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Indexed vs Friction Shifters

Old 05-31-23, 09:36 PM
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L26
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Indexed vs Friction Shifters

Just curious what people prefer around here. Seems like the benefits of frictions lie in replacability, simplicity and fine-control, whereas indexed shifters are typically considered easier to use as the ubiquitous "modern standard". I'm still new to all this though so correct me if I'm wrong. I haven't tried a friction shifter yet but will be doing so tomorrow, but I did try an STI shifter for the first time today, it was pretty cool so I'm curious how the old reliable friction shifter compares.

Anyways, just curious what people's thoughts are on shifters.
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Old 05-31-23, 09:47 PM
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If you first used an indexed shifter today, and you're going to try friction shifters for the first time tomorrow, what have you been using?
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Old 05-31-23, 10:23 PM
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Properly-adjusted indexed shifting gives you precise shifts EVERY time, even when your hand movements are less than precise. The accuracy of shifts with friction shifting is completely dependent on the accuracy of your hand movements.

Indexed shifting has been around for a pretty long time (40-ish years - not exactly ďmodernĒ, for bike technology). It has proven to be VERY reliable.

Last edited by Eric F; 05-31-23 at 10:30 PM.
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Old 05-31-23, 10:25 PM
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When I first started cycling on a bike with gears, it was on a bicycle with a 3 speed hub, so of course the gears were indexed. Later on, I bought a bike with friction shifted derailleur gears. I learned to use them for many years and several bikes. Then, miraculously bicycle manufacturers learned how to design derailleur shifters so that they shifted the same way that my old 3 speed did. Nice to have now, but it isn't as if it it something I didn't grow up with
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Old 05-31-23, 10:37 PM
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I find it doesn't really matter all that much.
I shift a lot with my "brifter" bikes.
I shift a little less with my Gevenalle bikes. They usually find themselves in friction mode.
I shift less still, with my down-tube friction only shifter bikes.
I shift not at all on my single speed.

I've decided that keeping up with the rat-race of planned obsolescence is for the birds. Indexed shifting is a great way to spend money. Shifting method in no way affects the ride from a performance standpoint as far as I am concerned.

Down-tube shifting is a great way to be noticed by other cyclists who want to ask you questions about riding bicycles.

Last edited by base2; 05-31-23 at 10:44 PM.
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Old 05-31-23, 10:39 PM
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I started on friction shifters - yes I am showing my age - and there is a reason why you just don’t see them anymore - shifting while braking - shifting while climbing out of the saddle - precision - convenient location, ridiculously easy to use. But you be your own judge.
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Old 05-31-23, 11:11 PM
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If you're in the drops, reaching for the shifter comes naturally. But when riding the hoods, not so much. I've only friction shifted 5-7 cog freewheels. Don't know how well it works on 10-12. Though there are also bar-end as an alternative (just remembered -- my wife's ancient fuji mixte-style frame has stem mount so I guess that's an option). I had suntour superbe pro with downtube rear could be set for friction or indexed. Best of both worlds.

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Old 05-31-23, 11:18 PM
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Sorry I meant I first used the STI shifter today, until then I'd only used the twist type of indexed shifter.
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Old 05-31-23, 11:21 PM
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Originally Posted by scott967
Don't know how well it works on 10-12.
Supposedly friction shifters work better as the number of gears increase, not sure if that's true or not though.
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Old 06-01-23, 12:51 AM
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Originally Posted by base2
I find it doesn't really matter all that much.
I shift a lot with my "brifter" bikes.
I shift a little less with my Gevenalle bikes. They usually find themselves in friction mode.
I shift less still, with my down-tube friction only shifter bikes.
I shift not at all on my single speed.

I've decided that keeping up with the rat-race of planned obsolescence is for the birds. Indexed shifting is a great way to spend money. Shifting method in no way affects the ride from a performance standpoint as far as I am concerned.

Down-tube shifting is a great way to be noticed by other cyclists who want to ask you questions about riding bicycles.
what do you mean about friction mode of the wallmart shifters (2nd ones you describe) those are indexed right?

friction shifters are for vintage nerds. Seeking out downtube shifters for the benefits and simplicity of friction shifting is funny.
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Old 06-01-23, 01:18 AM
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Originally Posted by scott967
If you're in the drops, reaching for the shifter comes naturally. But when riding the hoods, not so much.
With dual-control levers (ďbriftersĒ), shifting from the hoods is the most intuitive position.
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Old 06-01-23, 01:20 AM
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Originally Posted by L26
Supposedly friction shifters work better as the number of gears increase, not sure if that's true or not though.
Stop guessing. Experience for yourself, and make educated conclusions.
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Old 06-01-23, 01:23 AM
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No Larry and those reading Friction shifting is for people who want lower maintenance and maybe want to mix and match parts that might be harder to mix and match. Also you don't need to run them downtube there are bar end shifters and also things like Gevenalle which gives you the convenience of an STI type lever with the reliability of your barcon/downtube shifters, plus you can also find some stem shifters though typically in the vintage world found on more low end stuff but I have seen some modern upgrades to it using higher quality parts. People like Mr. Armstrong used a friction downtube shifter to cut weight back in the day.

