Wednesday, June 8, 2016

'Brifter' Bliss for Sweptback Handlebars



It was not till I unpacked the demo Clementine, that I realised I had never seen a full-on Rivendell bicycle before. I mean, of course I have seen Rivendells. I have even owned one myself, and have ridden half a dozen others besides, maybe more. But none of those had been in-house builds. They had been built up with components from the frame up either at Harris Cyclery in Boston, or by the bicycles' owners. So I never realised till now that Rivendell has their own distinct way of putting the bikes together, with a few somewhat quirky (who would have guessed!) signature touches.



One of these I discovered in a somewhat comical manner, when I finished putting together the mostly-assembled bike (basically just installed the front wheel, mudguard and handlebars) to find that the brake levers and shifters sat the wrong way around. At first I though I had managed to somehow rotate the handlebars incorrectly while installing them, because surely the experienced assembler at Riv couldn’t have made such a mistake. So I sat there, trying to figure it out, feeling like an idiot. But no, there was no way to rotate the bars that would fix this. The brake lever and thumb shifter labeled “L” were on the right handlebar, and the ones labeled “R” were on the left handlebar. As a result, the parts had the look of being upside down: with the brand names hidden on the underside, and the bolts pointing up. I would have to remove the shellacked cork grips, probably cracking them in the process, and redo the whole setup.

Disappointed, and at the same time eager to try the bike, I decided to leave this unpleasant task till the next day and in the meanwhile take the Clementine for a spin as it was. So I attached the saddle and pedals, adjusted the fit, plopped my hands on the bars, and - damn! The placement of the levers and shifters felt remarkably comfortable. I made some little tweaks, moving the thumbies closer to the grips and rotating the brake levers slightly. After that, the setup just felt so much perfecter than any other arrangement I’ve tried on sweptback bars, that I began to wonder - nah, could it be? - whether they’d done it this way deliberately.

So I went on Rivendell's website and looked for closeup shots showing the “cockpit” setups of their complete builds. And sure enough, the upright bikes had the brake levers and thumbies installed upside down! Finally, just to make sure, I sheepishly emailed them to confirm - and received this reply:
The reverse thumbie thing is a quirk of these bikes. We thought they worked better that way ergonomically and the levers get flipped too for a slimmer fit. Having upside down thumbies also allows you to use the handlebar curves for climbing.
Duh! How could I not have known they did this? And to think, that all of this time I have been missing out on what I can only describe as the ultimate 'brifters' setup for sweptback handlebars.



I am not joking or making fun when I write this. If you are seeking an experience similar to the integrated brake/shift levers that you can get on drop bars with the mainstream roadie component groups, this is the closest to that I have tried on upright bars (and before anyone else asks in the comments - yes, I have tried the Shimano MTB trigger shifter - this is far nicer!). But I am not just talking about using thumbies and city levers. The reversed/ upside down installation is key here. When installed in this manner, the reach to the brake lever shortens and the shifter is placed literally under your thumb. Both can be activated (at the same time if you like) without moving your hands from their positions on the grips and without straining your fingers or twisting your wrists uncomfortably. For those accustomed to Campagnolo ergo levers especially (where you use the thumb as well as the forefinger), this system will feel particularly natural. If you live in a hilly area like me where you want to be able to shift gears easily and quickly, having such a smooth and easy to use setup really is bliss.

So, I am thankful to the Rivendell folks for introducing me to this genius bit of eccentricity. But needless to say, you do not need a Rivendell bicycle to set up your handlebars in this manner. Any bike can be outfitted with plain grips, and reversed city levers and thumbies - in fact it's probably one of the cheaper handlebar setups available. All the better that it's so functional and comfy.

And the bolts pointing up? Well, you know you can always twine them...


46 comments:

  1. That seems very similar to the same positioning I have on the trigger shifter for my Shimano IGH, except nothing is upside down.

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    1. In reply to this and similar comments below, I have ridden bikes with the Shimano trigger shifters; it is not quite the same shape/angle/feel. Not as nice.

      Seriously, next time you are in the mood for changing something on your bike, just try this. I wouldn't have thought it could make such a difference, but it does.

