And The Winner Is…

I’ve done a lot of Really Big Things in my life. I graduated high school and college. I’ve put together multiple pieces of Ikea furniture in a single day. I’ve negotiated with cable companies and mobile phone providers and obtained somewhat successful outcomes. Yet none of these feats rivals in difficulty and magnitude my execution of the Classic Cycle 21st Century Friction Shifter Shootout, the winner of which I will officially announce today.

You can see all the derailleur contestants here, and these are the ones I’ve successfully tested so far:

And of course the test-cycle started off with the humble Shimano 105 5700:

So to recap:

Then there was the Shimano 600, which was a DNS due to a mechanical issue:

As well as the Deore XT “Deerhead,” which I DQed because it wouldn’t shift into the test-cycle’s highest gear:

All of which brings us to our final contestant, the Campagnolo Athena “11 speed:”

It’s modern-looking, but not freakishly so in the way pretty much all derailleurs are now:

It’s also silver:

And apart from Potenza, which came out a few years later, it’s safe to say the group of which it was part represents pretty much the last time we’ll see anything remotely “classic”-looking out of Campagnolo:

…which in turn means it’s the last time we’ll see anything classic-looking out of anybody. (Or at least the major component manufacturers.)

This particular derailleur is the long-cage version, and it’s meant for a triple. You’d think that would make it heavy, but it’s lighter than every other derailleur in the test with the exception of the Dura Ace and the 600:

It’s also the newest derailleur in the test, and it required one of those weird Torx thingies in order to mount:

In contrast, the Altus LT had an old-fashioned hex nut for a cable anchor, meaning this test has borne witness to both the birth and the death of the Allen key era:

I can’t keep track of Campagnolo’s cable pull changes throughout the indexed era and I don’t know what’s compatible with what. Will this also work with a 10-speed Ergo shifter, or a 9-speed? I dunno. But this is a friction shifting test so we don’t need to care. Here’s the shifter position when in low gear, as well as both the large cog/small chainring and large cog/large chainring scenarios:

Obviously you’d want more chain if you were going to ride it in the large/large, which is not surprising, since it’s a long-cage derailleur made for a triple–also one of the last we’ll ever see from Campagnolo:

When I put the Veloce on the test-cycle (always be careful when placing derailleurs on or near your test-cycles) my immediate reaction was, “Wow, perfect.” I had the same reaction to the Athena:

Smooth, precise…perfect:

It really is amazing how decadent a pair of Silver shifters feels on a modern drivetrain, and the more I think about it the more I believe it’s a good thing that the industry has abandoned friction shifting, because otherwise they’d be charging us a fortune for it:

Instead, all it takes to put a great one together is a smattering of decent mid-range parts. Really, it’s hard to imagine a road bike drivetrain feeling any better than this. AND IT DOESN’T EVEN NEED BATTERIES!!!

This isn’t just true of the Athena, either; apart from the DNS and the DQ, all of them yielded beautiful shifting–though I’m not sure any of them were quieter than the Athena, which I could barely hear in any gear combination:

I’m not sure how much the oversized-and-rubberized pulleys have to do with that, but it probably couldn’t hurt:

Whatever the reason, while I got good-to-great results with all of them, I knew right away that I had to award the Athena first prize:

It’s light, it’s quiet, it’s precise, and unlike some of the other contestants it’s not at the limit of its adjustment range in order to access the entire cassette. The same is also true of the Veloce, but the Athena is also lighter, which of course is utterly meaningless, but in this case makes for a convenient tiebreaker. Also, the long-cage Athena has a higher chain-wrap capacity (40) than the Veloce medium-cage (36)–also meaningless, since the test-cycle doesn’t need it, but it does mean you’ve ultimately got wider gearing possibilities with the Athena, so it gets extra points for versatility. Sure, the same goes for the SunTour, but the Athena is a little more refined, which really only matters a little, but this is a contest and that’s how contests work.

Of course, as the curator of the shootout I get to pick one of these derailleurs to live permanently on the test-cycle, and obviously I went with…

…the Veloce?

Sure. It also worked perfectly, and it’s a better fit with the chain I’ve got on the bike now. Like, what? I’m gonna get a whole new chain just to use a lighter derailleur? Please.

So there it is. Yes, the newest part won, and for a friction shifter shootout that’s kinda lame. But the real lesson is that the 40-plus year-old Altus LT that came on a Schwinn Voyageur was almost as good. And yes, just because you’ve got friction shifters on your bike, that doesn’t mean you can use every single derailleur in existence, as we saw with the “Deerhead.” But you can use a fuckload of them, and just as long as you pay a reasonable amount of attention to stuff like max cog size, chain length, and of course chain wrap capacity, you probably won’t be able to tell much if any difference between them.

Most importantly, after opening and closing a quick-link chain at least seven times in as many days, I can tell you the easiest way to do it without buying a special tool is to use a Channellock. Not just any pliers, but a Channellock. You’re welcome.

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