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  1. #1
    Licensed Bike Geek Davet's Avatar
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    STI or bar-cons......................

    I have bikes with Shimano STI shifting, and bikes with Shimano bar-con shifting. I also have a tandem with Ultegra STI shifters, and therein lies the nub of my question.

    I'm fairly new to tandeming (had the bike for 6 months) and it seems to me that bar-cons would be much easier shifting under almost all circumstances. Am I correct in this thinking? Have any of you had tandem experience with both STI and bar-cons? Which do you prefer? If you could switch from one to the other, which would you have on your bike? (money is not an issue)

  2. #2
    Oh God, He's back! 1oldRoadie's Avatar
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    STI.....the last thing I want to do when captaining is think about shifting.
    I can't ride and Frown!

  3. #3
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Where do you place your hands most often? STI or Ergo makes sense if you ride with your hands atop the brake hoods, but barcons are great if you ride either on the drops or on the hoods. Barcons are also more repairable, durable, and reliable than STI, and they are wonderful on those "God help me!" multicog downshifts.
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  4. #4
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    I have STI's on my single and barcons on the tandem - wish that I had STI's on both. I think the STI's are saver as you don't have to take your hands off the bars to shift. I almost always ride with my hands on the hoods, like John says your hand placement is probably key to this decision.
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    I've used both types on our tandem, and prefer the bar-ends for these reasons. #1 is the visual and tactile indication of what gear I am in. I can feel what gear I am in without taking my eys off the road. STI levers look and feel the same no matter which gear you are in. #2 is the lack of front derailer indexing, allowing easy front shifting and derailer trimmimg. #3 is with STI levers, up-shift and down-shift use the same motion, and I often shifted the wrong way. Bar-ends are different motions for different actions. I can pop off a rear shift very quickly, and my hands are almost always on the hoods or tops of the bars when riding. Those are my reasons, but then I know lots of folks that use STI and love them.

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    I've owned tandems with both STI's and bar cons and I currently own one of each on single bikes so I've had a good amount of experience with each.

    A while ago, I was forced to make that very decision regarding my tandem. I wanted to install Magura hydraulic brakes, but that would have ment giving up my STI's. In the end, I forewent the Maguras because I loved the STI's too much. I also love my Flite Deck computer's gear indicator.

    All of my tandem riding is essentially day rides. If I were planning a cross country trip, I think I'd take the opposite approach and use barcons. The thing that I like least about STI's is that when you get dirt and grime inside of them, they tend not to shift right. The last thing I'd want on a cross country trip would be to be stuck in Nowheresville, Kansas on a Friday night with a trashed out Ultegra STI.

  7. #7
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Davet
    I'm fairly new to tandeming (had the bike for 6 months) and it seems to me that bar-cons would be much easier shifting under almost all circumstances.
    If you could describe the situations where you thought barcons would be easier to use it would be helpful. Not everyone rides tandems in the same way or with the same goals in mind. Therefore, it is quite possible that barcons could be the way to go for you. Then again, perhaps there there are some nuances or "tricks" that we could offer up to resolve any teething pains you're having with STI on your tandem.

    Also, please remind me/us what year-make-model of tandem you're riding.

    Bottom Line: There is no "best" shifter choice for tandems. All you can hope for is figuring out if it's the barcons, Shimano STI or Campy Ergo's that are "best for you".

  8. #8
    Licensed Bike Geek Davet's Avatar
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    Mark: Thanks for the perspective. The 'problems' I'm having with STI shifting, is primarily shifting down under pedal pressure, like going up a hill. On my solo bike no problems, I can relieve the pressure and the shifts are fine. On the tandem, it's difficult to relieve the pressure on the pedals to allow the STI's to shift, without throwing the cadence or rhythm off. With my bar-con equipped bike, pedal pressure doesn't seem to be an issue, shifting up or down.

    Bar-cons, in my mind, seem to be a simple no-sweat shifting system. The shift levers sort of let you know what ring/cog you're in, and you can shift down, or up, a bunch of gears at a time. And trimming is a cinch. The only downside I can see is the necessity of taking my hands from whatever position they are in, to shift.

    My very first "real" bike three years ago was a Trek 540 Touring with bar-cons. My second bike was a Serotta with STI, and I thought to myself when I first got it, "What's the big deal with STI?" I'm used to STI now having them on all the rest of my bikes. I just got finished building a retro Woodrup with bar-cons, and that's what got me thinking about putting those on the tandem.