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  2. Nice brass ferrules there.

    I thought everyone did thumbies like that. Because thumbs. Yeah, I see them on top all the time, thought most who knew or cared did it this way. Left and right brake levers? I have been away too long. There are no levers in my house that have right or left. Knew it was a thing for brifters (which we no longer have), can't find any reason a flat bar lever should have that level of complication. Slimmer fit?? Exposed bolts?? Shorter reach?? Treat yourself to Weinmann. Cheapest - you get them in the alley.

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    1. "Treat yourself to Weinmann. Cheapest- you get them in the Alley." From Weinn-o's I bet!

      Spindizzy

      (Weinn-o's! Pretty funny, right?)

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    2. Whenever I have tried to install thumbies in the thumb-appropriate location in the past (without reversing them), the angle and position wouldn't feel quite right, straining my thumb in use. So inevitably I'd move them to the top just to avoid that. This is also why others move them to the top, I thought.

      Plenty of Weinmann parts here. But don't think I've ever seen a Weinmann thumbie.

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    3. I think they were referring to the old Weinmann brake levers that had a separate clamp band that you tighten with a screw inside the lever body like a conventional drop-bar roadbike brake lever. They don't have a bolt hanging out to foul whatever you have next to it.

      They actually are nice light, well made levers but they tend to get a bit loose and the lever waggles around which can be sort of annoying. You can tighten them up by hammering the rivet that the lever pivots on or just drilling it out and putting a bolt in there like we used to do a hunnert years ago. I really like just about everything Weinmann used to make(does that make ME a Weinn-o?), but I don't think even I could work up enough steam to go through all that again...

      Spindizzy

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    4. Well, that would explain it. Spent all morning combing the back alleys for Weinmann thumbies, and bubkes!

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    5. Just about the only thing I dislike about the old Weinmann drop bar levers is that spiders LOVE to live in them. My university peers seem to all have these old road bikes that they ride around, leave outside, then bring to me for repairs ... Spent one whole night catching spiders in my apartment after I had brought in 3 of my friends' bikes. I've learned to leave them on the porch for a couple days first and thump them around to let the spiders out.

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    6. Also, while we're on the topic of Weinmann and brifters and thumb shifters, I'm running all 3 on my '79 Ross Gran Tour beater/frankenbike.

      Image here: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-4fRSFVtL-68/VeEscxyoqDI/AAAAAAAAIdQ/tjmBQtupgXw/s1600/DSC_1091.JPG

      Old school Weinmann (on one side, Dia compe on the other) with turkey levers removed. And then I have Sunrace mtb friction thumbies mounted close to each brake lever so they work as "brifters." They're not the perfect setup but they work great, and are the best I'm willing to pay for on this bike.

      Unrelated, but previous owner got rid of the tension clamps that Spindizzy mentioned, drilled holes straight through the handlebars, and ran long bolts through the bars and lever hinges. No adjustment on the levers now but I'm lucky the position works for me.

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    7. DUDE! The Spider thing! I KNOW! What's up with that? It's not a hundred percent but it's common enough that arachnophobes should approach any old bike with these levers with caution...

      Spindizzzzz. E

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  3. I was going to write something like Billy did above. Pretty much all MTB shifters are built this way - levers under the bars. Rivendell simply used the same approach here with a more traditional thumb shifter.

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  4. Very similar to Shimano MTB trigger shifters, which puts the shift levers underneath the bars. Very easy and intuitive.

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    1. The Shimano MTB trigger is bulkier and, to me, feels harsher/less smooth to use. The thumbie, when installed in the manner shown, feels considerably more ergo. The friction shifting is gorgeously buttery too.

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    2. V, will take your word on that. All my current bikes are Campy ergo. If I go to swept bars, It will be bar-end shifters.

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    3. Tony - If you have tried and like bar-end shifters, cool. Many appear to like the set up.

      I find bar end poorly positioned for the way I ride with swept back shifters.

      The (guessing here - but I got mine from Riv also) Sunrace thumb shifters are really quite a nice alternative.

