As some of you may know I recently acquired a ‘classic’ racing bike, complete with down-tube friction shifters.

Now, my days of friction shifting were over sometime in the 90s when I ditched my bar mounted XT thumbies for the ‘rapid fire’ version of said shifter but I’m now back in the game with my de-indexed Campy Synchro 2s and I’m loving it.

Before I continue I’d like to say: Please don’t get me wrong, a bar/brake lever mounted shifting setup is fantastic. It is very quick, reliable, and you don’t have to move your hands, so for racing bikes ‘rapid fire’ really is the way to go.

Back to friction. For those who do not know, a friction shifter ( usually mounted on the down tube of road bikes ) are mostly non indexed, meaning that there are no ‘notches’ to ‘index’ the gears onto. Therefore one has to do the indexing themselves. To a novice this may sound complicated but with a bit of practice it’s all fun and games.

I actually enjoy friction shifters, they take the hurry and technicality out of something that was and is so simple – The bicycle. A friction shifter trains you to select the appropriate gear at all times because on that climb there should be no shifting, you should be judging your speed and getting your gear right first time, everytime. A friction shifter helps with this.

Field repairs inside ergo levers is a no go, I think you’ll agree? All of those moving parts crammed inside those levers inhibits tampering of anysort. “When will you need to tamper” I hear you cry. Probably never but imagine being stuck, having to turn 80 gear inches with 50km of climbing to go? No thanks. With everything about a friction shifter being external, plus the fact that there is only one moving part ( it ) means the system is practically bombproof. This is why many long distance tourers choose to use this method.

It is not for everyone or every bike. Any more than 7 gears on your racer and I’ts probably about as much use as shifting with your heel as it would become increasingly difficult to maintain an indexed gear for any length of time, given the slimness of the chain and distance between each sprocket. Your chain will be dancing all over your freewheel like a ballet dancer on stage so if you are building a bike with more than 7 gears – go for indexed. I have 6 gears, I have no problems.

On a classic bike friction shifters look, well, perfect. They were meant to be there! I am not saying classic frames with adequate rear spacing look rubbish with ‘ergos’, ‘frictions’ just look better.
Right, so that’s enough from me, I’m off to ride my bike.

For those with indexed campy down tube shifters, here is a great article form tears for gears on how to de-index’ them as I mentioned above. Exactly why I love Campagnolo.


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