    Our tandem, a 2002 Burley Rivazza is a third bike for us. Both the wife and I have Calfees, plus I have three other road bikes. But we are enjoying our tandem rides more and more, and are looking for tandem events in our area. The tandem seems to take more thought and planning in it's ride and operation, therefore my consideration of bar-con shifting was to make it (supposedly) simpler and easier.

  9. #9
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Davet
    The 'problems' I'm having with STI shifting, is primarily shifting down under pedal pressure, like going up a hill. On my solo bike no problems, I can relieve the pressure and the shifts are fine. On the tandem, it's difficult to relieve the pressure on the pedals to allow the STI's to shift, without throwing the cadence or rhythm off.
    You didn't mention if it was the front or rear derailleur that was resisting the shift so I'll go out on a limb and assume that it may be the front as this is the one shifting scenario that perplexes most new tandem teams; but, the same "cause-effect" can also make rear derailluer down shifts "ugly" as well as big ring up shifts.

    This is most likely -- and again I'm guessing -- a team-work issue where your Stoker still has the drive train loaded up while you are trying to shift. When most people ride a single bike and shift -- knowingly or not -- they reduce pedal pressure ever so slightly. It's almost an intuitive but learned behavior that we all take for granted UNTIL we hop on a tandem. On a tandem and in particular one with STI or Ergo levers, new Stokers don't have any form of visual or mental cue -- like moving a shift lever -- that causes them to momentarily "lighten-up" on the pedals when the Captain initiatives a shift. Bar-ends actually do have an advantage in this regard since the Captain's movements when making a bar-end shift are quite noticeable but I believe it's only a short-term advantage as even more subtle cues will eventually be used. Nonetheless, the Stoker being disconnected from the mental and physical process of shifting the gears is where the troubles begin with respect to executing smooth shifts on a tandem. The most troublesome and obvious place where this usually happens with new team is on hills and most often when teams try to shift into granny just a tad later than they should have. In this scenario there is just too much torque on the chain in the 42x28 or 42x34 for the derailleur's spring to pull it off the middle ring. Likewise, sometimes the rear derailleur will have a hard time moving a chain up when it's too loaded up but Captain's tend to apply brute force to overcome the drag and force the chain up to the larger cog.

    So, if any of this sounds familiar here's what you do. You use audible commands to call out shifts (e.g., OK sweetie, "Shifting" or "Lighten-up") for a while and make a point to shift earlier, i.e., when your cadence drops to 70 instead of 65 or 60. If you make a habit of doing this uniformly most Stokers will begin to develop the ability to intuitively know when you -- as their Captain -- will shift based on the terrain, your RPM and the amount of effort you're putting in as a team. However, what is more important is that they will also learn to feel YOU shifting through the pedals, recalling from my earlier comment that most of us do in fact alter our pedal pressure slightly when we shift. In fact, what seems to happen is that Stokers intuitively learn to "soft pedal" enough for Captain's to regain the feeling that they are making effortless shifts because they can once again intuitively "soft pedal" through the shift like they do on a single bike: only now, it works because the Stoker has reduced their pedal pressure enough to allow it to effective.

    The other place this learned team soft-pedal technque works is for moving back up from the middle ring to the big ring on a tandem. By their very nature, tandems that use wide range chain rings (e.g., 54-42-28) sub-obtimize the heck out of front derailleurs by forcing them to work a gear capacity that is sometimes off of the official spec sheet. Therefore, a lot of teams will find that the cranks travel further than average to get the chain to lift from the middle to the big ring (grind, grind, grind, Ka-chunk). If you or anyone else reading this ever experiences this performance issue the soft pedal technique will also allow you to move the chain from the middle to the big ring ring as smoothly as can be (Ka-chunk). Again, you'll have to start off using an audible "request" to your Stoker to "lighten up" until it becomes intuitive via the pedals.


    Originally posted by Davet
    Bar-cons, in my mind, seem to be a simple no-sweat shifting system. The shift levers sort of let you know what ring/cog you're in, and you can shift down, or up, a bunch of gears at a time. And trimming is a cinch. The only downside I can see is the necessity of taking my hands from whatever position they are in, to shift.
    Bar-ends have their pros and cons, as do STI and Ergo. There definitely is the visual gear position indicator aspect to them along with the relatively simple and bomb-proof design. However, Shimano made in-line gear position indicators that are still available, it's relatively easy to home-make gear position indicators that go on your shift cables at the down tube, and at the high-end Flight Deck and Campy's ErgoBrain both provide very nifty data regarding the position of your chain. Well, and since you're riding a tandem you also have one other "gear position indicator" on board and just behind you called your Stoker. As for gear selection and shift range, trimming on Ergo's is as effective as bar-ends and STI has gotten better since they increased the number of stops from 3 to 5. As for covering the cassette with a sweeping gear change, Ergo does match bar-ends in their ability to shift up or down through nearly the entire cassette in a single sweep. STI, on the other hand, does have its limitations but don't loose sight of "practical utility" and real-world data: pros seem to be able to "get by" with single click upshifts and the number of cogs that can be downshifted in a single sweep (I'm pretty sure it's 3 and 3x3=9). The big difference IS hand-on brake hood control and that's a very useful thing to have if you are an aggressive team that wants to run with the "big dogs". Out of the saddle shifts are not practical (if even possible without undue risk) on downtube or bar-end shifters, whereas they have become the norm for STI and Ergo users.

