The Hard Way

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Doing things the hard way is a luxury. It says to the world that we’ve beat evolution; intelligence is no match for technology and economy is no match for indulgence. We need only step a bit outside our bubble to realize the scale of the illusion, but nevertheless it has become reality for many of us who live our lives happily and fortunately in the middle and upper classes of the developed world where survival has nothing whatsoever to do with being the fittest.

One of the things that struck me within weeks of moving to the Pacific Northwest was the frequency with which people die here; not from disease (although Ebola can go fuck itself, pardon my francais) but from tucking into the wilderness for some weekend relaxation. The PNW has some of the world’s biggest cities, but most of it is untamed wilderness – including radical weather systems, cougars, rattlesnakes, bear, The Sasquatch, and possibly ManBearPig. This place will mess you up, son; your GPS or iPhone isn’t going to be your savior.

The first-hand experience of the realities of a system provides a more intimate learning tool than does the passive observation, although in an evolutionary sense the latter is the more effective method for the survival of a species; our ancestors learned to stay away from bees by watching the guy who drew the short straw poke at a hive and die from anaphylactic shock without needing to then poke at the hive themselves. Nevertheless the tangible nature of repercussions forges an indelible bond between action and result.

It is also interesting that complexity and abstraction are inversely bound; the more complex the system, the farther the user is removed from its operation. The simplicity of the friction downtube shifter is in sharp contrast to the complexity of an electronic drivetrain. My steel bike has friction downtube shifters, a fact that makes itself especially well known while climbing. To shift requires planning and skill; I have to find a part of the climb where I can be seated, unload the chain, and shift by feeling the chain as it slides across the block and listen for the telltale silence when the chain is securely seated back onto an adjacent cog. At that point, I’m committed to that gear until the climb grants me the next opportunity to shift. On Bike #1, I can shift under full load at my whim and without consequence. The artistry of shifting is lost, though I wouldn’t go back to downtube shifters on any bike I plan to ride seriously.

I love the contrast of evolution and tradition in the modern racing bicycle, with carbon tubulars being perhaps the most fitting contrast where the most modern technology is dependent on the oldest form of affixing a tire to a rim. Gluing on a set of tubular tires is no longer a necessary skill in our sport with good clinchers being readily available. Gluing tubs takes time and careful attention, two things that are in short supply in our modern society. But to glue on a set of tires brings you closer to the machine and from where our sport has progressed. To build a set of wheels does so even more, and I imagine building a frame by hand builds the ultimate bond to our history.

We live at a time when the things that are irrelevant to survival take on their own crucial importance; we return to tradition in order to remember where we came from so we may understand where we are going. Doing things the hard way is a beautiful way to remind ourselves of the history that built the luxuries we surround ourselves with.

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170 Replies to “The Hard Way”

  1. My steel bike has friction downtube shifters………………..NO! the steel bike in that picture has an index shifter in friction mode(who in their right mind has a Red Bianchi? Where’s the rule that states Bianchi’s are Celeste…..Period!) . If you want to talk about real friction shifting put a picture of a Celeste Bianchi with some good old Campagnolo Super Record real friction shifters. Then you can lament on shifting that requires planning and skill. OK I come from a time when it wasn’t the bike it was the motor. Not the how much does it weigh generation. Rant over let’s go ride.

  2. “Doing things the hard way is a beautiful way to remind ourselves of the history that built the luxuries we surround ourselves with.”

    I couldn’t agree more (even if this does read like ad copy from one of those hipster artisanal axe manufacturers…or Rapha)

  3. The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    Shaving for example – a safety razor is better than a cartridge but a straight edge blade is just for the sake of telling people you use one.

    Tea, coffee and beer also seem to give rise to these questions.

  4. See also singlespeeds and fixies on hills. I love climbing on my fixie.

  5. @ChrisO

    The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    Shaving for example – a safety razor is better than a cartridge but a straight edge blade is just for the sake of telling people you use one.

    Tea, coffee and beer also seem to give rise to these questions.

    Why would you ever drive a vintage car?  The gear shift is terrible, the transmission noisy, the clutch is probably heavy, no power steering, dodgy brakes but the character, ooohhh the character…..it’s the same.  There’s more too it sometimes than just modern crash, bang, wallup.

  6. Just waiting for the new tyre to arrive, then off to the LBS for some glue.  Does not post, apparently.

    Then I’ll be exploring the zen of this idea.

  7. I too love to draw from the well of tradition and fundamentals to purify my appreciation of the present.

    It is no surprise that the greatness of heroes like Coppi is due in part to the fact that he literally rode out of the rubble of post war Italy when there was nothing but the hard way to choose.

