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  1. #1
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    Newbie downtube shifter question

    Don't laugh.

    I'm finding downtube gearshift a real shock to the system. My childhood bikes all came with Sturmey-Archer 3 speed - that little thumb lever worked fine.

    Basically, how do you change gear yet remain alive? My current technique....

    a) Find a straight stretch of road completely free of trash, pedestrians, buses, drain covers etc (in London this may take a while)
    b) Stop pedalling
    c) Hold handlebar stem with L hand
    d) Lean back, standing on pedals (bike seems to balance better)
    e) Shift
    f) get both hands back on bars & give prayer of thanks

    NB If gap between e) & f) above is more than about 1 msec, death seems assured.

    The mantra that training on a single cog is good, is wearing thin. I guess there is a better way.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Raketmensch's Avatar
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    One of my bikes has downtube shifters, and the technique that works for me is to keep one hand on the handlebars in a normal riding position, keep pedaling, and reach down with the other hand to shift. I keep the time with my hand off the bars to a minimum, and I use the right hand for the right shifter and the left hand for the left shifter.

    It takes practice, though, if you haven't done it before. You might want to get out of the city and into the countryside some afternoon, find a flat and empty stretch of road, and just practice until you're comfortable with it. Once you've got it, you've got it, and in the long run your riding will be safer for it.

    Another option would be to get a bike where the shifters are built right into the brake levers. Good ones, ranging in price from reasonable to astronomical, are made by Shimano and Campagnolo. The Shimano design goes by the name "STI", and the Campagnolo design by the name "Ergo". For both types, you keep your hands right where they need to be -- on the bars and near the brakes -- to shift. I love 'em.

    Good luck!

  3. #3
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Riding a bike in London!!!! Nutter.

    Takes practice, but will come eventually. Failing that A new bike is on the cards. Pity it's not a mountain bike- or I'd invite you down to our rides on the South Downs where a single speed works. Well thats the way it feels when you have been in granny for so long.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


    Spike Milligan

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    Thanks guys - I will persevere.

    Regarding converting to bar shifters, is this economically viable (diminishing returns etc)? The bike cost me about $40. It's steel framed, basically sound. I'm getting attached to it.

    More to the point is this conversion mechanically possible? The groupset is Shimano RX-100 7 speed - old but pretty ok according to Google.

    Regards

  5. #5
    Senior Member Raketmensch's Avatar
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    Converting your present bike to STI or Ergo levers probably wouldn't make sense economically... I expect you'd be better off buying a new bike that was equipped that way from the start. And I know what you mean about getting attached to the bike you've got... we all do. So the best approach is probably just to persevere and get comfortable riding the hardware you have.

  6. #6
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raketmensch
    Converting your present bike to STI or Ergo levers probably wouldn't make sense economically... I expect you'd be better off buying a new bike that was equipped that way from the start. And I know what you mean about getting attached to the bike you've got... we all do. So the best approach is probably just to persevere and get comfortable riding the hardware you have.
    Second that- Either practice more or get an MTB and come down South for some real riding.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


    Spike Milligan

  7. #7
    Pat
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    Downtube shifters? You must have an old bike. And you must be an even more anxious cyclist than I am. It really is not that hard, just hold the one hand on the handlebars and reach down with the other and shift. In a short time, you should be able to do that without thinking about it. Good luck to you.

    Pat

  8. #8
    Berry Pie..the Holy Grail GrannyGear's Avatar
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    Indexed "clickers" or "pull and pray" friction?

    Shifting really does become second nature...before long you'll "flip it" rather than push or pull and it will somehow land where you want--even without trimming---sometimes!

    I'm concerned about your leaning back and "standing on the pedals". Removing weight from your saddle (if that's the case) and unbalancing yourself by reaching for the shifter seems an invitation to instability. Keep pedaling, though you might pedal just a bit "softer" as you shift, and, as people above advise, reach down.

    An alternative to brake/shifter combinations ("brifters") might be bar-end shifters. Hands stay on bars because the shifters simply extend from the bar ends..... also much cheaper.

    Finding 7 spd index bar-ends might be tricky.

    Anyway....stick with reaching down--it does vecome second nature--although if you're just getting back to riding it may be yet one more awkwardness. Today's tentative newbies are tomorrow's self-assured, no-brainer veterans.
    ..... "I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time." Mark Twain, Speeches
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  9. #9
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    I know of what you speak. My brother and I still laugh at our inept attempts to learn to shift down tube shifter over 30 years ago. If they are straight friction shifter the task is but a bit harder. Indexed (they click with each step) shifting is a bit easier. He realized that the first step in learning to shift them was finding them without looking. So, we'd put the bike near a wall on which we could lean while seated and practice finding the shift levers with one hand without looking. After a bit your body seems to memorize the reach. Then when we felt comfortable that we could find the shift levers we headed out to ride roads with as little traffic as possible. We found it useful to stay in a fairly low gear (chain on smaller chainring and on a larger cog in the rear), and only attempt to shift one gear at a time. Once we got comfortable with this, we'd go for two and so on. I taught both my boys to shift down tube shifter in the same manner with success and no accidents! Good luck, and don't ever let someone talk you out of a bike you're going fond of.

