Thoughts on friction shifting

I freely admit it. I’ve spent a lot of money on fad bike parts “that will last me a lifetime.” I’ve bought many items that are the ‘ideal’ this or the ‘perfect’ that. But I think that it can take a long time, no matter whether you’re talking about clothes, bikes, white goods or whatever, to tune out peer pressure, hype and the snare drum of progress, and buy stuff that’s genuinely useful. 

Sun Race Friction Thumb Shifters
Sun Race Friction Thumb Shifters

Bikes are no different to every other consumer item. There’s  a relentess march towards more, easier, faster, smarter. Gears make cycling easier, I’ve got no problem with that. However, I’ve taught my sons to ride bikes in the Indexed Gear Period, and they’ve got no idea what friction shifting is, and thus how a derailleur actually works. 

My first derailleur bike had a downtube shifer and a Simplex derailleur on a five speed block. When I pushed the lever one way, the chain went left. When I pushed the lever the other way the chain went right. When I didn’t get it right the chain made a funny noise. So I tweaked the lever and Lo!, the noise ceased. 

I’ve just bought a set of Sun Race Thumbshifters, the only friction only thumbshifters IN THE WORLD. Big deal you might think. But here’s the thing – shifting friction is a lesson that all derailleur users should take. Even if they just flirt with friction, it’ll make them treat their indexed gears with reverence and  mechanical sympathy. 

Aside from all this, these shifters are superb value. $10 including cables for a fantastic racheted shifting action,  the lightest shifter available anywhere, and an object lesson in how to change gear. You can keep your STIs, Ergopower, SIS, SRAM triggers and Gripshifts. Simple mechanisms empower the user and last forever, impervious to the march of time and the death knell of obselescence.


15 thoughts on “Thoughts on friction shifting

  1. Love the Blog!

    I have a couple of bikes where the click shift has been turned over to friction…I guess that makes me a retrogrouch. LOL

    What I think is hilarious is everybody seems to think that A) Newer is always better (it is not) and B) Click shifting is something new…Sturmey Archer was using click shift as far back as 1908 😀

    If it ain’t broke I ain’t fixin’ it!


  2. Pingback: Friction Shifting – is 9 speed a cog too far? | The Everyday Cyclist

  3. Geoff

    Could I ask where you bought them from? I’ve searched but can only seem to find them in the USA.
    Pah…my old iron of a utility bike developed a gearchange fault, couldn’t get it to stay in the middle gears. I opened up the trigger mechanism (7 speed), and found some ‘pegs’ on the index shift wheel thingy have sheared right off – rendering the mechanisam total scrap. What were we saying about friction shifters? This timely failure amply demonstrates the point.
    From what I’ve read these Sunrace friction shifters appear to be simple, cheap and reliable. I’ll have a pair of them then please.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      I bought mine from the US. Even with international shipping added on they were still affordable. I searched on ‘a popular online auction site’.

  4. fwinter

    I have had these for ages and they have appeared on various utility bikes. As well as simple and cheap they are lightweight too. How much would you have to pay for that in indexed-land? Also I have heard that everything new is going 10 speed next year – as a result I am going on a 7 and 8 speed buying spree, enough to last another 30 years or so!

  5. Alcyon

    I’ve never chosen sides in the friction vs indexed debate. Well, other than finding brifters to be a bit of an eyesore. But hold on young ‘uns! I have been noticing that when I’m using friction shifters I’m not always hearing the faint tinkle of the slightly misaligned chain. I used to be able to hear a mouse sneeze two fields over; now, as they say, not so much.

    Oh cruel advancing years! Isn’t it bad enough that a map check now involves digging out my reading glasses!?

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      O cruel advance of years! I’m finding that I’m using ‘photo opportunities’ more and more these days as an excuse for a wee rest.

      My love of friction comes from spending too long fixing errant indexing, both when I worked as a mechanic at the Hub in Liverpool and when looking after the family bikes. Plus I get a kick out of making that perfect ‘manual’ shift.

  6. Kevin Martini

    Any idea how the build construction of these will hold up to cold temps?

    I had a set of Falcon Thumb Friction Shifters on my winter bike, and as soon as the temps dropped below freezing the plastic housing on my shifters disintegrated. I would much rather spend $15ish on these than $40 on Paulie converters and a set of downtube/stem friction shifters. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      I used Sun Race levers through a harsh winter last year but a harsh winter in the UK means 30deg F lows. Small potatoes compared with many readers experiences.

    2. Michael Ross

      Echo that, Kevin. I’m here precisely because my Falcon shifters are disintegrating with every hill. I’m loathe to buy some pricey shifter; it is my winter bike, after all, and a lot of shifters cost more than what I paid for the bike (used).

      So, anyone tried these shifters in a moderately cold climate (this morning it was -16 C, which is fairly typical here for this time of year) ?

  7. Peter Dowers

    I’m heading off to Vietnam for a solo ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. Friction shifters are my choice. KISS (Keep it simple stupid) no issue with adjustments. Replace the cable and off you go.

  8. Out of all my bikes, only my old 60s 10speed has friction shifters on it. They are by far my favourite way to change gear. I wish all my bikes had them. Ok, maybe not my mountain bike, but all the rest.

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