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Shifting down tube friction gears on a vintage bike.

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Shifting down tube friction gears on a vintage bike.

Old 06-23-18, 10:02 AM
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robertj298
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Shifting down tube friction gears on a vintage bike.

I am 64 years old and this is my first bike with friction gearing on the down tube.
Is there a right or wrong way to do it? For me it seems easiest to put my hand on
the top tube and reach down with my index finger to either push forward or pull
back on the shift lever. I think having my hand on the top tube helps me to keep the bike stable
plus it positions my finger in the right place without looking down. Any different hints on shifting?
Thanks Bob
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Old 06-23-18, 10:10 AM
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Can you reach down to remove/return your water bottle with your R hand to it's cage on the DT w/o looking and/or wobbling?
If so grasp the R-DT shift lever just so w/ the R hand and move to the appropriate position listening for the chain-growl of a mis-aligned shift to tune out by moving the shift lever a tad. On L same, same w/ only one position to shift to/from.

A Drill: If you feel unstable select a gear that you can stay "on top of" at a steady RPM, stay on the drops with elbows bent, look ahead to where you want the bike to go and alternate removing L the R hand maintaining control with core muscles and the hand/arm on the bars until you can reliably ride a straight line and roll over minor road irregularities with confidence. Done? Now move R hand to shift R and L to shift F w/o looking down. Proceed.

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Old 06-23-18, 10:12 AM
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I can find the shifters just fine, but with so many friction shifters that I regularly ride, I find iím checking my chain line a lot. My hearing doesnít serve that capacity as well as it used to.

No tricks just practice.
Right hand for RD, Left hand for FD - or not.
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Old 06-23-18, 10:46 AM
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It takes a while, I had never ridden with DT shifters until about a year ago. At first it was a little difficult, and yes I had to look at the shifters, now it is second nature and I do it by feel. I did shift the FD with my left hand at first, now I use my right for both, it just takes time & practice. Not up to shifting both at the same time though, yet...
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Old 06-23-18, 10:50 AM
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the usual method is shown in this photo from a race .....



i.e. just reach down and grab the lever.
Admittedly, this is easier with practice and a young, flexible body.

Steve in Peoria
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Old 06-23-18, 10:55 AM
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the usual method is shown in this photo from a race .....
Elbows bent in firm control, looking where the bike needs to go and a deft hand on the DT lever....welcome to 1978.

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Old 06-23-18, 11:02 AM
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One thing I have heard from total novices is the bikes' steering gets thrown off by the force of throwing the lever. The lever should move easily with very little force. But it will keep working and appear to function normally when that lever gets very stiff and crunchy. Mechanics with strong hands may not even notice the lever is way too stiff. Everything about shifting should be easy. When it's easy it's right.

Merely shifting gears should not make your bike feel unstable.
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Old 06-23-18, 11:24 AM
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One key feature is your torso muscles have to hold your body stable instead of using your arms. Some people aren't used to doing that.
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Old 06-23-18, 11:56 AM
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I just remember that Right Is Rear for shifters and and that forward (towards the front wheel is the harder gears (small cogs) and back (towards the rear wheel) are the easier gears (large cogs)

I try use my hearing to detect the need for trim, my recently acquired 1992 Specialized Allez is a triple so there is a bit more choice on the left shifter, I am relying more on my hearing and less on looking down to make adjustments now, just takes some practice

DT by Ryan Surface, on Flickr
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Old 06-23-18, 12:30 PM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
One thing I have heard from total novices is the bikes' steering gets thrown off by the force of throwing the lever. The lever should move easily with very little force. But it will keep working and appear to function normally when that lever gets very stiff and crunchy. Mechanics with strong hands may not even notice the lever is way too stiff. Everything about shifting should be easy. When it's easy it's right.

Merely shifting gears should not make your bike feel unstable.
I had a bike shop owner tell me the lever is supposed to be stiff so it doesn't slip out of gear?
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Old 06-23-18, 12:44 PM
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Originally Posted by robertj298 View Post
I had a bike shop owner tell me the lever is supposed to be stiff so it doesn't slip out of gear?
Properly lubed and tensioned, the lever should not be stiff and should hold its position, ymmv.
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Old 06-23-18, 12:56 PM
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Like most things, practice is key. Your shift technique will evolve and the shifters will become routine in no time at all.
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Old 06-23-18, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by robertj298 View Post
I had a bike shop owner tell me the lever is supposed to be stiff so it doesn't slip out of gear?
Among other things about operating C&V equipment is that it is by definition old, frequently worn and often poorly maintained.
Although there were many reasonably effective DT shifter designs, and a few very good ones, "back when" none have improved with age as lube has dried up, nylon/plastic fittings have become brittle even on NOS components and used ones more so. That being said unduly "stiff" operation is not how a DT lever was designed to retain it's position in use. If operating the lever requires sufficient force to cause the machine to veer off line there is as they say: "Something wrong somewhere."

Adapting to the use of C&V controls takes seat time, for which there is no instruction or substitute.

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Old 06-23-18, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Fahrenheit531 View Post
Like most things, practice is key. Your shift technique will evolve and the shifters will become routine in no time at all.
"Like learning to play the trombone," is how my music-teacher daughter describes it.
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Old 06-23-18, 03:22 PM
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My trick for downshifting (easier gear) with the rear derailleur is to let up just a bit more than usual on the pedals -- stopping pedaling for a split section -- shift down until I feel some resistance, then tweak a fraction of an inch as the chain/cogs engage. Took a little practice to make that work on climbs where you don't want to lose momentum by easing up on pedaling. But that's always been the downside to downtube shifters.

