Wednesday, December 30, 2009


There seems to me something entirely genteel about the measured descent of the hand from the bars on down to the downtube to shift. There's also a certain grace in the mastery of friction shifting: no loud clacks from the shifter, no annoying click-click-click of the derailleur trying to change gears when the cable tension is off. It's all fluidity, sheer fluid articulation. True, they're probably not good for high-level racing, but I don't race anymore, so that's all by the way.

Beyond the skill and grace of well-executed friction shifting, be it bar-end or downtube shifters, one of its benefits is that it discourages overshifting. When settling into a time trial, one might shift around a bit, looking for the right gear for the day, and unless there're hills involved, there's no need to shift much after that. Efforts should go instead into finding the right rhythm, into finding a quiet place and just keeping the pedals turning over, no matter how much the stomach is cramping or how much the legs burn. And most certainly no-one needs ten cogs in back to do it. 'Sides, a real powerhouse has a 48-44 up front with a six speed (12-20) in the back.

And as regards mountain biking, one cannot ignore the excellence of topmounts. RapidFire works fine, but it's a woeful mechanism to service, that is, it is from a design perspective nowhere near as simple and efficient as thumb shifters. Nor is GripShift. I have two impressions of GripShift: being annoyed whenever I had to change the cable on a customer's bike, and that I would never want my hand directly next to the shifter like that. Thank gods I still have a pair of SunTour XC Pros, XC Experts and Deore DX in my bag of components.

The thing is, since I'm (again) the only one amongst my riding friends who rides friction, I have noticed something about their shifting. Oftentimes, when shifting with Ergo or STI, its abruptness leaves the rider either pedaling too fast for a second or having to get out of the saddle for a second. But with friction, since you cannot shift that lightning-fast, you have a short, meditative moment in which you anticipate the shift, and adjust your cadence accordingly. When done right, you can execute an overall graceful ride.

The good news is, Rivendell has refabbed the SunTour retrofriction mechanism in their Silver shifters, and they are a fine, handsome shifter indeed. The downtube or barcon shifter is, in summary, esthetically pleasing from a mechanical as well as a ride-composition (grace) point of view.

Image: Le monde de Daniel Rebour, 1950-1976

1 comment:

strangelife said...

Mmmmm...XC-Pro top mounts. Loved 'em. Same with my old Mavic 1000 downtubers. Still have some XC-Comps tm's lying around doing nothing but looking good. Cable installs were a cinch. X-Press shifters on the other hand...