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    4. Yup, they are Sunrace.

      I liked the idea of bar-ends when I was setting up my first bikes. But their abusive ways (I was in constant bruises) soon drove me away.

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    5. Bar ends destroyed me (LOTS of bruises on my thighs) when I had them on drops. I kept them on my swept back bars and I haven't had the same problem. This set up looks good and I'll consider it if I make a change.

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    6. I have the mechanism from an old shimano rapidfire shifter that I have altered (removed all the casing, made a new clamp, stripped and re-shaped the levers and silver-soldered new finger and thumb pads on). it suits me quite well, but obviously this is the route for someone with far too much spare time.

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    7. Simon, have you documented your rapidfire alteration anywhere? It sounds like an interesting project. I also like that variety of shifter, but find them quite ugly.

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  5. Was wondering why R&L brake levers were swapped then it clicked, by swapping them over the tightening bolt goes on top which allows for the thumbies to work underneath without any interference from the bolt.

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  6. No way!! For the past year (but no longer,) I had a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed with the right-hand version of THAT shifter mounted the "right side up." I did put forth an amount of effort one day and took it apart to see if I could realign/reassemble to make it easier to use because having to push it into 1st gear with my right thumb above the bar was beyond uncomfortable. I remember joking that my bike needed a short-throw shifter. Through all of my figuring, I did think of switching it to my left but not putting it upside down. Well - thanks for the tip.

    And I do recall fixing someone's Trek 800 last year with the Shimano MTB shifters everyone's talking about, even rebuilding the shifters, but the thought just didn't come to mind ... Although, currently, I am building something up with one of SA's new rotary shifted hubs and the trigger shifter that goes with those do have the paddles under the handlebar. They feel nice. but so far, my favorite shifter ergonomically and aesthetically is the 1950s-60s SA 3-speed trigger with metal face and lever, pointing forward so it can be grabbed and flicked by the index finger.

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    1. My problem with that shifter is exactly the same. In retrospect I do recall seeing a bike with it mounted on the left, upside down. Made no sense to me at the time.

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  7. The thumb shifter under the bar and somewhat behind the brake lever seems like it would block your index finger from shifting in the opposite direction of the thumb motion. Does that happen at all?

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    1. Index finger? Hm... I use my thumb in both directions. But let me try it your way and I'll let you know. (The brake lever is on the other side of the bar though, so I can't see how there would be any interference.)

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    2. Hmm, well, with the old thumb shifters I remember (and this memory is a bit dim), on the right hand side, palm down, I would use my right thumb rotating naturally clockwise, i.e., towards my palm, to press the shifter. But to shift in the opposite direction, I don't remember it being very natural to use the thumb rotating out (counterclockwise). That's why I ask about the index finger clearance, because it seems like that would be the natural way to push the shifter back (down or counterclockwise for the right hand, palm down).

      This is also why the original Shimano RapidFire shifters had two thumb shifters (up/down), and when these were rightly much maligned because of their poor wear and mechanical design, they then went to two separate levers for up and down, thumb and index triggers, respectively.

      Then again, this memory might be due to my early mountain bike or mechanical inexperience at the time, it was a long time since I've used the thumb shifters you're describing (and perhaps should revisit them).

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    3. I have the old school thumbies on my city bike, installed the right way up. I push with my thumb to downshift, and pull back with my index finger to upshift. I wouldn't ever use my thumb for both directions, so I'm trying to see how you would use the thumb for both motions comfortably in this case.

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  8. The bike! For the love of God show the bike!

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    1. I am showing one bit at a time - out of concern its beauty, if glimpsed all at once, might overwhelm : )

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  9. could you have installed the handlebars upside down? i have seen some of these handlebar types installed with negative rise.

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    1. Nope, they are the right way up. And Rivendell confirms that the reverse setup is deliberate.

      That said, I *have* (deliberately) installed North Roads and Albatross bars upside down on other bikes for a more aggressive position. It's a nice setup.

