Shifting with downtube shifters

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Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby bychosis » Mon Jul 16, 2012 10:10 am

So this morning was my first commute on a retro roadie, nothing special a well used Europa hi-ten steel, assembled over the weekend with new 700c wheels and leftover MTB pedals/saddle. It's a long time since I've ridden a roadie let alone a bike with friction shifters. I am so used to having indexed thumb shifters on my MTBs that I am always changing gears for the terrain it's so easy to do.

This being the font of knowledge for retro biking I though I might ask, other than practice, are there any tips for shifting gears with non indexed downtube shifters? Or, like this morning, do you just avoid changing gears unless absolutely necessary then take ages to make the gears run nicely. Trimming the gears seems like not a lot of fun.

Edit: should add I am reasonably comfortable with reaching down to the shifter, just not good at the shifting bit yet.
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by BNA » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:41 am

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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby familyguy » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:41 am

Practice, practice, practice. I do find leaving myself leaving my DT shifting bike in gears longer than I do with my other STI-equipped bikes. It's indexed, but non-indexed I'm pretty sure I'd do the same.

Just don't over-reach. Spokey fingers aren't fun on cold mornings.

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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby frailer5 » Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:54 pm

... and what familyguy says. I have the opposite problem. Just got my 1st STI bike a few months back. Keep reaching for the DT levers.
What's the setup on it? Make/model of RD? Some friction (pre-indexed) shifted better than others. Forgive me, I've just read The Good Book :lol:
I was spoiled with friction shifters. Had a SunTour VxGT, then went to a Huret Duopar, which shifted almost too well for a pre-index.
But it's amazing how quickly you will adjust to just correcting any over-shift, until you hear no chain-side-rub noise. It will become, well, like riding a bicycle.... :D You may even get to enjoy it.
It's amazing that, according to Berto, no-one had narrowed down the critical factor; i.e. chain-gap... the distance between the top pulley wheel and the next cog in line, particularly for downshifts (to larger ones). It had been a head-banger until that became clear. Tooth shape, variations in same, 'ramps', all that came into it, but chain gap was the 'thing'.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby cray- » Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:56 pm

+1 Practice. My old Nishiki has friction shifters (no indexing) and after a bit of use, gear selection becomes second nature and I rarely have to trim. You just get a feel for it, slot the gear in and then move the lever back just a smidge. I do find myself shifting less often, but I guess it depends how strong a rider you are and the type of terrain. You'll also learn to look further up the road and plan ahead as you don't want to be changing mid climb. Good luck, have fun!
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby frailer5 » Mon Jul 16, 2012 3:05 pm

cray- wrote:+1 Practice. My old Nishiki has friction shifters (no indexing) and after a bit of use, gear selection becomes second nature and I rarely have to trim. You just get a feel for it, slot the gear in and then move the lever back just a smidge. I do find myself shifting less often, but I guess it depends how strong a rider you are and the type of terrain. You'll also learn to look further up the road and plan ahead as you don't want to be changing mid climb. Good luck, have fun!


Which makes the point of how 2nd nature it is... had forgotten I did that. :D

edit:.... bychosis, to make you feel a bit better, this from Mr. Berto, as tripped over in this evening's chapter on How RDs Work

...Many of today's cyclists, with less than 15 years experience, are spoiled rotten. They have never learned how to operate a friction-shifting derailleur.
When you shifted back in the good old days, you eased back on the pedaling force and then pushed the lever an appropriate distance until something happened in the back. During many shifts, the chain would ride on the destination sprocket for a bit, and then settle down into engagement. If there was a noise in the back, you moved the lever to quiet the complaining. If you were having a bad day, your companion would say "Grind me a pound while you're at it"


Feel better? :lol:
Last edited by frailer5 on Mon Jul 16, 2012 9:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby bychosis » Mon Jul 16, 2012 9:23 pm

frailer5 wrote:
cray- wrote:+1 Practice.... You just get a feel for it, slot the gear in and then move the lever back just a smidge....


