For years, cyclists relied on only one gear shifting mechanism with levers mounted on the downtube. With time, things have changed, and more riders are going for contemporary shifting methods. All the same, are downtube shifters good for modern-day cycling?
Downtube shifters are good because they offer a minimalistic solution to gear shifting on a bicycle. They are simple in installation, and that makes them popular with cyclo tourists. The shifters are also compatible with most cassettes and derailleurs.
Could you be in hurry? Here is a quick check on some of the best downtube shifters.
5 Best Downtube Shifters On Amazon
1. Shimano SL-R400 Downtube 8speed Braze-on Shifters – Best for steel frames
2. MicroSHIFT Down Tube Shifter Set, 8-Speed – Best for double/triple chainrings
3. Sunrace 7-Speed Clamp-On Downtube Shifters – best for beginners
4. SHIMANO Dura Ace Downtube Shifters, 9-speed – Best for a commuter bike
5. SunRace SLR 80 8 Speed Clamp-On Shifters – Best for DIY installation
Are Downtube Shifters Good? – Downtube Shifters Explained
Basically, downtube shifters are bicycle gear shifting levers mounted on the downtube. They generally require a cable from each derailleur to be routed along the bikes’ frames with cable housing to protect the inner line.
To shift gears with downtube shifters, you have to take one hand entirely off the handlebars.
Unfortunately, this may not be comfortable with all riders, especially beginners. But for those who can comfortably ride with only one hand on the bars, the process is quite simple.
Technically, the right lever shifts gears on the rear derailleur while the left one moves the chain up and down the chainrings.
These shifters were widely used on road racing bicycles from the mid-sixties through the eighties and declined with the advent of indexed shifting.
Nowadays, they are all but gone, replaced by shifters mounted on the handlebars or integrated with brake levers.
However, some cyclists still swear by downtube shifters for their simplicity and durability.
This type of shifters can be on road bikes, tandem bicycles, and even recumbents.
Overall, they work with more than just derailleur gear systems. For example, they can also work in hub gear bicycles.
What Are The Best Downtube Shifters?
Downtube shifters are some of the most user-friendly ways of controlling a bike’s gears. They come in both friction and indexed varieties, with the latter being more expensive but easier for inexperienced riders to shift correctly.
Some of the best downtube shifters available in the market today include:
1. Shimano SL-R400 Downtube 8-speed Braze-on Shifters
Shimano SL-R400 Braze-on Down Tube Shifters are just what you need for your retro racer or other aggressive metal bicycles.
This system provides an indexed gear shifting system, so you can change gears fast while looking stylish. These shifters are ideal for steel-framed bikes with 8 Speed rear derailleurs.
The durable and stylish design of these shifters makes them great for retro racers!
2. microSHIFT Down Tube Shifter Set, 8-Speed
microSHIFT has brought to you a down tube shifter set, which is a fine quality one. These downtube shifters are made from high-grade material, and they do not require much maintenance.
With high-grade alloy, these shifters make your gear change easy with just a flick of the wrist. In addition, they come at an affordable price.
The microSHIFT downtube shifter has 10-sprocket compatibility, which makes it easy to upgrade your bike.
3. Sunrace 7-Speed Clamp-On Downtube Shifters
SunRace 7-Speed Clamp-on Shifters are great for road bikes, mountain bikes, or hybrid bicycles.
The SunRace 7-Speed Clamp-on Downtube Shifters are made of aluminum and have a friction shifter on the front and an index shifter on the rear.
Removing a nylon washer converts these to braze-on levers. SunRace 7-Speed Clamp-on Shifters are compatible with Shimano/SRAM 7-speed cassettes.
What Are The Advantages Of Downtube Shifters?
1. Pocket-Friendly Price
Compared to other types of gear shifters, downtube shifters come at a low price. In addition, they are easily obtainable in the second-hand market.
2. They Are Easy To Install
The installation of these shifters requires little tech knowledge and a few tools. If you are a diy person, installing the system can take you less than 30 minutes.
With a basic understanding of mechanics, almost anyone can install downtube shifters.
In addition, once the system is installed, it requires little effort in terms of maintenance.
3. They Have Crisp Shifting
Downtube shifters have a much crisper feel because they use minimal cable housing. When you pull on the lever, it immediately begins to move the cable.
Disadvantages Of Downtube Shifters?