  10. #10
    Senior Member DaveTaylor's Avatar
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    It sounds like you are nervous taking one hand off the handle bar to shift because you feel it makes the bike unstable. One reason for that may be that you have too much of your weight on your hands. A re-assessment of your bike fitting may show that you can shift some weight off your hands. A major side benefit will be reduced neck and shoulder discomfort on longer rides. Do a search on bike fit, I am sure a bunch of sites will show up. Here are some I have looked at:
    http://sheldonbrown.com/pain.html
    http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/fitting.htm
    http://www.jimlangley.net/crank/bikefit.html

    Whichever site you go to, you will not find complete agreement on bicycle fitting, but, that's the beauty of it, you read all you can and then you do what is right for you. I hope you can overcome your problem, because to me, down tube (DT) shifters are simple and effective and while all the new stuff is great, no one will deny that it is relatively complex and more difficult to fix once things start going wrong. Bar end shifters are the equivalent of DT shifters, but, are more prone to damage from falls and have a longer cable routing.

  11. #11
    Berry Pie..the Holy Grail GrannyGear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveTaylor
    Bar end shifters are the equivalent of DT shifters, but, are more prone to damage from falls and have a longer cable routing.
    I appreciate Dave's concern, but have to say that in years of using both bar-ends and dt's, I have never truly damaged a pair of bar-ends. Occasionally a bike fall-over in the garage will rotate one a bit so it needs to be twisted back for better fit on the hand....but I've never replaced one-- and that includes a few non-shifting caused crashes. As far as cable length...theoretically its better to be shorter, but in practice indexed works perfectly and friction moves accurately with bar-ends.

    Their advantage....one's hands never really leave the bars which means better control and security--especially on bumpy surfaces and frequent shifting rollers (succession of little hills)...or when riding elbow to elbow with others.
    DT's do keep your bars and bike less cluttered looking.
    ..... "I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time." Mark Twain, Speeches
    .

  12. #12
    Senior Member DaveTaylor's Avatar
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    GrannyGear: You are absolutely right about bar end shifters, I didn't want to sound that negative about them, they are a good alternative to DT shifters

  13. #13
    Berry Pie..the Holy Grail GrannyGear's Avatar
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    Dave: Back at you.....must admit for pure pleasure and quickness and that olde tyme cyclist feeling, nothing matches my Mavic/Simplex dt retro-frictions....and they're darned pretty, too! Not quite as practical as bar-ends...but personally speaking, they would be the last shifters I'd give up.
    ..... "I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time." Mark Twain, Speeches
    .

  14. #14
    Senior Member Old Hammer Boy's Avatar
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    With DT shifters, how your hand engages the shift lever is key. Don't use your finger tips to move them, instead use the meat of your hand. It's hard to explain, but place the shifter lever in the small (middle, hollow part) of your hand, and as mentioned earlier, shift left lever with left hand, right lever with right hand. Sort of cup your hand around the lever. This way you maintain better balance, too. The control is much better this way rather than finger tip shifting. It will soon become second nature.

  15. #15
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    Abarkley,

    Racketmensch and Old Hammer have given you the key. My bike is down-tube and it is all so easy and second nature. Although I have ridden the same bike for over 30 years, it didn't take even a month to get shifting to become second nature. Ride the bike normally; keep pedaling and if you need, back off the pressure just a bit as the derailler snicks into place.

    It is true that the modern shifters are somewhat easier. It is not true that they are a lot better. They are certainly not as elegantly simple nor fail proof.

    Tyson

  16. #16
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    I work both DT shifters with my right hand in the manner describes by Hamer Boy. With practice you can move the F and R mechs simultaneously.
    I usually grab the top (flat section) of the bar with my L hand and bob down to reduce my centre of gravity. Lowering your COG is key to balaning during the action. I reach down, flip the gear and come up to the tops or the hoods.
    Some bike have more stable steering than others. If your is a bit flighty it may be more difficult.
    Try braking the motion down into its constituent parts and repeat the movements for practice:
    Move hands
    Bob down
    Reach to lever
    Flip lever
    Raise up to bars.
    You should also practice making an emergency brake when you are trying to shift.

    London is not a good place to learn cycling, I already knew how to ride but it was still a bit scary at times. You get used to it. Sunday morning is the best time to practice, when the roads are clear.

  17. #17
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    Biking in London is probably as hair-raising as my daily commute in Washington, D.C. I have downtube shifters but (or perhaps therefore) shift as infrequently as possible. In city traffic, I find that avoiding being run over takes most of my concentration.

    You mentioned that you didn't pay much for the bike. It doesn't necessarily follow that it would be a mistake to spend some money upgrading it for your particular needs. An upright mountain bike-style (or even 3-speed-style) handlebar, a new and taller handlebar stem, and compatible brake levers and shifters should cost the equivalent of $100 to $175, installed.

    Of course, it may be worth looking around for a used or new bike that's already configured appropriately for your uses, by preference a hybrid bike (road bike wheels and gearing range, moderately wide tires, upright bars and bar-mounted shifters).

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