    There is a place in my N+1 stable for a classic steel steed with down tube shifters and I will call it Alfredo (Binda). Then when I ride my new carbon steed which I will call Nairo, the taste will be even sweeter.

  8. @retrorider_83

    My steel bike has friction downtube shifters………………..NO! the steel bike in that picture has an index shifter in friction mode(who in their right mind has a Red Bianchi? Where’s the rule that states Bianchi’s are Celeste…..Period!) . If you want to talk about real friction shifting put a picture of a Celeste Bianchi with some good old Campagnolo Super Record real friction shifters. Then you can lament on shifting that requires planning and skill. OK I come from a time when it wasn’t the bike it was the motor. Not the how much does it weigh generation. Rant over let’s go ride.

    The knob is pulled out and its set in friction mode. What will really kill you is that I’m using 10 speed wheelsets so I can share them across all my bikes. That’s even more fun to toggle between the gears when they are spaced so closely together with a friction wand.

    But you can go fuck yourself about the color of my bike. I love that thing.

    Here’s a lovely celeste bianchi though:

    In grade school my teacher asked me what my favorite color was; I said it was celeste. The teacher asked me to pick a real color.

  9. Somewhere in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith–a scholar and great thinker that Murican tea-baggers love to reference in spite of never having a read a fucking word of his or knowing fuck-all about him or anything else in the fucking universe–remarks that the division of labor allows for some enormous number of pins to be manufactured in one place in n hours compared to some other place in which pin-makers make whole pins, but on the other hand it makes the people making the pin heads and the pin shafts and the pin points into something more like Gumboot chitons or tea-baggers.

    This tension between collective and individual capacities is the most interesting thread of our species’ story, in my opinion.

  10. 32 year young Shimano Altus LT shifters that still work flawlessly. Uhhh, relatively speaking. Though the “novelty” wears off pretty quickly it is fun keeping up the chops so to speak and jumping on the old bike every now and then. This cat I ride with operates old Campy down tubes on his collection of Italian bikes w/one hand shifting both front and rear at same time. Smooth. Don’t mistake me for getting romantic or nostalgic for the old stuff. This past w/e I was having one of those rides where I was wondering if could get any more perfect than Di2. I flat out love Di2.

  11. @ChrisO

    The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    I think it comes down to how you define value; if you get pleasure or enjoyment out of it, for me that is value. In fact, when it comes to something like Cycling, getting pleasure and enjoyment is basically the maximum value possible.

    Also, have you tried masterbating? You might have answered your own question.

  12. @robkhoo

    See also singlespeeds and fixies on hills. I love climbing on my fixie.

    My friend Doug has the same love; something about the momentum. Singlespeeds don’t offer the same benefit but are similarly minimalistic and still require the rider to be committed.

  13. @Teocalli

    @ChrisO

    The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    Shaving for example – a safety razor is better than a cartridge but a straight edge blade is just for the sake of telling people you use one.

    Tea, coffee and beer also seem to give rise to these questions.

    Why would you ever drive a vintage car? The gear shift is terrible, the transmission noisy, the clutch is probably heavy, no power steering, dodgy brakes but the character, ooohhh the character…..it’s the same. There’s more too it sometimes than just modern crash, bang, wallup.

    Yeah, and if you’re driving cross-country, you’re taking the fucking BMW. Same with the bikes; I ride my dt bike only on days I’m out for a joy ride and it is just that. If its serious, there’s no way I’m giving up my carbon and brifters. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t pleasure isn’t there when you use it.

  14. @Ken Ho

    Just waiting for the new tyre to arrive, then off to the LBS for some glue. Does not post, apparently.

    Then I’ll be exploring the zen of this idea.

    Apply some alcohol to the worker and some acetone to the rim when you make mistakes. And if you get it wrong, just take if off and start again with a fresh layer of glue. Good luck!

  15. I have ridden electro, integrated brake shifters too and every time when I get back to my old girl (she’s a blue Bianchi but labeled Bertoni!) with down tubees I am relieved and calmed. Electric was the tits, sure, smooth, bullet proof. Integrated I do not like, it never seems to get past it’s cleverness.

    Aside from not liking the mechanical feel on the integrated, both modern systems are way too complex. My shifting is simple and accurate and virtually maintenance free. Yes if I win the lottery, I mean the BIG one I will get a Felt with Di2 and along with spending 14 thou it will be maintained by an on call mechanic.

    Until then I find I am at no disadvantage with the carbon boys, I do not covet their rides, nor their ability to shift without taking hands off the bars.

  16. @frank Edoardo is rolling over in his grave after hearing you say that about his signature color. And he woke up Fausto in the process. At least you had the smarts in school. You’d probably buy a Ferrari in something other than Red. Wrong is just wrong. Gotta be a rule somewhere regarding that? Keep your nose into the wind brother and ride that red thing like ya stole it.

