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  1. #1
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    Index shifting > Friction shifting?

    Hi was wondering what everyone thinks of indexed shifting as opposed to friction shifting?
    Is it more work to maintain?
    Do I need all special index parts? such as special cassette? Or can i just use the shifters with any cassette derailleur etc?

    I do all the fixes on my bike and if this makes it much more complex or i have to buy many new parts then i think i will just avoid it.

    Im a commuter and mostly just want things to not break.

  2. #2
    Pwnerer Wordbiker's Avatar
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    Well, it's been the standard on nearly every bike sold for the past 30 years...does that tell you anything regarding whether it works well or not?

    Unless you're into bikes older than that, just about any parts one can buy today will be index-compatible, including cassettes and derailleurs...as long as the parts are from the same manufacturer or use the same standards (for example, Campy is not compatible with Shimano, Shimano is only partially compatible with SRAM, etc.).

    Friction shifters are the great equalizer. They allow otherwise incompatible parts to work together...within certain limitations. Sorry if that's a vague answer, but unless you're bringing specific components to the table...that's all I have.

    If you're a budding mechanic, join the 80's and check out indexing.
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  3. #3
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wordbiker View Post
    Well, it's been the standard on nearly every bike sold for the past 30 years...does that tell you anything regarding whether it works well or not?

    Unless you're into bikes older than that, just about any parts one can buy today will be index-compatible, including cassettes and derailleurs...as long as the parts are from the same manufacturer or use the same standards (for example, Campy is not compatible with Shimano, Shimano is only partially compatible with SRAM, etc.).

    Friction shifters are the great equalizer. They allow otherwise incompatible parts to work together...within certain limitations. Sorry if that's a vague answer, but unless you're bringing specific components to the table...that's all I have.

    If you're a budding mechanic, join the 80's and check out indexing.
    Not quite 30 year...more like 20 to 25 years (1979 is a little early) But everything else is correct

    chico1st: It is a little more difficult to maintain, however it's worth the effort. Go ride a modern bike...like a new one...and try it if you haven't. The difference is like night a day. Click the shifter and it shifts. No clattering or clunking...when adjusted properly.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member d2create's Avatar
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    Index is quicker especially if they are on your brifters like any modern bike, and friction (bar-end or downtube) is maintenance free. Adjustments can be made on the fly. Set it up once when you build up the bike and that's it. Go for thousands of miles without touching your derailleurs. Another benefit to friction is you can shift through the entire range of gears in one shot.

    On a modern road bike I'd want modern indexed brifters, and on my city bike/commuter I love my bar-end friction shifters.
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  5. #5
    Pwnerer Wordbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    Not quite 30 year...more like 20 to 25 years (1979 is a little early) But everything else is correct
    Well, if one defines "indexing" to mean one shifter push or pull per gear...then couldn't one say it started with the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub back in 1902?

    Meh, according to the authoritative thread here...even Sheldon got it wrong.
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  6. #6
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Anything prior to Shimano SIS in 1985 was not indexed shifting as it is now defined.
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  7. #7
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    I choose to stay with friction shifting, and I always will. There is something elegant(or clumsy if you're out of practice) about manually shifting a bike that does not exist in indexed shifting. You have to use some co-ordination in order to change a gear. Friction shifting is fun, indexed shifting is like fast food. . . just give me my damm food 'cause I'm in a hurry. Everyone's in a such a hurry they can't even shift their bike. . . .they gotta have something do it for them. Kinda lazy

    Friction shifting never fails. With properly installed cables there's nothing to fail. . . except the riders co-ordination.

    Indexed shifting has become so proprietary that if you bought a "system" 5 years ago, if you break a part you may have a hard time getting a replacement as Shimano changes things so fast your "old system" is obsolete. So you must use ebay or other means to get parts. Sound like fun? Many people don't mind or care, so to each their own. To me . . .bikes aren't computers and shouldn't be treated as such. Shimano is double edged sword, they make some nice parts, but they often have the attention span of a 5 year old. Thankfully not everyone follows the Leader(Shimano).

    It's just my opinion


  8. #8
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    My personal opinion: I can't imagine non-indexed shifting on a tandem or on a recumbent. In my friction-shifting days, I relied on occasional eyeballing to make sure that I had actually shifted onto the intended cog. Can't even begin to visualize the cassette when riding my 'bent or our tandem.

