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Old 11-05-11, 12:36 AM   #1
PandaExpress
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Help! How do I use downtube shifters?

Hey guys, recently picked up a 15 speed Nishiki Cresta with downtube shifters as my first road bike. Unfortunately I'm finding it pretty difficult to shift between the gears. Mainly, I don't know what the right hand position would be to stay stable while shifting. I'm also unsure as to how far to move each lever before its been moved too much. Any other general advice regarding downtube shifters is appreciated as well.

Thanks!
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Old 11-05-11, 04:01 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by PandaExpress View Post
Hey guys, recently picked up a 15 speed Nishiki Cresta with downtube shifters as my first road bike. Unfortunately I'm finding it pretty difficult to shift between the gears. Mainly, I don't know what the right hand position would be to stay stable while shifting. I'm also unsure as to how far to move each lever before its been moved too much. Any other general advice regarding downtube shifters is appreciated as well.

Thanks!
While it is mainly practice perhaps this will help http://www.ehow.com/how_5711221_used...-shifters.html .

Brad
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Old 11-05-11, 06:58 AM   #3
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I find it easier to shift both levers using my right hand, with the left holding the bars at the brake hoods, but you should be able to shift from any position. I dont like to shift on a big, fast descent, I try to shift up in advance but if I get it wrong, I stick with the gear till its safer to shift. I just give the lever a tap and it finds its way to the next cog.

DT shifters with 5-speed freewheels have far more tolerance than modern 9/10spd indexed shifters. The upper pulley wheel of Shimano rear mechs has a lot of lateral play so it should find its own position. As long as the chain is quiet and isnt rubbing, the position is fine.
With the front mech, you have to do a little trimming of the position to avoid chain rub. Older front mech have a narrow, plain, flat cage. Modern front mechs are highly profiled for indexed shifting and much wider. I find the old, flat ones are very direct and quick but need more trimming.
With practice you should be able to shift both levers simultaneously to achieve a smooth transition between the 3 front ratios.
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Old 11-05-11, 10:07 AM   #4
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or just get barcons
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Old 11-05-11, 12:48 PM   #5
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If you can use a workstand of some sort that gets the rear wheel off the ground, then you can practice before riding.
My long-ago memory of friction downtube levers is that you move the lever a little bit and hope that it goes to the desired gear. Once you get the hang of it, they work well..
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Old 11-05-11, 03:43 PM   #6
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Is the rear indexed or friction?

If the hand that stays on the bars is out wide, like on the hood, or the drop, it needs to be done with a light touch. That far from the steering axis a little bit of movement translates into large steering corrections. The alternative is to hold the bars near the stem with that hand. I prefer the former technique. It's not hard to do with a little practice. It's easier than reaching for (and replacing) a water bottle, and that's pretty easy itself.

Last edited by CraigB; 11-05-11 at 03:47 PM.
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Old 11-06-11, 12:39 AM   #7
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They're definitely friction shifters. What are barcons, a bar conversion?
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Old 11-06-11, 05:47 AM   #8
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If they're friction, then in addition to your bike-handling issues, you'll also need to learn how to trim a shift - it isn't hard to do if you have a good set of ears. Get into the gear you want and then move the lever a little in whichever direction it needs to go to eliminate the noise the chain makes just before it shifts to the adjacent cog.

Barcons are ratcheting shift levers that are mounted at the ends of drop-style handlebars, where the plugs normally go. They've been popular for decades with tourists and others who don't like to remove their hands from the bars in order to shift.
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Old 11-06-11, 08:12 PM   #9
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My first roadbike had downtube shifters. And most of the roadbikes I own now have them as well. I seem to like them. All are friction, and one is a 24 speed, so its doable. Here are some things I do, not sure if it will help or not. My only qualifiction for giving advice is that I do use DT shifters a lot.

