The Bro-Set Experience

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I suspect that whoever first put a set of downtube shifters on a bike immediately knew that while it was superior to having the shifter on the seat stay, it was a design that was going to be improved upon. Not only did it require being seated to shift, it also required taking your hands off the bars. Shimano got close with the introduction of the STI shifter in the early bit of the 90’s, although the decision to allow the brake lever to pivot laterally was a fundamental flaw.

I remember the first time I saw a set of STI levers in person; I was at County Cycles and they had a complete set of Dura Ace 7400 in the box. It was a truly beautiful groupset, and the metal details on the shifters were as stunning in my hands as they were glinting sunlight off the Pros as they crossed countless finish lines with their arms aloft. The price point was well out of reach, and so I dove headlong into various experiments to find a way to get my shifters on the bars.

Bar-end shifters didn’t look cool so they were out, full stop. I first tried Grip Shift, which was a complete disaster, partly because they didn’t shift well, and partly because they required twisting the bars and invariably introduced a terrifying wobble toward either traffic or the ditch. The low point of my experimentation involved mountain bike thumb shifters mounted near the brake levers, but I couldn’t get them positioned in a way that I could reach them. Cue more wobbling into traffic. Finally I got a set of Suntour Command Shifters, which were basically double-ended thumb shifters that were mounted at the brake lever. These might have worked well, except I couldn’t afford a Suntour rear mech, and the Command Shifters couldn’t get along with my Shimano 105 drivetrain. I had no alternative but to set those shifters to friction, which meant even more wobbling about as I tried to coax it from one gear to the next. But being unsuccessful didn’t mean it wasn’t fun, and when Shimano finally released a 105 STI version – which I could afford – I was that much happier to finally realize my dream of having functional handle-bar mounted shifters.

I’ve never liked the lateral pivot off the STI system, though, and once I could afford to, I moved to Campa and their superior design of incorporating a Go Button along with a paddle shifter. Campagnolo, for all its beauty and functional flawlessness, does require some coddling. It doesn’t particularly like being dirty, and I find myself tweaking the cable tension a few times a week – just a fraction of a turn – to keep it perfect. Because a perfectly tuned Campa drive train runs more perfectly and more silently than anything else – and the Principle of Silence holds sway over all else.

When it came time to building up my Graveur, I never seriously considered Campa because doing that on a bike intended for taking regular mud baths demands something less finicky. And I really don’t want my brake lever wobbling about as I’m trying to control a bouncing, bobbing machine on a twisting gravel or single track descent. Shimano was out, which left me with the choice between Command Shifters and SRAM. SRAM it is, then.

It took me an age to get used to how to adjust it, and how to shift. It requires a lot less cable tension than Shimano or Campa, a trick that took me a while to discover. Upshifts are totally awesome – tap, tap, tap and the chain just drops down along the cassette irrespective of mud or sticks or whatever is in there. I found half a tree trunk in my cassette after my ride this morning, and it didn’t adversely affect the shifting. The front shifting is absolutely blazingly fast, once you get the thing adjusted correctly. And the hoods themselves are very comfortable, possibly even more so than my 10spd Ergos.

But to this day, I still have to think about downshifting (push, *click*, push a bit more, *click*). And Merckx forbid I try shifting more than one gear at a time – I’ll invariably lose track of my clicks and wind up air-shifting between cogs. That’s going to inspire some new curses in a race situation, so there’s that to look forward to.

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163 Replies to “The Bro-Set Experience”

  1. I might have spoken too soon…

    I put my cross bike in the stand this morning to clean and in small/big outer combination I felt a rub every time I rotated the pedal. What is that? Oh, turns out the back of the Force crank arm hits the Red FD cage and rubs.

    This seems weird. Hard to say without seeing, but might I have my FD turned too far outwards? I’m confused why this would even happen.

    Looked at my other bikes with Campa and Shimano and FSA and the clearance is quite adequate, like 2-3 cms. The Force arm touches the FD unless I trim it. But…I don’t think they should ever rub. Ideas?

  2. @Ron

    I might have spoken too soon…

    I put my cross bike in the stand this morning to clean and in small/big outer combination I felt a rub every time I rotated the pedal. What is that? Oh, turns out the back of the Force crank arm hits the Red FD cage and rubs.

    This seems weird. Hard to say without seeing, but might I have my FD turned too far outwards? I’m confused why this would even happen.

    Looked at my other bikes with Campa and Shimano and FSA and the clearance is quite adequate, like 2-3 cms. The Force arm touches the FD unless I trim it. But…I don’t think they should ever rub. Ideas?

    B Screw adjustment.

  3. And I reinspected other bikes, not 2-3 cms, but more like 8 mm, but still quite enough to clear the arm back.

  4. @Ron

    I might have spoken too soon…

    I put my cross bike in the stand this morning to clean and in small/big outer combination I felt a rub every time I rotated the pedal. What is that? Oh, turns out the back of the Force crank arm hits the Red FD cage and rubs.

    This seems weird. Hard to say without seeing, but might I have my FD turned too far outwards? I’m confused why this would even happen.

    Looked at my other bikes with Campa and Shimano and FSA and the clearance is quite adequate, like 2-3 cms. The Force arm touches the FD unless I trim it. But…I don’t think they should ever rub. Ideas?

    What make bike is it? clamp on or braze on? The cage should be following the chainring.

  5. @Ron

    I might have spoken too soon…

    I put my cross bike in the stand this morning to clean and in small/big outer combination I felt a rub every time I rotated the pedal. What is that? Oh, turns out the back of the Force crank arm hits the Red FD cage and rubs.

