Microshift Sword Review + New Microshift Sword Black (2024)

Bikepacking Gear / Components

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Microshift Sword Review + New Microshift Sword Black (1)

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Microshift Sword Review + New Microshift Sword Black (5)

Building a drop-bar gravel rig on a budget? Big news! As an unanticipated follow-up to the value-packed mechanical 10-speed Sword group released last year, microSHIFT just launched an even more economical 9-speed spin-off, Sword Black. Find our two-in-one microSHIFT Sword Review and video look at the new microSHIFT Sword Black here…

PUBLISHED Jun 26, 2024

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Conversation

Last July, microSHIFT caused a stir in the world of practical drivetrains for normal people by introducing Sword, their affordable 10-speed mechanical drop-bar groupset that doesn’t skimp on features. In their words, Sword “has modern ergonomics, a wider cassette range for big climbs, and a fully mechanical design that’s easy to service and adjust. It’s a new school, fully featured gravel group that’s easy to own.” That’s music to my ears. Having used various microSHIFT bits on several bikes, I’ve been eagerly trying to find time to test microSHIFT Sword since its release. I wasn’t expecting it to take nearly a full year to do so, but today’s launch of the descendant microSHIFT Sword Black group—which Neil covers in detail below—seems like the perfect occasion to finally share some thoughts.

Headquartered in Taiwan, microSHIFT has been around since 1999 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, though they’ve only become a household name in the past few years. To be sure, they’re still tiny compared to giants Shimano and SRAM, but in this era when high-end electronic groupsets with ever-more speeds and increasingly proprietary, expensive parts are leaving many riders behind, microSHIFT’s presence at the drivetrain table is welcome. In particular, Sword offers a compelling option for folks looking to build a modern drop-bar bike or revive an old frame using fresh parts without breaking the bank.

Sword Refresher

We shared an overview of the Sword group when it was launched last year, which you can read here. To recap the basics, it comes in all-mechanical 1×10 and 2×10 versions that both claim to offer generous ranges (up to 436% in 1x and 548% in 2x), easy adjustability, ergonomically designed hoods, silent clutch rear derailleurs with instant engagement and fully replaceable cages that enable easy swapping from 1x to 2x, and high-pivot brake levers with a unique pull that provides a little extra oomph for stopping.

The 1×10 configuration has an option for a dropper or brake-only left lever, 40 or 42T chainrings, and steel or steel/alloy 11-48T ADVENT X cassettes. The 2×10 doesn’t have a dropper lever option but offers 46/29 or 48/31 chainrings and steel or steel/alloy 11-38 ADVENT X cassettes. Both rear derailleurs feature the same clutch, and the only difference is the cage length: medium for 1x and long for 2x. Cranks are available in 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm sizes.

For this review, I went with a 1×10 setup with 172.5mm cranks, a 40T ring, a steel/alloy 11-48T ADVENT X G-Series cassette, and a left-hand brake lever with integrated dropper remote, despite eventually putting it on a bike without a dropper. I figure it’s future-proof when I want to swap it over to another frame. All that came in at under 450 bucks.

Being a budget-focused groupset, the weights are the least impressive aspect of Sword. As listed above, my full kit tipped the scales at a hefty 2,052 grams (4.52 pounds), not including a chain, cables, or housing. That’s not light, but it’s also pretty damn close to the weight of the far pricier and similarly styled Shimano GRX 1×12 group that some folks with 12-speed dreams but a 10-speed budget may be eyeing longingly. Find an abridged table of weights and prices below.

Imperial

Metric

ComponentWeightPrice
1x Rear Derailleur (Medium Cage)

10.8 oz

308 g

$79.99
2x Rear Derailleur (Long Cage)

11.6 oz

329 g

$79.99
Front Derailleur (Braze-on)

3.8 oz

108 g

$28.99
1x Crankset, 40T (172.5mm)

27.8 oz

790 g

$114.99
1x Crankset, 42T (172.5mm)

28.6 oz

810 g

$114.99
2x Crankset, 46/29 (172.5mm)

32.6 oz

925 g

$114.99
10-Speed Cassette (11-48T, with spider)

14.9 oz

424 g

$64.99
10-Speed Cassette (11-38T, with spider)

11.8 oz

336 g

$69.99
1×10 Shifter Pair

15.0 oz

426 g

$159.99
2×10 Shifter Pair

18.0 oz

512 g

$189.99

Initial Impressions and Installation

Pulling my Sword groupset out of the box this spring, I had mixed feelings about its appearance. On the one hand, I think the full group has a cohesive and deliberate look that might reasonably lead you to believe it costs more than it does. On the other, the matte black finish with dull grey accents makes it somewhat tricky to coordinate with frames and other parts that would work well with a fully silver or black group. It looks a bit dead, for lack of a better word. Sword’s overall air is far from elegant, but it has a meanness that suits the demeanor of the gravel bikes it’s designed to fit.

