

I cut the housing to length and installed the special red ferrules supplied by Zipp with VukaShift.

Then (after measuring and cutting the VukaShift extensions to length to fit my position), I threaded the R2C shifter cables through the VukaShift extensions and bolted the shifters into place at the end of the extensions.

Now the cables were hanging out of the open end of the VukaShift extensions. I threaded them into the waiting housing and ferrules.

I carefully pushed the cables through the housing while sliding the VukaShift extensions over the shifter housing. Then I slipped the extensions into the compression collets of the VukaClips.

At this point, the shifter housing was fully enclosed within the extensions and clips, and lengths of cable and housing extended all the way out to the derailleurs and their appropriate cable stops. All that was left was to snug everything into place, tension the cables, and adjust the derailleurs.

If you’ve ever worked on a time trial bike, you know it can be an elaborate process, but the reward of fully internal cable routing is usually worth the effort.

One final point about R2C shifters: you can adjust their start point (angle) to accommodate your extensions, hand position, or whatever. I ran mine pointed straight down the road, but if you use upturned aero extensions, maybe you’d re-orient the shifters accordingly.

The Riding

Everything worked great, period. SRAM shifting in general is quite consistent and seems less finicky with regard to cable drag and tension. This trait is welcome when it comes to the long sections of housing typical with TT bikes.

I really like the R2C shifters. I didn’t expect the re-centering feature to be so nice, but it’s totally sweet. Somehow shifting feels easier and more intuitive, almost like pushing a button. The shifters have a satisfying “snap” with shifts to smaller cogs, and a very positive but smooth shift from small cogs to larger ones. It’s easy to pop across three cogs in either direction if you need to.

I used Gore RideOn cables, so action was consistently smooth. I didn’t have any problems with too much effort at the lever, despite the long sections of internal shifter housing.

With the shifters integrated in the aero extensions, the hand position is super comfortable. The extensions are bulged and textured at the grips so it’s easy to wrap your hands over the shifters and grips. There’s no need to slide your hands back and forth to make shifts — everything is right at your fingertips (or a flick of the wrist).

The only problem I had with the whole system was the compression collets holding the extensions into place. It took some doing to get them tight enough to hold the extensions in place without them gradually loosening up. Eventually I used carbon friction paste on the extensions at their insertion point, and that cured the slippage problem.

As I say, if I already had a Shimano-based TT setup, I don’t know if it would be worth changing everything out just to run R2C shifters. And I doubt it’s the R2C shifters that make Fabian Cancellara so fast.

But if you’re building a new bike or upgrading an old one, I’d pick SRAM and Zipp for the R2C option with VukaShift extensions. The whole setup and integration is really cool, comfortable, and works quite well.