Monday, January 21, 2013

The Secret life of Friction shifters (Old Ten Speed edition)

In my last post I mentioned my good fortune that the 1974 Peugeot frame-set came with stock friction shifters because Peugeot had a unique way of mounting their down tube shifters.  That got me to thinking about all the different ways friction shifting got approached during the bike boom era for 10 and 12 speed shifting.   They are easy to remember because they all have the shifters location in their name; down-tube, bar-end, and stem. 

Many flavors of Down Tube shifters

In my mind the classic old 10 speed has shifters on the down tube of the frame but this was handled in many different ways.  The most common was to  have the shifters mounted on a band that mounts  to the frame above a brazed on lug, apparently in the early days there were no lugs and riders had issues with the shifters, under tension from the shift cables, coming loose and sliding down the tube causing paint damage and probably a few missed shifts. Some builders like to put the lug on the top facing part of the down tube (Raleigh super course shown) and others went with the underside (Miyata 912 shown).
note triangular "lug" below the shifter band


The route that Peugeot took is a bit different, instead of a lug they use a single shifter boss, on the drive side of the frame, and the (rear) shifter screws directly into the boss.  On the non-drive side  the band that goes around the down tube has the (front) shifter mounted to the band-like Shimano, Suntour, Campy etc.  On the drive side of the band there is a "window" cut in the band so it can go around the boss.  Hopefully these pictures will make it seem less confusing that what I just wrote.

Shifter boss on the drive side only of the down tube
Peugeot specific Simplex shifter with window in band to accommodate shifter boss on frame
Simplex shifters on a Peugeot UO-8

For a while in the mid to late 80s you could get this nifty center mounted down tube shifter "cluster" that bolted to the frame  -kind of like like a water bottle cage.  In the grand scheme of old 10/12 speeds these are kind of rare.
The final evolution is having a shifter boss on either side of the frame.  This is how current steel bikes that even bother to consider down tube shifters do it.  The nice thing about this setup is that if you decide to go with the shifters in a different place -bar ends, STI etc you can use the bosses to mount cable routing guides/adjusters.  Here is a Velo Orange frame with just the boss and then one with the shifters mounted.
Bar end shifters 

Like the name says these are mounted on the bar ends.  This type of shifting is popular on touring bikes where riders want the simplicity and bullet proof qualities of friction but don't want to look down to shift.  I like this set up as you can shift with your pinkie while on the bottom of the drops with a bit of practice.  These are also popular on Time Trail bikes because you can mount them on areo bars -facing straight out from the bike-and shift without changing your aero profile.  Yeah that sounds like a blast....

Not old or 10 speed but using bar end shifters


Stem Shifters

Again the name says it all, they are mounted on the stem.  I like these least of the three as they always give me a queasy feeling in the groinal area, must be a guy thing.  Anyway the bike companies marketed these in the mid 1970s as safer and easier than the classic down-tube shifters, but I think it was really a cost cutting move as they didn't have to weld an extra bit on the down tube anymore.  In general you tend to see these more on an entry level bike than on the higher end "race" bikes.
on the...um.. stem

As if those three weren't enough choices you can borrow from early Mt. bike technology and get some Paul's thumbies (or like products) and mount your down tube shifters on the bars!  As the name implies you use your thumbs (primarily) to do the shifting.
Why, you may ask, why would he ramble on and on about shifters! Well one thing I like about old 10 speeds is you can swap many parts from one bike to another without giving it much thought BUT there are exceptions (see French bikes) and shifters are one.  So this is just a little education for the new to the game.  For example if you get a frame built for a stem shifter set up and decide you like down tube shifters better you may end up with a your shifters slipping down the down-tube if you don't get a lug or bosses brazed on, or you may decide you don't want derlin plastic simplex shifters on your old Peugeot and go with some old Shimano 600's on a band and the realize "Oh dang what the heck where those French thinking with this boss on just one side!!!!!".  Anyway its not rocket science just pays to know what you are facing out there in the wide wide world of old 10 speeds.  As always....

Ride.Smile.Repeat.

Honorable Mention

For trying to teach an old dog new tricks I tip my hat to Retro Shift (http://retroshift.com/) who've come up, in the last year, with a rather unique way to mount friction shifters that combines old with new.
Part STI part retro all funky, chapeau.



5 comments:

  1. On some center-mounted downtube shifters, the left shifter would self-trim the front derailleur when you shifted the rear derailleur, so that when the chain was at one side of the rear cluster the front derailleur wouldn't rub the chain.

    It was a really slick bit of engineering that no longer is available on any other shifting system. I don't know if the Suntour shifter in your photo is one of them, but I wouldn't be surprised.

    The thing I like about the old shifting systems is that they were so simple and light. Just replace a cable and you were back in business. While the new brake lever/shifter combination makes shifter little more than a thought, there are many little parts that are difficult to replace, especially when you are out on the road.

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    1. Big Oak thanks for dropping by. I went to friction when it hit me one day that I was replacing my Shimano brifters ever 2-3 years at 200-300 bucks a pop. I also realized I was not a racer and what I really wanted was reliability, durability and value. Once I realized that my carbon dreams turned to lust for lugged steel and friction shifting!

      I would love to come across a bike with the cool center mounted DT shifters some day.

      Ryan

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  2. Those Campeurs are certainly photogenic, aren't they...I have a weakness for all things VO.

    I am becoming envious of your success with the Blog, Ryan! Nice work!

    tj

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  3. I agree Tim Joe the VO stuff is very lust worthy. Thanks for the nice words re the blog I have read some very good blogs, Mr. TPC, that inspire me.

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  4. I'm pretty sure that with my time left on this planet that I will never again own another bike with "brifters". Once was enough spending a frustrating afternoon fishing a broken cable out of there.
    Nice Pictures, especially that Univega with the bar-ends!

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