Index This

In my last post I mentioned I’d been contemplating some parts changes to the Jones LWB. Specifically, I’d been considering replacing the SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed trigger shifter with a friction shifter. My reasoning was as follows:

  • I’ve been obsessed with friction shifting lately, for which I blame a certain Grant Petersen
  • It’s fun to tinker
  • Clicking your way sequentially across a 12-speed cassette on a single-ring drivetrain is kinda silly sometimes

With regard to that last one, it’s especially noticeable when you get to the top of a climb and want to upshift for the descent, which can require up to eleven (11) individual clicks of the shifter depending on how steep the hill is. Downshifting is a little better since trigger shifters let you downshift a few cogs at once, but even that can require multiple shifts. I suppose electronic shifting kind of “solves” this problem. However, it’s also a problem that indexed shifting created in the first place, and that has been exacerbated by ever-increasing numbers of cogs. Furthermore, even entry level mountain bike drivetrains these days (such as the NX Eagle that came with the Jones) are fantastic, and it seems silly to have to “upgrade” to electronic in order to get more fluid shifting on a modern single-ring drivetrain. So I figured friction might be the way to go.

Having been brainwashed by Rivendell I’ve come to adore the Silver2 shifter, which as of yesterday is what I use to change gears on four (4) of my bikes. However, the Jones has 12-speed SRAM parts, and here’s what Rivendell has to say about Silver2s and SRAM:

These are compatible with up to 9 speed rear derailers only. Not compatible with SRAM rear derailers.

Well fuck me.

Fortunately, thanks to my friction enabler Mr. Petersen, I also had some other friction shifters Rivendell sells:

[Photo: Rivendell]

The description didn’t say anything about them not working with SRAM, and I’d been eager to try them, so I pulled the grip off the Jones and got to work, only to find the handlebar had apparently grown several centimeters over the years:


Next I removed the NX shifter:

And installed the SunRace:

Making sure to photograph the complicated cable routing of the rear derailleur first:

It’s a good thing I did, too, because I never would have gotten it otherwise.

Once I snugged up the cable I tested everything out and…this is as far up the cassette as the chain would go before the shifter hit the end of its travel:


Going back to my box of shifters, I fiddled with various ones to see which seemed like they had the most “throw,” and Rivendell’s disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding it sure seemed like the Silver2s were the most likely candidate. So I quickly threw one on and…it worked!* I could access every gear. However, I wasn’t sure how best to position them on the bar, so I mocked up two shifters, one in the inner position, and one in the traditional thumbie position:

[You could conceivably set up a bike this way to shift both front and rear with the same hand, leaving the other one free to scratch your ass.]

I sort of felt like maybe the traditional thumbie position would be best. Unfortunately, the shifter was behaving strangely for some reason (no doubt I did something wrong somewhere along the line), but I didn’t have time to figure it out…which is to say my laundry was done and I just wanted to be finished already. So I settled for the inner position and went for a spin up and down the block:

It felt great!

Here’s the shifter in the high gear position:

And here’s the shifter in the low gear position:

It’s a liiitle bit of a stretch to get all the way up to that 50-tooth cog but it’s really not too bad, and most of the time the shifter’s easily accessible without being in the way:

Besides being surprised it worked at all, I was also surprised at how precise it felt. I suppose I shouldn’t have been. Some years back I had 10-speed Shimano bar-end shifters with friction mode on a 10-speed bike, and I found it very difficult to dial in a gear with it in friction mode. At the time I just figured 10 cogs were too many for friction and stuck with the indexed mode…but then I put them on my Platypus with a 9-speed cassette and they weren’t great there, either. Finally I replaced them with Silver2s, which were perfect, at which point I realized, “Okay, those Shimano 10-seed shifters just suck in friction mode.” (10-speed bar-end shifters with friction mode were a short-lived offering from Shimano, and that’s probably why.) All of this is to say even with friction the shifters are important, and the shifting feel on the Jones with the Silver2 is utterly smooth and nearly as mindless as with indexing, though admittedly it’s what I’m used to now, since with the frictionification of the Jones my only remaining indexed bike at the moment is now the Litespeed.

Satisfied that everything was functioning smoothly, I headed into the wilds of suburbia today:

And after about 10 miles or so I was ready to declare the experiment an improvement in almost every respect:

The biggest improvement of course is that with the friction shifter you can move fluidly across most of the cassette in a single movement. (Though at one point on a climb I attempted to shift all the way from the 11-tooth to the 50-tooth in one shot while under load, which did nearly jam up the chain…but that’s a lot to ask of a drivetrain. I did shift back and forth repeatedly across the entire cassette while pedaling easily on level ground.) To me, this more than makes up for the fact that the ergonomics are slightly quirkier than the trigger shifter, specifically in the lower gears where you’ve got to flex the digits a little bit to move the lever. (This is not a setup for people with small hands.) At the same time, in certain gear ranges it has an advantage over the trigger in that you can operate it with either your thumb or your fingers–which is also a feature Shimano triggers have, and which I do find myself missing on SRAM bikes. I could certainly see trying it next with a friction shifter mounted in the traditional thumbie position instead, but I could also see leaving it exactly where it is because it seems to be working great.

All that aside, the Jones really did need something retro-inspired that wasn’t black:

It stands out, yet it also looks like it belongs there:

The Jones has modern features like tubeless and discs and Boost spacing thru-axles and a one-by drivetrain and all that stuff, yet it’s also a steel bike with no suspension and mechanical everything:

The Vacation Bike decision is going to be tougher than I thought.

*[Warning: As I mentioned, Rivendell does not recommend these for SRAM derailleurs. It worked for me but might not work for you. Or it might work and you might hate it. Whatever. Don’t take this as an official endorsement is all I’m saying. Neither Rivendell or I should be held responsible if you try to use one of their shifters with SRAM and it’s a disaster. Try at your own risk.]

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