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Shifters on the downtube...why?

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Shifters on the downtube...why?

Old 01-18-15, 11:26 AM
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Shifters on the downtube...why?

When I was browsing craigslist for my first road bike, I noticed a lot of older bikes with shifters on the downtube.

Why?

I just can't understand why they'd ever put them there. They seem incredibly difficult to access compared to any other style shifter I've seen. Why would they put them in a spot where you have to take a hand off your handlebars to shift, when there are numerous styles without that drawback? What possible advantage does this style have over literally every other common style from the past 4 decades?
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Old 01-18-15, 11:33 AM
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People used to be more flexible!


or, they just had not figured out a more convenient location, because all that is modern is evil.
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Old 01-18-15, 11:34 AM
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It's a clean, simple elegant place for the shifters. I still have a bike with downtube shifters. If you have the chance, you should try riding a bike with them sometime. I think you'd be surprised.
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Old 01-18-15, 11:34 AM
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It was the style of racing bikes back in the day. Road bikes from the era were built for riding in the drops, so it might have been more efficient to reach down to the downtube than to reach up to the handlebars or top bar to shift. Fwiw, vintage touring bikes sometimes came with bar end shifters, which are still available on touring bikes. And recreational 10 speeds had stem shifters which worked better for riders who mostly rode on the tops or hoods.

Last edited by MRT2; 01-18-15 at 11:37 AM.
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Old 01-18-15, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by ljsense View Post
It's a clean, simple elegant place for the shifters. I still have a bike with downtube shifters. If you have the chance, you should try riding a bike with them sometime. I think you'd be surprised.
I tried it for a few years, but much prefer brifters. I love vintage, but downtube shifters are not for me.
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Old 01-18-15, 11:41 AM
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It was much simpler and made a much more direct connection with the derailleurs without all the extra curves of cable and housing (heck, FD didn't even need housing).
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Old 01-18-15, 11:43 AM
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If you take brake/shift levers out of the equation, which are an obvious step forward, I think downtube shifters are as good as anything.

First, the front derailleur cable has no housing, just a bend at the bottom bracket. The rear derailleur has one section of housing from the chainstay to the derailleur. The reach to the levers is less than the reach to a water bottle. So if you're able to access your water bottle, you can easily reach your shifter.

If taking one hand off the bars is a deal braker, explain a shifting system of that era that didn't at least occasionally require this? Bar end shifters are often ridden by riders who don't spend all their time in the drops. Stem mounted shifters will always require lifting a hand. What other options did you have in mind?
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Old 01-18-15, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by ljsense View Post
If you take brake/shift levers out of the equation, which are an obvious step forward, I think downtube shifters are as good as anything.

First, the front derailleur cable has no housing, just a bend at the bottom bracket. The rear derailleur has one section of housing from the chainstay to the derailleur. The reach to the levers is less than the reach to a water bottle. So if you're able to access your water bottle, you can easily reach your shifter.

If taking one hand off the bars is a deal braker, explain a shifting system of that era that didn't at least occasionally require this? Bar end shifters are often ridden by riders who don't spend all their time in the drops. Stem mounted shifters will always require lifting a hand. What other options did you have in mind?
Old school handlebar mounted 3 speed shifters?
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Old 01-18-15, 12:06 PM
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This system was tough to work mid sprint:

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Old 01-18-15, 12:14 PM
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Originally Posted by ljsense View Post
If you take brake/shift levers out of the equation, which are an obvious step forward, I think downtube shifters are as good as anything.

First, the front derailleur cable has no housing, just a bend at the bottom bracket. The rear derailleur has one section of housing from the chainstay to the derailleur. The reach to the levers is less than the reach to a water bottle. So if you're able to access your water bottle, you can easily reach your shifter.