    Ultimately, as I mentioned before, the pro-con discussions on bar-end vs STI vs Ergo are all meaningless since the choice must ultimately be made based on what's best for each user. Hey, I'm glad Lance likes STI... but Ergo just works better for me.

    Originally posted by Davet
    The tandem seems to take more thought and planning in it's ride and operation, therefore my consideration of bar-con shifting was to make it (supposedly) simpler and easier.
    Ultimately, familiarity is what you'll want between your tandem and the single bikes you ride the most. As much as I really enjoyed my SunTour Superbe Pro friction shift grouppo, life was never so confusing as when I jumped from my older road bikes to a newer one with STI to our first tandem that was fitted with Sachs Ergo/Shimano XTR. I reached a point where I didn't know what was up or down on the STI or the downtube shifters and ultimately decided to go with Ergo since it fit my small hands the best and seemed the most idiot proof (right or left thumb down = chain moves "down" to smaller rings / right or left index finger in = chain moves "up" to bigger rings).

    Mind you, this isn't a pitch for Ergo levers.... it's just an anecdotal story of my search for what was 'best for me' and the most important thing was making sure I didn't have to re-learn shifting as I moved from bike to bike to tandem.

    Hope this helps and, if not, that it was at least entertaining/interesting reading. If I totally missed your shifting issues please provide me with some additional details and I'll take another whack at it.

    P.S. FWIW: I've had bar-end shifters on single touring bikes and our first tandem came with the bar-end shifters. But you say, "Hey - Wait a minute. Not two paragraphs ago you said your first tandem was fitted with Sachs Ergo?". Yes, it did have bar-end shifters... for exactly two rides. Hence the Sachs Ergo shifters which, in 1996 were the only OEM integrated shifters that could be used with a front triple chain ring. Shimano introduced 105 triples in 1997/8.
    Last edited by livngood; 05-19-03 at 07:43 AM.

  10. #10
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Originally posted by John E
    Barcons are also more repairable, durable, and reliable than STI.
    Just a data point... I continue to see folks cite STI as having durability / reliability problems as well as being non-servicable by the end user (or just about anyone else). While the latter is pretty much true, the durability / reliability issues that cropped up on the earlier production models were quickly resolved. Therefore, as much as I appreciate that I can replace about every part in my Campy levers, it is rare to encounter a Shimano STI lever from any of their groups -- Sora to DuraAce -- that die a premature death, i.e., STI levers are reliable, durable and it is the exception when one needs to be replaced due to failure.

    The STI levers that I have encountered that have failed were done-in from crash damage, abuse or lack of proper maintenance by heavy-sweaters with very acidic perspiration which are the same folks who usually have trouble with the FlightDeck units for the same reason. But, to be fair, I've also fixed bikes with bar-ends and downtube shifters that were broken in crashes or seized by internal corrosion from sweat/lack of maintenance.

    Therefore, I would encourage anyone who has had recent first hand experience with STI (or Ergo) failures to be specific about what failed and why before merely passing along what I believe to be a grossly overstated problem with STI from nearly 20 years back. By all means, if you are planning a unsupported tour and have STI or Ergo levers I would be the first one to recommend that you stash a spare set of tandem length derailleur & brake cables in your kit along with a pair of bar-end (or if you have shifter bosses on your bike being used for cable guide mounts a pair of downtube) shifters "just in case" along with at least one DiaComp brake lever. Chances are you'd never need to use them all, but if you got caught out with a broken STI lever in Mongolia you'd be able to get by with these extra items. Of course, if you already had bar-end shifters I'd probably tell you to take the exact same spare parts along so don't get the wrong idea: I still believe STI and Ergo to be very reliable.
    Last edited by livngood; 05-18-03 at 08:12 PM.

