|Campy's friction levers -- pretty, but|
nothing to brag about functionally.
|The smoothly elegant |
version seen on many
racing bikes in the 1980s.
Versions of the Simplex levers from the 70s, in the first couple of generations, are pretty easy to identify as they have an "S" in a sunburst logo imprinted on them. Most are aluminum, but there was even a plastic version to go along with Simplex's plastic "delrin" derailleurs. By roughly 1980 or so, the levers took on a smoother appearance with a large cutout in them -- this is the version that I probably see the most often and is the style that I have. The version made for Gipiemme is a little harder to find than the others. It has almost a spoon-like appearance that I assume would have a nice feel to it. I've even seen them referred to as "coke spoons," but I won't go there. All of them come up from
|Gipiemme's version of the Retrofriction|
shift levers. Light, smooth, desirable.
The Simplex levers, along with other friction systems, eventually got pushed out of the market by Shimano's indexing system. The hype at the time (forgive the cliche) was "if it don't click, it don't sell." Nevertheless, I understand that Mavic still offered a variant in the early 90s, but the Simplex company went out of business by about 1995. Too bad, really. A commenter on one of my other posts pointed out that the French were probably the original Retrogrouches. There's probably some truth to that. I've heard it said, and I have no doubt, that the French component makers likely saw indexed shifting as a fad that wouldn't catch on. If they were making any effort to make their own version, they kept it a pretty good secret. Campagnolo's first effort at marketing an indexed system failed miserably, and if not for the racers' loyalty to their other road racing components, who knows what might have happened to them?
The Simplex Retrofriction levers, under their various names and guises, are widely considered the best friction levers. The amount of control at the rider's fingertips is, in my opinion, better than with indexed and integrated shifters. Unlike the various click-to-shift systems that are supposed to be superior, cable tension and adjustment are no issue at all with a friction system, unless the derailleur cable is just so slack that you'd run out of lever travel before hitting the last cogs. Trimming the front derailleur for rear shifts is a simple matter and one has almost infinite fine-tuning ability. Those last couple of points are supposed to be some of the great benefits of the new electronic shifting systems, yet those have always been benefits of full friction shifting.
Is there a down side? Fast and precise shifting is a matter of user skill, but I don't really accept that as a downside. Lots of things require skill and practice, and we usually respect that, so why should being really skilled on a bike be different? Here's one: They don't work so well with 9, 10, or 11 speed cog systems. With most of the older friction levers (the Simplex Retrofriction included), lever travel even to hit 8 cogs gets a little long, and beyond that, the spacing between cogs starts getting pretty painstaking. Okay - got me there, but then that's another issue and another can of worms.
Next post: Retro Friction -- Part Two -- Copies and Competition
My friend, the late Dan Ulwelling, had a bike shop for years. One time he told me that he thought the only real improvement in bicycle design in his lifetime was brifters.ReplyDelete
Oh well. I have brifters. I use them. And they're nice when everything's adjusted right. But I like bar-ends a lot -- I think they have most of the advantages of brifters with fewer disadvantages. Less fussy about adjustment. Less vulnerable. Much cheaper.Delete
How nice to learn of your blog, via Off the Beaten Path. Interesting discussion here. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Thank you -- I only got started a couple of weeks ago -- but hoping it will catch on.Delete
Congratulations on recognizing a spring clutch! Every other explanation of these shifters that I have ever read stated, incorrectly, that the shifter spring opposed the force of the derailleur spring.ReplyDelete
Thanks -- I can only guess that people see that there is a spring inside, and make that assumption based on other spring-loaded mechanisms they've seen. The Shimano versions seem to work that way -- where the spring acts as a simple counterbalance.ReplyDelete
One thing that's changed with the advent of index shifting, STI, etc is that racers don't need to plan shifts anymore. Once upon a time races were won or lost with missed shifts or because a rider had to sit down to change gears. Not any moreReplyDelete
Just for info that others may find useful - Microshift still makes a 10 speed bar-end shifter set that is index or friction for the rear (front friction-only). Make a nice touring setup as you can have indexed gears but switch to friction if needed.ReplyDelete
I like to support Microshift as they are less driven by fashion and more into making Stuff That Works
My experience with those shifters was pretty bad.Delete
1. In indexed mode, it wasn't possible to hit all the gears without having to shift one extra over, then back on at least one or two. Both a couple of shops and I tried to get it to work, but nobody had luck.
2. In friction mode, there's no gap between "constant slippage" and "too hard to move." In fact, they loosened on their own sometimes.
I ended up putting Shimano SL-BS79 levers on that bike, since 10-speed friction shifting didn't really fit that bike's personality.
I've used Shimano's bar-end shifters with 7-, 8-, and 9-speed shifters in friction mode with nary a complaint, so they know what they're doing.
I've used Microshift derailleurs - I think they're pretty good, and great for the money. I can't speak to their index/friction bar-ends as I've only used the Shimano ones (which are excellent) - but I have heard others echo similar experiences.Delete
Thanks for the article!ReplyDelete
I fixed up my 1973 Raleigh Record last year and was pleased to discover that the knack of smooth downtube shifting came back as soon as I rode it for the first time.
It's nice to know people are keeping those bike boom era bikes still going!Delete
They work exelent wit Campy 10-speed systems - chain, casette, chainrings and deraillures.ReplyDelete