    I find the indexing accuracy and consistency of the mid-range Shimano and SRAM gear I use to be amazingly good.
    Last edited by JanMM; 06-28-09 at 04:11 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Indexed shifting has been trouble free for a long time. Initial setup may take a little more time to tune, but after that, you are good to go. Step up, you'll be glad you did. BTW, I can jump all nine with my grip shifters with perfect accuracy. bk

  10. #10
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    My derailleur geared bikes all have 7 speed cassettes. The spacing on 7 and 8 speed cassettes is wider between cogs than on 9 or 10 speed cassettes. This makes it easier to use either an index or friction shifting system, because the shifts don't need to be as precise. Two of my bikes have Shimano bar end shifters for the rear derailleur which can be used in index or friction mode. I set them as index most of the time, and the only time I make derailleur adjustments is when I replace the shift cable every few years. The index bar ends can be changed to friction with a twist of a round lever on the shifter.

    My front derailleur shifters are friction. On a triple chainring, the large and small rings are effectively indexed anyway by the "stops". All that leaves is the middle chainring, which is roughly in the middle position of the bar end or downtube friction lever rotation. I don't get the point of an "indexed" front shifter, they are actually worse because you can't make slight adjustments that are sometimes needed due to the chain angle. I make one front shift for every 8 or 10 rear shifts, so I still have a 25+ year old friction front downtube lever on my 1980 Ciocc road bike. They will outlast most bikes.

  11. #11
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garthr View Post
    Indexed shifting has become so proprietary that if you bought a "system" 5 years ago, if you break a part you may have a hard time getting a replacement as Shimano changes things so fast your "old system" is obsolete. So you must use ebay or other means to get parts. Sound like fun? Many people don't mind or care, so to each their own. To me . . .bikes aren't computers and shouldn't be treated as such. Shimano is double edged sword, they make some nice parts, but they often have the attention span of a 5 year old. Thankfully not everyone follows the Leader(Shimano).

    It's just my opinion
    Yeah, well... Shimano's stuck with the same indexing standard* since Day One, meaning you can mix-and-match parts from different decades and still have it work fine. This differs from SRAM's proprietary indexing, or Campy's multiple versions.

    My Bianchi has 7-speed indexing- the Dura-Ace AX hub is from the '80's, the bar-end shift levers are from the '90's, and the Ultegra rear derailleur is from the '00's. All of this works together, even though some of it (the hub) predates Shimano SIS.

    Still, friction shifting works for most everything. It'll screw up an internal-gear hub, though.

    Jeff

    *I'm aware of that pre-9-speed Dura-Ace is incompatible, and that Shimano front indexing has "road" and "mountain" versions.
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  12. #12
    Old fart JohnDThompson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Wills View Post
    Yeah, well... Shimano's stuck with the same indexing standard* since Day One, meaning you can mix-and-match parts from different decades and still have it work fine. This differs from SRAM's proprietary indexing, or Campy's multiple versions.
    So can I get parts for my 1985 Dura-Ace SIS 6-speed downtube shifters still?

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
    So can I get parts for my 1985 Dura-Ace SIS 6-speed downtube shifters still?
    You probably can, at least you can get replacements. I don't think anyone ever made "parts" for downtube shifters, friction or indexing, just entire assemblies.

  14. #14
    You gonna eat that? Doohickie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wordbiker View Post
    Well, it's been the standard on nearly every bike sold for the past 30 years...does that tell you anything regarding whether it works well or not?
    Actually, friction shifters were common right on through the 80s. I would say indexed became standard more like 20 years ago.

    And indexing does not always work well. In fact, the failure to perfect the indexed shifting is what killed Suntour, once the biggest name in derailleurs.
    Last edited by Doohickie; 06-28-09 at 06:10 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garthr View Post
    I choose to stay with friction shifting, and I always will. There is something elegant(or clumsy if you're out of practice) about manually shifting a bike that does not exist in indexed shifting. You have to use some co-ordination in order to change a gear. Friction shifting is fun, indexed shifting is like fast food. . . just give me my damm food 'cause I'm in a hurry. Everyone's in a such a hurry they can't even shift their bike. . . .they gotta have something do it for them. Kinda lazy

    Friction shifting never fails. With properly installed cables there's nothing to fail. . . except the riders co-ordination.