In part because of the relatively simple nature of mechanical components, and also thanks to some clever, user-friendly decisions by microSHIFT, installing Sword is a straightforward affair. I think Sword is a particularly good candidate for setting up yourself if you’re apprehensive about working on your own bikes. Cabling and dialing in the shifters and derailleur is relatively uncomplicated, and you can rest easy knowing you won’t easily damage any delicate parts. Plus, if you get stuck anywhere, microSHIFT has an archive of easy-to-follow DIY video tutorials and guides for configuring the various components in their catalog. If you’re curious to test the money-saving, fulfilling waters of wrenching on your own bike, this is a great place to start.

While Out Riding

Starting at the front of the bike, the incredibly comfy hoods are, for me, the marvel of the Sword group. The team at microSHIFT nailed the ergonomics. With their raised traction patterns and stout stature, they’re heavenly on long rides. The hoods are unmistakably reminiscent of GRX but with a slightly different size and shape that combine to provide a plush and confident perch for your hands. Their angles are optimized for use with flared drop bars, and they pair exceptionally well with my Salsa Cowchipper Deluxe bars, which have a 24-degree flare. I’m confident that their comfort will be nearly universal.

The brake levers share the same flare-optimized profile carried through from the hoods and a few unique bends that make them easy to grab from any position on the bars. They have an almost grainy texture that adds the slightest bit of grippiness but comes at the expense of appearing somewhat unrefined. The blades are constructed from an aluminum/composite mix that I’m sure is strong but has a plasticky feel that doesn’t exude quality. I’ve yet to crash or drop the bike forcefully, but I’m curious to see how the levers would fare in either event. I also noticed that they have a little flex when braking hard from the drops, something I don’t do often when riding gravel. Those critiques aside, the reach is super easy to dial in with an Allen key, and the high pivot point and added cable pull translated to my trusty Paul Motolites stopping exceptionally well.

The shift (and dropper) levers feature the same textured pattern as the hoods, but I don’t have the same love for them. As someone accustomed to Campagnolo shifters, I like fully separate levers for upshifitng and downshifting actuated by different digits, but I don’t get on with microSHIFT’s interpretation. In my experience, the small (upshift) lever is almost impossible to reach from the drops, and even on the hoods, it can take a little hunting to find. Ideally, it would sit lower behind the blade, reducing the vertical gap between the two levers, but their independent pivot design means there’d likely be some interference between the two when braking if they were any closer together. I’ve learned to live with this, but I hope microSHIFT comes up with a tweaked approach in a future iteration, unlikely as that may be.

Where upshifting requires more of a quick button press and can change one gear at a time, downshifting requires a substantial amount of throw but shifts multiple gears smoothly once you’ve acclimated to the drastically different sensations of shifting up and down. On my first few rides, I found myself half-pressing the downshift lever and getting caught between gears. Again, it’s learnable with some practice, but it will likely trip many users up at first.

On the subject of shifting, the 1x rear derailleur performs impressively well. I have Advent X rear derailleurs on two of my bikes and have always found them more or less transparent in use—getting the job done reliably with minimal fuss—and the Sword rear derailleur is much the same. It’s easy to adjust and shifts under a reasonable load better than expected. The clutch has some play and is slightly on the weak side relative to what you’d find on a proper MTB rear derailleur, but slapping or dropping the chain shouldn’t be a concern for most gravel rides; it’s adequately built for what it needs to do. One considered touch I appreciate about the Sword rear derailleur’s design is the orbital barrel adjuster, which allows cable housing to move freely up to 15 degrees in any direction, reducing tight bends and improving shifting performance. The steel/alloy ADVENT X G-Series rear cassette is weighty but offers reasonable gaps between cogs (11-13-15-18-21-24-28-34-40-48) throughout its range of 10 speeds, and it didn’t leave me feeling like I was missing any stops along the way.

Lastly, the Sword crankset is fairly priced but ultimately missable. If you just need any old crank, it will serve you well, though it lacks any distinguishing features. It doesn’t do much for me aesthetically, but as a means to an end, it gets the job done. That is, as long as you can deal with the 40-tooth minimum chainring size. Paired with the wide-range 11-48 cassette, it can handle a variety of terrain for unloaded gravel riding, but, short of going with a 2×10 configuration, I’d prefer a 38-tooth ring for loaded bikepacking through steep terrain. Thankfully, the 110 BCD asymmetric 4-bolt pattern opens up the option to swap out smaller chainrings from the likes of Wolf Tooth Components. In all, I’d say the crankset is the last Sword component I’d spring for if I were piecing a group together, which isn’t to say it has any real flaws.

