A majority of modern internal gear hubs (IGHs) are supplied from the factory with either twist, thumb, or trigger shifters designed for flat bars (an exception being Sturmey Archer who offers bar-end and downtube shifters for their 3-speed and 5-speed hubs). Because IGHs are mostly spec’d on city and commuter bikes, the flat bar shifter design makes sense in most cases. But, with the increasing popularity of internal gear hubs, as well as the wider variety of bikes being classified as “commuters”, there appears to be a small, but growing demand for drop-bar-compatible IGH shifters such as the Versa from Sussex Enterprises.
The Versa is an “STI” style, integrated brake/shift lever (aka “brifter”) designed for use with Shimano Nexus and Alfine internal gear hubs. Sussex offers two models; the VRS-8 designed for use with 8-speed Nexus and Alfine hubs, and the VRS-11designed for use with the new Alfine 11 hub. Other than the fact that they’re designed to work with different hubs, the two models are nearly identical.
The Versa is a true road lever that pulls the appropriate amount of cable for road brakes such as dual-pivot calipers and cantilevers. It will also work with Avid mechanical disc brakes specifically designed for use with road levers. It will not work with linear pull or off-road mechanical disc brakes.*
The designers of the Versa opted for a dedicated brake lever and two smaller levers for up- and down-shifting (see photo at top). Personally, I prefer this three-lever design over the more common two-lever design that uses the brake lever for shifting. Though I’ve certainly tried, I’ve never really adapted to the feel of a brake lever that moves in two planes.
I like the ergonomics of the Versa. The hood design borrows heavily from Shimano, SRAM, and others. It has a smooth transition off of the bar that provides good support and comfort. The long-ish body is easy to grip and provides ample room for changing hand positions. Both the brake and shift levers angle slightly toward the outside away from the lever body, making them easy to reach.
The Versa’s shifting action when combined with an Alfine hub is crisp and clean. Each click of either lever shifts the hub a single gear up or down. The shift levers are easy to reach and provide plenty of leverage. There is one idiosyncrasy to be aware of with the larger lever used for upshifting. The lever has a longer throw than necessary, which may lead one to push the lever further than is required to make the shift, occasionally causing a mis-shift. The trick is to only push the lever until it clicks and no further. Once I figured this out it’s been fine.
Versa levers are clearly a niche product, yet I’ve been surprised by how many questions I’ve received regarding their installation and performance. This, along with our poll showing drop bars as the top choice among our readers, leads me to believe there may be a growing interest in IGH-equipped drop bar bikes. Personally, I’ve been happy with the ergonomics and clean cockpit provided by the drop bars and Versa levers on my Civia Bryant.
* NOTE: If you’re converting a bike from flat bars to drop bars with Versa levers (and assuming your bike is currently outfitted with MTB levers and linear-pull brakes), you’ll need to either replace your existing brakes with short-pull road brakes, or install a pair of Problem Solvers “Travel Agents” to match these short-pull road levers to your long-pull brakes.