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  1. #1
    Kid A TurbineBlade's Avatar
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    Downtube shifter heyday?

    This question isn't really important at all, but what years were downtube shifters "the" shifters that were stock on most common road bikes?

    I know there must be some of you out there who worked at shops during this time and remember it.
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    Senior Member cyclist2000's Avatar
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    pre 80's for non indexing
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    I don't know when they first appeared(1920's?) but I know they were still in common use on factory bikes at least through the early 90's. My 1992 Trek 1420 had 7-speed indexed downtube levers.

    By then, STI brifters (both Dura Ace and Ultegra 8-speed) were being used on the higher line models but downtube shifters continued for several years on mid and lower-line road bikes.

    So their "heyday" was likely from the 1950's through the early 1990's

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    Donwtube shifters are STILL available on some low cost bikes made by good manufactures. The shop I work in even has one on the floor.

  5. #5
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    STI shifters debuted in Dura-Ace in 1990, I think, and worked their way down Shimano's product line over the next few years. Campagnolo was a year or two behind Shimano in offering their initial Ergopwer shifters.

    Quote Originally Posted by kycycler View Post
    Donwtube shifters are STILL available on some low cost bikes made by good manufactures. The shop I work in even has one on the floor.
    kycycler: I'm very curious what is the model. I know that Shimano and Campagnolo, at least, still produce down-tube shifters (but mainly for the high-end gruppos, I thought) and I've seen Wal-Mart-ish bikes with indexed stem-shifters, but a stock bike from a reputable manufacturer with down-tube shifters is a surprise to me. Can you get back to us with this info next time you're in the shop?


    I like the concept of down-tube shifters. They're simple, almost never break, and require very little cable housing. A significant down-side for tall riders (I'm 6'5") is that down-tube shifters are harder to reach than they are for shorter riders. Because as the rider and frame get larger, the rider is sitting further and further above the ground, but the down-tube shifter location stays in basically the same location.

  6. #6
    nowheels
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    I still use them.....

  7. #7
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gene2308 View Post
    This question isn't really important at all, but what years were downtube shifters "the" shifters that were stock on most common road bikes?

    I know there must be some of you out there who worked at shops during this time and remember it.
    I have Frank Berto's book on derailers at home but I don't have access to it right now. I'm pretty sure it's in there somewhere.

    From what I can find, Simplex introduced the cable actuated derailer in 1938. Downtube shifters were used around that time with the heaviest use occurring in the 1970's bike boom until STI was introduced in 1990. Downtube shifters were the shifter of choice for several years after the introduction of STI because of the cost and time it takes for Shimano to trickle the technology down to lower levels.
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    I still use them also. 8sp on the Heron road and 7sp half-step on the Heron tourer.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by timcupery View Post
    A significant down-side for tall riders (I'm 6'5") is that down-tube shifters are harder to reach than they are for shorter riders. Because as the rider and frame get larger, the rider is sitting further and further above the ground, but the down-tube shifter location stays in basically the same location.
    A significant down-side to downtube shifters for riders of any height is that they can't be reached while standing (bar-ends are nearly as bad) and are awkward to reach even while seated if you are working hard and need to keep your hands on the bars.

    If you ride, as I do, in hilly areas and like to climb standing you better have the right gear selected before the climb as you won't be able to do anything about it afterward. In unfamilair areas where you don't know how steep the hill really is or what's around the next bend, this can be a real problem.

    STI/Ergo brifters let you shift anytime, anyplace and, to me, that's a huge advantage and far overcomes their cost and mechanical complexity issues.

  10. #10
    You Know!? For Kids! jsharr's Avatar
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    You can still get a good downtube shifter bike today from Specialized.

    http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bc/...45678&eid=4350

    Not sure how long this bike will be around though. My LBS sales people did not know it existed when I stopped by to try and see one.
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  11. #11
    nowheels
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    Quote Originally Posted by jsharr View Post
    You can still get a good downtube shifter bike today from Specialized.

    http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bc/...45678&eid=4350

    Not sure how long this bike will be around though. My LBS sales people did not know it existed when I stopped by to try and see one.
    my type of ride

  12. #12
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    Down tube shifter got really popular in the late 80's after click shift came into being. The great thing about them was the mechanical simpliisity. They only needed a couple of short cable guides, so there was little drag in the system, and the shorter cable had less to stretch, and therefore stayed in adjustment longer. Other positive things were a much cleaner bike without the cables floping around on the handle bars, with less weight and drag because of them.