  17. Merckx I miss friction shifters. You could always tell the noob by the clank-clank-clank of their efforts trying to find the right gear. And with only 5 or 6 gears you had to be a little more selective in your choices. That said, the electronic crap is taking away from the newer skill of being able to shift under power without making a mess of your cogset.

    AND YES, modern life has stripped away any Dawinian influences much to the detriment of our species. We coddle way too many people- people who would have been eaten by bears a thousand years ago…. We need more bears.

  18. As I’m incrementally working on Rule #45 compliance and spending more time in the drops, the “hard way” almost seems more natural than flicking your finger at the brake lever–the down tube is right there within easy reach.

  19. @frank –

    “The simplicity of the friction downtube shifter is in sharp contrast to the complexity of an electronic drivetrain. My steel bike has friction downtube shifters, a fact that makes itself especially well known while climbing. To shift requires planning and skill; I have to find a part of the climb where I can be seated, unload the chain, and shift by feeling the chain as it slides across the block and listen for the telltale silence when the chain is securely seated back onto an adjacent cog. At that point, I’m committed to that gear until the climb grants me the next opportunity to shift. On Bike #1, I can shift under full load at my whim and without consequence. The artistry of shifting is lost, though I wouldn’t go back to downtube shifters on any bike I plan to ride seriously.”

    I would contest this point a bit. Modern drive trains do require a bit of skill to shift, although not as much as in the past. I would suggest that without really noticing you still probably enact all the needs of making a good shift with a friction system when shifting gears in your modern system. I see many..many results of bad shifting skill( with modern..even the electronic..) at the shop. Broken chains, dropped chains, bent chain rings(!!) and carved up carbon frames( from those dropped chains). What the modern systems have helped us with are shifting more often since the controls are at our fingertips. With them a finger stab away we can keep our cadence in the optimum range more easily by constantly shifting. But, more shifting and wonderfully designed chain ring cutouts, profiled teeth, etc., still don’t make up for the artistry of paying attention of when to shift. I bet you could roll along in any group and see what I am talking about if you pay attention. 

    I was rolling along with the team that my shop sponsors on my pre-work spin Sunday morning…and let me tell you, I could tell you who the old guys on the team were, and those new to the sport( as in post STI/ERGO) just by the shifting noises. And these guys are all on the same bikes and component groups.

  20. @PeakInTwoYears

    Somewhere in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith-a scholar and great thinker that Murican tea-baggers love to reference in spite of never having a read a fucking word of his or knowing fuck-all about him or anything else in the fucking universe-remarks that the division of labor allows for some enormous number of pins to be manufactured in one place in n hours compared to some other place in which pin-makers make whole pins, but on the other hand it makes the people making the pin heads and the pin shafts and the pin points into something more like Gumboot chitons or tea-baggers.

    This tension between collective and individual capacities is the most interesting thread of our species’ story, in my opinion.

    I’m not sure about the Wealth of Nations (I’m such a hack I only italicized it because you did; I basically have no education that stuck) but I’m fascinated by the question of outsourcing and its efficiency. Less expensive labor versus the management overhead not to mention the moral question of keeping labor and wealth within the local market (local being defined generally to one’s context of interest).

    I’d like to say I have an answer but profitability and ideals are ever at each other’s odds.

  21. @wilburrox

    Don’t mistake me for getting romantic or nostalgic for the old stuff. This past w/e I was having one of those rides where I was wondering if could get any more perfect than Di2. I flat out love Di2.

    I’m having electronic fantasies, let there be no doubt. I think the point is to remember what it takes to shift gear more so than how its being done. We want the advantage but need the connection. If I ever go electronic again (and manage to shake off my post-mektronic-stress disorder) I will justify it by returning to dt shifters every so often and flubbing a gear change or two.

  22. @retrorider_83

    @frank Edoardo is rolling over in his grave after hearing you say that about his signature color. And he woke up Fausto in the process. At least you had the smarts in school. You’d probably buy a Ferrari in something other than Red. Wrong is just wrong. Gotta be a rule somewhere regarding that? Keep your nose into the wind brother and ride that red thing like ya stole it.

    I recently had the chance to have @gianni ride one of my bikes, which was the first time I’d seen it ridden. Until then, all I’d ever seen were photos of me on it (and the odd video) but mostly it was sitting in my workshop. For the majority of time, I was on it, not seeing it. I care about the color when I am not riding it more than I do when I’m on it. When I’m on it, I’m more obsessed with the feel.

    If we get to ride together, I’ll let you take her out. I’ll care more about the color then than you will.

