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Converting a 5x2 downtube shifter setup to dropbar brake shifters

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Converting a 5x2 downtube shifter setup to dropbar brake shifters

Old 11-09-22, 11:47 AM
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austinbikebill
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Converting a 5x2 downtube shifter setup to dropbar brake shifters

Hi, all.


First time I have been on this forum for bike help (though I am on about 20 car forums).


Anyhow I have an old Nishiki touring bike (1982 vintage) that I am pretty attached to: In addition to riding to school and work over the many years, I've ridden it to all four corners of the US -- Seattle, LA, Key West, DC and all kinds of points in between on multiple coastal and cross-country tours -- guessing I've put between 15,000 and 18,000 miles on or maybe more (most recently I rode it fully loaded -- I'm old school, so no sag wagon for me -- from Ohio to DC via the Panhandle, Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails -- about 450ish miles). The only really upgrade was a wheel rebuild in 1983 with a Weinman concave on the rear wheel (done at REI in Redondo Beach, hasn't even been re-trued since then).


I'm getting too old to downtube shift (and want to do the Empire State Trail next year), so wanted to join the 21st century convert to it brake handle shifters (for the Ohio-DC ride, I finally turned in the cage pedals for SPD flats). Last year I picked up a Bianchi Hybrid and really like the index shifters but the geometry of the bike is not good for touring (steep fork rake and shortish wheelbase).


As I see it I have three options:
  1. Find 5x2 brake shifters;
  2. Use 7x2 brake shifter and try to keep track of where I am on the rear freewheel -- or modify if possible to stop after 5 click shifts)
  3. Upgrade the drivetrain to a 7x2 configuration.
Are there other options?

So far I have not found any 5x2 brake shifters, and the 7x2 drivetrain upgrade seems like a lot of work (spacers, re-dishing, dropout tweaking, etc.).

So wondering about a couple of things:
  • Does anyone know where I might get 5x2 brake shifters?
  • Is there a "narrow-ish" 7 speed freewheel that would be a plug-and-play with my current (Suntour) 5 speed freewheel?
  • Is there a way to stop a 7 speed shift at the 5th click (and will that even work with a 5 speed setup)?
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Old 11-09-22, 11:52 AM
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2x5 (the number of chainrings goes first) brifter system? Never heard of such a thing.
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Old 11-09-22, 12:53 PM
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Look and see if MIcroshift has an all friction option. I've never used any MIcroshift but then I"ve never used brifters and only index while I could run the SunTour Command shifters with SunTour FWs (and went bact to DT after so-so indexing with Sram FWs).

The framebuilder I've worked a lot with has set up more than a few bikes with Microshift which suggests to me it has some worth.
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Old 11-09-22, 01:12 PM
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Yeah, I did a five-speed + brifter setup some years back.

I used a NOS Sachs seven-speed freewheel, 'cause the Sachs was just a five-speed body with two smaller cogs cantilever off the end. I unscrewed 'em. I paired this with Shimano seven-speed brifters.

Worked great.

You don't have to 'keep track'. When the derailleur hits its stop, it'll quit shifting gears in that direction.
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Old 11-09-22, 01:15 PM
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If you are wanting more modern shifting on the drop bars similar to Shimano STI's, then I've never seen anything for a 2 x 5 bike. If your rear spacing is 130 mm you can put anything from 7 speed to 11 speed on the rear. However your Nishiki might only be 126mm between the drops, but that can be spread to 130 mm usually on a steel bike. Google up cold setting a bicycle frame.

If this is a touring bike and you actually use it for touring with paniers loaded to the gills, then you might want to consider 3x on the front too.

Don't try to mix and match components if you aren't experienced with understanding the spec's or even being able to find the spec's. Get everything from the same group set. And for certain don't try to use 7 speed dual control levers with a 5 speed rear.
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Old 11-09-22, 01:18 PM
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I think there are other better shifter options that will move the shifting closer to your hands, but still allow for the gearing that you have: Stem mounted shifters, bar-end shifters, plain, old bar-mounted thumb shifters, and some companies make thumb-like shifters that mount on the front of brake levers giving you something very close to "brifters"...all of these are available with friction shifting that is compatible with any number of speeds.

If the bike has sentimental value, updating the wheels, drivetrain shifters and brakes won't change the basic nature of the bike, which is the frame and geometry, in my opinion.

