Author Topic: Down Tube Shifters  (Read 22870 times)

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Offline fiveonomo

Down Tube Shifters
« on: December 30, 2015, 07:58:50 pm »
I have touched on this briefly in another thread but I thought I would start a one just for them.  Is there anyone out there using down tube shifters?  In the last thread a few of the members here said do not use them for various reasons.  I still see pictures on the net with them on bikes of all kinds so I'm wondering......someone has to be using them. 

For those of you with them what do you like and dislike about them?  I'd love to hear from you if you were using them but switched.  I have to say I love the way they look and the appear to be very simple to maintain and work on.  Thanks in advance.

Offline johnsondasw

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2015, 08:43:07 pm »
I had them back in the 60s and 70s, but would never opt for them now.  I like not having to let go of the bars to shift.  I think its more stable, safe, and less distracting to be able to shift while maintaining control of the bars.   
May the wind be at your back!

Offline DaveB

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2015, 11:03:14 pm »
Same here.  When I first began riding they were the most common shifter on "serious" bikes and I used them for years and thousands of miles.  I would NEVER go back to them. 

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2015, 08:56:50 am »
Pete Staehling is the only person I've seen advocating for downtube shifters.  I'd rather have (1) brifters, (2) bar-end shifters, (3) trigger shifters, or (4) twist-grip shifters, myself.  IOW, downtube beats stopping the bike to get off and manually shift gears in my book.

Offline RussSeaton

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2015, 11:24:47 am »
In about 1991-1992 roughly, Campagnolo and Shimano came out with the shift lever/brake lever systems we use today.  Pros were the first to use them of course.  But the rest of the bicycle world picked them up fairly quickly.  The clipless pedal came on the scene a couple years before Ergo/STI.  Clipless pedals were also picked up by the rest of the cycling world pretty quickly.  I used clipless Time road pedals on a loaded tour of Europe in 1992.  Used bar end shifters back then.  Anyway, downtube shifters died out pretty quickly after the advent of Ergo/STI in the early 1990s.  It still existed but many or most new bikes sold, especially more expensive ones, had the Ergo/STI shifters.  Bike equipment makers are in business to make money.  If they invent a new way to do something, they want to sell it to everyone and make profits.  Staying with the old ways does not help them.

Are people still using downtube shifters?  Not really.  Every now and then you may see a bicyclist using them.  But he will probably be over 60 years old riding a bike that is 40 years old and has nostalgia for the past.  Its kind of like asking if someone drives a manually shifting car.  About 10-15-20 years ago they were sort of common.  But now days you have to specially order a manual transmission car.  Go to a car lot and ask to see a manual Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, two small, efficient, light cars that usually had manuals a long time ago.  Not sure you will find any on lots now.

A detriment to downtube shifters is they were almost always friction.  You manually moved the levers so far to shift either the front or rear.  You had to know how much to move the lever for each shift.  Feeling your way.  Or get scraping and rattling of the gears.  Click shifting, indexed, downtube shifters were only around for a couple years before the advent of Ergo/STI brake-shift levers.  Click shifting on downtube shifters was fairly good.  You just moved the lever until you heard or felt the click.  Perfect shifting, sort of.  And in downtube shifter heyday, there were only 5 cogs on the freewheel on a 120mm spaced rear hub.  Easier to manually friction shift when there are only 5 cogs.  Big and little are easy to find since you just move the lever all the way forward or back.  It was just the middle three cogs you had to "find" with the lever.  Somewhat easy.  When you get 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 cogs then its even harder to find each cog manually.

Unless you want to build a retro, old style bike and relive the glory years of Eddy Merckx, its best to avoid them.  Or maybe if you want to salvage parts from bikes you find real cheap at yard sales and live in a flat part of the world.  Downtube shifters work OK if you rarely shift your bike.  I frequently go on 50-60 mile rides and might shift 5 times total.  Downtube shifters would work well for me.  I also ride a single speed bike on those same rides and never shift at all.  I might choose single speed over downtube.

I also think the old time racing bikes of the 50s-60s-70s look good with downtube shifters.  Better looking than almost all the current bikes.  But not better functioning.  The only bikes you will see with them are extremely cheap or extremely old bikes.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2015, 01:47:57 pm by RussSeaton »

Offline stl_biker

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2015, 12:25:35 pm »
I have a Surly LHT, that I converting to down tube shifters, it's in the shop right now. Yes, I'm one of the old riders, 60+years old, but my bike is less than 40 years old. My decision was based on many factors, including getting poked in the legs with the bar end shifters.  I raced and rode with the down tube shifters in the 70s and 80s, and felt I had a better connection with the whole shifting process.  I'm preparing my bike for my Trans Am ride this June, and this is one of the many changes for the bike, bar, racks, etc. It's just one less problem that can arise when using a down tube shifter.
see you on the road,

Marion
 
The bicycle hides nothing
and threatens nothing.
It is what it does,
its form is its function.
- Stewart Parker,
Spokesong

Offline RussSeaton

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2015, 01:55:34 pm »
I have a Surly LHT, that I converting to down tube shifters,  I raced and rode with the down tube shifters in the 70s and 80s, and felt I had a better connection with the whole shifting process.