    The Rules offer a complex path to walk; so defined and so subtle at once. You will learn to find the way, Pedalwan.

    Welcome aboard; we’re going to have some serious fun yelling at eachother, I can tell already.

  23. @Ccos

    Merckx I miss friction shifters. You could always tell the noob by the clank-clank-clank of their efforts trying to find the right gear. And with only 5 or 6 gears you had to be a little more selective in your choices. That said, the electronic crap is taking away from the newer skill of being able to shift under power without making a mess of your cogset.

    The point on selecting gears is a good one; I found I’d gotten into this pattern where I needed to be in “just the right cadence”. In the last several seasons I’ve spent so much more time in the dirt that I’ve gotten used to riding at 40rpm just the same as 120rpm. Its very liberating; you have to learn to pedal in different styles but those styles wind up being useful in all sorts of different riding scenarios.

    Back to the single speed/fixie point brought up earlier, its all about commitment; are you the chicken or the pig?

    AND YES, modern life has stripped away any Dawinian influences much to the detriment of our species. We coddle way too many people- people who would have been eaten by bears a thousand years ago…. We need more bears.

    And possibly also more beers.

  24. @freddy

    As I’m incrementally working on Rule #45 compliance and spending more time in the drops, the “hard way” almost seems more natural than flicking your finger at the brake lever-the down tube is right there within easy reach.

    Excellent point. More proof that we should all ride low positions.

    @Rob

    I have ridden electro, integrated brake shifters too and every time when I get back to my old girl (she’s a blue Bianchi but labeled Bertoni!) with down tubees I am relieved and calmed. Electric was the tits, sure, smooth, bullet proof. Integrated I do not like, it never seems to get past it’s cleverness.

    Aside from not liking the mechanical feel on the integrated, both modern systems are way too complex. My shifting is simple and accurate and virtually maintenance free. Yes if I win the lottery, I mean the BIG one I will get a Felt with Di2 and along with spending 14 thou it will be maintained by an on call mechanic.

    Until then I find I am at no disadvantage with the carbon boys, I do not covet their rides, nor their ability to shift without taking hands off the bars.

    The V is strong with this one. There’s a mate I’ve got in SFO you need to meet.

  25. @Haldy

    @frank

    “The simplicity of the friction downtube shifter is in sharp contrast to the complexity of an electronic drivetrain. My steel bike has friction downtube shifters, a fact that makes itself especially well known while climbing. To shift requires planning and skill; I have to find a part of the climb where I can be seated, unload the chain, and shift by feeling the chain as it slides across the block and listen for the telltale silence when the chain is securely seated back onto an adjacent cog. At that point, I’m committed to that gear until the climb grants me the next opportunity to shift. On Bike #1, I can shift under full load at my whim and without consequence. The artistry of shifting is lost, though I wouldn’t go back to downtube shifters on any bike I plan to ride seriously.”

    I would contest this point a bit. Modern drive trains do require a bit of skill to shift, although not as much as in the past. I would suggest that without really noticing you still probably enact all the needs of making a good shift with a friction system when shifting gears in your modern system. I see many..many results of bad shifting skill( with modern..even the electronic..) at the shop. Broken chains, dropped chains, bent chain rings(!!) and carved up carbon frames( from those dropped chains). What the modern systems have helped us with are shifting more often since the controls are at our fingertips. With them a finger stab away we can keep our cadence in the optimum range more easily by constantly shifting. But, more shifting and wonderfully designed chain ring cutouts, profiled teeth, etc., still don’t make up for the artistry of paying attention of when to shift. I bet you could roll along in any group and see what I am talking about if you pay attention.

    I was rolling along with the team that my shop sponsors on my pre-work spin Sunday morning…and let me tell you, I could tell you who the old guys on the team were, and those new to the sport( as in post STI/ERGO) just by the shifting noises. And these guys are all on the same bikes and component groups.

    That is a fair enough point and in my amazingly intuitive Dutch ability to morph an argument to my favor, proves the point I’m making in the article; you have to understand the basic workings of the underlying system in order to understand the complex system built upon it.

    A friction shifter, for all intents and purposes, has the barrel adjuster of the RD built into the lever; you pull the lever to tension the cable and move the derailleur up the cogs. Too much and you overshift, too little and you undershift. That cascades to the brifters and ultimately gets turned into hocus-pocus with some totally different operation of solenoids and whateverthefuck.

    Nevertheless the experience of the stone age informs the wisdom of the silicon age.

