Shifting gears …


This summer has been about shifting gears. Slowing down. Working remotely. Fixing up the cottage. A new floating dock. A third bedroom. A laundry room. Recapturing lawn overgrown with weeds. It has been a time for reflection.

Yesterday, while bucking a strong headwind, I passed another cyclist riding an old steel frame bike with shifters on the down tube. Do you remember those bikes? That’s how Chas and I started out. Every time you needed to shift, you had to take your hand off the bar and reach down. Right hand for the rear derailleur, left for the front. For years I rode this way. Didn’t we Chas?

Chas: “Those were the days!”

It seemed natural. It’s all I knew. But it was awkward, particularly when changing chain rings. I would end up in a gear that was either too big, or too small.

Two years ago, I re-fitted Chas with integrated brake and gear shifters that mount on the bars. An Ultegra gruppo. It was not the first time I had cycled with this type of shifter. But it was the first time for Chas and I. Right Chas.

Chas: “They look funny. And look at the scratch where the shifters used to be. I don’t like that.”

For the longest time, I continued to shift either the rear or front derailleur. It never occurred to me that I could in fact change them both at the same time. That is until I was passed at the bottom of a climb. I had changed to the small chainring but was in too low a gear on the cassette and lost speed. I knew better. Lou and I shift more efficiently. But with Chas, I was still in the down-tube-shifting-mode, one derailleur at a time.

Old habits die hard.

We are better now, aren’t we Chas.

Chas: “Yeah. We never miss a gear. Never miss a step.”

So now, whenever I need to change chainrings, I will double-shift. Shift to the smaller chainring and up a gear at the back. Or, shift to the larger chainring and down a gear at the back. Simultaneously. And, without taking my hands off the bars. Large paddles to go up. Small paddles to go down. This way, there is not a big jump in gearing, and I maintain the same, or similar cadence.

Now, Chas rides like Lou.

Lou: “Hey!”

Chas: “Yeah, now we go faster.”

Lou: “You know these paddle shifters are because of bikes like me. Racers. We go faster because of them. Never miss a gear. Never break the rhythm. You have me to thank.”





18 thoughts on “Shifting gears …

  1. Indeed! My first road bike had down tube shifters… It’s like learning to drive a stick shift first – that’s how I learned to respect the automatic transmission.

  2. I used to ride a steel frame ten speed back in the 80s but I don’t recall seeing downtube shifters before. That sounds awkward. It was a red CCM. I remember how heavy it was, especially when I had to carry it up a flight of stairs.

    My boyfriend had a Jacques Anquetil bike — I’ve just pulled that memory out of the dusty recesses of my brain.

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