  • Model/Size Tested: microSHIFT Sword 1×10
  • Actual Weight (as tested): 2,052 grams
  • Place of Manufacture: Taiwan/China
  • Price (as tested): $444.95
  • Manufacturer’s Details: microSHIFT.com

Pros

  • Offers more than reasonable bang for buck
  • Brake hoods are exceptionally comfortable
  • Easy to set up, even for novice mechanics
  • Compatible with readily available, affordable parts

Cons

  • Dull grey accent color is tricky to match
  • Shifting ergonomics could be improved
  • Brake levers don’t inspire confidence
  • Fairly heavy for 10 speeds

Wrap Up

If I came across as overly nit-picky or critical above, it’s because I want buyers to be fully aware of any potential shortcomings. At the same time, I’d like to use this space to give microSHIFT Sword the praise it deserves. In short, it’s good to remember that we’re talking about a budget groupset here, so it’s naturally going to fall short of its more expensive competitors in some ways. Unsexy as it may be, it’s pragmatic as hell, and if you want to build up a bike with new parts on a limited budget, I think it’s hard to beat. Sword packs in more features than you might expect at its price point, and it does so while embracing the limitations inherent to a 10-speed mechanical groupset in 2024, rather than trying to minimize or mask them. I respect that. And, realistically, 10 speeds is wholly adequate for most cyclists.

As microSHIFT puts it, “There are plenty of companies making components to elevate your fantasy bike. Sword is designed for reality.” Whether that reality is building up something fully modern with limited means or transforming an 80s and 90s MTBs into a commuter, gravel, or bikepacking bike, Sword is well worth considering if you value parts that are reliable and generally robust over flashy and cutting edge. Despite its quirks and limitations, I’m excited about Sword’s potential to bring modern drivetrains into reach for a broader range of riders.

microSHIFT Sword Black Review

Words, photos, and video by Neil Beltchenko

Like Lucas, microSHIFT Sword piqued my interest when it was launched last year, and when microSHIFT emailed us about Sword Black this spring, I assumed it’d be an upgrade to the budget-friendly group. But, as it turned out, it was the exact opposite. The new microSHIFT Sword Black may sound expensive, but it’s actually an even more affordable version of their original Sword gravel group, and they position it as “designed to expand our product line and reach more riders by offering an even more accessible price point.” Curious to know more and experience it for myself, I spent the past several weeks riding a full group. You can find my video review below, followed by a written version.

Differences and Weights

While they look similar, there are differences aside from price points, including reducing ten speeds to nine. The derailleur on the Sword Black doesn’t have a clutch (which I didn’t necessarily miss during my time with it), it’s built around a square taper bottom bracket, and it’s heavier. But, just like Sword, Sword Black comes in 1x and 2x options, has the same hood ergonomics, and is cross-compatible with Advent as it has the same pull ratio. The cassette still fits a standard HG freehub body, and the levers can pair with any mechanical brakes—sorry, hydro brake lovers. I ended up testing mine with some Growtac Equal brakes, and it was a pretty awesome combo. The levers even come with brake cables and housing, which was a nice bonus.

I tested the 1x option, and all told, the complete kit comes in at 2,097 grams. The rear derailleur is 341 grams, the alloy crankset is 690 grams (pretty heavy but not unheard of), the levers weigh 487 grams, and the steel cassette is a bit of a brick at 579 grams, which is much heavier than most if not all 12-speed cassettes out there. Plus, you need to add in a square taper BB and a 9-speed chain, two things that are typically not very light. That said, both are affordable parts that you can likely find at any bike shop. The one caveat is that I used this bike on a 73mm BB, and microSHIFT said I needed to use a 118 JIS BB instead of the 68×113 that the drivetrain was designed around. Still, it does work with this BB and spindle length, which I calculated comes out to a 49.5mm chain line. Another benefit to the sword black is that the crankset comes with an asymmetric 110/80 BCD, another relatively affordable replacement chainring configuration that tends to be found at nearly any shop in various sizes.

The Setup

The installation of these parts was a cinch. It’s been a minute since I’ve worked with a square taper bottom bracket, but I love how easy they are to install. Sure, they’re a little heavy, but they work. I also really loved the setup of the brake and shifter cables in the hoods. It’s intuitive and straightforward, and dialing in the derailleur was very easy also. I ended up using the Sword install video just to make sure there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it was pretty straightforward. After my first few rides, I made a quick adjustment on the barrel down at the derailleur, and I was dialed in.

What’s up with 9 speeds?