  26. @frank

    @Haldy

    @frank

    “The simplicity of the friction downtube shifter is in sharp contrast to the complexity of an electronic drivetrain. My steel bike has friction downtube shifters, a fact that makes itself especially well known while climbing. To shift requires planning and skill; I have to find a part of the climb where I can be seated, unload the chain, and shift by feeling the chain as it slides across the block and listen for the telltale silence when the chain is securely seated back onto an adjacent cog. At that point, I’m committed to that gear until the climb grants me the next opportunity to shift. On Bike #1, I can shift under full load at my whim and without consequence. The artistry of shifting is lost, though I wouldn’t go back to downtube shifters on any bike I plan to ride seriously.”

    I would contest this point a bit. Modern drive trains do require a bit of skill to shift, although not as much as in the past. I would suggest that without really noticing you still probably enact all the needs of making a good shift with a friction system when shifting gears in your modern system. I see many..many results of bad shifting skill( with modern..even the electronic..) at the shop. Broken chains, dropped chains, bent chain rings(!!) and carved up carbon frames( from those dropped chains). What the modern systems have helped us with are shifting more often since the controls are at our fingertips. With them a finger stab away we can keep our cadence in the optimum range more easily by constantly shifting. But, more shifting and wonderfully designed chain ring cutouts, profiled teeth, etc., still don’t make up for the artistry of paying attention of when to shift. I bet you could roll along in any group and see what I am talking about if you pay attention.

    I was rolling along with the team that my shop sponsors on my pre-work spin Sunday morning…and let me tell you, I could tell you who the old guys on the team were, and those new to the sport( as in post STI/ERGO) just by the shifting noises. And these guys are all on the same bikes and component groups.

    That is a fair enough point and in my amazingly intuitive Dutch ability to morph an argument to my favor, proves the point I’m making in the article; you have to understand the basic workings of the underlying system in order to understand the complex system built upon it.

    A friction shifter, for all intents and purposes, has the barrel adjuster of the RD built into the lever; you pull the lever to tension the cable and move the derailleur up the cogs. Too much and you overshift, too little and you undershift. That cascades to the brifters and ultimately gets turned into hocus-pocus with some totally different operation of solenoids and whateverthefuck.

    Nevertheless the experience of the stone age informs the wisdom of the silicon age.

    I agree with your amazing Dutchery and the conversion of points. I was in essence agreeing with you the whole time…there is an artistry to shifting and those of us( you and I apparently) who have learned the fine art of shifting via friction shifters will always be able to make whatever system we ride, be it Ergo, STI, Double-Tap, or Di2…yes..probably even soon enough wireless shifting, sing in it’s smoothness.

  27. While we’ve been through this before, I’d have to post a nod towards the celeste side of the argument for Bianchi’s.

    What really kills me, though, is the unicrown fork.  Get a proper flat or semi-sloping fork crown on that beauty, for fuck’s sake.

  28. @frank

    A friction shifter, for all intents and purposes, has the barrel adjuster of the RD built into the lever; you pull the lever to tension the cable and move the derailleur up the cogs. Too much and you overshift, too little and you undershift. That cascades to the brifters and ultimately gets turned into hocus-pocus with some totally different operation of solenoids and whateverthefuck.

    Nevertheless the experience of the stone age informs the wisdom of the silicon age.

    Have to agree with this. I’m always amazed when I see some City-boy commuter on a £10k bike wondering why their drive-chain is shagged after trying to change gear when stationary. Electronic, index etc. are all great innovations, but if you don’t know what they are actually doing you’ll make bad mistakes and one day end up 50 miles away from home with a rear mech wrapped round your £200 spokes. I promise I will laugh as I (slowly) pass by.

  29. @ChrisO

    The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    Shaving for example – a safety razor is better than a cartridge but a straight edge blade is just for the sake of telling people you use one.

    Tea, coffee and beer also seem to give rise to these questions.

    I do not know about tea. I don’t know if there is a hard way with beer.

    However, I do take offense at the implied notion that coffee doesn’t get better with effort. I’ll discuss espresso since that’s the preferred way to drink coffee for a cyclist. the most labor intensive way to pull a shot is done with a lever machine. These machines combine mechanical simplicity, thermal equilibrium and pressure profile perfectly. The advantages of a lever group cascade through the design of the entire machine. I’ll explain (taking all kinds of shortcuts since there is a ridiculous amount of variation within the subset ‘lever machines’)

    A key advantage is the pumping of hot water, instead of cold water as in an electric machine. An electric machine pumps cold water into a boiler, or into a heat exchanger after which water of roughly the correct temperature comes out, and then your temperature depends on external variables. A lever machine pumps brew temperature water, and only pressurizes a small part of the machine, leading to reduced chance of failure/less required material in the rest of the machine. A lever group allows for mechanical tuning of the pressure profile and the temperature profile. An electric machine needs complicated electronics to do any sort of profiling. Also, the lack of pump and the lack of electronics mean that for the same external volume, a lever machine can pack a larger boiler or more insulation. Which leads to an increased duty cycle, more steaming power and less power use.