Curious.  Have you ever used friction downtube shifters with a 9 speed cassette?  I'll assume you are using a 9 speed cassette since its sort of old and nostalgic.  Guessing you used downtube shifters in the 70s and 80s with 5 or even 6 speed freewheels.  6 speed was the big thing in the first half of the 80s.

Offline stl_biker

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2015, 04:14:59 pm »
Russ,  yes I have a nine speed cassette.. but if something happens to my rear wheel and I need to replace it, I can use a eight, seven, etc speed cassette.  Yes, it was huge to go to a 12 speed from a 10 speed.  I really thought that I didn't need anymore than 12 speeds....boy was I wrong. 

Marion
The bicycle hides nothing
and threatens nothing.
It is what it does,
its form is its function.
- Stewart Parker,
Spokesong

Offline DaveB

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2015, 08:11:50 pm »
Anyway, downtube shifters died out pretty quickly after the advent of Ergo/STI in the early 1990s.  It still existed but many or most new bikes sold, especially more expensive ones, had the Ergo/STI shifters.  Bike equipment makers are in business to make money.  If they invent a new way to do something, they want to sell it to everyone and make profits.  Staying with the old ways does not help them.
Manufacturers  didn't not "stay with the old way" just to sell stuff.  Then didn't because the riding public very quickly realized brifters were so superior that they would buy almost nothing else.  I rode downtube shifters, both friction and indexing, for several years and was thrilled when something better came along.

A lot of posters here and on other bike forums I read seem to think new components are part of an evil conspiracy to separate ignorant and gullible riders from their hard earned money.   That's foolish.  Yes, there are those who have to have the "latest and greatest" as a statement of their "coolness" but most of us buy newer designs because they improve our riding experience.  Not every innovation is commercially successful and many have failed in the marketplace because they didn't offer a perceived advantage.

Offline fiveonomo

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2016, 12:36:43 pm »
OK guys thanks for all of the thoughts and experience, I really appreciate the feedback.  Maybe I should forget the down tube shifters and move on.  I am getting ready to buy, today at some point, my crankset.  I am going with the Shimano Deore FC-M590 Bike Crankset 9 spd 175mm 44/32/22 w/ BB Cups Black Cranks.  I have read a bunch of things on this and this should work and fit well.  Will it work with Brifters, bar end shifters, etc?  I am thinking it will but thought i would ask before I make the purchase.  As always thanks for the input.

Offline RonK

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #10 on: January 01, 2016, 06:59:48 pm »
I am going with the Shimano Deore FC-M590 Bike Crankset 9 spd 175mm 44/32/22 w/ BB Cups Black Cranks.  I have read a bunch of things on this and this should work and fit well.  Will it work with Brifters, bar end shifters, etc?
OK, so you are going 9 speed. Here is where things start to get a bit complicated. A 9 speed MTB rear derailleur is compatible with 9 speed brifters or indexed bar ends. An MTB front derailleur is not compatible - it has a different pull ratio. You will need a road front derailleur.

BUT

Most road front derailleurs are designed for bigger chainrings and have a fairly long-tailed cage which could foul on the chainstay when the derailleur is lowered to the smaller chainrings - as I discovered to my dismay.

I strongly recommend you use an IRD Alpina-D, which is designed for smaller chainrings.
Cycle touring blog and tour journals: whispering wheels...

Offline fiveonomo

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2016, 08:14:53 pm »
Thanks Ron, this thing is a little tricky.  Maybe I should go back to the drawing board for a different crankset.  I sure hope I have this thing built before June.

Offline RonK

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #12 on: January 01, 2016, 08:27:33 pm »

Thanks Ron, this thing is a little tricky.  Maybe I should go back to the drawing board for a different crankset.  I sure hope I have this thing built before June.
There would be no point backtracking - compatibility issues are likely whatever combination you choose.
You will have to buy a derailleur if some sort, just get the Alpina and you will be fine.
Cycle touring blog and tour journals: whispering wheels...

Offline fiveonomo

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #13 on: January 01, 2016, 09:07:05 pm »
OK, maybe your right.  Thanks, I will keep you posted.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Down Tube Shifters
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2016, 01:14:52 pm »
Pete Staehling is the only person I've seen advocating for downtube shifters.
Not sure I exactly advocate for them, but I do like them pretty well myself.  I also like brifters quite well, but have a dislike of bar end shifters.

On the original question.  I like that they are simple, work well, are very reliable, and are out of the way.