I'm 60, and have one old Nishiki with downtube shifters, and I feel that if reaching down to shift is becoming a problem, then swinging a leg over the seat, or a high, horizontal top tube may become an issue soon as well. You may want to look at a newer touring bike, already with brifters and maybe a lower, sloping top-tune, or even a mixte or step-throough.

Even if you went touring on a new, newer or different bike, it would still have the same motor that took you touring all these years.
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Old 11-09-22, 03:46 PM
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Thanks all.
Sloping tube frame bike? I'll die on the road first

The downtube shifting has become more a mental than physical issue for me. I used to have no fear of crashing when I was young and invincible, now I don't like taking one hand off the bars, especially when the bike's loaded down with panniers, tent, sleeping bag, etc. and is less than stable.

And truth be told, it is an awfully tall frame, and getting the leg over is becoming tougher.

So I see a couple of options:

Find a Sachs new old stock (NOS?) 7 speed freewheel and use 2x7 brifters, relying on the derailleur stops to keep from jumping off the freewheel on one end or the other. I assume I'll need a 7 speed chain for this? Is the 5,6 and 7 speed chain all the same? (BTW, if the Sachs 7 speed freewheel is the same width as a old school 5 speed freewheel, why did you even bother to take of the other two cogs rather than leave them on?)

Upgrade to a 7 speed drivetrain, but what is this 126 vs 130mm measurement? from the inside of the dropouts? I can use a caliper to measure both dropout-to-dropout and axle length. Is that what you're talking about.

And I checked out Microshift and they don't show a friction brifter, though they do mention bar-end shifters, which a a classic option I guess I could go with in lieu of brifters (my first real bike, a Raleigh Super Course, had bar end shifters, but that bike got stolen while I was in college, ergo the Nishiki).
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Old 11-09-22, 03:47 PM
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Surprised nobody has mentioned this https://www.gevenalle.com/product/audax/ but these are what you probably want. You are not going to find a 2X5 integrated brake/shifter and 2x7 is of no real quality these days and you would want to find a 7 speed cassette which would require a new wheel and doing a lot more work that is a pain. However the Gevenalle gives you the reliability of those downtube friction shifters with the convenience of the all in one package with I think better shifting. With STI and similar levers you cannot really sweep your freewheel or cassette as one might do with down tube or bar end shifters but you don't have to take your hands off the brakes to shift with Gevenalle you can do both.
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Old 11-09-22, 03:53 PM
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These are pretty clever. Not click-shift, but doesn't require me doing anything on the drivetrain.
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Old 11-09-22, 04:12 PM
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Originally Posted by austinbikebill View Post
These are pretty clever. Not click-shift, but doesn't require me doing anything on the drivetrain.
No you will unlikely find indexed 5 speed stuff. I am sure someone has made something over the years but in the end I prefer a friction front derailleur anyway which all the integrated stuff generally gets rid of. The rear I don't mind friction and certainly is nice so I don't have to worry about it and just need to make sure the limits are good and don't have to be as precise.
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Old 11-09-22, 07:04 PM
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Look at Suntour Command shifters.
Command Shifters ?

And the Dia Compe
https://www.diacompe.com.tw/product/ene-wing-shifter/
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Old 11-09-22, 07:07 PM
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Get some bar-cons. Sometimes called bar-end. They work great.

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Old 11-10-22, 06:52 AM
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Originally Posted by veganbikes View Post
Surprised nobody has mentioned this https://www.gevenalle.com/product/audax/ but these are what you probably want. You are not going to find a 2X5 integrated brake/shifter and 2x7 is of no real quality these days and you would want to find a 7 speed cassette which would require a new wheel and doing a lot more work that is a pain. However the Gevenalle gives you the reliability of those downtube friction shifters with the convenience of the all in one package with I think better shifting. With STI and similar levers you cannot really sweep your freewheel or cassette as one might do with down tube or bar end shifters but you don't have to take your hands off the brakes to shift with Gevenalle you can do both.
I mentioned it: "and some companies make thumb-like shifters that mount on the front of brake levers giving you something very close to "brifters"..."
I guess I wasn't clear or specific enough. Story of my life.
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Old 11-10-22, 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by austinbikebill View Post
if the Sachs 7 speed freewheel is the same width as a old school 5 speed freewheel...
It's not. It's wider.
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Old 11-10-22, 07:28 AM
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Bike not stable when fully loaded? Sounds like it could be a weight distribution issue. Or total weight issue. This thing is quite stable. Iíve even taken it on unpaved mountain passes.


