Versa VRS Levers

Versa Lever

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.*

Versa Lever

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 Lever

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.

Sussex Enterprises

* 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.

15 Responses to “Versa VRS Levers”

  • John Ferguson says:

    Sadly, I think the biggest design constraints experienced by the Versa designers were probably the patents held in this space by Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. Shimano brifters use the brake lever itself as a shifter, Campy levers have the downshift lever on the inside of the brake hood where it can be easily accessed by the rider’s thumb and SRAM use the single inside lever for both up and down shifts.

    That doesn’t leave much room for innovation, and I’m sure Versa couldn’t afford either the licensing fees or the lawyers for the inevitable lawsuit should they use an existing design (or one like it). To be honest, the placement of the downshift lever looks pretty compromised. I’ll wait for a decent bar end shifter to be developed, methinks..

  • Alan says:

    John,

    I actually quite like the little downshift lever and have no issue with it at all (it’s easily accessed with the first finger). I certainly wouldn’t let that alone dissuade you from giving the levers a try.

    Alan

  • Mike I. says:

    They do look like nice levers. On a side note, you mentioned that the brake levers angle slightly outward. Having switched from a straight bar setup to a drop bar i have been disappointed with braking power of the drop bar brakes that came with the bike. Methinks having the brakes angle outward would solve this issue. However, I have had a really hard time finding drop bar brakes (without shifters)that have any kind of angle to them. Have you come across anything like this?

  • B says:

    Actually, I find them to be pretty rubbish on my Bryant, and for the record, they’re old Microshift levers with different cogs in them and a different logo on the top. That’s it.

    The brake levers are spongy, and the pivot isn’t at the top of the lever. On a Campy or SRAM lever, you can grab some brake as high up the lever as you want. Not so here.

    The downshift lever is easy to accidentally bump with your index finger wrapped around the shifter body if you’re out of the saddle and really hauling, which can be a nasty and dangerous surprise. It’s especially commonplace if wearing gloves, even thin full-finger ones. They’re virtually impossible to operate with lobstermit gloves, because the slightest press of the downshift button cancels the upshift.

    The upshift lever has a ridiculously long throw (yes, even to just “the click.”) Again, compare to Shimano, Campy, or SRAM. I wear a men’s small glove so I don’t have very big hands, and I find the downshift to be awkwardly long.

    Look, Alan, I know you’ve never met a product you didn’t like, but c’mon. Between the incessant virtually-identical pictures of your Bryant cluttering up my feed and saccharine praise for every product, I’m about ready to unsubscribe. You’re rapidly losing credibility with me.

  • Alan says:

    Brett,

    We’ll have to agree to disagree. Sure the Versa doesn’t compare to Campy, SRAM, or Shimano brifters, but of course, none of those is capable of shifting an IGH (and most are much more expensive). The point is that if a person wants a dual-control shifter for an IGH, we have one available and it’s not a bad one at that.

    Regarding the last paragraph, I’ll take your feedback into consideration.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    Mike,

    You might check out the SRAM S500 levers at Rivendell:

    http://www.rivbike.com/products/show/sram-s500-road-brake-levers/15-177

    Alan

  • Gregg says:

    Alan,
    Thanks for the info. How do you know what gear you are in? Is there a little window/indicator like on our globe?

  • Alan says:

    Gregg,

    You’re welcome!

    There’s not an indicator on the shifter. I used to count, but after a while you get pretty good at knowing what gear you’re in simply by feel. It’ll probably be a little more difficult when I switch over to the 11-speed hub… ;-)

    Alan

  • kfg says:

    “I used to count, but after a while you get pretty good at knowing what gear you’re in simply by feel.”

    In fact, if you can’t tell what gear you are in by feel, you can’t use gears properly at all. “Feel” is the whole purpose of gears.

    “It’ll probably be a little more difficult when I switch over to the 11-speed hub”

    Not a bit. The number of gears is unrelated to the gear sensing mechanism. In fact, you have stated multiple times that your only reason for going to the 11 is in expectation that it will feel better, that it has a better feel distribution. If this turns out to be the case you will feel more at home with the 11 within a few minutes.

