"Why do my shifters say 10 speed, but there's only 9 gears on the back?"

On some of our touring bikes and tandems we use 10 speed Campagnolo shifters with a 9 speed SRAM or Shimano cassette in the back. We're not the only high-end manufacturer that does this, but we are probably the biggest.

Sometimes, a customer notices this difference themselves. Usually, the question comes after the customer has owned the bike a while (sometimes years), and the cables need some adjusting. When the bike is taken to a shop that is not familiar with compatibility between different components (unless it's specifically listed in the manufacturer specifications) they often mis-diagnose a simple cable adjustment issue as a component compatibility issue. Often, they will say something like "they put the wrong cassette on your bike"....or "they put the wrong shifters on your bike". Then they may try to suggest to remedy the issue in the most difficult (ie. expensive) way. This is a good time to have them give me a call so I can fill them in on compatibility and why we set our bicycles up the way we do.

Note: It's always amazing to me that a mechanic would not deduce that the bike has obviously been working fine for quite some time with the components it has on it, so why not try an adjustment first?

The Campagnolo 10-speed shifters are compatible with Shimano and SRAM spaced 9-speed cog sets, even though the manufacturers tell you that you have to have everything the same brand (Gee, I wonder why they'd say that? ;-). Anyway, as it goes, this combination works very well, and really opens up your options for hub choices as well as gearing choices. I could get really technical and delve into all sorts of minutia here, but I'm being waved off of the diatribe route and redirected to the path of relevant information.

Maybe you would like to know why we go through the trouble to set up our touring bikes and tandems this way, and how it benefits you?

Some ask "why not just use a 10-sp chain and cassette with the 10-sp shifters"? There are a couple of benefits to sticking with 9:

1.) Flexibility:
By using a 9-sp cassette, you have many more options for low gearing. We can use the better, more comfortable Campagnolo shifters, but still use the SRAM/Shimano style rear hub. This opens up the opportunity for using Phil Wood hub, or just about any other hub on the market as the SRAM/Shimano style freehub body is extremely common. By using the more common freehub design, we can use just about any gearing ratio on the market at a very low price. This is something that is important on a touring bike and a tandem.

2.) Less maintenance:
10-speed chains are very thin, as are the 10-speed cogs. This means that they don't last near as long as a thicker chain and cogs. In cases of heavy commuting or touring we've seen many customers who only get about 700 to 800 miles out of their 10-sp chain and cogs. For some of those customers, that's about 1 month of commuting. That's 12 chains and 12 cog sets per year. For a customer riding across the United States, that's 4 chains and 4 cog sets. When used on a tandem, the mileage decreases by about 30%. By contrast, these same customers would be getting 1,200 to 1,500 miles on a 9-speed chain and cog set. Does this mean that an 8-speed chain and cog set would be even more durable? Yes, but higher-end 8-speed shifters are not available anymore, so 9-speed drive train with 10-sp shifters are the new durability choice.

3.) Lower maintenance costs:
A 9-speed chain sells for $25. A 9-speed cog set sells from $30 to $60. By contrast a 10-speed chain costs $50, and 10-speed cog sets are $100 and up. When you multiply the frequency of replacement by the cost of equipment, your maintenance costs are increased by 200%. A 200% increase in maintenance costs is not the direction that most of our commuting, tandem and loaded touring customers want to go. Some people have no problem with the increased costs or service. Rest assured we still build touring bikes with 10-speed shifting quite a bit. We just want to share why 9-drive trains are standard on our touring bikes....even those with 10-speed shifters.

So, when someone says "they put the wrong XXXX on your bike" or "those shifters won't work with that cogset" you can just tell them "shhhhhh......don't let my shifters know that"