They are also great for touring when say things go bad and your indexing stops working you can switch a lot of barcon and downtube shifters (including Gevenalle stuff) to friction and keep running things or maybe something breaks and you need to keep it running quickly and easily to get you back on the road and hopefully someplace you can fix it.

Friction is actually quite nice and especially for a front derailleur it makes a ton of sense. Being able to adjust things on the fly as you shift in the back to prevent rubbing and noise.

No I am not saying that indexed shifting is bad or anything like that but their is still a great place for friction and not just for "vintage nerds".
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Old 06-01-23, 02:25 AM
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Originally Posted by L26
Supposedly friction shifters work better as the number of gears increase, not sure if that's true or not though.
It's true if you're experienced with friction shifting less so if you're not.
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Old 06-01-23, 03:00 AM
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There's a reason that friction shifting is nonexistant on newer bikes beyond some niche cases like time trial bikes, and that's ease of use. I started on friction shifting and certainly found that you needed to be more careful to get it accurately onto a gear to avoid rubbing, whilst on an indexed shifter you don't really need to care. Though if the indexing is a bit off it may be reluctant to shift, but you can usually fix that with a squeeze of the lever enough to adjust the tension but not enough to click.

I haven't used a friction shifter in maybe 25 years though.
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Old 06-01-23, 04:36 AM
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I like both, have both on different bikes. For road drop handlebar, I prefer STI levers, little hand movement, precise shifting if well tuned. I have 2 bikes with Velo-Orange Porteur handlebars, both with bar end shifters set in friction mode, with cross type brake levers, Tektro 720. I have grown very fond of this set up, the bars are very comfortable with a lot of area for hand position. The bar ends open up the entire handlebar, can shift many different speed cassettes with just changing the cassette. I am using 11 speed, the shifting is very good, once you get use to the lever travel. IMO, they do work better with more gears due to less lever travel to make the shift. they are very forgiving. I rarely miss a shift with them.
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Old 06-01-23, 05:18 AM
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Originally Posted by L26
Just curious what people prefer around here. Seems like the benefits of frictions lie in replacability, simplicity and fine-control, whereas indexed shifters are typically considered easier to use as the ubiquitous "modern standard". I'm still new to all this though so correct me if I'm wrong. I haven't tried a friction shifter yet but will be doing so tomorrow, but I did try an STI shifter for the first time today, it was pretty cool so I'm curious how the old reliable friction shifter compares.

Anyways, just curious what people's thoughts are on shifters.
My thought is that if you are new to cycling then you donít need to bother with friction shifters at all. Friction shifters have their place in niche vintage applications, but are completely obsolete in the modern world. I havenít used a friction shifter since the early 1980s when I bought my first bike with indexed gears. Canít say I ever felt the need to go back.
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Old 06-01-23, 05:19 AM
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It is mostly a matter of preference.

People say that friction shifting is more reliable because the mechanisms are simpler …. This is true. But brifters nowadays are pretty much proven technology, and at some point it is like people talking about frame materials … all you are hearing is people’s prejudices, based in no fact, or someone hears a story about something and builds a whole internal world based on that story …..

Howe many people tour? How many people have broken a bike on a ride? How many have broken a brifter while riding?

I find it much more likely to snap off a deailleur in a bad crash …. In which case what kind of xhiters you prefer doesn’t matter. Never snapped off a brifter. Had a brifter fail, for sure …. When the cable snapped. But if I were going on a tour I would replace all my cables first anyway ….. The whole idea that brifters are a weak point on the bike …. Nonsense. The incidence of shifter failure is so low as to be not worth considering. (Though I have had the main screw shake loose in a friction shifter ….. )

Wheels (spokes) and tires seem to be the most common areas of failure on tour ….But head sets, hubs, bottom brackers …. Anything Could fail. So … don’t tour? If you tighten all the bolts, lube what needs it, adjust what needs it, and don’t wreck, none of that is likely to matter.

With so many things which can go wrong ona bike …. Focusing on brifters is sort of silly, IMO. If you go touring, you are at the mercy of the mechanical systems.