  11. #11
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Originally posted by livngood
    If I totally missed your shifting issues please provide me with some additional details and I'll take another whack at it.
    Davet,

    Just curious if you've had a chance to experiment or if it was something else that was giving you trouble.

  12. #12
    Licensed Bike Geek Davet's Avatar
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    Mark:

    The whole crux of my question was if there was a consensus that bar-con shifting would be easier, on me and the bike, than STI. I love STI shifting on my solo bikes. I'm happy with Shimano. I've never had STI fail me at any time. The whole STI repairability/serviceability/durability has been a big non-issue for me.

    I've got this brand-new Rivazza with 60 miles on it and I'm wondering if it would be worth-while to remove the STI and install bar-con shifting. Shifting with bar-cons on my retro Woodrup seems to be much easier, able to be used without much thought and effort, so the notion of putting a similar system on the tandem sort of appeals to me. A side benefit would be that I would have extra STI equipment laying around doing nothing, so I would have to buy another frameset to build up so this expensive gear doesn't go to waste!

    We're going to our first tandem event this weekend, and I it will give me an opportunity to talk to and observe other teams. There is no such thing as too much knowledge.

  13. #13
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    I have never tried STI shifters but I have barcon shifters on one tandem. They are ok but I don't like the placement outmost on the bar as it interferes with the handling of the bike (balance). I actually like the downtube shifters on my old single better but they should have been too far down on the tandem.

    On the tandem I bought last summer I have SRAM rear mech so I put SRAM ESP shifters (Gripshift) on the Yakuma bar that I had initially. I did NOT like the Yakuma bar but I did really like the Gripshifts! I'ts the best I've ever had or tried. They are very robust and the gears just clicks in. With the front mech you can fine adjust if there is chain rub. The mechanic on SJS Cycles that built my Thorn Adventure said after the test ride they always do that the gear shifting was extremely smooth!

    Well what to do when I couldn't go on with the silly Yakuma bar and wanted to have a real road bar and the grip shifts was impossible to fit on the road bar?

    The solution I found out was to install a SECOND handlebar below the road bar on the ahead steerer. Thoughtfully the mechanics at Thorn hadn't cut the steerer. So I have put a second shortened straight MTB bar below the road bar and on that I've put the Grip shifts and the thumb shifter for the Arai. I do also put the handlebar bag on this short bar.

    This works VERY well. The only disadvantage is that I sometimes have difficulties seeing the gearing numbers. So the answer to the question for me is not STI or bar end shifters but SRAM ESP shifters! The non ESP shifters will fit Shimano rear derailleurs also but for front shifters it doesn't matter.

    Per

  14. #14
    Senior Member JustsayMo's Avatar
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    My only STI failure was on a single bike with Shimano 105 (late 90s era). I had them on the bike I used for training and was doing a lot of riding in the rain. The shifting degraded and eventually the shifter became useless.

    My racing bike has Dura-Ace STI, no problems except it does get more finky after a wet ride. It's more of a cable grime issue than STI though. Gore-Tex Ride On Cables helped that.

    I've burned up several XT rapid fire shifters riding in wet conditions so common here in the PNW. Now my weather mountain bikes all sport thumb shifters.

    I did get a chance to ride a Campy Ergo equipped tandem recently and was very impressed with the shifting. I like that the brake lever IS a brake lever.

    All that being said, our new tandem will sport bar end shifters. They work great, they aren't fussy and they are very durable. I have a pair that has survived at least 3 bikes. Put them on, forget about them.

    This is less tandem applicable but on my bar end equipped touring bike I can scavage any 5-8 speed wheel that will fit in the frame, adjust the derailleur and switch to friction mode and I'm back on the road.

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    "This is less tandem applicable but on my bar end equipped touring bike I can scavage any 5-8 speed wheel that will fit in the frame, adjust the derailleur and switch to friction mode and I'm back on the road."

    Yes this must be a real advantage that the bar end shifters have in common with down tube and thumb shifters. It's a pity that the Grip Shifts cant do this. One disadvantage I didn't mention with the bar end shifters is that they are vulnerable at the end of the bar. The Grip Shifts are extremely robust and very simple in the construction and I think they will last a long time.I can't think of that some rain will interfere with them and it hasn't this far. That I'm using two bars on my bike may seem overdoing things but it isn't. Instead of having an overcluttered bar I now have a much more "clean" road bar and the balance of the bike is better with the handlebar bag lower on the steerer. I should actually recommend this arrangment on a touring tandem!

    Per

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    Anyone using Kelly Takeoffs ?
    http://www.kellybike.com/2nd_xtra_takeoff.html

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