Downtube Shift

Photo from Rouleur #25

Photo from Rouleur #25

I’m going on a bike tour at the end of May and I needed a bike that could take a rack and panniers as well as provide a stable ride. I would have loved to use my custom steel bike, but it lacks fender mounts and it wasn’t a good idea to throw a handlebar bag or front rack on my carbon fork. I sold a bike and some parts I had laying around and scoured craigslist for something.

I didn’t want a “touring bike”, since I don’t know how much touring I’ll do after this. I was looking for something, that would preferably be steel, and would work as a winter trainer when that time of year rolls around again. I found something that fits that description pretty well: a 2010 Specialized Steel Allez …with 8 speed downtube shifters.

The bike is heavy. Almost ten pounds heavier than the steel frame I had made for me. At 27.5 pounds it lumbers up climbs, but descends like a hellion. I’ve only had a chance to take it out on few proper rides. One where I fought through a hellish headwind, one where I rode in reverse the loop I ride most often, and finally Saturday when I did the Cascade Bicycle Studio Saturday Ride.

After that first real ride I realized how hard it must have been for those hard bastards who had to race on this type of equipment. I’m gonna come out and say it: STI shifting and smoother gear ratios makes riding easier.

I said this to a co-worker who raced back when indexed downtube shifting was the pinnacle of shifting technology. He went on to tell me stories about having to tighten the tension on this shifters before starting a climb so the bike wouldn’t shift as the frame flexed under the strain.

I told him that I never felt like I was in the right gear.

“Yep.” he agreed “If you weren’t on top of that gear, then you better get on top of it or get dropped.”

Call me a whippersnapper, but I can’t conceive racing with downtube shifters. This could be because I haven’t gotten used to them yet. The fact that I had to dismount and then run up the steep part of a street overpass is a testament to that. I’m trying to learn how to get on top of the gear, move fast enough to get into the right one.

I remember reading in Rouleur a while back (the issue is still in storage, so I can’t verify this) that Roger De Vlaeminck had rubber covers placed on his shifter so he could hit them with his knee, or to protect his knees when he hit them. I can’t remember which, either way I suppose that is the fastest way to shift in a sprint.

I can’t knock the lever with my knees, but my riding is starting to change. I’m not shifting as much, which I think I might do too often. Hopefully I’m only shifting when the time is right, which I think I’m getting a sense for, instead of hitting the button when I become bored.

When I first started riding a bike with integrated shifting I thought there was an art to changing gears. Then I go over it, or thought I had it down just because I knew to shift up before rising from the saddle on a climb. There is an art to the well placed shift. Maybe taking a technological step backwards will help me learn that art.

downtubeshift

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