Thanks, the tip in red seemed to help on the way home this arvo.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby Stuey » Mon Jul 16, 2012 9:58 pm

I rode a department store special to school which had Suntour Spirt/Honor derailleurs (yes, not Sprint or Spirit). I got so used to flicking through the gears very quickly while accelerating I barely had to trim them ever. As the others have said - practice. In the end you know just how far to deftly flick the lever. Of course, it was easier on a five speed rear cluster.

And get the centre screw of the lever not too tight and not too loose, and well lubed.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby cray- » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:32 pm

bychosis wrote:
frailer5 wrote:
cray- wrote:+1 Practice.... You just get a feel for it, slot the gear in and then move the lever back just a smidge....
Thanks, the tip in red seemed to help on the way home this arvo.

Basic logic here is that the deraileur is physically pushing the chain up/down enough to snag the next cog, so once it slots in you need back it off so that it's no longer rubbing the cage/jockey wheels/etc. and running smoothly down the middle.

That's my understanding of it anyway. I'm sure there is more than one book out there that describes the workings of a deraileur in absolutely rediculous detail, but none of them grace my coffee table.

Just keep riding, You'll get the hang of it in no time.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby cray- » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:38 pm

Stuey wrote:And get the centre screw of the lever not too tight and not too loose, and well lubed.

Good tip, some adjust with a little fold out loop on the thread, unfortunately mine require an allenkey which is often the only thing I carry with me. Every now & again it will loosen itself to the point that the lever is no longer able to keep the cable tensioned. This means that the deraileur stays down at the bottom end of it's travel and you're stuck on the small cog. Not so good if you've got any kind of inclines on the way home.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby bigfriendlyvegan » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:20 am

Like the other DT friction veterans, I don't even think about it now and I can hit the right cog every time. You will also get really good at positioning your knees, pausing, shifting and pedalling again without thinking about it. The biggest benefit for me with DT shifters and my commuter is (and this has happened several times) when I need to change a wheel, I can do it without worrying about adjusting my derailleur. This means that if I wake up in the morning and I have a slow overnight flat, I can swap my daughter's rear wheel in and be on my way in a minute. Similarly, if I break a spoke I don't need to worry about fixing it until the weekend, I can just swap the wheel out. Now here's the kicker - I can put a 6, 7, 8 or 9 speed wheel in and it will work. I run a 9 speed chain and it all just works.

While I really do like STI shifters, my commuter will probably always have DT friction shifters just for the convenience of it.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby WyvernRH » Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:23 am

And just to make you happier the amount and type of 'feel' needed change with each derailleur/gear combo you use. I find that the Suntour retrofriction levers plus any Suntour gear is basically instinctive but when I move to another bike with pre slant parallelogram Shimano or Campag the overshift and trimming is more extensive, requiring more attention.
However, as is mentioned above, you adapt quickly and after 5 mins all is smooth. Changing cleanly on gears from the 40's and 50's can be a bit of an art form tho :)
When you get really good you can try the 'Alpine Change' where you move both left and right levers simultaneously with the right hand to change down (in) at the front and up (out) at the back (or vice-verse). :wink:
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby bychosis » Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:16 am

Great info, working better already this morning. I love that you can switch up cassettes easily, although it appears my nice looking rear mech won't work with the full range of gears. I have a 7 spd cassette plus spacer on the 8/9 hub with the existing 6spd derailleur and it won't shift into the biggest cog. Limit screw backed off and the design of the derailleur will not push far enough in. Oh well, looks like concrete for breakfast.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby koen » Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:32 am

cray- wrote:
Stuey wrote:And get the centre screw of the lever not too tight and not too loose, and well lubed.

Good tip, some adjust with a little fold out loop on the thread, unfortunately mine require an allenkey which is often the only thing I carry with me. Every now & again it will loosen itself to the point that the lever is no longer able to keep the cable tensioned.....