I immediately noticed that the jumps were pretty drastic on the 9-speed wide-range cassette. This is likely due to the fact I’ve been using a 12-speed Eagle 10-52 cassette over the last few years. I noticed that I was looking for gears in between gears, and at times, it had me struggling to settle into a cadence. The 9-speed Sword Black has the same 11-13-15-18-21 teeth as the 10-speed Sword cassette, but the Sword Black cassette jumps to 30, 37, and tops out at 46 teeth, whereas the 10-speed Sword offers smaller jumps with 24-28-34-40 and 48 teeth cogs. The three jumps between 30-37 and 46 teeth on the Sword Black are where I can really tell the difference. In fact, I often wanted a gear between the 37 and 46-tooth cogs on climbs and ended up hammering more because I hate spinning a fast cadence. Speaking of shifting between those big gaps, the drivetrain didn’t shift under load well in those circ*mstances but did much better between the higher five gears. However, as long as you don’t shift with reckless abandon, you can really dump some gears and quickly find the gear you need, which I found helpful in a few situations. All told, this configuration has a 418% range and comes with approximately 25.12 gear inches with the 40T chainring and 46T big cog in the rear on a 29” x 2.2” wheel/tire combo.

Speaking of the chainring, I think it fair to say that some folks might find the 40t chainring to be a bit steep, Microshift offers only a 40 or 42t chainring, but there are plenty of manufacturers that offer something smaller, but it could be nice if they had a 38t option. But if you are looking for that larger range, the 2x with 46-29t and a 11-38 cassette offers a 548% range and opens up more on the high and low end.

Feel

The hoods were undoubtedly one of the highlights of this group. They look and feel very similar to the Shimano GRX hoods. They give you a very ergonomic fit and feel comfortable for hours on end. Moving down into the drops, I found the brake lever also offered a natural braking position, especially with that little dimple in the bottom for your index finger to fit into; I felt quite locked in during some unforgiving terrain and was very confident overall in the hoods. You can also adjust the lever throw by pulling the lever hood back and turning a 3mm bolt located on the top of the lever.

One thing that could be improved was the paddles on the right shifter The top paddle is small and awkward to find when descending, especially when you’re in the drops. I found that trying to reach and press the upper paddle, which moves the derailleur to a higher gear, was tough, especially when you are gripping tight at higher speeds. Finding that little sucker was a chore. I would love to see this piece made larger. If I’m being picky, I would also like them to protrude out to help find them easier and shift without needing to push them in so far. This is one feature I really loved on the AdventX levers that I’d love to see brought over to this group.

Performance

Now, as this is a gravel groupset, I put it on a gravel-ish bike and did some gravel-ish things. The drivetrain saw some pavement, smooth gravel roads, chunky two-track, and plenty of singletrack. Not once did I drop the chain, and only a few times did I actually feel the chain hit the chainstay. I wasn’t getting too wild, but for a no-clutch system, I was impressed with the quiet nature of the drivetrain. And because the derailleur is 10 or 9 speed, I could see someone choosing the clutch-less derailleur over the original Sword version to save almost 40 USD.

Pricing

There are plenty of options for drop-bar drivetrains, but none quite like this. microSHIFT has excelled in offering a budget-friendly drivetrain that doesn’t require hacks or friction shifters like the Box Prime 9. It’s also compatible with all of their other drivetrains and parts. Overall, microSHIFT is doing a fantastic job of providing a high-quality product at a very reasonable price point.

The pricing for the group I tested was $224.99, which includes the cassette, derailleur, and levers but not the crank. The crank, typically a personal preference, is $78.99 and is available in various lengths from 165 to 175 mm and 40 or 42t. So, that’s $303.98, plus a square taper bottom bracket at around $17 and a $25 9-speed chain. That’s a whole group set for under $350. Not bad!

  • Model/Size Tested: microSHIFT Sword Black 1×10
  • Actual Weight (as tested): 2,097 grams
  • Place of Manufacture: Taiwan/China
  • Price (as tested): $303.98
  • Manufacturer’s Details: microSHIFT.com

Pros

  • Super comfortable levers/hoods
  • Cross-compatible with Advent/Sword Groups
  • BB and chain are cheap and can be found at just about any shop
  • Looks good
  • Really easy to install

Cons

  • 9-speed jumps are a bit drastic
  • Shifting is not as crisp between the 30, 37, and 46-tooth cogs
  • 40 and 42-tooth chainrings may cause you to feel under-geared
  • Shifter paddles could be improved
  • Heavy components

Wrap Up

Overall, Sword Black offers a wallet-friendly alternative to what’s currently on the market, with some compromises, but it maintains core features and compatibility, making it a solid choice for gravel riders and bikepackers looking for a reliable drivetrain. When we simply look at the price point and analyze the value of performance, reliability, and durability, with the opportunity to upgrade with Advent or Sword components down the road, it’s truly worth every penny, and I think other manufacturers should take note. Oh, and I think the group looks really good. It certainly looks like a group that costs more than $350 USD.

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