    Indexed shifting has become so proprietary that if you bought a "system" 5 years ago, if you break a part you may have a hard time getting a replacement as Shimano changes things so fast your "old system" is obsolete. So you must use ebay or other means to get parts. Sound like fun? Many people don't mind or care, so to each their own. To me . . .bikes aren't computers and shouldn't be treated as such. Shimano is double edged sword, they make some nice parts, but they often have the attention span of a 5 year old. Thankfully not everyone follows the Leader(Shimano).
    I like this opinion!
    My poke at index shifting has always been: If it's so perfect, why do they keep changing it? Every year it seems the manufacturers are "updating" things, there's the incessant incompatibility issues (even between the same model but a different year). This chain won't work right with this derailler, different chains for different cogs, these shift levers will only work with this model #, blah, blah, blah.
    What a pain! And, if you ever needed a part that was more than 2 or 3 years old, you got the, "Sorry, that's an obsolete model # - better just buy a whole new setup!" line.
    Friction shifting is like breakfast cooking at the ole diner - no matter who's working the grill, the food comes out great! You can mix virtually any shifter with any derailler and any speed freewheel (within the movement range of the lever), and anybody can make it work. Very simple mechanism, compared to the complex monstrosity of index levers. Plus they're cheaper. And, as I recall, most index systems HAD a friction option available - just in case the indexing failed!

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    I like this opinion!
    My poke at index shifting has always been: If it's so perfect, why do they keep changing it? Every year it seems the manufacturers are "updating" things, there's the incessant incompatibility issues (even between the same model but a different year). This chain won't work right with this derailler, different chains for different cogs, these shift levers will only work with this model #, blah, blah, blah.
    What a pain! And, if you ever needed a part that was more than 2 or 3 years old, you got the, "Sorry, that's an obsolete model # - better just buy a whole new setup!" line.
    Friction shifting is like breakfast cooking at the ole diner - no matter who's working the grill, the food comes out great! You can mix virtually any shifter with any derailler and any speed freewheel (within the movement range of the lever), and anybody can make it work. Very simple mechanism, compared to the complex monstrosity of index levers. Plus they're cheaper. And, as I recall, most index systems HAD a friction option available - just in case the indexing failed!
    There were a few failed starts at indexing in the early days, but I can still get a derailleur that works perfectly with the 5 speed thumbshifter on my son's beat-up old bike and good quality chains and cassettes for my 7sp and 8sp bikes (I do not own a 9 or 10 speed bike yet).

    All that being said, my touring bike's 7sp bar-end shifters are currently running in friction mode - I may or may not ever try to revive the indexing; and my son does not actually have a 5 sp indexed shifter - he has a Suntour friction shifter. What I am trying to say is: I know indexing has disadvantages, but they are outweighed but the benefits in many applications. Most indexed systems do lack a friction option now, but I don't think it is really missed by most.

  17. #17
    Great State of Varmint Panthers007's Avatar
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    I use down-tube Campagnolo friction-shifters on my vintage PUCH. It has 1999 Campy Centaur hubs and 8-spd. Campy free-hub, with a Miche 12 - 25T 8-spd. cassette. Shifting on this custom 16-spd. is smooth and flawless.

    My other machine is a customized Trek 7.5 FX. For this I use a 9-spd. SRAM cassette connected to SRAM 9-spd. Attack shifters. This also is smooth and flawless. Now I'm restoring a 3-spd PUCH that has/had a Shimano 3-spd. hub. I'm going with a new Sturmey-Archer GW-series hub. Wish me luck - I haven't worked on these for many years.
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  18. #18
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    I would not convert a commuter bike from friction to indexed. It would be more cost effective to buy a new bike and commute on the old one.

    Al

  19. #19
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zephyr View Post
    My front derailleur shifters are friction. On a triple chainring, the large and small rings are effectively indexed anyway by the "stops". All that leaves is the middle chainring, which is roughly in the middle position of the bar end or downtube friction lever rotation. I don't get the point of an "indexed" front shifter, they are actually worse because you can't make slight adjustments that are sometimes needed due to the chain angle.
    How would front triple trigger shifters work if they weren't indexed?
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  20. #20
    Genius FlatMaster's Avatar
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    Indexed RD with friction FD. Allows you to trim the FD in the event that you need to cross-chain. Sometimes, you need to cross-chain if riding a double.
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  21. #21
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Friction shifting always works. Indexed shifting usually works. Friction shifting works w/ just about any kind of modern drivetrain setup. Indexing doesn't.