can you ride no handed? if so, then try for that feeling when reaching to the shifters. Tensing up on the bar to keep it going strait is harder than being able to relax a bit.(don't take your hands off the bar to shift, just try not to be tense and overcorrect!)
You should be able to shift with your hand on the drops, hood, or top. You should get a feel for what is best when climbing, on the flats or a mild descent(I seldom shift on a fast descent, sometimes, but usualy only if I am totaly spun out in the gear I am in and its a long descent. In that case, I just jam the levers into the top gear with little finess. if its a short downhill, I just wait till I slow a bit on the bottom, usualy rolling hills)

Sometimes I put my thumb or a finger on the tube when shifting, sort of like a feeler gauge, moving the lever with the remaining fingers or palm area. I move my whole hand, feeling the sensation where the finger rubs the tube. after a few shifts, having some sort of contact area helps let me know where I am. I mostly do this because I am changing between several bikes and they all have slightly different shifting positions.

On some of my older bikes with five speed freewheels, I overshift slightly, then move the lever back a fraction. Thats because older freewheels dont usualy have special shaped teeth that help the chain move as quickly to the next cog. So sometimes to get the chain to move, you have moved the lever to the point that it wants to rub the chain on the next cog. THis is just automaticaly trimming that can come with lots of practice. On bikes with more modern cassettes, shifting is usualy more precise and snappy.

When riding with people who have integrated shifters, I always hear chains grinding from indexing thats out of adjustment, or because they don't know how to trim with indexing. I kind of take pride in my quiet drivetrain, so friction downtubes are not that bad. When you get used to friction downtubes, and someday get a more modern system, you will have a better understanding of whats going on with indexing.
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Old 11-07-11, 12:10 AM   #10
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Barcons are ratcheting shift levers that are mounted at the ends of drop-style handlebars, where the plugs normally go. They've been popular for decades with tourists and others who don't like to remove their hands from the bars in order to shift.
AKA the lazy like me.
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Old 11-07-11, 01:15 PM   #11
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Move the lever(s) and see what happens....
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Old 11-07-11, 03:06 PM   #12
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Once you get the hang of it, they work well..
Or you never get the hang of it and get barcons.


I think the OP said something about the levers not staying put. There is a screw on the outside of the lever. Tighten that screw to get more friction.
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Old 11-08-11, 08:17 PM   #13
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I also have downtube shifter and i try to shift way in advance and always keep your head up and one hand on the handlebar.... i also rest my thumb on the toptube and feel for the shifter with my index and/or middle fingers... and listen for gear change.
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Old 11-09-11, 07:38 PM   #14
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Glad I have the stem mounted levers on the road bike, keeps my hands away from the wheel. I like the grip shifters too that my atb has.
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Old 11-09-11, 07:57 PM   #15
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I think the OP said something about the levers not staying put. There is a screw on the outside of the lever. Tighten that screw to get more friction.
My first thought as well. Other than that, though - really it's just a matter of trying stuff. The beauty of friction shift is its simplicity.

Personally, I kept my downtube shifters (1985 touring bike) because I can shift with mittens on in the winter - try *that* with barcons, or STI...

The folks in the Classic & Vintage subforum can help with any questions regarding adjustment. Or you can try http://sheldonbrown.com/home.html - a very useful site for all kinds of technical questions and riding/tinkering techniques (though I'm afraid his only comment on friction shifting was "upgrade to indexed" - which surprised me).
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Old 11-10-11, 10:07 AM   #16
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After reading this, I have to wonder, how many people would/would not be riding if index shifting had not been invented.
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Old 11-11-11, 11:01 PM   #17
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I actually got rid of a bike with indexed shifting in favour of the older friction shift Indexed is very easy to use but a pain in the butt to adjust, and I like to tinker!

