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the tactile pleasure of shifting downtube shifters

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the tactile pleasure of shifting downtube shifters

Old 09-13-10, 09:44 PM
  #1  
djb
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the tactile pleasure of shifting downtube shifters

Evening,

I have thought about this last summer after fixing up my old touring bike that I hadnt ridden in about 6 or 7 years, maybe even a bit more. It was bought new in 91 or 92, a nice quad butted steel tourer that took me on some very memorable trips, a few times in France, down the west coast, here and there near Montreal (Vermont, NY, NH). Spent a lot of time on that bike and it performed really well, wheels held up excellently especially, not once a broken spoke and they are still true. Obviously never had to use the two spare spokes on the chainstay....
Ive always taken great care with my bikes, clean and lube after rain, chain, derailleurs, rims. It works as this gal is in very good shape.

A bunch of years ago I bought a mtn bike from my brother in law and ended up using that for all the commuting I did, was great, front suspension, perfect for the not so great Montreal streets. Later put slicks on it as I hardly ever did off road, and it was a neat change. A Spec. Rock Hopper with nice trigger shifters--it was great bang bang bang shifting with hands on bars. I loved it and with slicks it was reasonable on the road and did all duty for me.

The tourer ended up hanging on the wall for years, and I finally fixed it up last summer. Put new cables and linings on it, new tires, tubes, a new headset and getting back on it was like meeting an old friend. It really was, brought back so many memories.

It surprised me how naturally my right hand went back to shifting. RD an indexed LX that has worked incredibly well and consistently over all those years. Front is a friction one that just works.
It was really nice getting back to a 700c wheeled bike compared to the mtn bike, quite a bit faster, and the frame is a sweet supple ride over bumps. I have never owned a bike with sti brifters, until this summer, so I did spend a large part of my life riding downtube shifters.

Despite the downsides to them, dont you all find that there is a real tactile pleasure of changing chainrings whilst at the same time shifting rear gears, using multiple fingers? Its a neat coordination of fingerwork that I pleasantly found that I still enjoyed doing.

I am not kidding myself, when you have shifting headwinds, or constant up and down roller coaster roads, especially with fully loaded touring, constant shifting is a pain in the ass, and believe me, I remember being sick of the "bend over" to shift at times.
Having your hands on the hood at all times is so much safer, on downhills, around cars, potholes you name it. Not to mention in the drops and you can upshift on big downhills at good speeds.

Riding now just for fun, and unloaded, it still is fun to shift. I was quite fast and precise at downshifting on hills not to lose any momentum, and I am sure it is something that a generation of riders cannot do now.

Dont get me wrong, I love my Integra brifters on the new cyclocross, just love em. Would never go back, but I, as you guys do I am sure, still appreciate the act of shifting downtubers. Makes me think of before index too, although I only rode crappy bikes of that era, so they were a real pain, shifting on their own etc. But all the bikes pre-whatever were like that. When did index derailleurs come in? 80s?

New stuff works great, but downtube shifting does have an appeal doesnt it?
I realize I must be officially an old fart now, with those comments and the fact that I bought myself a Brooks for the first time this summer too (is on the alu frame/carbon forked cyclocross bike though! I like the new/old look, for me it works)

cheers

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Old 09-13-10, 10:04 PM
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Downtube friction shifters have their praises deservedly sung at https://www.rivbike.com/article/components/shifting

My early 1980s Ciocc still has 'em and I've no intention of "upgrading" to brifters at this time.
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Old 09-13-10, 10:07 PM
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I bought a 1987 Panasonic like I had in college. The first time I got on it, instinct had me shifting the SIS downtube shifters. Yes, I love my brifters, but, I do get some sort of satisfaction is shifting old school.
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Old 09-13-10, 10:19 PM
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I no longer own a bike with brifters. I do miss the quicker shifts with the hands right there on the hoods - but not that much to go back to them. I love my downtube shifters and will see how much I like the barcons in short while.
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Old 09-14-10, 02:47 AM
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I have ten bikes give or take, and only one has Brifters - a late 80's Pogliaghi fitted with Shimano 600 8 spd thats just arrived but needs a repaint (its already been repainted once). What I love is that my 17 year old son also loves riding a bike with downtube shifters, he loves that sense of technical skill needed in a world where bikes are STI and cars are automatic.
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Old 09-14-10, 04:01 AM
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The one and only thing that I do not like about vintage road bicycles is the shifters! I do not like removing my hands from the handlebars. I do not like having to reach down to find the shift lever(s). The down tube shifter system is just plain dangerous to use, when compared to anything else available today.

I, do, however, like the sound of my cleats clipping into my pedals and I refuse to use rat-traps.
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Old 09-14-10, 04:22 AM
  #7  
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Randy, for some riders it's habitual to move the non-shifting hand to the top of the bar, to minimize leverage that might make the bike swerve while you shift.
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Old 09-14-10, 04:39 AM
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In the current stable, I have 4 bikes that have downtube shifters, and one with bar-end shifters.

