Though I knew that the "outer Cape" (from Eastham to Provincetown) is hilly, I did not realise just how hilly until we began to explore it on bicycles. Those rolling hills with regular 100ft elevation changes really begin to take a toll - especially if you are riding the bicycle as a single speed as I have been doing with Marianne.
Marianne looks wearily at the road ahead: "Please learn to use the shifters!"
I have mentioned before that I find the vintage shifters troublesome and never use them, riding this bike instead in one very versatile gear that gets me comfortably through the Boston area terrain. Well, after one evening on the coastal road on the outer Cape, it became clear that this "versatile gear" was definitely not sufficient for these parts.
My problems with these shifters were multiple:
. The vintage shifter levers are very stiff and difficult for me to move. It takes a lot of physical effort to make them budge.
. The levers are located on the stem of the bicycle (see photo above), forcing me to take a hand off the handlebars and keep it off for the entire time I am fiddling with them - which is a long time, because of the previous issue.
. They are friction shifters, so it is not clear when one gear switches to another. I am not the best-coordinated person in the world, and frankly I find it difficult to pedal in a straight line, keep my sense of balance with only one hand on the handlebars, and play around with the levers at the same time - especially when going uphill, with cars speeding past me.
Perhaps you can understand why I have been using the bicycle as a singlespeed. Well, now that this was no longer an option, I had no choice but to learn to switch gears. I was finally able to do this by putting my left hand on the middle of the handlebars (right above the stem) for balance, and then reaching over with my thumb and forefinger to grab the right shifter, which controls the rear derailleur. I understand that it is generally bad practice to move the right shifter lever with the left hand, but trust me - there is no way I can take my right hand off the handlebars on this bicycle.
So - thanks to the hills, I have learned how to shift gears on Marianne. I still find friction shifting confusing, but my ability to "feel the gears" continues to improve with practice. One additional problem, is that there does not seem to be a mechanism in place to stop the chain from going past the lowest gear and slipping off the cog when downshifting. I will have to get this looked at when I return to Boston, since I do not know how to adjust a derailleur. For now, I just try to be careful and not downshift that far.
Honestly, I am finding it difficult to love derailleurs - so many problems compared to hubs. Still, having experienced these hills, I realise that they are a necessity. I have not yet decided whether my hypothetical future custom mixte will have indexed or friction shifters, but the shifters will definitely be placed in a way that does not require me to take my hands off the handlebars.