Reverence: The Double Shift

Jan Janssen, a master of the double-shift.

There was a time when shifting was an art. Friction down-tube shifters required a finess and a light touch of the fingers; a slight overshift to pop the chain onto the cog, and then ease the shifter forward to rest the chain perfectly in its place. Over time, and with the advancement of technology, the art has slipped out of shifting, first with index shifters, then with STI and Ergo shifters – until finally, with Shimano’s Di2 electronic drivetrain, the rider is completely removed from the act of changing gears.

For those of us still riding cable-powered drivetrains, there is still one artform remaining: The Double-Shift.  As I approach a climb, I start to tingle with anticipation as the road starts to point upward and I feel the pressure in my legs growing.  I’ll gradually shift into lower gears as the gradient increases until I start to near the end of the cluster.  Enter the Double-shift, my favorite of shifts.  On my Campy Ergos, I just pop both the Go-Buttons at exactly the same time, dropping the chain onto the inner ring in front and dropping it down one gear in back, making a perfectly smooth transition to the next gear.  (The Double-Shift on STI is still possible, but feels somehow less dignified.)

When executed properly, it all passes so smoothly and silently that you hardly noticed a thing; the only clue being that moments ago, you were slightly over-geared and now you are in the small ring and pedalling smoothly. It is also a gamble; the change in chain tension in the Double Shift is prone drop the chain entirely; resulting in a catastrophic flail to get the chain back on, either through a front dérailleur Hail-Mary, or a full stop to right the chain onto its ring.

Indeed, it is a thing to cherish, the perfect double shift, and I’m not ashamed to say I congratulate myself with every successful execution.

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26 Replies to “Reverence: The Double Shift”

  1. Nice one! It’s these little things””and little victories””that continue to thrill me, too!

  2. mmmmmmmm…the double shift. Remember doing it with downtube shifters? I know Rob does because that’s all he has still. He is Mr. Old School. Push both shifters forward, just so and boom, onwards and upwards. You are right Frank, when it goes smoothly it is a thing of beauty. Once in a while I still reach down to the nonexistent downtube shifter. The old wiring is hard to completely rip out of the wall and remove.

    Do I miss that down-tube tech? Not for a minute, I loves my go-buttons. Am I interested in electronic shifters, not so much.

  3. Cool post – something I do occasionally, but never really think about it. I’ve lost my chain doing at times also.

    I’ve been riding long enough to have experienced friction downtube, bar end, and STI shifting. I’ll take STI every time. There’s no going back. The shape of the hoods, the click click, the shifting while standing. I’ve never owned a Campy bike, but hope to someday. Dream bike build would include Chorus 10 speed. I don’t need Record or 11 speeds. I also don’t need Di2 – looks cool, but overkill to semi old school me. Batteries to shift still seems damn weird to me.

    On the mountain bike side, experienced the original Shimano friction top mount thumb shifters, to SIS thumb shifters, to Sun Tour XC Pro, and later XTR paddle shifters. Latest rig has SRAM trigger shifters – different feel, but work just fine. I even like the SRAM twist shifters and thought I’d hate ’em. I’d consider swapping to X0 twister – they weigh nothing and work great.

    As always dude, great blog you have going here.

  4. Your so right John boy – Yes to the double shift, especially from the 53 to the 42 – your stompin on the big ring and hit the hill and its that moment when at just the right instant you throw both those down tube shifters to the right point and you are spinning in just the right gear to the top, nothing better!

    Frank, love the image of J.J. 1960 something TdF? Swweet – the glasses, gloves, shoes, frame geometry, fork rake, jersey and shorts – all classic.

  5. The doubleshift normally coincides with my feeble body bouncing off it’s internal revlimiter as I attempt a big ring ascent, Museeuw style…always a blessing to slip into the spin!

  6. @Dan O
    Oh, yeah – I’m with you. I’d never get rid of my Ergos or STI levers. Like you say, you can shift standing, under load, whatever. Amazing. I’m with you and John, though, with the electronic; it worries me somehow to be without the cable between me and the dérailleur. It feels so detached.

  7. @Rob
    That’s such a cool picture; I always loved his look, despite his breaking Rule #36. That time trial of his to win the 1968 Tour by 38 seconds, who can argue with that? All class.

  8. I’m interested, that it’s only one sprocket you change. I’ve always found that it’s two (3 on a compact) to keep a smooth pedalling motion.