Given the choice, I'll take the downtube shifters. If I don't stretch my back every so often, I get wicked cramps. Two of my bikes have indexed shifters, and two have friction. I find that even indexed downtube shifters are moronically simple, and almost an insult to one's dexterity...but whatever sells bikes, I guess. That said, I keep them indexed because it gives me a change of pace over the friction bikes. I don't see the purpose of having two (or more) bikes that, for all intents and purposes are identical in setup, and that's what they'd be.

/luddite rant.
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Old 09-14-10, 04:53 AM
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I enjoy STI levers for a couple of reasons. The obvious one being the ease of shifts. The other reason they are nice is their size, they are comfortable to hold onto for long periods of time. It's nice to keep your hands at the brakes when you are riding in a line and very close to someone's rear wheel.

Still, down tube shift levers are fun. I ride a larger frame and still think they are easy to reach, maybe I have long arms? If weight is a concern, down tube shifters are a lot lighter than STI shifters.

I like the OP's approach: appreciate both for what they are.
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Old 09-14-10, 05:02 AM
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All my bikes have DT shifters, except for one with stem shifters (an '83 Pugeout UE8M).
For those who are concerned about removing their hands from the bars, stem-mounted friction shifters sort of make sense: They are inherently reliable, and despite their "low end" stigma, are IMO, not remotely as dorky-looking as brifters.
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Old 09-14-10, 05:37 AM
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Both of my Zullos, and one of my Colnagos have DT shifters.

They work fine, but I certainly don't feel any "special" zeal or joy riding them because they are "DT" shifters.

I enjoy riding "modern" Campy ten speed systems including a Chorus gruppo and a gruppo or three of Centaur.

....and I hardly feel any less connection with the bike.

Maybe some would, but I don't buy it personally.

imho
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Old 09-14-10, 06:09 AM
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How about one-handed half-steps? Left lever up with the thumb, right one down with the middle finger. Or vicey-versa.

Top
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Old 09-14-10, 07:09 AM
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Originally Posted by randyjawa View Post
The one and only thing that I do not like about vintage road bicycles is the shifters! I do not like removing my hands from the handlebars. I do not like having to reach down to find the shift lever(s). The down tube shifter system is just plain dangerous to use, when compared to anything else available today.

I, do, however, like the sound of my cleats clipping into my pedals and I refuse to use rat-traps.
Interesting perspective. I guess I don't feel like it's that dangerous. Heck I was in the middle of a 30-40 person group on the run up to a hill climb race this summer and had no problem removing a hand to shift. But then, downtube shifters are what I learned on back in the mid-70's and it was so easy to go back to them.

Really, with each of the three shifting systems - brifters, bar end and downtube- you have to take your hands of the bar at some point. The difference being downtube is the only system where the hands stay off the bar when you shift. For brifters and bar ends it's just a matter of moving the hand to the shifter if it's not already there.
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Old 09-14-10, 07:39 AM
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one thing for sure about friction shifting is that you are much more committed to whatever gear you are in than with the STI system. better know your gear before you start that climb...
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Old 09-14-10, 07:47 AM
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I have gotten used to the Dura Ace 7700/7703 triple/9 speed brifters on my Flyte SRS-3 bike and have grown to really like them. This is not to say that they are perfect, far from it. For one thing the triple front shifting is rather baffling to me, especially trying to get it to reliably shift down to the 30 tooth "granny" chainring in the front. It cause a lot of stress when you are at the base of a challenging climb only to have the spring action of the brifter, combined with all the high tech chainring ramps somehow malfunction and not release the chain from the middle ring to the granny ring. Very exhausting and demoralizing for such expensive equipment to be so finicky.

Which brings me to down-tube levers. Shifting the front derailleur to the granny ring with retrofriction style down tube levers is a no-brainer. So even though you do have to take your hands from the handlebars for a second, there is absolutely no drama about how precise the shift ends up being. I use Mavic indexing levers on my Dura Ace 7 speed uniglide / Ultegra 6503 triple bike and the shifting is like my best friend. With a clean, well lubed chain and reasonably clean chainrings, cassette cogs and derailleur pulleys, this type of shifting is pure bliss. Hard, reliable clicks in the rear and buttery microclicks in the front - great for easy riding days on the bike where you don't want to be so technical all the time.