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Old 11-10-22, 07:37 AM
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Has the rear DO spacing been determined yet? If 120, the rear spacing has to be spread. If 126, 7 will work. If the hub accepts a freewheel, then get a 7 speed freewheel and use the 7 speed STIs. Better option is to get a 7 speed rear freehub that works with shimano Hyperglide cassettes. Or your can get a 126 spaced Uniglide freehub and change the freehub body to one that accepts Hyperglide cassettes. You'll have access to the current cassette products made for Hyperglide hubs.
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Old 11-10-22, 08:39 AM
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New bike time?

I went through this drill with a 3X6 1983 Specialized Expedition with downtube friction shifters. It is a great 58 cm touring bike but now is too large for me (I'm 76), so last year I bought a used 54 cm 3x8 Trek 520 (circa 2000), which turned out to be unstable for loaded touring due to steering geometry. I monkeyed around with components on both bikes but never got what I wanted. But I did get experience with a cassette rather than a freewheel, and also found I liked the Trek bar end shifters indexed for the rear derailleur. Both had horizontal top tubes and I started looking for that (and stable steering) in another bike, finding nothing of recent vintage. In desperation, because it was available, I bought a new 54 cm Trek 520 Grando, 2X10, both brakeshifters indexed, slanted top tube, and mechanical disc brakes (I remain a cantilever fan). To my surprise, I found the shifting was superb, perfect for touring. Stable performance whether loaded or not - straight-ahead steering. The bike pretty much tends itself and lets me rubberneck the scenery when I want. The brakeshifters allow me to make much greater use of the gears (my son says brakeshifters are like the controls in a video game), and the mechanical disc brakes do the job without inordinate maintenance overhead (so far, although removing and replacing wheels is more of a chore). The slanted top tube offends me as does the stubby frame that's designed for disc brakes, but I can't fault the results.


Bottom line is, I wish I'd had this bike 10 years ago, rather than trying to adjust an older frame to match current needs. Changing out a cassette is far, far easier than replacing a freewheel, changing stems and other components is easier and you'll have more time to tour and more enjoyment when you do.

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Old 11-10-22, 08:48 AM
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The Gevenalle stuff is quality - I was really happy with it although replaced with modern Shimano stuff some years down the line - and is probably the best solution because the alternatives invariably mean cold setting the frame.

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Old 11-10-22, 09:18 AM
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Originally Posted by veganbikes View Post
Surprised nobody has mentioned this https://www.gevenalle.com/product/audax/ but these are what you probably want. You are not going to find a 2X5 integrated brake/shifter and 2x7 is of no real quality these days and you would want to find a 7 speed cassette which would require a new wheel and doing a lot more work that is a pain. However the Gevenalle gives you the reliability of those downtube friction shifters with the convenience of the all in one package with I think better shifting. With STI and similar levers you cannot really sweep your freewheel or cassette as one might do with down tube or bar end shifters but you don't have to take your hands off the brakes to shift with Gevenalle you can do both.
Thanks. Gevenalle was what I meant, not Microchift. And it is Gevenalle that that framebuilder I know has used.
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Old 11-10-22, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by austinbikebill View Post



So wondering about a couple of things:
  • Does anyone know where I might get 5x2 brake shifters?
  • Is there a "narrow-ish" 7 speed freewheel that would be a plug-and-play with my current (Suntour) 5 speed freewheel?
  • Is there a way to stop a 7 speed shift at the 5th click (and will that even work with a 5 speed setup)?
1. 5 speed brifters (brakes + shifters) do not exist. You might be able to kludge some together by using gevenalle audax mounts and sun tour accushift 6 speed index downtube shifters. These would pull cable at 5.5 mm per position and you could lock out the last position using the low limit stop on the derailleur. This assumes that suntour 6 speed accushift would mount to the same boss as a 7 speed shimano because that is what the gevenalle mount supports. You need to figure if they are compatible before spending any money. You might also be able to use a 6 speed shimano light action shifter. I believe it pulls 5.5 mm per position but not sure. Also not sure if it would work with the shimano 7 speed compatible boss in the gevenalle audax mounts.