Just a curious side note. One day I was complaining of this loosening on my old campag shifters and friend from Europe who was a pro many years ago said that it always happens and they just pulled the screw out and rubbed the thread around on some concrette for a while to "make it grip". This story kind of affirms the idea that as much ,as I love campag, nobody really used their imagination (in order to realise it could be better) and got to making a better shifting system for a long time. I suppose good gears really doesn't make cycling that much more fun but they do make it a bit easier for beginners.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby ldrcycles » Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:35 am

WyvernRH wrote: I find that the Suntour retrofriction levers plus any Suntour gear is basically instinctive


A big +1 for this, SunTour power shifters with a Cyclone derailleur is the best friction shifting i've used yet. And SunTour freewheels are MUCH smoother shifting than Shimano (Maillard is good too but not really common).
I had a flatbar for a while with a Shimano Tourney rear derailleur, changing the Shimano levers for SunTour power shifters made an extraordinary difference.

Practice makes perfect, i would only race with STI but for just riding around i really like downtube shifters.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby marc2131 » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:44 am

There are definitely downsides to DT shifting. I commute on busy Sydney roads and having finger shifting or twist shifting gives one a huge advantage. For one, am able to accelerate while shifting, not having to think ahead.
However if you do a regular commute, you'd pretty much shift to what you need before you need to. However the convenience is a luxury.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby WyvernRH » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:59 am

koen wrote:Just a curious side note. One day I was complaining of this loosening on my old campag shifters and friend from Europe who was a pro many years ago said that it always happens and they just pulled the screw out and rubbed the thread around on some concrette for a while to "make it grip". This story kind of affirms the idea that as much ,as I love campag, nobody really used their imagination (in order to realise it could be better) and got to making a better shifting system for a long time. I suppose good gears really doesn't make cycling that much more fun but they do make it a bit easier for beginners.


Yes, I was told of this old trick way back and my response was 'Haven't you chaps heard of soft Loctite?' :P
The other trick with Campag levers was to roughen up the shiny faces of the lever drum to add friction to the unit. Where I worked we used a fine grade emery paper that was on plastic film instead of paper so we could use it under water (don't ask...) If you cut a disk out of this stuff and placed it inside between the lever and the lever mount plate it added just the right amount of friction - until it wore out after a few months and had to be replaced but you got a decades worth out of one sheet :)
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby HappyHumber » Tue Jul 17, 2012 12:21 pm

bychosis wrote:Great info, working better already this morning. I love that you can switch up cassettes easily, although it appears my nice looking rear mech won't work with the full range of gears. I have a 7 spd cassette plus spacer on the 8/9 hub with the existing 6spd derailleur and it won't shift into the biggest cog. Limit screw backed off and the design of the derailleur will not push far enough in. Oh well, looks like concrete for breakfast.


The throw of the older 6speed derailleur is a bit less than newer units; up past the 7 or 8 speed mark. They adjusted the wheel locknut spacings to cram more sprockets in there - but the shifting range got a bit wider to. I found this out with my 6/7 speed era Durace 7200 RD. when I went to put on in a 9speed wheel and cluster - it gave me the same problem you described. Downgraded to a later 105 RD, meant for the 9speed - and it was perfect. But I'm still using DT friction shifting on the 9speed cassette. :D I'm not racing. I don't care. ;)
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby frailer5 » Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:25 pm

WyvernRH wrote: I find that the Suntour retrofriction levers plus any Suntour gear is basically instinctive
Richard

So True. Huret's DuoPar was the sole exception. Shimano, Campagnolo and the others must have been sweating on the slant parallelogram patent expiry. Then it was up to their marketing departments to try and conceal the copying thereof. :lol:
Good info, bigfriendlyvegan.
Last edited by frailer5 on Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby Stuey » Tue Jul 17, 2012 3:16 pm

bigfriendlyvegan wrote:Like the other DT friction veterans, I don't even think about it now and I can hit the right cog every time. You will also get really good at positioning your knees, pausing, shifting and pedalling again without thinking about it...


