New Outside Column…And More! (Arguably Too Much More)

Sorry, I only write friction propaganda now:

Yes, I’ve since reverted the Jones to the stock clickety-click shifting but that was after I wrote this. (If it wasn’t for that pesky Boost spacing I’d probably do something silly like put on the drivetrain I stole off the Softride before giving it away.) Also, the Litespeed has Campagnolo Ergo shifters on it, though I’m currently calling it “my son’s bike” so technically it doesn’t count. Anyway, when you write for publications like this you can’t just say, “I find friction shifting both engaging and practical and you might want to consider trying it.” Instead you have to made dumb, sweeping pronouncements like, “I’M ALL IN ON FRICTION AND I’M NEVER GOING BACK AND HERE’S WHY,” even though I fully reserve the right to go back at any time, like if I feel like riding “my son’s bike” with those oddly satisfying Campagnolo Ergo shifters.

Meanwhile, here I am thigh-deep in derailleurs as I continue to execute the Classic Cycle 21st Century Friction Shifter Shootout, and I think maybe this is the worst thing Paul of Classic Cycle has ever done to me. This isn’t because I don’t love playing with bike parts and delving into the history of derailleurs, because I most assuredly do. No, it’s because it triggers all my anal retentive impulses, and switching out the derailleur on my road bike every few days makes me understand how Rain Man must have felt when someone changed the channel during Wapner. (Are we allowed to reference Rain Man still?) On one hand, when something like the Veloce is on there and working perfectly I want to keep it on there forever and make it a permanent part of the bike, but on the other hand I can’t wait to try all the other derailleurs! Certainly I could change them less frequently, but I’m too impatient to find out which one’s the best, and also if I keep writing about derailleurs for much longer my few remaining readers are going to abandon me forever, and rightly so.

So yeah, it’s even worse than all the times he’s tried to kill me by putting me on bikes like the Teledyne Titan, a bike so disconcertingly flexy it rivaled the Softride in sheer floppiness:

Anyway, to bring you up to date, here’s where we are so far:

  • Shimano 105 5700 — Original derailleur, works good
  • Shimano Altus LT — Relic from like 1980, also works good
  • Shimano 600 — DNS
  • Shimano M700 “Deerhead” — DQ
  • Campagnolo Veloce 9-Speed — Best one so far

And that brings us to the Dura Ace 7700:

Does it have what it takes to knock out the Veloce?

It’s a nice deralleur:

A very nice deralleur:

Compact and elegant, it’s the sort of thing you want to carry around in your pocket all day:

I can see why Paul’s rooting for it:

The Dura Ace 7700 group, of which this derailleur was a part, could very well be the most elegant one Shimano ever produced in the STI era, or maybe even any era:

[Photo via here.]

Apparently it was also a “concept” group, and that concept was “stress-free:”

Dura-Ace 7700 was my first experience with using real pro-level top-of-the-line cycling components, and they did work flawlessly, though I can assure you that despite the whole “stress-free” concept the pricing indeed caused me a great deal of stress. Yes, it seems like only yesterday I thrilled to the sensation of lightening both my bike and my wallet by upgrading to Dura Ace 7700, but watching this video makes me realize a lot of time has passed since then:

A lot of people say that pro cycling performances in the ’90s were driven by EPO, but it was actually the 500-gram weight reduction Shimano achieved with this component series:

That and the extra gear, of course:

Ah, the profound utterances of Abraham Olano. You can tell by his expression that he’s really thinking:

Alas, we may never know.

As for our test subjects, the Dura Ace 7700 is the lightest of the bunch, weighing in at less than 200 grams:

Unlike the 600, which was also quite light, this one features a barrel adjuster, a B-screw, and of course a slant parallelogram design. But it’s also quite compact, and Shimano says the largest cog it will accept is a 26:

26 teeth or FEWER, Shimano, FEWER!!!

Of course as we all know you can generally disregard these so-called limits, which is what I did. However, in the case of the 7700, even with the B-screw all the way in, I could still hear what sounded like a little pulley contact on the 29-tooth cog of the test-cycle. In that gear, lever position was about where we’ve come to expect it to be with newer derailleurs, which is to say approximately level with the floor:

It looked good in the little ring:

And while you wouldn’t want to ride around with it in the large-large combo for very long, shifting into it by accident certainly wouldn’t ruin anything:

Still, that pulley wheel seemed just a little bit too close for comfort:

In all other respects it worked flawlessly, and even in the 29 there was just the faintest little purring noise. I doubt very much this is a problem, and taking a quick look I’ve certainly got other bikes where the pulley’s running about this close. In fact, before this test started destroying my psyche I hardly even thought about derailleur pulley position, and I’m sure someone will weigh in with something like, “You idiot, that’s exactly how the pulley is supposed to be!” However, the fact that the B-screw needs to be totally maxed out (or in, technically speaking) for the pulley to clear would cause me concern and exacerbate my aforementioned anal retentive tendencies. This is a shame, because it’s a beautiful part:

Of course there’s a simple solution to all this, which would be to change the cassette to a 25. I even have one sitting in my parts bin. But alas, this test is to determine which combination yields the best modern-day friction drivetrain, and I’d argue that in order to win in 2023 you’d better be able to run a 29 or even lower with no stress–even on a road bike. (Yes, there was a medium-cage version that could nominally handle a larger cog, but I ain’t got one, and I ain’t buying one, either.) So as well as it works otherwise, and as little as it weighs, and as great as it looks on the bike, it simply lacks the capacity to be the overall winner:

You know it’s a tough contest when even the Dura Ace can’t get to the front.

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