I thought this should go in the Bicycle Mechanics area, but for some reason it wasnt working so I had to put it here, hope you dont mind! Basically, im a total newbie to cycling. I recently got given a reasonably old road bike, I have no idea of the make or anything because the person resprayed it a few years back(not a particularly good respray either), and you cant see any of the decals or anything.
The problem is that it has very old friction gear shifters, which are on the end of the drop-down bars, which i really cant get to grips with very easily. I was wondering if its possible (with not too much cost, I dont mind the time and effort as I quite enjoy playing around with mechanical things) to change to the Indexed shifters that are integrated with the brakes. As i have relatively little idea about how the index system works compared to the friction system, I assume it would literally just be a case of changing the brakes and shifters and the cables(which, in the state their in, could do with a change to be honest), or would it also be necessary to change the derailleur??
You have to decide whether you want to put a bunch of new components on the bike or whether you want to do the minimum needed to see if you like the bike. The brand of bike doesn't really matter it's what components are on the bike.
I would suggest doing the minimum to see how well you like the bike.
If your bike is has a 5 or 6 speed rear cluster it's likely fairly old and it is hard to find indexed shifters for that spacing. In that case you would be better off to put new shift cables on (if they are hard to move) and learn to use friction shifters. Older bar end friction shifters were usually a relatively high end component. Sun Tour bar ends were top of the line in the 70's and 80's. The rear derailer will most likely have a name on it. It may be a manufacturer (Sun Tour, Shimano, Huret) or a model name. Yellow Jersey http://www.yellowjersey.org/ carries some older stock and they could help identify some of your components sell you replacement parts. The rear spacing will also tell you something. If the distance between the inside of the rear drop outs is 120mm your frame will only take a 5 or select 6 speed rear cluster (mostly friction). If it is 126mm it will take a 6 or 7 speed cluster (some indexed-not current). The current road standard is 130mm and it will take a 8, 9, 10 speed cluster (current indexed systems). Older steel frames can be respaced . See http://sheldonbrown.com/diy/index.html
If the brakes are center pull (the brake cable attaches to another cable that pulls the arms in) the bike is likely from the 70's or 80's. High end bikes at that time had side pull brakes (currently popular on road bikes). To rework old ones the brake pads likely have to be replaced along with the cables (if they do not slide freely - fully release after you let go of the brake).
If you have a light, responsive frame that fits you well it might be worth it to put all new components on it (you could put $200 to $500 in upgrades), or just replace the cables, brake pads, maybe tires and practice friction shifting. (one tip, it is easier to shift while peddling lightly during the shift)