    I understand if you’re not impressed by just some guy on the internets, so I’ve compiled a list people also thinking lever espresso machines are better:

  30. @markb

    @frank

    A friction shifter, for all intents and purposes, has the barrel adjuster of the RD built into the lever; you pull the lever to tension the cable and move the derailleur up the cogs. Too much and you overshift, too little and you undershift. That cascades to the brifters and ultimately gets turned into hocus-pocus with some totally different operation of solenoids and whateverthefuck.

    Nevertheless the experience of the stone age informs the wisdom of the silicon age.

    Have to agree with this. I’m always amazed when I see some City-boy commuter on a £10k bike wondering why their drive-chain is shagged after trying to change gear when stationary. Electronic, index etc. are all great innovations, but if you don’t know what they are actually doing you’ll make bad mistakes and one day end up 50 miles away from home with a rear mech wrapped round your £200 spokes. I promise I will laugh as I (slowly) pass by.

    Agreed 100%. I read about the benefits of full-power gear changes with Di2, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it, it just doesn’t make sense to me. Just because the mech is capable of shoving the chain across irrespective of the load on said chain, doesn’t mean it’s good for the chain, or the rings or cassette, to do so. I still anticipate the need to change gear and soft-pedal slightly to make life easier for the mechanical parts, just like I had to back in the distant past when I had six cogs and down tube levers.

    As for doing things the hard way, I’m not one for wearing a hair shirt for the sake of it, but in some cases I do relish the additional involvement it brings, and also the peace of mind that comes with knowing something has been done correctly. Building wheels is a great example.

    Down tube levers seem anathema to me now, but part of me wants to go back there and try them again. They worked perfectly well, when that’s all there was.

  31. @ Geraint

    So did sheep’s intestines for condoms and arsenic for syphilis.

  32. @Ken Ho

    @ Geraint

    So did sheep’s intestines for condoms and arsenic for syphilis.

    If you got the first one right, you wouldn’t need the second. Those that failed provided the lesson for the rest, the same way the guy with the bees did in the original post. Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for the education of others. Probably.

  33. @frank

    @wilburrox

    Don’t mistake me for getting romantic or nostalgic for the old stuff. This past w/e I was having one of those rides where I was wondering if could get any more perfect than Di2. I flat out love Di2.

    I’m having electronic fantasies, let there be no doubt. I think the point is to remember what it takes to shift gear more so than how its being done. We want the advantage but need the connection. If I ever go electronic again (and manage to shake off my post-mektronic-stress disorder) I will justify it by returning to dt shifters every so often and flubbing a gear change or two.

    10-4 to that. Though even on Di2 there are good shifts and bad shifts. And I’m always playing around with the FD position and the micro-adjust on the RD in an effort to make the shifts even more seamless. Or at least give me the best opportunity to make good shifts. A really good day on Di2 is better than a really good day on mech.

    Regardless of the system, anticipating the right gear and getting in to it right before it is needed… that is where I see my young daughter having most opportunity to making smoother shifts. And that is learned skill especially critical for fast mtn biking.

    A good story: I converted to 11 sp on both bikes and swapped the Di FD’s too. I was running FSA “10sp” rings on my CAAD10 and no surprise, FSA said was best to change to 11 sp specific rings… on the front (?). Would be “optimized”. Yea, right. I had 10/11 sp s-works rings on the other bike. I didn’t change the FSA rings and front shifts are damn near perfect. They are good rings. I guess if I’d have swapped to “11-sp” specific rings they’d shift themselves?? I’m still trying to dial in the perfect FD position on the “11-sp” specific s-works rings to get smoother shifts. And I’m to the point of trying different rings.

    I will NOT go electronic on the mtn bike. Once a season I’m replacing a RD after a stick gets hung up in the back. I did go 1×11 and am glad to be done with the FD on the mtn bike. I’m guessing too that a cyclocross bike would be best run as a 1×11.

  34. @Ken Ho

    @ Geraint

    So did sheep’s intestines for condoms and arsenic for syphilis.

    I’m afraid I’ll have to defer to your clearly superior experience in that respect.

  35. I upgraded to SRAM Red this season, and was not previously aware just how hard you could shift this stuff.  When I have it dialed in just right (which seems to take a fucking oscilloscope and a scale of justice), all gear changes are like silk.  If I haven’t sit with it, and got it just right, there are a few gears that shift with slight delay and annoy me to no end.  But it will still shift flawlessly under load.  Out of the saddle, up hill, click…  No problem.  (I never even attempted such a shift until a fellow club member did this in front of me, pulling away with multiple shifts, climbing out of the saddle)

    It is taking practice to do it well, but what a thing of beauty.