BTW, Suntour Accushift 7 or 8 speed set ups with the corresponding correct Sun Tour levers (Command or Superbe Pro downtube) are the bicycle equivalent of driving a vintage sports car with a stiff gated manual shifter. Authoritative and positive shifting. This is a much different experience than the buttery smooth (but sometimes wimpy) feel afforded by many Shimano index systems.
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Old 09-14-10, 08:09 AM
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I like downtube shifters. I like the feel, I like the look, I like the simplicity, I like the durability. I feel no danger, I shift when I can comfortably do so. I'm not a racer and am not worried about losing precious seconds. Sometimes I get caught out in a gear I really don't want to be in, but so be it. Maybe it's an age thing, but as I approach 60 it's more about enjoying the ride. I've removed the computers from my bikes and don't miss the numbers at all.
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Old 09-14-10, 08:26 AM
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I had a lot of trouble when I started on my first downtube bike (in decades) this year from brifters. Then, on one ride about three months ago I caught myself just reaching down and shifting without thinking (7-speed Shimano indexed). It was like a revelation. I think having to move my hands, and therefore my body, is a good thing rather than mindlessly camping out on the brifters. I recently also added a bike with friction (Suntour ratchet) barcons. Friction is taking a little getting used to (little overshift to engage then back a couple clicks to center). It's a different feel than the indexed downtube but at first blush I like it and I'm sure I'll get the technique down in a while.
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Old 09-14-10, 08:31 AM
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Originally Posted by top506 View Post
How about one-handed half-steps? Left lever up with the thumb, right one down with the middle finger. Or vicey-versa.
Top
this was what I was meaning, the two finger ballet that I was quite good at and still enjoy. I spent months and months on that bike touring loaded up, and did lots of climbing with it loaded, and one never wants to loose an iota of momentum. Go down up front, up a couple in back, all in one smooth motion. Or going from the middle chainring (40) down to my great granny of 24 (put that in for the Pyrenees)--down one up front, up 2 or 3 in back, all in one nice swoop.

As someone related to driving an older manual transmission, there is a tactile pleasure getting the coordination and timing spot on.
Kinda like heel and toeing, blipping the throttle just the right amount to match up the revs (or a motorcycle downshift also) compared to modern flipper paddles where a computer does it all for you now.

(yes, Im a lifelong biker, but a lifelong motorsport follower, raced motorcycles a bit too)

I love how many of you responded. And, yes I appreciate both for what they are, but completely love modern sti, and no it doesnt take away anything from the riding experience.

I think the main thing for me with this specific bike is that there is a great deal of nostalgia for me when I ride this bike. My first time going to europe was with this bike, seeing and discovering such neat places while touring, so it was a nice surprise for me getting back on it after so long to see that the finger work came back right away and when not in a rush, it was kinda fun shifting.
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Old 09-14-10, 09:39 AM
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Is anyone friction shifting on a 10 cog cassette?
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Old 09-14-10, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by vjp View Post
Is anyone friction shifting on a 10 cog cassette?
My question would be....why would anyone NEED a 10 cog cassette? Where's it going to end?
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Old 09-14-10, 09:58 AM
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The only bike I own with indexed shifting is my Raleigh Superbe 3-speed; all the rest have down tube friction shifters. Regarding tactile pleasure, there's nothing better than the old bumpy Campagnolo shifters for how they feel in your hand. The shifting itself is only mediocre, so I replaced them with Simplex Retrofriction levers. I had a bike with Dura-Ace indexed downtube shifters and derailleurs once, but they stopped working properly after a crash and I replaced them with Simplex Retrofrictions and Huret Jubilee derailleurs. That was about 7 or 8 years ago and I haven't missed the indexing at all.
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Old 09-14-10, 10:34 AM
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I test rode a bike the other day with down tube shifters and when I was shifting I was also kind of turning and the tire burned the **** out of my hand... First times a charm.
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Old 09-14-10, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by khatfull View Post
I had a lot of trouble when I started on my first downtube bike (in decades) this year from brifters. Then, on one ride about three months ago I caught myself just reaching down and shifting without thinking (7-speed Shimano indexed). It was like a revelation. I think having to move my hands, and therefore my body, is a good thing rather than mindlessly camping out on the brifters.
+1. I'll make a caveat for friction shifters - those haven't yet come naturally. However, with indexed shifting, it's just like flicking a switch IMO, or like shifting the clutch on a manual transmission.
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Old 09-14-10, 10:46 AM
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I've never ridden anything but DT shifter bikes so I have no opinion about them. I still ride a friction DT shifter-equipped bike. It took awhile to come back to me when I began riding again but I can do the half-step one handed now without thinking about it. I do have the habit of shifting a bit before I need it on my normal route. Might not be the most efficient but neither is me being 280 lbs. I had a DT index shifter back in the 80's. Not sure if I prefer either. Both work equally well for me after a little refresher time. I am considering bar end friction shifters.

While we're here if anyone is considering the DiaCompe Silver shifters go for it. Wonderful piece of work. Just don't overtighten the screws. I've heard the plastic washer cracks. Hasn't happened to me but I've heard it can be a problem.
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Old 09-14-10, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by RavingManiac View Post
My question would be....why would anyone NEED a 10 cog cassette? Where's it going to end?
Since they are already at 11, maybe 12 or 13?
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