2. There is no narrowish 7 speed freewheel that would replace a 5 speed normal freewheel. There is a 6 speed ultra 6 freewheel that might and it has the same cog to cog spacing as shimano 7 speed. So theoretically you could kludge 7 speed shimano downtubes with the gevenalle mounts and an ultra 6 freewheel and set the low limit to lock out the 7th position. You would be at the mercy of the collector market's for getting the ultra 6 freewheels though as I don't think they are in production any more.

3. There is no way to use 7 speed indexing with a 5 speed freewheel. The spacing between cogs is different and so indexing doesn't work.

I derived all these answers from this helpful sheldon brown crib sheet:
https://sheldonbrown.com/cribsheet-spacing.html

Last edited by kommisar; 11-10-22 at 11:44 AM.
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Old 11-10-22, 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by BobbyG View Post
I mentioned it: "and some companies make thumb-like shifters that mount on the front of brake levers giving you something very close to "brifters"..."
I guess I wasn't clear or specific enough. Story of my life.
It happens. They are fantastic integrated levers. If they could do a more comfortable lever like a SRAM S500 or TRP RRL or something they would have even more gold.
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Old 11-10-22, 12:41 PM
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.
...you are talking about two different things in your question. One is getting the shifting up off the down tube, which is pretty easily accomplished using either Suntour or Shimano (or maybe even Microshift) bar ends. The other is a conversion to indexed shifting, which is going to be more expensive, and somewhat more complicated. At a minimum, for indexed shifting, you will need to replace the rear derailleur to something with some float on the top pulley wheel. IIRC, the spacing with five and six speed freewheel cogs is about the same between the cogs, but as others have pointed out, bikes made and sold with 5 cog freewheels mostly had 120mm rear dropout spacing. Six and seven cogged frames are spaced at 126mm.

You don't really get more gear range with more cogs in the back. For my needs, a touring bike is all about gear range overall, not the number of gears from which you have to choose. Most of my touring bikes are set up with a triple in front, and a reasonable rear cog selection that goes from about 14-28. I guess if you really need brifters to be happy, you might be able to scare up some used that will sort of work, but they will likely be older and in questionable condition.

For total gear range and ease of use, it's pretty hard to beat Suntour ratcheting barcons with a triple in front, the small ring sized as a granny gear. But you'll probably need a different crank or a tripleizer ring for that, as well as a new rear derailleur with a long cage to take up all that slack in the chain. That's more ooor less what I have done for my own riding on bikes of the same age as yours.


Edit: I see now you mentioned it is "an old Nishiki touring bike", so you might already have a triple crank and a rear derailleur with a long enough cage. In that case, find some Suntour barcons used somewhere and try them out as your first step. It's a minimal investment, they work well, and they might be enough to solve your problem. Brifters are a mixed blessing for touring, because if something goes tits up with them, they can be difficult to repair on the road. Suntour barcons are pretty bombproof, and the cables are easy to access for replacement.
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Old 11-10-22, 01:34 PM
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Like the front-rear pannier setup, and agree that front panniers help to balance things: used them on my first four tours.

I used to have Bike Nashbar branded front panniers (and the Nishiki still has a front rack) -- 1980 vintage (my rears are 1980 vintage Cannondales that still have some use left in them) -- but sold them them along with a Cannondale fat frame mountain bike (branded by LL Bean) to a Peace Corp kid in Nairobi after I had finished a tour of Africa in '89 on it (sold the well-worn LLBean-Cannondale for four times what I had spent for it -- it was clearance super markdown at the LL store in Freeport, so I bought two, one for me and the other for the buddy teaching at U. of Nairobi that coaxed me into the ride -- mountain bikes, much less aluminum ones, were super rare in sub-Saharan Africa back then and hit with huge import duties (my friend knew someone at the airport that got the bikes around customs), ergo the large premium, actually had a bidding war for it in the Nairobi regional Peace Corps office, felt bad about how high the price got so threw in the front panniers and my tool roll to the winner. I miss that tool roll.

Lot's of memories when your are only going 12-15mph.

Really appreciate all the advice so far, boy has the technology changed (guessing campy isn't state-of-art any more).

I wanted go full 21st century with the brifters, but maybe late 20th century friction (analog) bar end shifters are a good compromise -- though I thought they'd be $20-40 for a set, not $100+.

