Testing Testing 123

Further to Monday’s post, I have now officially ridden the Official BSNYC Classic Cycle 21st Century Friction Shifter Test Test-Cycle with the 1980-ish Shimano Altus LT derailleur mounted:

This is the first unit in the test, and while aesthetics obviously isn’t the primary consideration here, I’m not gonna pretend like it isn’t important, either. Matters of appearance are obviously subjective, but I think the Altus LT looks pretty cool in an automotive sort of way, and it fits in pretty well with the rest of the bike:

As I mentioned on Monday, the Altus LT requires quite a bit less lever travel than the 5700 derailleur that I’ve been using, and the first thing I noticed is that this makes for some pretty short throws on a 10-speed cassette:

At first I wondered if that might be a problem, and if I’d find myself constantly overshooting the intended gear, but the thing about friction shifting is your wrist calibrates itself pretty quickly, and after a few shifts you get a good feeling for how far the lever needs to move to change gears. After awhile I decided I liked the short throws, and I appreciated that I no longer had to bring the lever quite so far back when going into my lowest gear on climbs. Overall, shifting was smooth and precise, and if the lack of a B screw or a slant parallelogram took anything away I sure as hell couldn’t feel it:

If anything, my overall impression was that the Altus LT felt better than the 5700. Of course, there’s all sorts of possible reasons for this:

  • It’s my imagination
  • It is in fact slightly different in a way that doesn’t matter, but with bike stuff we often interpret “slightly different” as better, at least until we get used to it, at which point we go back to the old thing and decide that’s better
  • Despite being over 40 years old, this derailleur could well be in much better shape than the 5700, which I’ve abused for years, and could easily be bent, and for all I know I didn’t even put the pulleys in the right place when I replaced them
  • Maybe the shorter throws make it feel more accurate
  • Or maybe it is objectively better and it’s because of that “Centeron” feature I mentioned in Monday’s post

With regard to that last one, you can see the “Centeron” arm here–it’s that thing that says “Pat. Pending” on it:

The idea with the Centeron is it’s supposed to be “self-centering,” though in theory it should be paired with the matching shifters. To test it, I intentionally tried to move the derailleur in a chattery position, and it was very difficult to do. Then again, it’s pretty hard to make any modern HyperGlide (or equivalent) drivetrain chatter, and I’ve never deliberately tried to make the 5700 chatter, so who knows if any of this is due to the Centeron? But I will say that with the Altus LT the bike seemed to run more quietly when in the small ring and moving past the middle portion of the cassette towards the smaller cogs:

That’s not to say it was very noisy before, and by the time you start doing that it’s time to shift to the big ring anyway, but in any event the slight improvement was something I noticed.

Of course I need to be particularly careful about attributing anything to the Centeron feature, since every retrogrouch fantasizes about discovering some long-abandoned technology that, when paired with modern parts, makes it all work better. Just as Grant Petersen has found that RapidRise derailleurs work beautifully with friction drivetrains, thereby transforming them into a cult item, I dream of singlehandedly making old Centeron derailleurs cool, and it’s vital that I don’t fall victim to my own delusions when attempting to determine whether it actually does anything or not. Ultimately, what I can say for sure after one ride with this relic is the following:

  • It may or may not be better than the 5700
  • It’s definitely not worse
  • If I had no more derailleurs to test I wouldn’t bother putting the 5700 back on there and would keep using this one indefinitely

Really, about the only bad thing you could say about the Altus LT is that it’s “heavy” at 260 grams. But as I mentioned, that’s only 28 grams heavier than the 5700, and a mere 15 grams heavier than a Campanolee Crotchy Doan:

What’s more, if you want a Campanolee Crotchy Doan, you’ll have to spend like $250 on eBay and sift through annoying ads like this:

Meanwhile, an Altus LT will cost you just a fraction of that, even at eBay prices:

In fact you can get the whole set for not much more:

Just think of the bragging rights! Roll up to the gravel race on a Crust with Centeron shifting, explain that it’s the new RapidRise, and you’ll be the toast of the thigh-tattoos-and-handlebar-bags set.

Incidentally, the ad mentions the Schwin Voyageur, so I checked out the 1980 catalogue:

The Voyageur 11.8 was in fact equipped with the Altus LT:

The bike sold for $349.95, or $399.95 in chrome. According to an online inflation calculator, that’s like $1,300 today, or like $1,500 for the chrome.

As I’ve mentioned, I had no idea what was going on with geared bicycles in 1980. However, going back to the 1979 catalog, I did find my own Schwinn:

It was the “SX 100” complete with Skyway mag wheels:

This was the bike–all 32 pounds of it!–that carried me through childhood and kindled my lifelong love of cycling. I’m sure millions of Americans can say the same thanks to Schwinn, although the real key is a great father; I doubt I had any idea what a BMX even was until mine gave this one to me, but by the time I’d outgrown it I was obsessed.

Another bike brand you saw a lot of in those days was Ross. My own first bike was a Ross, and I’m pretty sure this is the bike my brother had back when I was riding that Schwinn:

I only recently learned that until 1973 the Ross factory was on Beach 79th Street in Rockaway, not too far from where we lived at the time. I’m guessing my brother’s bike was made after their move to Allentown, but my own was old enough that it could very well have been made just down the street. And they were even doing “micromobility” before it was cool:

So yeah, the derailleur works pretty good is what I’m saying.

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