Tips, Tricks & Trends

What’s a Short Shifter, and Does Your Car Need One?

Engine swaps and new exhausts aren’t the only modifications that can increase performance. True, handling mods like performance tires, stiffer sway bars, and new engine mounts aren’t as flashy as a turbo. But they can sharpen your vehicle’s reflexes. However, if you drive a manual, there’s one more thing you might want to consider getting: a short shifter.

What does a short shifter do?

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In terms of raw acceleration, a human-shifted manual will never beat the best automatic transmission. For example, when the first PDK-equipped Porsche 911 debuted, it went 0-60 0.4 seconds faster than the manual car. And it’s not just because of human reaction time. Shifting gears in a manual requires physically moving the shifter into the different positions, which takes time.

An ND Mazda Miata equipped with Cravenspeed's short shifter
Cravenspeed ND Miata short shifter | Cravenspeed via Instagram

A short shifter, aka ‘short-throw shifter,’ though, helps cut that time down, CJ Pony Parts explains. As the name implies, a short shifter has shorter throws than the stock one. Your hand travels less, which speeds up shifts and makes it easier to keep your engine revs high for maximum power. Additionally, it means you spend less time with just one hand on the wheel.

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However, a short shifter isn’t simply a physically shorter shifter, The Daily Star explains. That would decrease the linear shift distance slightly, but not the angular distance. While some short shifters are shorter than stock, they mainly decrease throw length by changing their pivot points, Jalopnik reports.

Think of it as the difference between a long and a short wrench trying to undo the same bolt. When the bolt finally lets go, the long wrench has to swing in a big arc. The short wrench, though, moves significantly less.

Should I install one in my car?

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Short throw shifters aren’t terribly expensive. Flyin’ Miata has one available for the ND MX-5 for $350. Cravenspeed’s Fiat 500 Abarth short shifter costs $300. And as Donut Media demonstrates in the video above, installing one does shorten throw lengths and shift time.

However, installing a short shifter carries a few drawbacks. Firstly, remember the wrench analogy? The longer the wrench, the less effort you have to put into undoing a bolt. That’s how torque works—if you want more lb-ft, either add more pounds or increase the feet. Because a short shifter has shorter throws, each throw takes more effort.

Also, because short shifters are stiffer than stock ones, they create more NVH, LMR reports. Combined with the increased effort, it also means that they can be difficult to shift if they’re cold, 6SpeedOnline forum users report. Which is exactly what you don’t want if you’re trying to learn stick for the first time.

The 2020 Honda Civic Type R's aluminum shift knob
2020 Honda Civic Type R shift knob | Honda

That being said, if your goal isn’t cutting shift time but improving the shifting experience, a new shift knob might be all you need. That’s why the 2020 Honda Civic Type R’s shift knob is a different shape and weight than the earlier models.

A heavier, shorter knob will make your shifts feel more solid, while a lighter, taller one will make them easier and more precise. I fitted a shorter aftermarket knob to my NB Miata for that very reason. And they’re even cheaper than short shifter kits: $50-$100 will get you a quality metal one.

Is there a short shifter for motorcycles?

Due to their design, motorcycles don’t have short shifters. But they do have quick shifters, Motorcyclist reports.

Like short shifters, quick shifters decrease the amount of time a rider spends shifting, Revzilla explains. But instead of cutting throw length, they eliminate the need to touch the clutch at all, RideApart explains.

A quick shifter consists of a sensor linking the motorcycle’s shift lever and its ECU. When you go to shift, the sensor tells the engine to cut power for a fraction of a second, letting the next gear engage without grinding. It’s the same thing the clutch does, only faster and smoother.

Quick shifters are standard equipment on a few bikes, such as the Kawasaki Ninja sportbike. But they’re also available as aftermarket accessories. Some, Life at Lean reports, require fitting a separate power controller, but there are stand-alone models available.

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