    For the musically inclined note that music is not defined by the absolute value of notes, but by the interval between notes. The absolute value of a note, or the absolute position of that note in a scale are meaningless until contrasted against another. When listening to music you do not hear do and then mi; you hear a major third.

    And so do you hear gears, through essentially the same mechanism (the difference simply being the way the brain interprets the sensory input).

  • Doug says:

    Alan,
    Have to mention the Travel Agents. I think they’re dangerous. They fray the brake cable and have to be checked often. And they feel a bit spongy.

    I enjoy and appreciate ecovelo but Brett has a point. Too much praise, little criticism dilutes.
    Thanks,

  • Mickey says:

    I have the Versa 8 on an Alfine Bryant. I really like the downshift and really don’t like the upshift. You can pop down to 1st at a stop sign in a (figuratively speaking, people) split second. The throw for upshifts is, as stated, ridiculously long and vague. It could easily be half the distance even if the force to move is doubled or tripled.

    There’s really no reason to have shift numbers. Like jumping into a car you’ve never driven before (for those of us who still like to do it manually) you look to see how many gears the thing has in the first place. Afterwards, you just row through them as needed. I don’t think anybody on a bike says “ya man, I took that blind curve onto the pedestrian path in sixth gear, it was awesome!”

    I thought that the braking action was muddy at first too. But after dialing the brakes in, they are fine. Looking closely at the brake caliper when clamping down hard on the lever I do see minute movement – it’s not like the slight squish at the limit isn’t translating to additional brake force.

    And personally, I like the splay of the levers. It looks odd but works well for me.

    Mickey

  • Sean says:

    I have the Vera 8 shifter on a Jamis Aurora that I converted to an IGH with an alfine 8. I have to use the alfine chain tensioner but this works well for me. I have to agree with the other comments, the Versa has a ridiculously long throw to up shift. It can also be somewhat easy to accidently downshift as well when you are riding on the hoods. All this to say the Versa shifters are pretty crapy but not unusable. I wish Shimano would produce a good set of STI style shifters for their own product. I guess the Versa shifters problems/limitations would be easier to accept if they were priced comparable to a low end set of Shimano STI style shifters (which they shift worse than). The Versa shifters are way over priced. I guess when you have the market cornered you can charge a fortune.

  • Mark says:

    Alan & Brett & Mickey,

    Am I understanding right that you have the larger lever set for upshift and the small for downshift? I have my Versa 11 shifters the other way – my large lever is downshift (like it is on Campagnolo) and can’t imagine it being the other way around.

    I hadn’t seen or used Versa before I purchased and I felt like I was taking a chance on them, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with both the feel of the hoods and with the braking/shifting action. (I’m comparing against the Campagnolo Chorus and Shimano 105 brifters I have on my other bikes.) I don’t think the Versa feel as nice as either of those levers, but they perfectly good for my drop bar commuting use.

    The pivot of the brake lever is lower on the Versa levers (and therefore IMO not as nice) but once you know that it’s easy to adjust how you pull them. I’m using them with v-brakes and travel agent adjusters, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone and I’m planning to change to traditional cantis soon. The brake levers are themselves somewhat spongy, and the travel agents only make this worse. Together they don’t leave me with much confidence in braking, especially while wet or at speed.

    I think the shifting on the Versa levers is great overall and I prefer the clear clicks of the Versa shifts to the feel of my Shimano 105′s (5600). I like the 3-lever configuration. The travel of the larger shift lever is a bit longer than ideal, but not long enough to be problematic.

    Overall I think the Versa 11 shifters are great and I’m very happy to have taken a chance on a drop bar Alfine build.

  • Doug ratliff says:

    WOW, brifters are for roadie types! I have a pile of them that I “Take” off bikes I buy. I hate the things period. I love upright or flat bars, (old mountain biker) and I am to old to be bending down over silly drop bars. Repent Alan! get rid of those things now! LOL!

  • jnyyz says:

    with regards to Mark’s comment, perhaps this is because the shifting direction has been reversed on the 11 versus the 8 speed hub. (I haven’t used either version of the Versa brifter, but I have a jtek bar end on one of my Alfine 8 builds).

    Also I have just posted notes on another Alfine 11 bike: the Brodie Once
    http://jnyyz.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/brodie-once-with-alfine-11/

 
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