Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Shifter Placement on a Mixte: an Aesthetic and Functional Challenge

Porteur Bars, Elkhide Grips, Inverse Levers, Silver Shifters
I've been asked to describe how the shifters are set up on my mixte, but I hesitate to write about it, because I don't necessarily recommend this method. My handlebar setup consists of inverse brake levers, elk hide grips covering the entire handlebar, and bar-end friction shifters mounted upon "thumbies" up toward the front. The rationale here was to leave as much of the handlebar area uninterrupted as possible, allowing for a variety of hand positions. It works nicely in that context, but it is not for everyone - which brings me to the issue so many have written to me about: There seem to be few options for mounting gear shifters on a mixte with upright handlebars that are both elegant and convenient. Personally, I find my own setup not entirely elegant: Too many cables up front. And it's not entirely convenient either: The levers can only be reached when the hands are in the aggressive forward position on the bars. But what other possibilities are there?

Shimano Shifters and Paul Thumbies on Betty Foy
One alternative is to move the shifters closer to the edges of the handlebars, so that they are near the brake levers. This placement is more convenient if that is the position where you tend to hold your hands the most, and since I've been using my own mixte more and more as a city bike I am considering switching to something like this. The problem, however, is that placing the shifters here interrupts the handlebars and limits potential hand positions: It will not be possible to slide my hands back and forth along the bars the way it's possible on my current mixte set-up. Also, it's essential to get the angle of the shifters just right, and doing so does not always result in attractive placement. Finally, both with my current set-up and with the set-up pictured above, there is something messy-looking to my eye in having so many cables sprouting from the handlebars. I have not been able to find a way to make handlebar-mounted shifters look attractive.

Royal H Handlebars, Take 1: Porteur, Guidonnet, Bar-Ends
A potential way to clean up the handlebar setup from the "messy cables" look while keeping the shifters within reach is to opt for bar-ends. I tried this prior to my current setup, but quickly discovered that this works well only with the wide Nitto Albatross bars used by Rivendell, and ideally on a bike with a long virtual top tube and/or with the handlebars raised high. Otherwise, you may discover that the bar-end shifters will poke you in the knees to the point where it could interfere with pedaling on turns. That is exactly what happened when I tried them on my small sized mixte with narrow Porteur bars.

Mercier Updates
If none of these methods appeal to you, you can go the vintage route - one possibility being to mount the shifters on the stem. However, generally this is not recommended for a number of reasons. Some claim that mounting the shifters in this spot is dangerous, because they could potentially "impale" you if you fall forward on your bike. To me this seems rather far-fetched: After all, it's common to have bruises on your thighs from bumping into bar-end shifters, yet no one claims they are dangerous. I think the real reason stem shifters are disliked is that they are considered to be a symbol of lower-end bikes: In the '70s, stem shifters meant that a bike was marketed for amateurs who held their hands mostly on top of the handlebars and were unable to reach downtube shifters.

Mercier Mixte: Headtube Lugs, Downtube Shifters
But while downtube shifters offer elegance and simplicity, removing the second set of cables from the handlebars entirely, most cyclists who are looking for an upright mixte find them difficult to use. In order to shift gears, you have to remove you hand from the handlebars are reach quite a ways down. Particularly if you are sitting upright, this is inconvenient - not to mention beyond the skill level of some cyclists.

Belleville Handlebars, Dia Compe Levers
As far as aesthetics go, a mixte frame is a challenge to set up, because the twin lateral stays already add a degree of visual complexity to the looks. If you add a cluttered handlebar set-up to that, it can get pretty messy. In vintage photos and in handmade bicycle shows, the cleanest looking mixtes tend to be set up either as single speeds, with hub gearing, or with single chinrings - ensuring that there is, at most, only one shifter to deal with. But in practice, most mixtes today are set up with derailleur gearing and either double or triple chainrings - presenting an aesthetic and functional challenge. 

While I cannot offer a solution that would suit everyone's tastes, I wanted to share the methods I know of and the pros and cons of each, as I see them. How have you set up the shifters on your mixte, and are you happy with them in terms of user-friendliness and looks?


Post a Comment

Ping Blog

Step 1
Blog URL:

Blog Title (optional):

Blog RSS Feed (optional):

I agree with terms of service.

Step 2
Copy the following code and put it on your blog/site to help our blog ping tool track your submission (Need help?):

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Best Buy Coupons