  36. @Geraint

    Agreed 100%. I read about the benefits of full-power gear changes with Di2, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it, it just doesn’t make sense to me. Just because the mech is capable of shoving the chain across irrespective of the load on said chain, doesn’t mean it’s good for the chain, or the rings or cassette, to do so. I still anticipate the need to change gear and soft-pedal slightly to make life easier for the mechanical parts, just like I had to back in the distant past when I had six cogs and down tube levers.

    To be fair, it’s not as if Shimano endorses it. It just means that should you find yourself in a situation where you need to shift under load – which, after all, happens in racing quite often – then you can. I’m usually gentle with my machine, but all is fair in love and war.

    Also, part of why shifting under load used to be a problem and isn’t now it’s the derailleur – it’s the chainrings. The pick-up ramps, the lifting pins and subtle differences in the shape of the rings makes a huge difference in the shifting quality of modern drivetrains (same with cassettes). I’m willing to bet that if you took ’70s shifting componentry and replaced rings, cassette and chain with a modern part, they’d shift quite well under load. Some interesting reading here.

  37. @RVester wait, tell us more about these lever espresso machines. I can see the next evolution (devolution) in eclectic coffee shops right there.

    Nothing like shifting to bring out the minutae in this group…

    … unless it’s tire selection

    or bar tape colour…

    or valve stem length…

  38. I feel very strongly that all Pedalwan should first ride the path upon an old bike.  Wrought from alloy, graced with downtube shifters, 32-spoke box-section wheels, and massing in excess of 12kg, this bike should cost less than $400.

    The bike must be maintained with total commitment to perfection.  Rides in excess of 200km must be undertaken.  Carbon craplets must be passed on climbs.  Snide comments from fools must be ignored.

    Only then shall the Pedalwan make the purchase, and thus emerge from the LBS as a fully-fledged Velominatus, possessed of carbon, unobtanium, and modern shifting.

    In all seriousness, there’s no better way to learn to shift with precision than to learn on a set of downtube shifters.  All the better if it’s like @frank’s and running a 10-speed cluster that demands total precision.

  39. @Haldy

    What the modern systems have helped us with are shifting more often since the controls are at our fingertips. With them a finger stab away we can keep our cadence in the optimum range more easily by constantly shifting. But, more shifting and wonderfully designed chain ring cutouts, profiled teeth, etc., still don’t make up for the artistry of paying attention of when to shift. I bet you could roll along in any group and see what I am talking about if you pay attention.

    I was rolling along with the team that my shop sponsors on my pre-work spin Sunday morning…and let me tell you, I could tell you who the old guys on the team were, and those new to the sport( as in post STI/ERGO) just by the shifting noises. And these guys are all on the same bikes and component groups.

    I did the Paris Ancaster race on a single speed and noticed two simple things: 1) when guys in-front of me downshift, they usually slow down, 2) to keep my cadence up I have to push down harder on the pedals. When the above two points are in play, it usually means I end up passing the guy in-front of me.

  40. @RVester

    I understand if you’re not impressed by just some guy on the internets, so I’ve compiled a list people also thinking lever espresso machines are better:

    The entire city of Naples
    Kees van der Westen (http://www.keesvanderwesten.com/mirage-idrocompresso.html)
    The H-B lever machines subforum

    I feel you should get some kind of award for citing the entire city of Naples in support of your argument. Although Kees van der Westen claims only 90% of the city uses lever machines, so perhaps you were over-reaching somewhat?

  41. @RVester

    @ChrisO

    The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    Shaving for example – a safety razor is better than a cartridge but a straight edge blade is just for the sake of telling people you use one.

    Tea, coffee and beer also seem to give rise to these questions.

    I do not know about tea. I don’t know if there is a hard way with beer.

    However, I do take offense at the implied notion that coffee doesn’t get better with effort.

    I’m sure you’re correct, although a little more detail might have allowed us to make a better judgement.

    However just for the record, I didn’t say that doing things the hard way was wrong or didn’t produce better results. It often does, and in that case I’m all for it, whether that is a better taste, a cheaper solution or a more beautiful aesthetic.

    It’s only when people do it for the sake of being contrary or luddite or just plain showing off that I quibble.

    If instant coffee tasted as good then it would be pointless to have a hand pumped espresso, but I think even non-Neapolitans would not argue that.

    And whoever brought Di2 into this thread… shame on you.

    There is no place for electronic shifting in cycling – it should most definitely be a Rule.