Good point there. I also got used to just easing off on the chain tension while pedalling and flicking the lever for the RD and the chain would just go 'snick' between gears.

I still remember reading the Suntour 'Slant Parallellogram' owners booklet that came with the bike (I was about 13) but didn't realise it was a special system. It did work really well though. This was where I learned to adjust derailleurs, from that book and trial and error.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby teamex » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:28 pm

out of curiosity... is there any argument for adding indexing to the dt shifters?
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby WyvernRH » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:44 pm

teamex wrote:out of curiosity... is there any argument for adding indexing to the dt shifters?


Well, Indexing actually started off on downtube levers, back in the bad/good old days before brifters. As far as I know for road bikes SunTour indexing only exists in downtube levers (oh and those weird wishbone levers that fit by the brake levers). My Paino has a 7 speed Shimano 600 gear train with downtube levers. Big advantage is you can switch the indexing off if you have mechanical problems and it is only on the rear derailleur. IMHO indexing the front changer on a road bike is close on to the biggest waste of technology ever.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby Big_Red » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:52 pm

I'd have thought that indexing on DT shifters would be limiting as you are constrained to only using a freewheel or cassette with the sprockets a particular distance from each other. I'm considering getting a new wheelset for my old Paconi, which will result in a replacement of the suntour 6sp freewheel with a shimano 9 speed (casette) and relish the fact that it'll be just a swap of the wheels to achieve as the trimming between the gears is all manual.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby bigfriendlyvegan » Thu Aug 16, 2012 6:44 pm

Big_Red wrote:I'd have thought that indexing on DT shifters would be limiting as you are constrained to only using a freewheel or cassette with the sprockets a particular distance from each other. I'm considering getting a new wheelset for my old Paconi, which will result in a replacement of the suntour 6sp freewheel with a shimano 9 speed (casette) and relish the fact that it'll be just a swap of the wheels to achieve as the trimming between the gears is all manual.


Agree. Friction shifters are better, in my opinion.
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby ldrcycles » Thu Aug 16, 2012 8:36 pm

WyvernRH" IMHO indexing the front changer on a road bike is close on to the biggest waste of technology ever.
[/quote]

Agreed. Just completely unnecessary. As for indexing on the rear though, i REALLY like indexed DT shifters, they combine the simplicity of DT shifters with the laziness of indexing :) . And having ridden both Shimano and SunTour, IMO SunTour indexing was MUCH nicer, had a much more positive feel to it. The Exage 400EX and 300EX that i'm very familiar with does do a good job though.

[quote="ldrcycles wrote:
i would only race with STI


Funnily enough i did a criterium a week or so after i posted that, on my Mercier with it's friction DT shifters. Was only out of necessity but the old girl did a damn good job!
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Re: Shifting with downtube shifters

Postby bigfriendlyvegan » Thu Aug 16, 2012 8:53 pm

ldrcycles wrote:
WyvernRH wrote: IMHO indexing the front changer on a road bike is close on to the biggest waste of technology ever.


Agreed. Just completely unnecessary. As for indexing on the rear though, i REALLY like indexed DT shifters, they combine the simplicity of DT shifters with the laziness of indexing :) . And having ridden both Shimano and SunTour, IMO SunTour indexing was MUCH nicer, had a much more positive feel to it. The Exage 400EX and 300EX that i'm very familiar with does do a good job though.

ldrcycles wrote: i would only race with STI


Funnily enough i did a criterium a week or so after i posted that, on my Mercier with it's friction DT shifters. Was only out of necessity but the old girl did a damn good job!


Yeah, I don't know how anyone even raced before the 90s when STI was invented. :roll:
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