1. They Expose The Rider To Extra Risk
Having to take one hand entirely off the handlebars reduces the rider’s stability. Consequently, it is hard to brake while shifting gears.
2. Requires Bosses Or Clamps
If your bike doesn’t have braze-on bosses, then you will have to purchase a separate clamp that will help you mount the system on the bike’s frame.
How Do Downtube Shifters Work?
Generally, downtube shifters use cables to shift between low and high gears on a bike. There are levers found on either side of the down tube of the bike frame.
The left lever shifts the front derailleur, which moves the chain to a smaller sprocket in the front. The right lever shifts the rear derailleur, which moves the chain to a larger sprocket in the back.
The rider moves the shift lever one way or another, which sends tension to “pull” the cable and move the derailleur.
When the rider releases pressure on the shift lever, the internal spring returns the shift cable to its resting position.
How To Install Downtube Shifters
Have you got an old bike lying around the house? This DIY project will breathe new life into your old bike by replacing the handlebars with downtube shifters. Installing the shifters is a reasonably easy process that you can complete in a few minutes.
1. Mount The Shifter On The Frame
Once you have bought a new downtube shifting system, the next step is to mount the levers. If the old system is still in place, you need to remove it first.
Then mount the shifter on the downtube. If your bike has bosses, you can go for braze-on shifters.
All the same, if your bike doesn’t have the bosses, clamp-on shifters would be the best choice for you.
If you have the left and the right levers, install them simultaneously to make the process easy.
A basic bike toolset such as the Bike Repair Tool Kit would be of great help since it contains most of the tools you will ever need for your bicycle DIY tasks.
2. Install The Cable Housing
The next bit should be installing the cable housing. It is advisable to use the old housing to get the correct length required for your bike.
Once you have the cable housing in place, it’s time to fit the cable.
3. Fix The Cable
When installing the cable, it is advisable to start from the shifters on the downtube towards the derailleurs.
In addition, ensure that the shifter levers are closed before installing the cable. Run the cable from the front (between the top tube and the downtube) to the rear.
The next step is to run the cable through the cable guard under the bottom bracket (for the rear-wheel cassette).
Finally, let the cable follow the right-side chain stay through the cable housing.
4. Connect The Cable To The Derailleur
The last step is connecting the cable to the derailleur. Once the cable has gone through the cable housing, it needs to go through the barrel adjuster.
You may have to uninstall the cable housing from the last cable stop for easy installation.
Once the cable is through the barrel adjuster, insert the ferrule into its place.
Finally, you need to pull the cable tight, fasten it with the derailleur cable bolt, and trim the end, leaving an allowance of about one inch.
Do They Still Make Downtube Shifters?
Yes, some manufacturers have continued with the production of downtube shifters despite the advent of new systems.
Over the years, these shifters haven’t changed all that much. They are still a staple on many bikes to this day.
These shifters were the first type of gear shifters for derailleur bikes, and they remained popular through the 90s.
Shimano and Sram continue to produce this classic gear changer, though the market is very saturated with different shifters.
Frequently Asked Questions
In the cycling world, there are so many questions that pop up every day. When it comes to gear shifters, here are some of the most common questions.
1. How Do You Use Downtube Shifters?
To use the downtube shifters, you need to take one hand completely off the handlebars. You then use the free hand to reach the levers and push them to shift.
Pushing the levers up will shift to a lower gear while pushing the shifter down will shift the gears to a lower one.
2. Can You Replace Downtube Shifters?
It is possible to replace downtube shifters if you so wish. All you need to do is ensure that your preferred type of shifter is compatible with your bike.
In addition, you will have to replace the whole system, and therefore, the cost may be a bit high.
3. What Is Friction Shifting?
Friction shifting is one way to shift gears on a bicycle and is defined as “indexless shifting.” This type of shifting has no notches that indicate the gears. As a result, the shifter can land in between gears instead of landing on a specific cog.
4. What Are Bicycle Brifters?
“Brifter” is a term that refers to a bike component that has both braking and shifting controls integrated. This combination allows the rider to shift gears and apply brakes without moving their hands, as in the case of other shifters.
Also Read: How To Shift Gears On A Bike For Dummies
In Summary – Are Downtube Shifters Good?
Downtube shifters offer a minimalistic solution to gear shifting in a bicycle. They’re also the most user-friendly type of shifters which makes them perfect for transportation and recreation bikes.
They’re perfect for children, seniors, and tourists who like easy shifting instead of complex systems.