Feeling Shifty

Whatever you think of Campagnolo, for many years their components were undeniably elegant:

Their skewers had sexy cutouts in them, and it’s said the radius of the curve was modeled upon the manner in which one would cup one’s hand when drinking from a crystalline stream:

Their grease port clips made it look like their hubs were wearing jewelry, and they included this detail well into the 21st century, even though nobody lubed their hubs this way anymore and almost every other company had moved on to cheesy skateboard wheel bearings:

I don’t know if that hidden fifth spider arm on the crank actually did anything, but it was a stroke of genius, because after you saw it every other crank (including their own less expensive ones) seemed ugly and lame in comparison:

Even their logo is iconic, which is why so many people get tattoos of it, much to the delight of the Campagnolo marketing department:

I have absolutely no idea what body part that it, but it does appear as though the wearer may have acquired it in prison.

To be fair, there are people who get Shimano tattoos:

Though it’s not until you see a Hollowtech II crank rendered on human skin that you realize how disconcertingly phallic it its.

Speaking of which, where’s this one going?

That’s just weird.

Here’s another tattoo that presumably shows the consequences of not using that special Shimano joining pin correctly:

Perhaps the wearer should go on one of those tattoo cover-up shoes and have it converted to a 1x setup.

Anyway, I mention this only because I was poking around on the Campagnolo website recently, which reminded me once again that the days of the bicycle component as an object of beauty are beyond over. Consider this for examplle:

I don’t think we’ll be seeing any tattoos of that.

Couldn’t they at least have made it look like a Delta brake?

As for why I was poking around on the Campagnolo website, it’s because I’ve been riding and obsessing over the newly-refinished Milwaukee ever since I got it back from Ben’s Cycle:

And I’ve been thinking a lot about shifting:

No, I’m not thinking about getting a fancy new Campagnolo group or anything like that. However, as an aging Fred I do like to check in every so often and see what the current state of affairs is veeza vee [assistant–fix that] performance road bike parts. As far as I can tell, of the Big Three, Campagnolo is the only company that still offers any kind of mechanical shifting at the high end. (Though there seems to be speculation that maybe Shimano will keep 105 mechanical going for just a bit longer.) However, I don’t see any more rim brakes on their site at all, nor do I see anything beneath the Chorus level. Presumably this means they’ve given up on OEM road stuff, though I do believe there are a fair amount of complete bikes that come with their Ekar gravel stuff. Entry-level gravel bikes are probably the new entry-level road bikes, so maybe mechanical shifting will live on a little longer there what with Ekar and Shimano GRX. (As for SRAM, they give me the douche-chills and I can’t bring myself to look at their website. They hate front derailleurs, they’re trying to reinvent rear derailleurs, and a typical SRAM bike needs like seventeen batteries just to be functional. I don’t get it, and I don’t wanna get it.)

But yes, shifting. As I mentioned, I’d been meaning to go “classic” with the Milwaukee and fit it with downtube friction shifters. However, I was in a rush to ride it, and so I put the original parts back on it, including the 105 shifters that came with the bike:

I happen to like these shifters a lot. My favorite thing about them by far is the shape, though they also work well and the fact that they’re silver is a bonus. If you look them up on the Internet, there are lots of people who say they destroy shifter cables. I’m not calling them liars, but I’ve had these for eight years; I’ve changed the cables only once, I’ve never changed the housing, and I’ve never had a problem Yes, now that I’ve said that I’m sure the cable will snap in the middle of my next ride, and I’m sure someone will share their own horror story in the comments. But whether it’s bikes or anything else it really is amazing how many “problems” only seem to exist online.

Hey, look, as a born-again friction fan I’d love to be able to impugn a set of integrated shifters. But I’ve ridden this bike a lot, and for awhile it was even my dedicated shitty weather bike because it takes full fenders:

During that time I managed to wear the chainrings down to the point where they started skipping under load, which is something I’d never even done before–cassettes yes, but never chainrings. (That’s why there’s a different crank on the bike now; I didn’t have any spare chainrings in that size, but I did happen to have another crank.) I also unwittingly cracked this highly-regarded boutique hub during that time, though that could have been due to my own shitty wheelbuilding:

Besides that I’ve crashed the bike, I’m sure my son dropped it more than once during his time with it, I’ve gone through various chains and other consumables, and of course have had plenty of shifting issues related to gunk and drivetrain wear and neglect. But none of these issues ever had anything to do with the shifters themselves, which have not only been boringly reliable but also feel quite good in the hand.

So while I’d been planning to put downtube shifters on there, once I got the bike together and rode it, I had to admit to myself it felt fantastic just as it was. I still loved the idea of a “modern classic”–steel frame, fancy color, newish parts, friction shifting…. But was it really worth the effort when I was already enjoying it so much? Plus, apart from the Milwaukee, thanks to the brainwashings of Grant Petersen every single one of my bikes now sports friction shifters, with the exception of my singlespeed mountain bike, which does not accept shifters at all. Given this, wouldn’t disassembling and reassembling the cockpit of the Milwaukee at this point basically just amount to unnecessary surgery?

Still, I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. A snappy integrated shifter feels great…but so does a nice friction shifter paired with modern ramped drivetrain components. It’s addictively smooth, like slathering a sandwich with mayo. And then there were the wheels I was using:

As I mentioned, I’m using Campagnolo 10-speed wheels. They work just fine with the Shimano shifters. Better than fine. But they don’t work perfectly. Like every so often you need to use a little extra finesse. There are probably plenty of people riding around on all-Shimano or all-Campy bikes whose bikes shift a lot worse. In fact a lot of people would probably ride this bike and have no idea the parts were mismatched. But still, it could be better. I’d give it a B+.

Of course I could use a Shimano wheel, but the simple fact is these are the wheels I wanna use on this bike right now. Also, now that so many of my bikes have friction shifting I’ve sort of become addicted to the compatibility. Yes, I could put a Shimano 10-speed wheel on this bike and the shifting would probably go to an A+. But I could also friction-ify it and go from Campagnolo 10-speed to Shimano 9-speed to whatever else I have laying around and have it all work perfectly with nothing more than a little limit screw fiddling, if that. It’s quite liberating to shop for cassettes without caring how many cogs they have. Sure, I’ve been enjoying the speed and convenience of the integrated shifters, but my racing days are behind me, and I think I may have reached the point in my life where I don’t really care where on the bike the shifters are located anymore and I prioritize boneheaded simplicity above all else. Plus, it’s fun to tinker.

“Fuck it,” I thought as I neared home. “I’m gonna do it.”

So I set myself up for a lovely Sunday afternoon of bike puttering. I retrieved the shifters I’d been saving just for this, as well as all the necessary cables and housings and even some fancy ferrules:

Not to make this all about looks, but I knew the shiny shifters would look great alongside that sparkly steel tubing:

I even had some fresh bar tape Paul from Classic Cycle had sent me awhile back:

Whatever you say, box:

Holding it next to the bike, I decided the colors would go together well enough:

Satisfied I had everything I needed, I next went to remove the brake levers I was going to use from the old bar they were on and then…the hoods tore as though they were made of ham:

So much for that.

Guess I’ll enjoy the integrated shifting for at least a little while longer.

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