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  10. The people at Rivendell are masters of simplicity, & ingenuity(noun: ingenuity..the quality of being clever, original, and inventive).
    . All the employees ride what they sell and give the best customer service on the planet.
    Jon

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  11. I've had a mtn bike for a while that I converted to utility/upright/tootling-around bike, and I'm in the midst of sprucing it up a bit. Going "full Riv" with it, Bosco bars, cork grips, thumbies, etc. I've been on the fence about using either the Shimano mtn bike shifters (because I like the "under the bar" position of the levers, too), or using the SA shifters you show here, which have better action, in my opinion. In a real "duh" moment for me, I wonder why I never thought to run them in this orientation? I guess that made my decision...

    Also, I cannot wait to read your thoughts on the Clementine. You've just teased all of us.



    Wolf.

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    1. I didn't think I was ready for the Bosco experience, but they do come as a standard option with a Clementine build.

      At the moment the problem is that I like this bike too much. Need to calm down before I can write anything objective about it.

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    2. I'm always late to the party at LB. I'll give it a shot though. What are you not ready for, re: the Bosco bars? I have a stock Clementine, with the Bosco Bullmoose bars. Going with such a "cruiser" position took a leap of faith, but I felt that the bicycle was essentially built around these bars. It did in fact take some time, but now I can't imagine a more perfect bar for this bicycle. I suspect too many people bail too early on these. I recommend trying something for 100 days, assuming it is not causing you actual pain.

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  12. I am interested to see what you say about it! Curious to see if you thoughts mirror those I have about mine. just one question, what size did they send you? You typically ride the same size as me and mine is a medium, so hopefully that is what you got, A small would be OK, I have one of those too for my kids and I can ride it comfortably with the Handlebars and saddle up a bit and actually in some ways I prefer it. the 26" wheels on the small spool up a little faster and the frame is stiffer.
    The shifters? I have'em on a couple bikes, they hint at greatness that never quite materializes, Not index, but not really friction either, sometimes you have to actually shift past the gear you want and click back to it, which is slightly annoying. And there's no barrel adjuster, which I miss.
    I do like the mounting to the inside when the combination allows it.
    -Mas

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    1. Medium/ 52cm for me as well. Cool that you can try it with the Small side by side.

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    2. A cable run without a barrel adjuster somewhere is just dumb, that's why I always try to have a couple of those in-line adjusters on hand just in case. In fact, stopping by to buy another one is my usual cover excuse for going into my friend Ben's shop and rooting around for good used tires in his trash...

      Spindizzy

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  13. this video explains it perfectly!

    http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/shsrtsl.htm

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    1. Yes! Thanks.

      {scroll down past the product description to watch video}

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  14. Nice looking setup. The shifters remind me of these vintage Deore DX thumbshifters from, 'back in the day'! http://www.ebay.com/itm/vintage-Shimano-DEORE-thumb-shifters-3-7-speed-/162092734082

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  15. The Paul Thumbies are elegant, and work well. However, after 10k miles or so, I started to develop tendonitis in my right thumb from shifting so much (lots of hills around here), so have installed trigger shifters on a couple bikes. I ride my other bikes (with bar end and brifters) more these days, to give the thumbs a rest.

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  16. Hmm I am rebuilding a Raleigh Super Course for a friend and in the process converting to upright bars and was thinking of going thumbies - might have to try this out

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  17. Underbar is more ergonomically comfortable, but it benefits from an extra lever like this: http://velobase.com/CompImages/Shifter/96BFBBB7-176B-463A-A80C-CAF95DB49537.jpeg Search for Mavic Y-shifter and Suntour Wishbone shifters. Both were thumbshifter mechanisms meant for underbar mounting.

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  18. > I have tried the Shimano MTB trigger shifter - this is far nicer!

    > The thumbie, when installed in the manner shown, feels considerably more ergo.

    > Hm... I use my thumb in both directions.

    It's not a dealbreaker for me, but I don't like using my thumb to pull the shifter back toward me. For that alone, SRAM or Shimano trigger shifters are better.

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  19. OK, I am stumped. I totally "get" the upside down thumbies (though it seems to preclude having index shifting for the rear, unless one gets used to shifting the rear with the left hand) but how does mounting the brake levers upside down make any difference???

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