• SRAM X.7 shifters/mech
  • Rear mech £44.99; shifters £45.99
  • Fisher Outdoor
  • 01727 798345

For years and years, mountain bikers have had a choice of essentially two shifting systems. In the red corner, there was Shimano's RapidFire+, an underbar unit with a thumb lever to downshift and an index finger trigger to upshift. In the blue corner, SRAM's Gripshift featuring a rotating grip on the bars. They're fundamentally different designs and, as is so often the way with fundamental differences, split opinions quite neatly. Either you were a Gripshift person or an RF+ person...

Now it's all got a bit more varied. Shimano launched its road-inspired Dual Control system with 2003's XTR group, using the brake lever blade swinging up and down to drive the shifting. DC features on XT for 2004 and we'd expect it to trickle down to the lower groups as the years go by. Which means that underbar triggers are a little out of favour with the big S.

In a timely move, though, SRAM has released its own triggers. They had a go a couple of years back with the almost-mythical Gemini shifter which never really reached the market. The new Impulse shifters are completely redesigned and reengineered and have pretty much nothing in common with the Gemini except the basic ergonomics.

We've never been Gripshift fans, preferring RF+'s clicky trigger action. But it's not perfect. If, like us, you favour braking with your index finger you have to keep moving said digit between brake lever and upshift trigger. And it's also patented, so no-one else could make shifters like that anyway. SRAM neatly sidestep both these issues by making the upshift trigger move vertically and designed to be hit by your thumb.

We don't mind admitting that this felt weird at first. Moving your thumb around the downshift lever to reach the upshift trigger initially feels a bit unwieldy. But one of the good things about these shifters is that they're very adjustable. The gear indicator is ingeniously built into the shifter clamp and you've got a lot of freedom to move the units around and along the bars to get a position you like.

It wasn't long before we really got into Impulse shifting. We love being able to cover the brake and be able to shift either way while maintaining a good grip on the bars at all times. The upshift trigger can be positioned to lie exactly above where your thumb naturally sits and it takes the merest of upwards thumb flicks to get a higher gear (or lower at the front...).

The X.7 units are designed to work with SRAM's X.7 ESP rear mech, with a 1:1 actuation ratio. SRAM originally came up with this to counter Gripshift's often finicky behaviour with mucky cables, but it's just as valid with triggers. The new mech has a lot more metal in it, while the direct cable routing and 1:1 ratio keep the action impressively light and snappy. The shifters themselves have quite a bit of plastic in them but feel reassuringly solid.

SRAM also offer a higher-spec X.9 variant, plus Attack and Rocket versions to work with Shimano derailleurs. All the versions are nine-speed only.

Verdict: We love these. For the first few rides we were all over the place, trying to push the trigger back with our finger and stuff. But now the shifting action feels like the most natural thing in the world. With Shimano backing Dual Control, anyone looking for an alternative should try these - for our money SRAM's trigger offering is the best non-integrated shifting solution out there.