If you have access to a trainer it's a great way to practice shifting. The Cycleops trainers can often be found in very good to excellent condition for half price or cheaper. Many folks buy them in winter with good intentions and realize a couple of years later they hadn't used that trainer after about 3-6 weeks the first year. Off to craigslist or a donation center they go.
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Old 06-23-18, 06:58 PM
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Have to agree with Bandera where he points out that C&V parts are old and expectations get adjusted. But still the absolute best and smoothest and easiest shifters I've ever had are 1950s Campy Gran Sport. My wife has a set of 1953 Simplex that are pretty sweet too. Some vintage is worth using just because it is good. Shift levers with too much plastic should be binned.
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Old 06-23-18, 07:22 PM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
Have to agree with Bandera where he points out that C&V parts are old and expectations get adjusted. But still the absolute best and smoothest and easiest shifters I've ever had are 1950s Campy Gran Sport. My wife has a set of 1953 Simplex that are pretty sweet too. Some vintage is worth using just because it is good. Shift levers with too much plastic should be binned.
Concur. My first bicycle had a 2-speed Bendix shift lever that looked like a brake lever -- squeeze to go into high gear, flip outward for low.

My next bicycle (Christmas, age 12) had drop bars and friction shifters on the downtube, and that's mostly what I have ridden ever since.

If you really don't like downtube shift, a great alternative is barcons. I have sa set of non-indexed ratchet SunTours on the Peugeot, and they are great for riding around town.
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Old 06-23-18, 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by steelbikeguy View Post
the usual method is shown in this photo from a race .....



i.e. just reach down and grab the lever.
Admittedly, this is easier with practice and a young, flexible body.

Steve in Peoria
And here I thought the key to shifting downtube shifters right are wearing crotchet cycling gloves that are stylistically coordinated with a leather brain bucket,
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Old 06-23-18, 08:15 PM
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Whatever works for you is the right way to do it, though I've never heard of using the top tube as part of the equation. My 13-year-old self took about an hour to figure it out after buying my first 10-speed, without ever being given an iota of instruction. It's frankly not that difficult. It couldn't be, since about 80% of bicycles used to come that way. I've evolved to the point where I don't even look at the levers and I use my left or right hand on either the left or right shifter or sometimes both simultaneously depending on which hand is free at the moment. Relax and it will become second nature.
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Old 06-23-18, 10:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Wildwood View Post
Right hand for RD, Left hand for FD - or not.
I'd strongly suggest "or not." Toggling hands purely for the sake of which lever is on which side of the downtube is pointless; it seems reasonable at first if you're used to bar-end or integrated shifters, but for downtube shifters it makes no sense and merely introduces excess hand motion.

If the bike fits and the shifter location is reasonable for the rider, one hand should be able to easily access both shift levers. And it frequently makes sense to compensate for front shifts with rear shifts, so being able to move both levers with a single reach of a hand is a basic skill that massively improves shifting fluidity.
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Old 06-23-18, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by jimmuller View Post
One key feature is your torso muscles have to hold your body stable instead of using your arms. Some people aren't used to doing that.
+1 This is key. Your arms should be more for balance than for bearing weight. Practice riding with one arm at a time, and then practice riding no hands. It should be completely comfortable to let go of the handlebars. IMO this is good for safety as well as shifting. If you are holding on to the top tube for stability, that's not a good thing.

AFA shifting with DT shifters, I don't really remember having to learn how to do it. Generally I shift both levers with my right hand, being right handed. I almost never look.
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Old 06-24-18, 06:55 AM
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Nice thing about DT shifters is you can use either hand to shift, so if at first you are more comfortable leaving one hand vs another on the handlebar, then go with that until you get better. If the bike feels unsteady when you’re shifting, then briefly coast and lay the opposite side knee against the top tube when you start your shift. Start pedaling again to fine tune.

With time and miles it will will become second nature.
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Old 06-24-18, 07:42 AM
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Lots of good info, there's really not much too it. Some shifters feel better, of course, but it'll soon be second nature. I'm always riding different bikes with different setups from the friction shifters to modern brifters. DT shifting really doesn't take much adjusting to and will soon be instinctive.

I did a 2700 foot climb yesterday of the Opus III with it's sweet Superbe Pro DT shifters and had no issues with controlling and no missed shifts. It just works.




And some of the old ST shifters are really awesome. My best shifting system uses old Simplex 5 speed DT shifters, paired to a Ultegra 9 speed RD, shifting over a Campagnolo 10 speed cassette. This is my easiest shifting setup with the best feel, very precise. Probably due to the floating jockey wheel on the RD.





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Old 06-24-18, 08:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Spaghetti Legs View Post
Nice thing about DT shifters is you can use either hand to shift
Or one hand to shift both levers -- at the same time.
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Old 06-24-18, 08:24 AM
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When I ride my fixie, after a few hours my mind starts to go and my right hand starts wandering down to where the shifters would be, if there were any, and it sometimes takes me a moment or two to figure out why I can't find them. That's how much thought I put into shifting my down tube shifters. If they're there, I use them. I never think about them at all.
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