    This seems weird. Hard to say without seeing, but might I have my FD turned too far outwards? I’m confused why this would even happen.

    Looked at my other bikes with Campa and Shimano and FSA and the clearance is quite adequate, like 2-3 cms. The Force arm touches the FD unless I trim it. But…I don’t think they should ever rub. Ideas?

    I know the problem.  On a cross bike the rings are small (even the outer) and you might possibly get a little crank arm rub if the FD is mounted too low as the arm actually bends in toward the bike close to the spider (reducing clearance).  This happened on my cross bike as I was setting it up.  The trick was to figure out how far up the seat tube the FD can be mounted and still shift well on the smaller CX rings.

    I run with a pretty significant gap between the bottom of the FD cage and the top of my outer ring (42t), much larger than on my road bike, and the front shifts fine.  Hope that helps.

  6. @Ron

    mouse – B screw will affect the FD? I thought it just was related to the RD.

    Sorry, let’s call it the limit screw. There are two adjustment screws one the FD as well. Play with those. You’ll work it out.

    Also, front derailleur cage should be 2-3mm above chainring teeth for most responsive front shifting.

  7. Thanks for the replies, lads.

    It is a Van Dessel Gin & Trombones, Red FD, clamp on, Force crank arm with Sram 46-t outer, 39-t inner.

    The shifting right now is actually superb. And, I didn’t notice this issue until I put it in the stand to clean & lube the chain. Not often in small/big combination when cross riding so never noticed it.

    I’ll try moving the FD up a bit. As I wrote, if I trim it, there is just enough clearance so maybe just moving it up the ST 5mm will do the trick.

    Thanks, I appreciate the info!

  8. @Dr C

    @Puffy @gaswepass
    interesting indeed – I don’t race to the extent that anyone on a yellow motorbike will be giving me a yellow wheel if my tub blows

    I suspect there is no bike that fits all purposes – I rode my wife’s 105 clad Defy 0 into work this morning in the pishing rain, and the brakes were tragic – probably needs better pads – I haven’t ridden with new cantis yet, they may surprise me

    I might try the TRP V-brakes Fronk suggests, though they are so old fashioned looking on a new frame (no offence F) with that curvy bit of metal piping – but if they work, that may be the solution – the Avid Ultimates look pretty cool though, so maybe give them a go too, and play with the pads a bit

    At some stage in the next few months, I’ll need to decide, disc or canti on the new frame, coz I won’t be getting another one for a long time!

    I am bringing in one of Pivot’s new CX bikes with Ultegra 6800 and TRP’s cable actuated hydraulic disc brakes for a customer. I will post pics once it is finished. But on the whole road disc brake thing….think of a circular saw. Now think of it around your hub when bumping in the peloton…it should never get approved for road race use for that reason alone.

  9. @Dan_R

    @Dr C

    @Puffy @gaswepass
    interesting indeed – I don’t race to the extent that anyone on a yellow motorbike will be giving me a yellow wheel if my tub blows

    . But on the whole road disc brake thing….think of a circular saw. Now think of it around your hub when bumping in the peloton…it should never get approved for road race use for that reason alone.

    On the contrary Dan- that could be the extreme sports edge road racing needs to bump it in popularity again in the post lance era in the us! Elimination sprints for starters, I’m thinking.

  10. Dunno why you have trouble with Campy getting dirty. I got my Record set up by a knowledgable chap over a year ago, and have ridden in so much crap weather aciudad crud without any need for any adjustment whatsoever. It still hums along in perfect silence.   Mind you, before that, it was a bit noisy and clunky.  Oliver in Cairns shook his head in disgust and muttered quite a a lot as he fixed it up for me.

    To say that my bike gets a bit of a Flandrian tan is understating it quite a lot, but the grand Campy mech does not suffer for it.  It’s smoother than ever.

    Anyway, late to the party as always, but I’m tickled to see my little Lexicon entry being used in an article title.   I missed it when originally posted.  Too busy being a Fred  and didn’t drop by for a while.

  11. @mouse

    @Ron

    Also, front derailleur cage should be 2-3mm above chainring teeth for most responsive front shifting.

    Using a coin as a guide works for me to get this gap right. I use a 2p coin but improvise with your local currency.

    I’ve recently had an issue with a braze on Chorus front mech slipping down and fouling the chain. I ended up using emery cloth to rough up the adjoining sufaces of the mech and the braze on bracket and this has sorted it out.

  12. I have a 2010 Specialized Allez with a mix of Shimano Sora and Tiagra, including the older Sora shifters.  Those have a thumb button instead of a paddle shifter, and then the brake lever pivots for the other direction.  I’ve been very happy with this bike (let’s face it; not being a LOOK 795 is not a valid complaint against a sub 1000$ bike) but those shifters irritate me more and more.  Which is why I found this line so funny to read:

    “I’ve never liked the lateral pivot off the STI system, though, and once I could afford to, I moved to Campa and their superior design of incorporating a Go Button along with a paddle shifter.”

    What bothers me is not the pivoting brake lever but that stupid thumb button.  There is no good (read: not dangerous) way of reaching it from the drops, so shifting to a harder gear at the back requires moving my hand from drop to hood.  Same for going to the small ring on a climb in the drops.  The only thing keeping those shifters on my bike is the fact that I want to upgrade the whole bike and would rather spend more money on that when it becomes possible.

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