  42. @ChrisO

    @RVester

    @ChrisO

    The critical question for me is whether the hard way offers some advantage – it may be quality, cost or beauty but if you do it just for the fact that it is more difficult then it’s a bit masturbatory.

    Shaving for example – a safety razor is better than a cartridge but a straight edge blade is just for the sake of telling people you use one.

    Tea, coffee and beer also seem to give rise to these questions.

    I do not know about tea. I don’t know if there is a hard way with beer.

    However, I do take offense at the implied notion that coffee doesn’t get better with effort.

    I’m sure you’re correct, although a little more detail might have allowed us to make a better judgement.

    However just for the record, I didn’t say that doing things the hard way was wrong or didn’t produce better results. It often does, and in that case I’m all for it, whether that is a better taste, a cheaper solution or a more beautiful aesthetic.

    It’s only when people do it for the sake of being contrary or luddite or just plain showing off that I quibble.

    If instant coffee tasted as good then it would be pointless to have a hand pumped espresso, but I think even non-Neapolitans would not argue that.

    And whoever brought Di2 into this thread… shame on you.

    There is no place for electronic shifting in cycling – it should most definitely be a Rule.

    Ummm…did you READ the article? @Frank mentions electronic drivetrains in it….

  43. @freddy

    @Haldy

    What the modern systems have helped us with are shifting more often since the controls are at our fingertips. With them a finger stab away we can keep our cadence in the optimum range more easily by constantly shifting. But, more shifting and wonderfully designed chain ring cutouts, profiled teeth, etc., still don’t make up for the artistry of paying attention of when to shift. I bet you could roll along in any group and see what I am talking about if you pay attention.

    I was rolling along with the team that my shop sponsors on my pre-work spin Sunday morning…and let me tell you, I could tell you who the old guys on the team were, and those new to the sport( as in post STI/ERGO) just by the shifting noises. And these guys are all on the same bikes and component groups.

    I did the Paris Ancaster race on a single speed and noticed two simple things: 1) when guys in-front of me downshift, they usually slow down, 2) to keep my cadence up I have to push down harder on the pedals. When the above two points are in play, it usually means I end up passing the guy in-front of me.

    I love singlespeeds..as a trackie by primary form of racing it’s amazing the difference in the fluidity of pacelines on the road and on the track. One of my favorite races to do is the Team Pursuit and I am blessed to have 3 teammates who when we ride together have a good fluid flow. We can hum along at 30+ just inches away from each others wheel at no problem. But..when I get into groups on the road..I find myself slowing, speeding up, slowing etc, due to the uneven tempo set by riders in front of me. And this is on dead straight, flat roads. These same people like to leave me at the front to plow along…cause I manage to keep an even tempo. Something to be said for learning a fluid pedal stroke by spending hours on a fixed gear.

  44. @Haldy

    Ummm…did you READ the article? @Frank mentions electronic drivetrains in it….

    First, it’s a long-established rule that reading the article is by no means mandatory, in fact it’s almost perverse – the literary equivalent of down-tube shifters really.

    And yes he mentions it but not using it – now that you’ve made me go and find it, it was Wilburrox who was saying how much he liked it.

  45. @ChrisO

    @Haldy

    Ummm…did you READ the article? @Frank mentions electronic drivetrains in it….

    First, it’s a long-established rule that reading the article is by no means mandatory, in fact it’s almost perverse – the literary equivalent of down-tube shifters really.

    And yes he mentions it but not using it – now that you’ve made me go and find it, it was Wilburrox who was saying how much he liked it.

    Well played..I sense some of Frank’s Creative Dutchery in point reversing at use….and I guess I am old school as a born( as a cyclist) down tube shifter user. Are you suggesting I stop reading Frank’s drivel and just comment as I see fit?

  46. Hi All – first post here, so let me preface by acknowledging my awe at your collective knowledge and commitment to the essence of cycling.  I’ve found that the Rules become more true as one spends more and more time on the bike.

    All I have to add here is an example of personal experience.  Because of a last-minute packing decision during a coast-to-coast move, my only bike with Ergos remains in storage and I now must choose between indexed downtube shifters (Superbe Pro as it happens) and friction downtube shifters…and I am convinced that the advantage of being able to shift front/rear simultaneously and across multiple cogs goes a long way to counter the benefit of being able to shift while standing.  I did my first 200 km in the Vermont mountains a couple weekends ago – friction shifters and half dirt roads, and pure joy.

  47. @Haldy

    I did wonder about the solvent effects.

    Acetone does do a neat job of cleaning a surface like a fibreglass surfboard though, when applied briefly and rubbed carefully.  Too much will clearly have undesirable solvent effects.

    I’ll need some more research on this topic.  MIght be a bazinga moment from Fronk.  Youtube shall be my saviour.

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