And ultimately …. if your shifter breaks no matter what sort, you can wrap the cable end around a stick (for ease of gripping) and just pull the cable …. If you reallyneed to shift, and cannot just pick a gear with the limit screws.

Friction shifting works …. And it is quite an art to master. Shifting under load takes a lot of coordination, and making quick, accurate shifts takes a lot of coordination. With six or seven cogs, it is not too bad, but with 11 or 12 cogs, the margin of error is halved … good luck.

As @base2 mentions …. people use their drive trains more when shifting is more precise and more reliable, and when the levers are easier to reach. I also grew up on single-speed, to three-speed IGH, to “ten-speed” friction, and after many, many years, finally …. Brifters. My personal experience is that with brifters I ride much more efficiently, because I can much more easily tune my gear ratios to my physical abilities and the terrain.

So yes, brifters are generally considered a better shifting system, because it is easier to use and much more precise. Is the mechanism more complex? Yes, but is that an issue? Almost never.

Can you ride and enjoy riding a bike with any sort of shifting system? Sure, but you will likely have preferences …. And all any of the posts here are saying is “This is what I prefer.”
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Old 06-01-23, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by L26
Supposedly friction shifters work better as the number of gears increase, not sure if that's true or not though.
You have this backasswards.
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Old 06-01-23, 05:26 AM
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I've used both but all my bikes seem to have friction shift (up to 3x10), most DT all of which are Simplex retrofriction. I'm happy and folk should use whatever works best for them.
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Old 06-01-23, 05:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs
It is mostly a matter of preference.

People say that friction shifting is more reliable because the mechanisms are simpler Ö. This is true. But brifters nowadays are pretty much proven technology,

So yes, brifters are generally considered a better shifting system, because it is easier to use and much more precise. Is the mechanism more complex? Yes, but is that an issue? Almost never.
Reliabilty is a total non-issue with modem indexed shifting. It certainly isnít a reason to choose friction shifters.

The only legit reasons to choose friction shifters are for vintage nostalgia or for some frankenbike bodge up of otherwise incompatible drivetrain components.
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Old 06-01-23, 05:53 AM
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I started out on friction shifting right around the time that shimano came out with indexing. I quickly moved over to indexing and never gave it another thought as it works better. Fast forward 40 or so years and I find myself running friction but that is because I like building and riding older bikes. Another reason you might want friction is cost if shopping for used bikes. Most of the deals on used bikes tend to be for friction shifting which makes sense since these typically are pretty old bikes.
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Old 06-01-23, 06:06 AM
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With my downtube shifters, I can choose either! That being said, I'd never choose to go friction unless I had to.
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Old 06-01-23, 06:10 AM
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I have a 1x11 and a bar end shifter that can be set to either and I prefer friction.
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Old 06-01-23, 06:16 AM
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Well, you asked for opinions/preferences, so ...
I have 3 bikes:
- Touring bike, 3 x 8 sp, with bar-end shifters (set to friction). I'm currently commuting on this bike, and it's my current weekend rider, so it sees the most use. I seldom miss a shift with this set-up, and it is easy to adjust if things are rubbing. I rarely have to devote any thought to shifting, it is pretty much automatic.
- Tandem bike, 3 x 10 sp, Ultrega brake/shift levers (therefore indexed shifting). I miss a lot of shifts. In the rear, when I shift up the cassette (easier gear), about 80% of the time the chain doesn't move up the cassette, and I have to push the shift lever (without 'clicking') to get the chain on the cog that I want. On the front, when I try to shift to the largest ring the chain will not move up to the large ring until I shift down the cassette to a harder gear, unless I first down-shift a click or two (without going to the granny ring) and then quickly shift all the way up. Downshifts (smaller cogs/rings) work fine. Adjusting for rubbing is easy, just feather the appropriate shifter. I've adjusted the shifting as well as I can, and I've had the bike serviced at my LBS. Still get missed shifts and mushy feeling to shifting. I suspect that this has to do with either (a) the long cable run; (b) the cable splicers; or (c) a combination of both. When I next replace the cables, I'll look into getting longer cables without splicers, to see if that helps. I pay a lot of attention to shifting, and have to think ahead to what I want to do.
- "Racing" bike (I have never raced), 2 x 10 sp Campy Chorus (therefore indexed shifting). Currently not operational (broken rear drop-out). Crisp, positive shifting in all circumstances. Shifting on this bike also requires no extra attention.

So, for me, Campy Chorus indexed > friction bar-end > Ultrega indexed (with the caveat that this is on a tandem).
I have a new single bike on order (I've had my touring bike for 28 years, it's due to be replaced), it will have Shimano 105 (therefore indexed). I expect that the shifting on that bike will be fine, perhaps not as good as Chorus, but "better" than friction.
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