  13. #13
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by layedback1 View Post
    Down tube shifter got really popular in the late 80's after click shift came into being. The great thing about them was the mechanical simpliisity. They only needed a couple of short cable guides, so there was little drag in the system, and the shorter cable had less to stretch, and therefore stayed in adjustment longer. Other positive things were a much cleaner bike without the cables floping around on the handle bars, with less weight and drag because of them.
    They were popular long before that. Even necessary. Shifters on road bikes before STI...and after rod shifters...fell into 3 types: downtube mounted, stem mounted and barend mounted. Stem mounted were available on only the lest expensive of bikes. There were, and are, a ton of them around but they are on the lowest of any bicycle line. Barend mounted shifters were usually found on touring bikes. Downtube shifters were far and away the most common shifter available from the late 1960 to 1990.
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  14. #14
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by layedback1 View Post
    Down tube shifter got really popular in the late 80's after click shift came into being.
    dt shifters were popular in the late 80's with the advent of indexed shifting, but this didn't cause a rise in their popularity.
    rather, as cyclocommute notes, they were the norm for all higher-end road bikes for a long time prior to indexed shifting, because the only other options were stem shifters (cheap bikes) and bar-end shifters (mainly popular for touring bikes).

    as HillRider explains, the convenience of being able to shift from nearly any position on the bike with brifters basically spelled the end of downtube shifters.
    although if I weren't so tall, I would still have at least one bike with DT shifters. Probably a bike that I keep somewhere that I don't live (e.g., for if I visit one of my siblings) and thus don't use very often and don't want to expend much on upkeep.
    Last edited by TallRider; 12-15-09 at 10:33 AM.

  15. #15
    Kid A TurbineBlade's Avatar
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    I appreciate the replies! I personally like them a lot and was just wondering...that's all.

    I was mostly asking this question as a "historical question of interest" and did not want to get into the merits of DT vs. STI, or anything like that. I had a road bike with STI and liked it just fine.....and I totally see the benefit when quick shifting from almost every rider position is required...no argument.

    Just wanted to get that out of the way .
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  16. #16
    Kid A TurbineBlade's Avatar
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    ..and after rod shifters.
    I've heard of these, are these the ones that were operated on the seat tube?

    On my bike the routing of the cables runs the normal way, under the bottom bracket on that plastic guide mount. I imagine there were a lot of other weirder ways this was done back then?
    Cyclist, angler and aquarist

  17. #17
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gene2308 View Post
    I've heard of these, are these the ones that were operated on the seat tube?

    On my bike the routing of the cables runs the normal way, under the bottom bracket on that plastic guide mount. I imagine there were a lot of other weirder ways this was done back then?
    Look here for a 1951 Bianchi with rod shifters. They operated on the seat stay.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    Look here for a 1951 Bianchi with rod shifters. They operated on the seat stay.
    IIRC, I saw a bike with a rod shifted front deraileur also. Theshift lever was banded to the seattube with the operating rod running parallel to the seattube down to the fd.

  19. #19
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    The 1999 to 2005 Tour de Frances were won using a down tube shifter on some stages! On mountainous stages, Lance Armstrong was known to prefer having a down-tube shifter for the front derailleur and an STI lever to operate the rear derailleur. The single down-tube shifter results in about 100 grams weight savings. You can see a photo of him riding with this setup in the '05 tour here and here, plus a discussion and picture (from earlier than '05 I believe) here.

    The Trek Madones came with down tube mounts until the 2007 models, 2008 and more recent models have got rid of these, and it is extremely hard to find a high-end road bike that has them now. Lance did not use this setup during his 2009 comeback , but there are several possible reasons for this. It could be because the Madone frames no longer have the mount, it could be because the component sponsor SRAM don't make the shift and brake levers needed for the setup, or it could be because it is now easy to reach the UCI 6.8kg weight limit without using this setup (although that was already the case back in 2005, I believe).

    I use this setup (down tube for front shifter, STI for rear shifter) on all of my bikes where the frame will allow it, which includes a 2007 Madone (the other two have a bar-end shifter for the front, and STI for the rear, which is a heavier set-up). As well as the weight saving, it has the advantage of continuous control over the front derailleur, making trim adjustments easy and making it easier to get the chain back onto the chainrings without stopping if it does happen to derail. I'm not sure whether Lance also valued these qualities, maybe not since he didn't use this setup on most of the flatter stages.

    Although I love the down-tube shifter for the front derailluer, I'd never use anything but an STI for the rear shifter. This choice is also related to your choice of gearing - I choose my gearing so that I don't need to do a lot of shifting with the front derailleur: I use a super-compact combination of 46 and 28 tooth chainrings on my road bike, and 42/26 on the cyclocross, touring, and commuting bikes, with 10-speed cassettes of either 11-26 or 12-28.
    Last edited by Chris_W; 12-16-09 at 08:02 AM.