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Old 11-10-22, 01:41 PM
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Originally Posted by 3alarmer View Post
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...you are talking about two different things in your question. One is getting the shifting up off the down tube, which is pretty easily accomplished using either Suntour or Shimano (or maybe even Microshift) bar ends. The other is a conversion to indexed shifting, which is going to be more expensive, and somewhat more complicated. At a minimum, for indexed shifting, you will need to replace the rear derailleur to something with some float on the top pulley wheel. IIRC, the spacing with five and six speed freewheel cogs is about the same between the cogs, but as others have pointed out, bikes made and sold with 5 cog freewheels mostly had 120mm rear dropout spacing. Six and seven cogged frames are spaced at 126mm.

You don't really get more gear range with more cogs in the back. For my needs, a touring bike is all about gear range overall, not the number of gears from which you have to choose. Most of my touring bikes are set up with a triple in front, and a reasonable rear cog selection that goes from about 14-28. I guess if you really need brifters to be happy, you might be able to scare up some used that will sort of work, but they will likely be older and in questionable condition.

For total gear range and ease of use, it's pretty hard to beat Suntour ratcheting barcons with a triple in front, the small ring sized as a granny gear. But you'll probably need a different crank or a tripleizer ring for that, as well as a new rear derailleur with a long cage to take up all that slack in the chain. That's more ooor less what I have done for my own riding on bikes of the same age as yours.


Edit: I see now you mentioned it is "an old Nishiki touring bike", so you might already have a triple crank and a rear derailleur with a long enough cage. In that case, find some Suntour barcons used somewhere and try them out as your first step. It's a minimal investment, they work well, and they might be enough to solve your problem. Brifters are a mixed blessing for touring, because if something goes tits up with them, they can be difficult to repair on the road. Suntour barcons are pretty bombproof, and the cables are easy to access for replacement.
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Only have two rings on front and happy with that, don't want to mess with the front crank -- I've done bunches of miles and lots of climbs with just 10 speeds (my biggest continuous climb ever fully loaded was 33 miles from Shell to Granite Pass, WY -- 17 miles of 10%, 16 miles of 7% grade over the Big Horns -- also longest day I've ever done: 150+ miles from Cody to Sheridan, WY).
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Old 11-10-22, 01:56 PM
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70sSanO
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Yes you can, but it depends on the 5 speed freewheel, the max cog you are running (more below), and how much you are willing to spend to get there.

Once upon a time Shimano made the 74XX SIS rear derailleur with an actuation rate of 1.9:1 instead of the SIS standard 1:7:1. This meant that the cable pull for DA 74XX downtube and eventual STI shifters pulled less cable to work with 6, 7, and 8 speed Shimano freewheels and cassettes. It also meant that non-DA downtube and STI shifters that pulled more cable opened up some interesting index shifting possibilities.

It starts with Sheldon Brown's freewheel and cassette spacing cribsheet.
https://www.sheldonbrown.com/cribsheet-spacing.html

There used to be a blog by Art's Cyclery "The Science Behind the Magic" that is no longer up that gave the cable pull for SIS shifters.
The old alternative was Cycling UK's Guide to Rear Shifting
https://www.cyclinguk.org/cyclists-l...gears/shimergo

If you are running a 28T or less max sprocket on a 5 speed freewheel it does open up the possibility of a 7 speed SIS shifter (7 speed STI/brifters, Bar end, Bar end on a Grenevelle, 7 speed SIS thumbshifter, or even a 7 speed SIS downtube shifter on Kelly Takeoffs that are hard to find) as the math Shimano SIS 7 speed cable pull 2.9mm X 1.9 actuation ratio gets you to a 5.51 5 speed spacing. The worst case 2 decimal calculation of 2.94 X 1.9 equals 5.58. The .003" per shift over 4 cogs is probably negligible and within the Centeron pulley slop. Again the caveat is a 28t max pulley which is 2t over spec and probably achievable on an '82 Nishiki touring bike with horizontal dropouts.

If you go to a larger max cog, you might be able to use the much maligned Wolftooth Road Link. With a 5 speed and a 14t small and 32t large cog and a 50t/40t chaining or any other 10t chainring difference you are at a capacity of 28t which happens to be within a Dura Ace 74XX spec. In your setup I really doubt a noticeable drop in 'shift performance'.

John

Edit added: You will only use 5 of the 7 SIS shift positions on a 2x5 setup.

Last edited by 70sSanO; 11-10-22 at 02:06 PM.
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