  9. @Nathan Edwards
    It can be two, definitely, in which case it’s just an extra push on the right Go-Button (a benefit of Campy is you can do multiple shifts in one swipe, as opposed to Shimano’s on-click-per-shift setup).

    For my cluster and cranks, though, it seems one in back is exactly the the “next gear” most of the time, but it definitely depends on the gradient of the hill and the speed and how much you’re slowing down as you shift. But that’s part of the beauty; when everything is “just so”, it’s a art!

    I’m riding a 53/39 with a 13-26 10spd block, so I’m going from 53×23 or so, to a 39×21. Looks like that would results in an increase of about 8 rpms, keeping in account that your speed will drop, too (assuming for purposes of this example going from 25kph to 23kph. A double-shift into the same ratio and staying at the same speed would probably be more inclined to require dropping two gears or more in back.

    All this based on the cadence calculator which may or may not be accurate. It would be interesting to calculate the size of those gears and see if it corroborates it.

  10. The Ergos are definitely helpful, but if you pay due reverence to the old school technique, it’s smooth as butter every time on any bike. Preload the double shift by giving it just a bit more in back of your stroke for the two pedal strokes leading up to the shift and then back off just a touch while you fire the double. Takes all the tension out of the chain, and you may as well be shifting on the bike stand. Then spin away from Le Frank in the saddle and listen to him wheeze “Tripelllll!” as he stomps on his pedals behind you.

  11. @Joshua
    What was your proposed Rule again? You can’t call someone a pussy for riding in the little ring unless they’re using their little ring?


  12. Indeed it was. And to be fair to you, Le Frank, I did use my little ring on the Lighthouse,and you still managed to get that fat ass of yours out of the saddle to catch me. Well played.

  13. @frank “It is also a gamble; the change in chain tension in the Double Shift is prone drop the chain entirely”

    I recently decided to HTFU and change out my 34t inner with a 36t, and shifting (SRAM Rival ’09) in the front has never felt crisper, faster, or ?smarter?! I do miss lacking those two extra teeth on a steep climb, but I tell myself that I am more of a man for doing it. That and for $10, it was a steal.

  14. Marcus :@wvcycling
    More of a man moving from a 34t to 36t?
    Kinda like a girl feels a bit manly when she wears pants?

    Aw c’mon now, he does live in West (by god!) Virginia, where most of the roads were cut so steep to keep the miners from climbing out of their Company Towns.

  15. @wvcycling
    I’m almost sorry VW, but not really.

    Because of the photo of the chick on your posts, I always happily thought your posts were written by a velomihottie. You then revealed yourself as a bloke and I felt compelled to strike out at someone – you. Have you seen the Crying Game?

  16. I got Schleck’d by the double shift last night. We have this little subdivision on the edge of town built on the side of a hill with a couple of clicks of 15% grade wandering around through it and I went for the double shift and got hosed. I was trying to get “unhosed” as I lost all my momentum but to no avail and I fell over clipped in. A very small scratch on the tip of my new Force shifter. I’m pissed. I think a little 600 grit wet/dry and a quick shot of clear and nobody will be none the wiser though.

  17. We use clean nail polish on our carbon ski poles to fix little nicks. Frank can probably concur.

  18. I am so relieved/glad to learn that double shifting is OK. I do it quite often in prep for those hills, and feel quite slyly triumphant on successful smooth execution but always had that little thought in the back of my mind, ‘maybe this could be bad for the gears/chain, wear it out quicker or cause things to become misaligned or even my chain to drop’ I am in some ways a very inexperienced velominata, its sites like this with its vault of info that help me learn, as well as the boys at my fav lbs who can get so chatty about cycling stuff, love it.

  19. @jojo
    Frank will correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is the first time on this site that the term “velominata” has been employed by a velominata. Well played.

  20. So this is where di2 and iPhone apps lead to… Why? Who asked for this?
    Sigh. Stupid design project. Mutter/grumble etc.

    I guess this parallels work by Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne where brain-computer interface technology is being applied to create thought-controlled wheelchairs, or the work that Cyberdyne is doing on limb movement – but surely this is a solution looking for a problem in the wrong place.

  21. It is a beautiful thing!  I was beginning to think that nobody else knew what a joy it was to hop down to the small ring while “reloading” or upshifting the cassette in preparation for a climb.  all the while silently maintaining a nice steady cadence.

    The reverse move is just as sweet right after the crest of a hill.

    I was pleased to find that this works just fine on the Di2 system just as well, once it is programmed to shift 3 on a button hold. My RX100’s still do it faster though.

    Thanks for a very good article.

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