  22. #22
    My bikes became Vintage OLDYELLR's Avatar
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    If you prefer driving a car with an automatic transmission, friction shifting is probably not for you.
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  23. #23
    Senior Member anti.team's Avatar
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    One thing I like about friction shifting is that it keeps you from over-shifting, on road bikes anyway. The convenience of index shifting combined with 10-11 speed gearing causes people to shift when they might otherwise hold. With friction, the inconvenience of moving hands to shift can sometimes outweigh the benefit of switching to a slightly easier gear.

    Mountain biking is a hole different story, index all the way there.
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  24. #24
    Pwnerer Wordbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OLDYELLR View Post
    If you prefer driving a car with an automatic transmission, friction shifting is probably not for you.
    So...is riding a singlespeed like driving around in only second gear?

    Sorry if I don't buy into the whole macho "the old stuff is better" mentality. You Luddites can keep your friction shifters, leather helmets, wool jerseys, nail-on cleats and wooden rims.
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    .. If it's so perfect, why do they keep changing it?
    I think you're exaggerating the frequency and severity of changes.

    The main reason for changes? Marketing.
    Bicycles are such mature technology today that significant improvements are few and far between, not good news for a competitive company who wants to increase the sales volume.
    So the poor engineering/design department is REQUIRED to come up with new tweaks every now and then. It's changes for the sake of changes, and to have something apart from glossy pics to put in the brochures.

    It's a great explanation as to why the manufacturers litterally keep reinventing the wheel year after year.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    ...there's the incessant incompatibility issues....
    Incessant, maybe - but it's not like they're storming ahead. Stay within the Shimano family and it's easier to keep track of what won't work than what will work together.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    ... This chain won't work right with this derailler...
    But bike chains, when it comes to brands, aren't an engineering issue - but rather an article of faith.
    I've spent years and years riding on whatever of the right width that's been easiest/cheapest available, and as far as I can tell it seems to work out just as well as for those of my riding pals who've been very specific about what they use.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    .... different chains for different cogs...
    But that goes for friction as well. Get too far off the recommended mark and even friction will suffer, particularly if you try to run a freewheel that has the old tooth design with rectangular tips.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    .....And, if you ever needed a part that was more than 2 or 3 years old, you got the, "Sorry, that's an obsolete model # - better just buy a whole new setup!" line.
    But that's a criticism that should be aimed at your supplier, not the merchandise.
    His livelihood depends on keeping the cash coming, and there's definitely more of that to be had by selling you a new groupset than by selling you a few choice components. Can't blame him for trying.

    Sure, I've run into trouble sourcing (Shimano) parts, but that's usually been because S never saw them as being replaceable components even from the beginning. But as long as I've stayed with stuff from their spare parts list I've had no trouble sourcing parts that's been pushing 10 years of age.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    ...Friction shifting is like breakfast cooking at the ole diner - no matter who's working the grill, the food comes out great!
    Then you must be as lucky when you're choosing diners as you are unlucky when you go hunting for bike parts....

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    ...And, as I recall, most index systems HAD a friction option available - just in case the indexing failed!
    So? Not that long ago cars still had a hand-crank option to back up the starter motor, and computers still ask you to keep an emergency/failure/recovery disc available. DVD players still offer an RF-out connector.

    Part of this is cautious engineering - to leave the user with a useable option in case of failure within the "new" technology that maybe hasn't matured quite yet.
    A bigger part is redundancy as a tool to break into a conservative market.
    By offering index first, and friction backup you can target two customer groups simultaneously - both those always eager for the newest but also those of a more conservative mind who are uncertain about the merits of the new functionality.

    Then, as what once was "new" becomes "norm" the redundancy can be dropped w/o hurting sales.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    .. ...You can mix virtually any shifter with any derailler and any speed freewheel (within the movement range of the lever)...
    Indeed. For setting up beater bikes on the cheap it's unbeatable. If I were to go on an extended tour beyond civilization I might still consider it. For an FD on a setup prone to chain rub I prefer it, but for the RD on either my MTB or my commuter - never.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    ...and anybody can make it work...
    No. So far, the only things I'd consider would work for anybody are entropy and gravity.

    In terms of set up difficulty I don't notice any significant difference between friction and 6-7 spd indexing. 9-10 spd are more decidedly more finicky and less tolerant of wear and contamination. Still not a huge issue though. Power ratchets can definitely have their quirks too.

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemeister View Post
    ...Very simple mechanism, compared to the complex monstrosity of index levers....
    True in detail, but considering the years and miles one can get out of even a fairly basic indexing lever before service is required, not such a huge advantage at the end of the day.

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