An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Great Cycling Debates for the Esoteric, No. 1453b: Downtube shifters are evil!


Dave Moulton, former frame builder, has an interesting blog that corroborates the sort of retrogrump values of, say, Grant Peterson and Rivendell bikes, or the Orange cycling crowd.

As such, we find ourselves generally in agreement with such self-evident wisdom as this:

  • A well-made, steel, lugged bike is a thing of surpassing beauty. Yes.
  • Wool clothing is better than polyester clothing for at least 300 days out of the year. Yes.
  • Durable and versatile is better than light and proprietary. Yes.

    So we definitely agree with the general thrust of Dave's most recent ruminations on downtube shifters, in which he argues that they are a good and noble thing. Still, the contrarian in us always wants to look for an opening and play devil's advocate where we see rigidity of thought or aesthetic, especially among the wisest of cycling sages.

  • Dave says that riding a mountain bike is easier than riding a road bike. Not true. Ease of riding is more a function of, uh, the road and route, doncha think?

  • Dave says inexperienced riders are more likely to crash on roadbikes. In my experience, mountain bikers crash a lot more often -- they just have a softer landing and tend to go down solo. Anecdotal evidence? How many "mountain biking helmets" retain their visors for more than three months?

  • Dave's line of reasoning has to do with shifting. Dave says that indexed shifting came about because of mountain biking and that friction shifting is a lost art because of this. This also not true. I have Shimano downtube shifters on my Ciocc that strongly argue against this historical view: They're from 1982 and they are indexed, predating stock mountain bike componentry by at least a year or two. I also have owned early production Stumpjumpers that had friction thumb shifters.

  • Finally, Dave says that friction downtube shifters are sometimes called "suicide shifters" today by these young, ahistorical punks. Actually, in my (admittedly limited) experience, "suicide shifters" have most recently referred to those 70s Schwinns and knockoffs that mounted the shifter on the stem. They earned that name every time you got out of the saddle and on the hoods for a really tough uphill grind -- and your knees knocked you out of gear. That's far more dangerous, actually, than seat-stay or downtube shifting, though perhaps maybe not quite as crazy as chain-stay shifting. Perhaps any outdated shifting technology earns this sobriquet, but I can't see why downtube shifters would; Dave implies that any shift technology that takes your hands off the bars is thought by the unwashed masses to be suicidal. I dunno, given all the talk and bluster and purpose of the Trek Lime Bike, perhaps even STI shifting is suicidal, because, y'know, computers are smarter than humans.

  • 5 comments:

    Dave Moulton said...

    When I said a mountain bike is easier to ride than a road bike I meant easier to ride on the road.

    I keep forgetting there are people who actually ride them off road; my apologies.

    Anonymous said...

    Why can't retro-grouch crumudgens like Peterson and Moulton like all things bike? Friction shifting a lost art? Please! It was only replaced the new art of derailluer adjustment.

    Pinchie said...

    Well, to be fair, I was taken aback when Grant recently came out positively RAVING about rapid rise derailleurs, and he's also been evangelizing hard for 650b wheels in recent years... so it's not that they're (he's) against ~change~ per se.

    Just kinda contrarian.

    Like us, I guess. You know the type: Wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have us for a member...

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