Overhauling Shimano Deer Head Bar Mount Shifters

Last winter I overhauled a number of vintage SunTour, Shimano and Simplex vintage ratcheting shifters (to keep the evil winter spirits at bay).  I was cleaning out my parts bin and wanted to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most of the shifters I overhauled were stem mounted, which were derided in days gone by, but are making a come-back now.  As part of that process I learned a few things about the “ratchets” used on these friction mechanisms.  Some ratchets and pawls are made from steel or alloy, and some from plastic.  During this process, I noted that the Shimano ratcheting shifters I overhauled were of much poorer quality than their Simplex and SunTour competitors. However, none of the shifters in my parts bin included Shimano M700 Deer Head shifters, first introduced in 1983.

Recently I purchased a set of these shifters for a new project, but noted that they were very dry and caked in dirt and debris.  So, I decided to tear them down and give them an overhaul (keeping the evil winter spirits at bay again).  These shifters are very different from Shimano’s later mountain bike offerings:  they are stylistically interesting and the bodies and clamps are alloy and not steel or plastic.

Whenever I overhaul any component I get my camera out and photograph each step so that I won’t forget how the parts were assembled.  These shifters have 3 washers sitting beneath the tension bolt.  Underneath the cover was another washer.

After that a C-shaped lockring needs to be removed, and I used a small straight blade screw driver to accomplish this.  Once done, the lever body can be removed from the base.  Flipping the lever body upside down revealed the ratchet grooves which engage against the pawl.  There is a spring which fits into the lever body.

I use small diameter pipe cleaners to clean the narrow crevices such as this with alcohol as a lubricant.

The spring had evidence of prior lubrication, now dry, so after cleaning I added a small bit of grease to the spring.  The ratcheting pawl on this shifter was a tiny alloy piece perched atop an equally tiny spring (2nd photo from last).  And, the overhaul revealed that these shifter bases are the same for right and left hand.  A small plug blocks the 2 way cable routing so that each shifter base can be set up properly on the right and left and side of the handlebar (last photo above), depending on the direction of the spring.  There are also several washers in the base of the shifter, which I cleaned and re-installed.

As with many Shimano shifters, it is necessary to remove the top plate in order to install the shifter cable.

After the overhaul was complete I made this video to reflect the operation of the shifter and related sound experience.  Now it’s time to think about how I will use these shifters on a future application.

Paul’s Thumbies


I pretty much love all the Paul’s components in my collection.  I have used Paul’s chainkeeper, Paul’s cantilever brakes, and now Paul’s Thumbies.  These products were developed here in the US, and the company is home-grown, hailing from Chico, California and founded by Paul himself back in 1989.

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Paul’s components have a distinctly industrial look – similar to that of Mafac brakes.  While some people may be turned off by this lack of “beauty”, I find it charming.


Nitto Rando bar with downtube Shimano shifters

As I have been recovering from my broken leg last Fall, I noticed that I really wanted to ride in a more upright position on my 1980’s Guerciotti.  I had previously set it up with a Nitto Rando bar and stem, but when I originally purchased the frame, I had set it up as a city bike with upright bars, as shown below.  The only reason I changed this configuration was that my Nitto city bars were recalled and no replacement ever materialized.


Guerciotti with Nitto city bars which were recalled

So, it was time for a new bar, stem and shifter set up for the Guerciotti.  Since I was going to be using flat bars with this new configuration, I wanted to bring the shifters up onto the handlebar.

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To use Paul’s Thumbies, you need some shifters which don’t have a curved mount to the square boss on the downtube.  That means that all Shimano bar end shifters will work, but that many downtube shifters will not.  The above Shimano downtube shifters which were on my Guerciotti will not work with Paul’s Thumbies for this reason.


“Pointy” Shimano shifter pods


Right side shifter mount

So that meant I was going to replace the shifters with some bar-end shifters.  Shimano 8 speed bar end shifters are very versatile, due to their friction mode, which is how I shift with this bike’s drive train.  Once you’ve figured out which shifters you are going to use, you will need to add some shifter pods to the downtube bosses if you weren’t already using bar end shifters.  I found these 1980’s Shimano pods in my parts bin – they are very pointy compared to their modern counterparts, and look fun to me.


The set up is very simple, once you have chosen the appropriate shifters.  Paul makes Thumbies for both Shimano shifters and Microshift shifters, and for MTB and Road bar sizes.  So, when you order, pay attention to the fine print.

Once the Thumbies are mounted to the handlebar, it’s just a matter of placing the shifters in the correct position, and screwing in the supplied bolt and washer.  You can control the feel of the shifter by tightening or loosening the supplied bolt, in the same way you would do with the Shimano bolt for any bar end or downtube shifter.


I was concerned that the bar end shifters I mounted to Paul’s Thumbies might be “ergonomically incorrect”, in that they weren’t designed to be used on the top of the handlebar.  Fortunately, they were very easy to use and felt at the ready with a simple touch of my thumb.  They needed no fine tuning after an initial rainy commute.  While some people may balk at spending an extra $50 bucks or so to move your shifters to the handlebar, in my view that is better than throwing out your shifters and buying new ones.  And, if you ever want to go back to your downtube or bar end shifters, you can easily do so.