When I get my next bike it will be a toss up between STI and barcons, though.
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Old 11-12-11, 05:09 AM   #18
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I actually got rid of a bike with indexed shifting in favour of the older friction shift Indexed is very easy to use but a pain in the butt to adjust, and I like to tinker!
I did this too, but not for the same reason. I sold my Trek 1500 because I hate skinny tires and no eyelets. The shifters (9-speed STI) worked quite well really.
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The only bikes I have now are SS or have friction downtube shifters. I find the friction DT shifters to be great, and now when I'm on any other bike I find myself reacing down quite a bit . I agree that learning to use downtube friction shifters will teach you a lot about how derailleurs and shifting work.
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Old 11-12-11, 06:27 AM   #19
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Glad I have the stem mounted levers on the road bike, keeps my hands away from the wheel. I like the grip shifters too that my atb has.
I love my SRAM Double-tap levers, but my bike handling skills really jumped up when I bought a downtube shifter bike. It helps you stay relaxed at speed when a hand is off the bars. The front wheel isn't even that close when shifting so it's not an issue.
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Old 11-12-11, 12:46 PM   #20
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After reading this, I have to wonder, how many people would/would not be riding if index shifting had not been invented.
Indexed shifting is certainly one of the great improvements to bicycles of the past ~40 years. Before that, the last great leap in bicycle technology happened in the 1920s.

Also, to the OP -

THe place to hold you bars for the most stability is usually the top of the bars right next to the stem. You have very little leverage on the bars and a little bit of force from an unbalanced hand will not move them as much. Find a nice quite street or cul-de-sac and practice practice practice.
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Old 11-12-11, 01:05 PM   #21
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I often replace the rear derailer cable and the rear cable housing loop on old bikes I get. A couple of drops of Tri-Flo on the cable that passes through the rear loop is nice also.

Once you've got that bit of wrenching out of the way the actuation part just takes practice.

I prefer friction shift for casual road riding. Gotta have clicky shifting for racing or MTB riding, though.
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Old 11-12-11, 01:48 PM   #22
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THe place to hold you bars for the most stability is usually the top of the bars right next to the stem. You have very little leverage on the bars and a little bit of force from an unbalanced hand will not move them as much. Find a nice quite street or cul-de-sac and practice practice practice.
Great tip there.

I generally shift both levers with the right hand, but that's not possible if the frame's too small to reach across for the left shifter. Anyway, pulling the lever back moves the chain to a larger-sized sprocket or chainring, pushing it forward does the opposite*. This has opposite effects on the gearing for front versus rear (larger rear sprockets are lower gears, larger front sprockets are higher gears).


*assuming conventional derailleurs, instead of reverse-sprung models
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Old 11-12-11, 02:02 PM   #23
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Glad I have the stem mounted levers on the road bike, keeps my hands away from the wheel. I like the grip shifters too that my atb has.
... well at least someone favors stem shifters...
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Old 11-12-11, 02:31 PM   #24
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After reading this, I have to wonder, how many people would/would not be riding if index shifting had not been invented.
It would be easy to imagine half of the people riding today would not be if there were only friction shifters. The whole MTB and hybrid group would vanish.
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Old 12-09-11, 08:04 PM   #25
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Post number nine pretty much covered things, but it's hard for me to relate to the OP's problem with friction shifting because I don't recall having any issues at all with the friction-shift Campagnolo Super Record drivetrain on my first road bike. I'd just reach down and give the lever a little flick one way or the other and it would "snick-snick" right in to gear, without a lot of futzing around with trimming after the shift. Most often, it'd go into the desired gear combination with no trimming required, and no major brainpower on my part to make clean shifts happen. They just happened. Way back when, index shifting seemed to be a solution to a non- problem to me, and I kept running my old Super Record stuff many years after the industry had switched to index shifting exclusively. I seriously don't think I'd miss the click-shifting Shimano 105 of my current mount if I hopped on a vintage road bike with old-school Super Record tomorrow. I'd just hop on and enjoy the ride. I still LIKE downtube shifters and while I've ridden bikes with modern "brifters" or shifting integrated into the brake lever, I've never owned the setup and have no burning desire to do so.

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