If taking one hand off the bars is a deal braker, explain a shifting system of that era that didn't at least occasionally require this? Bar end shifters are often ridden by riders who don't spend all their time in the drops. Stem mounted shifters will always require lifting a hand. What other options did you have in mind?
All of the above + this: I used to adjust both derailleurs with my right hand. I could trim my front derailleur while shifting the rear derailleur.
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Old 01-18-15, 12:42 PM
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I 've been told that the more skilled riders of yore were able to shift through the gears by clipping the right shifter with their knee during sprints/standing efforts
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Old 01-18-15, 12:44 PM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
It was much simpler and made a much more direct connection with the derailleurs without all the extra curves of cable and housing (heck, FD didn't even need housing).
Yes. The advantage to this was particularly evident in the days before die-drawn cables and teflon-lined housing.
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Old 01-18-15, 01:03 PM
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Originally Posted by ljsense View Post
This system was tough to work mid sprint:

OP, this was your only choice before downtube shifters. And before that I believe they had a cog on either side of the rear wheel, so to "shift", you had to get off your bike and flip the rear wheel around.

Other than integrated brake lever/shifters, what are the "numerous" other styles of shifters that let you shift without moving your hands from the handlebars? Stem shifters and bar end shifters still require you to move your hands from the default riding position.

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Old 01-18-15, 01:31 PM
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yes i have a raleigh flyer with the shifters on the down tube, i think it's a lot tidier than anything else... and when riding its not as if you have to lean forward to select a gear you just drop your arm to get to it.

maybe it saved a bit om weight too, compared to having the shifters on the stem or bar... hey it ain't much.. i know, just a thought
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Old 01-18-15, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Buffalo Buff View Post
When I was browsing craigslist for my first road bike, I noticed a lot of older bikes with shifters on the downtube.

Why?

I just can't understand why they'd ever put them there. They seem incredibly difficult to access compared to any other style shifter I've seen. Why would they put them in a spot where you have to take a hand off your handlebars to shift, when there are numerous styles without that drawback? What possible advantage does this style have over literally every other common style from the past 4 decades?
Is it "incredibly difficult" to grab for your water bottle while riding as well?
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Old 01-18-15, 01:54 PM
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I rode bikes with downtube shifters for years before brifters were developed. I must have been incredibly awesome to ride with such incredibly difficult shifting. Actually, though using brifters now, I'm still incredibly awesome. IMHO
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Old 01-18-15, 02:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Buffalo Buff View Post
What possible advantage does this style have over literally every other common style from the past 4 decades?
We obviously had No Idea of what we were doing, thanks for pointing it out.
A simple easy downward movement that does not cross the center line of balance and keeps the center of gravity low when riding in a fast paceline on indifferent surfaces is clearly a bad idea.
Short responsive cable lengths w/ a minimum of housing are a worse idea.

40 years ago what precisely were the superior designs "compared to any other style shifter I've seen"?
The Schwinn stem shifters perhaps?



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Old 01-18-15, 02:54 PM
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Downtube shifters are very simple pieces of equipment. If an SIS shifter breaks, it's usually tossed in the trash.
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Old 01-18-15, 03:30 PM
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I still use downtube shifters on my touring bike because they are simple, reliable, and work in indexed or friction mode. Derailleur a little out of whack? Need to make an emergency change to a different wheel or freewheel spacing? No problem! You can't do that with STI. That said, I'm a small guy, I can see where downtube shifters might be even more inconvenient for a tall guy, bar-ends with a friction option are the next best choice.
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Old 01-18-15, 03:35 PM
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Of the vintage bikes, there were 3 common locations.

Downtube
Stem
Bar Ends

Brifters involve much more engineering to get everything together and working right.

For the most part, the downtube shifters get them out of the way. They also have a direct cable path to both derailleurs, usually mostly, or completely without housings.

I put stem shifters on one bike, and am more likely to bump them than bumping the shifters when climbing than the downtube shifters. I would also think the stem shifters would be one more thing to crash into in a wreck. Bar end shifters are also a bit out of the way, and have a chance of getting bumped.

Anyway, when seated, the downtube shifters are easy to access, just reach down and they're right there. When standing, they are a bit more awkward. I have heard that people tend to shift more with the brifters than with the downtube shifters.

With downtube (or stem) shifters, it is easy to jump several gears to the desired gear, and one gets excellent feedback of which gear one is actually in without having to look back at the cluster or down to the chainrings (which may not be visible in the dark).
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Old 01-18-15, 03:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Buffalo Buff View Post
When I was browsing craigslist for my first road bike, I noticed a lot of older bikes with shifters on the downtube.

Why?

