How to Clean Shimano STI Shifters and Brake Levers

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Neil asked: How do I clean the Shimano STI shifters and brake levers on my bicycle? My road bike STI shifters and brake levers get gunked up with road grime and sweat and eventually the up-shift won’t work because the ratchet is stuck. Cleaning with degreaser seems to just wash the gunk further into the shifter, plus it coats the contacts of the gear position sensors so the flight-deck computer no longer works because it doesn’t see the correct gear setting.

Shimano STI systems require regular maintenance to function properly. Degreaser is the right approach to remove the dirt and grease, but it may take more to flush it completely out of the inner workings. Follow the guidelines below to give it a thorough cleaning so it will function at top performance.

You Will Need:

  • Aerosol degreaser such as:
    • Finishline Citrus Degreaser
    • Clean Streak by White Lightening
  • Tools to remove covers
  • Air compressor (optional)
  • Oil based lubricant
    • Tri-Flow
    • Dry Teflon Lube by Finish Line

Steps to Clean the Shifters and Brake Levers:

  1. Use the aerosol degreaser to spray away any dirt and grease build-up from the interior workings of the system. Either of the degreasers above will work, however, Clean Streak is stronger and works better to melt down heavy grease build-up.
  2. Next, remove the faceplate on the front and the cover over the shifter. Do NOT disassemble any of the mechanism itself as it is nearly impossible to put it together again. ONLY remove the covers. This will give you better access for a more thorough cleaning.
  3. Use the aerosol degreaser again to remove any additional dirt and grease build-up that you may find.
  4. If you have access to an air compressor, it may be helpful to use that as well to remove any remaining dirt and grease.
  5. After you have sprayed the entire system and removed all (or as much as possible) of the dirt and grease, allow it to dry completely.
  6. Now that all of the grease is removed, you have clean gears that need lubricant.
  7. Apply an oil-based lubricant such as Tri-Flow, a teflon based oil lubricant, or Dry Teflon Lube by Finish Line.
  8. Replace the covers and faceplate and it is ready for use.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Avoid using WD-40 to clean the system as it contains too much lubricant. It removes the dirt and grease, but it never dries so the build-up quickly returns. It also coats the surface and can keep the system from functioning correctly.
  • NEVER disassemble the inner-workings of the system as it is impossible to put it back together.
  • When using the air compressor to clean the system, using 100 PSI should be sufficient.
  • Malfunction due to dirt and grease build-up is a common problem for this system. If the problem is recurring and cannot be fixed, it may need to be replaced.

Comments

  1. Gary says:

    If you are experiencing shifting problems, check the shift cable, as just a small fray (usually occurs at the STI lever end) will cause all sorts of shifting issues.

    Just disconnect the cable from the derailleur end pull it partially out of the shifter and inspect. Any sign of wear or fraying, replace the cable in accordance with Shimano instruction sheet.

  2. Neil says:

    Useful, thanks…

    I imagine this will work with appropriate translation to STI road shifters too…

    Has anyone successfully used this technique on shifters to which a Flightdeck computer is connected, and verified that it still reliably knows the gear selected?

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