  20. #20
    cycle-dog spot DinoShepherd's Avatar
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    I was working at a shop in San Diego when the first STI came out and I will admit I completely missed the boat on this one.

    My reaction, and that of most of the shop dogs who were all racers too, was:
    This is heavier than a downtube setup, there is no problem with a downtube setup. Feeling particularly smug, we opined this was just like biopace and would see an equally quick and inglorious death.

    Needless to say, this points up why I was a poor, college student making $5 per hour and why the Shimano product managers were making considerably more.

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  21. #21
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    My recollection is that Lance used the one-down-tube-shifter setup mainly on mountainous stages. And my thought on that has always been, "maybe the slight weight savings is worth it for slight advantage on grueling mountain stages, but I certainly wouldn't want to deal with the discomfort or asymmetrical annoyance of differently-shaped brake hoods." If Lance had been riding Campy, he could have used Tektro brake levers that matched the shape of Campy Ergo levers, but he was using all Shimano stuff and their standalone brake levers haven't been redesigned to have a comparable shape to STI levers.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by timcupery View Post
    My recollection is that Lance used the one-down-tube-shifter setup mainly on mountainous stages. And my thought on that has always been, "maybe the slight weight savings is worth it for slight advantage on grueling mountain stages, but I certainly wouldn't want to deal with the discomfort or asymmetrical annoyance of differently-shaped brake hoods." If Lance had been riding Campy, he could have used Tektro brake levers that matched the shape of Campy Ergo levers, but he was using all Shimano stuff and their standalone brake levers haven't been redesigned to have a comparable shape to STI levers.
    I'm not sure of this but I seem to recall that the downtube shifter for the front derailleur was paired with a gutted (and therefore lighter) STI brifter so the hoods were the same shape.

    Also, the UCI weight limit was passed in 2000 and I believe first applied to racing bike for the 2001 season. By then building a sub-6.8 kg bike was getting pretty routine so there was little incentive to use a dt shifter for weight savings. I think LA used the dt/STI pairing only for the 2000 TdF and, as you noted, only in the high mountain stages.

  23. #23
    Oldtimer borgagain's Avatar
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    Just looking at one specific company's catalogs, Cannondale had downtube shifters on all of their road bikes in 1990. In '91 they started putting grip shifters and brifters on some of their road models.

    Check out Vintage Cannondale for more info.
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  24. #24
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
    I'm not sure of this but I seem to recall that the downtube shifter for the front derailleur was paired with a gutted (and therefore lighter) STI brifter so the hoods were the same shape.

    Also, the UCI weight limit was passed in 2000 and I believe first applied to racing bike for the 2001 season. By then building a sub-6.8 kg bike was getting pretty routine so there was little incentive to use a dt shifter for weight savings. I think LA used the dt/STI pairing only for the 2000 TdF and, as you noted, only in the high mountain stages.
    Sorry, but you're wrong on both counts, look at this photo that I linked to already!

    He used a regular Shimano brake lever, not a gutted STI, which can be easily seen in the photo. I agree, the hood shape of the Shimano dedicated brake levers is very old-fashioned and not so comfortable, I use the Tektro/Cane Creek model myself, but Lance was Shimano's golden boy at the time, so he had to use their's.

    He was using the setup in 2005, which the first photo is dated as - if you don't believe the photo's date, just consider the fact that he's wearing Discovery channel clothing in that photo and this one, which means that it has to be from 2004 or 2005.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by timcupery View Post
    My recollection is that Lance used the one-down-tube-shifter setup mainly on mountainous stages. And my thought on that has always been, "maybe the slight weight savings is worth it for slight advantage on grueling mountain stages, but I certainly wouldn't want to deal with the discomfort or asymmetrical annoyance of differently-shaped brake hoods." If Lance had been riding Campy, he could have used Tektro brake levers that matched the shape of Campy Ergo levers, but he was using all Shimano stuff and their standalone brake levers haven't been redesigned to have a comparable shape to STI levers.
    Maybe he liked it for the infinite trim adjustment.

    I ride about 1500 of my 7500 miles per year on a DT shifter bike, 1973 Raleigh Competition, good old fashioned 10 speed with friction shifting Huret Jubilee derailleurs. My muscle memory for shifting is so ingrained from 35 years with that bike that with a flick of my right hand I can shift both the front and rear derailleurs simultaneously. I'm always surprised when I ride somebody else's DT shift bike and those same double shifts don't come off as planned.

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