I just can't understand why they'd ever put them there. They seem incredibly difficult to access compared to any other style shifter I've seen. Why would they put them in a spot where you have to take a hand off your handlebars to shift, when there are numerous styles without that drawback? What possible advantage does this style have over literally every other common style from the past 4 decades?

You are looking at this backwards. DT shifters and parallelagram derailleurs were a huge step forward from the systems like the one shown above. They worked extremely well and were very reliable. They handled the increase of the number of cogs over the decades easily. They were not dependent on technology that hadn't been dreamed up yet (like low friction incompressible cable housings). Remember, Teflon wasn't even a concept yet.

And now? They still work, with any derailleur, chain and cogset out there with virtually no changes. Show me any other system that will work with whatever is out there in 20 years. Or that you can mix and match with anything. That survives routine crashes without hundreds of dollars of repairs. That is as light as anything out there. That is as reliable as anything out there. That anyone can break down and rebuild (but that may well go years or decades before it is ever needed).

All that is required to use them is a little learned skill. And once learned, it is like that old saying "like riding a bicycle", it never goes away. (Oh, but you have to remember that you have to plan ahead a little. A concept from a lost era.)

Another plus where racing was a way to escape generations of poverty for young men - your competitor couldn't reach over going in to a sprint and dump you into the wrong gear. (You never saw bar-end shifters on sprinter's bikes. And if the competitor tried you could knock his hand away with a sharp chop with yours. A tip I learned 35 years ago from folks who had raced at the amateur level in Europe.)

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Old 01-18-15, 04:12 PM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney View Post
And now? They still work, with any derailleur, chain and cogset out there with virtually no changes. Show me any other system that will work with whatever is out there in 20 years. Or that you can mix and match with anything. That survives routine crashes without hundreds of dollars of repairs. That is as light as anything out there. That is as reliable as anything out there. That anyone can break down and rebuild (but that may well go years or decades before it is ever needed).
Hmm.. My Campy shift levers have held up well over the years.
I did have a problem that the original levers were drilled, and weakened too much.

Then with the replacements, I managed to get 2 lefts levers, and no right lever. It has worked fine like that for years.

I have run them with 5spd, 6spd, 7spd, and 9spd without problem, although it may be dependent on getting the right shifter/derailleur match. To go back from 9 to 7 would just be a quick derailleur adjustment. I could probably squeeze in a 10 spd, but may not quite have enough cable pull for 11 spd. But really not bad for the flexibility, and exceeding the original design that may well be a half century old.

On another website there was a question about how long cable housings should last. I was of the opinion that a decade or two, perhaps longer if they are kept clean, dry, and without cuts, nicks, or kinks. Apparently the NEW housings hardly last a year. Scary thought with a half century of progress.


Originally Posted by 79pmooney View Post
Another plus where racing was a way to escape generations of poverty for young men - your competitor couldn't reach over going in to a sprint and dump you into the wrong gear. (You never saw bar-end shifters on sprinter's bikes. And if the competitor tried you could knock his hand away with a sharp chop with yours. A tip I learned 35 years ago from folks who had raced at the amateur level in Europe.)
Did people intentionally try to shift a competitor's bike? With the discussion of wireless shifters, I think that is a possibility, but then decided nah... nobody would try to hack their competitor's shifters... would they?
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Old 01-18-15, 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Looigi View Post
I rode bikes with downtube shifters for years before brifters were developed. I must have been incredibly awesome to ride with such incredibly difficult shifting. Actually, though using brifters now, I'm still incredibly awesome. IMHO
Me too!

I started riding with downtube shifters in the late 70s. I got a bicycle with brifters in 1999. I'm still not entirely convinced that they are better. I've actually considered going to a setup where I change my chainring with a downtube shifter and my cassette with a brifter ... apparently one or some of the TDF racers in relatively recent times use that setup.
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Old 01-18-15, 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Did people intentionally try to shift a competitor's bike?
In the >40 years I've been in and around road racing in the USA I've seen and felt a lot of contact, almost all unintentional, but Never anything remotely like that.
Someone must have been watching "Breaking Away" again........

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Old 01-18-15, 05:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka View Post
apparently one or some of the TDF racers in relatively recent times use that setup.
Some guy from Austin.
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