Open Source Shifting

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Open Source Shifting

Life should not be full of limitless choices.  The grocery store is a great example of what too many choices looks like.  How many brands and flavors and varieties of peanut butter or tooth paste or toilet paper do we need?  How many milk varieties?  There’s too many choices that don’t matter (tooth paste) and too few that do (veggies, for instance).  Limitless choices lead to limitless indecision, or at least too much time spent in the toothpaste aisle.  Choice though, in general, is a good thing, within limits.  When corporations conspire to take away choice, the best thing to do is to subvert them, ignore conventions, and go open source.  Wait.  Let me explain.

95% of all corporations (software companies, movie companies, car companies, music companies, pharma, etc) want information to be private.  Information should be proprietary, held under legal lock and key.  Computer programs shouldn’t be modifiable, cars should drive just the way the manufacturer intended, and music shouldn’t be sampled to make new music.  What does this do?  For starters, it stifles innovation and alternative thinking.  It also attempts to quash problem solving that originates outside of the company atmosphere.  Take new software bugs.  If software is open source, a whole community can contribute potential fixes to these bugs.  Ever used Open Office?  It’s got 95% of the functionality of Microsoft Office, but it’s cross platform stable, easier to use, and free.  Hmm.  There are exceptions to the proprietary information corporate concept.  Burton Snowboards doesn’t patent any new technology, with the assumption that releasing good tech will up everyone’s game, and push the whole sport forward.  Look into the fantastic Creative Commons concept for another example of how open or mostly open creativity spurs more creativity.  Proprietary technology mainly benefits the corporation.  Corporations do not have your best interests in mind.

A Campagnolo Shifter exploded diagram. 30 parts per side. Campy’s proprietary inventions make Shimano seem benign. Shimano doesn’t publish exploded diagrams. When their shifters wear down, they are trash.

Shimano, round about 2003, decided to abandon normal bike riders.  They snuffed the flame on  tourists, casual riders, mountain bikers who have to ride to the trail head, mountain touring, or any one who needed gearing that fell outside of conventional racer or amateur racer needs.  Shimano slowly duped the world into accepting the new norm of incompatibility, forced obsolescence, and unnecessary ‘advancements’ like electronic shifting.  Here’s a basic run down on what Shimano did, and why you should be madder than a bunch of hornets that built a nest over a BBQ smoker.

The Need for Speed(s):

The move from 9 speed to 10 speed was the beginning of the end.  Big deal you say.  Hey, I say! That move did two things that are bad from an engineering standpoint, and one big bad one from a normal folk stand point.  Adding a gear widened the free hub body, which is where all the gears in the back slide on.  That makes the rear wheel weaker by forcing wheel builders to use less even tension, from one side of the wheel to another.  The rear wheel is already the weak link; this made it weaker.  It also meant you couldn’t ‘upgrade’ old hubs to 10 speed, because of this increase in width.  So people with awesome 9 speed wheels just had to throw them away if they wanted new drivetrain bits.  Going to 10 speed decreased shifting tolerances.  Anytime you cram more gears in the back, the spaces between them get smaller.  Smaller spacers are bad, because it takes less slop to get out of alignment.  Less cable stretch, less crud on the cables themselves, less of a bend in the derailleur.  It meant more time fiddling with your derailleur, and less time just riding along and shifting.  Lastly, Shimano (and here’s where you should get really mad) decided to make their 10 speed road shifters incompatible with their 10 speed mountain derailleurs.  That meant tourists were screwed.  Shimano locked them out and threw away the key.  You couldn’t mix mountain bike derailleurs and road shifters any more, and so normal people were suddenly stuck pushing around ‘sport touring’ gearing, not loaded touring gearing, which is bad, unless you like walking up hills.  Now they’ve gone even further, and moved to 11 speed, still with no cross compatibility between mountain stuff and road stuff.  11 speed sprockets and chainrings are paper thin and ‘feature’ about half of the wear life of 8 speed sprockets, if you keep everything really really clean.

8 was fine.

3 minus 1 equals bad news:

Shimano is secretly killing the triple crank.  This is a huge can of worms, and I won’t fully open it, but here’s a peek inside.  Shimano wants everyone to look like a racer.  Magazines want whatever Shimano wants.  Triples are tourist items, or normal person items, or older rider items, and Shimano only wants racers.  Only the cheapest Shimano groups currently come with a triple option.  A replacement triple front derailleur for your nice Ultegra group is only available in the Tiagra level, two steps down in quality.  In a year, it will only be Sora, I bet.  This means if you want to run integrated shifting plus a triple, you can currently do it, with old model 105 10 speed stuff, but the new stuff will phase that out soon, and you’ll be living in a world with no decent quality Shimano Triples.  I’ll bet they do away with the double in 5 years, for everything but cheapo bikes, and go to a 1×13 or some nonsense.  They’re already working on 12 speed stuff, and 105 electronic shifting.

3 >1

Batteries should go in bike lights, not bike shifters:

Shimano is trying to make you plug your bike into a computer, as well as turn your bike into a computer.  With proprietary, not open source software.  Di2 is to practical bikes what a Ferrari is to a daily driver.  It’s the Buck Rogers version of friction shifting.  The main benefit that I’ve heard is that is it will auto correct if you smack the derailleur and bend it a bit.  It will try to run the best chain line possible, given the accident.  Guess what else you can do that with?  A friction shifter.

Make it as simple as possible, but no simpler:

If you wanna opt out, it’s easy.  Cut the cables on your integrated shifters, your trigger shifters, your twist shifters.  Unplug your bike.  Go open source, and bolt on a pair of friction shifters.  They’re easy to set up, the easiest of all the shifters.  You can mix a 10 speed crank, a 5 speed front derailleur, a 9 speed chain, 7 speed rear derailleur and a 8 speed cassette.  You have options.  You can choose what you want to ride.  It’s fixable, at home, with simple tools and no computers.  You can use a derailleur from Suntour, a Cassette from Sunrace, cranks from Sugino and shifters from Diacompe.  It’s all fair game with friction shifting.

7 pieces per side vs 30 per side. Which you gunna trust on a back road?

Here’s a hack we’ve been using for a while now.  No manufacturer will admit that this works, and it’s not sexy to have really low gears, so no one ever will.  We stole a really big cassette from the new fad for 1x drivetrains.  These are drivetrains that do away with all the chainrings up front save one.  They ‘make up’ for the lack of other rings by putting a really wide range cassette in the back.  Way bigger than an old school cassette, down to 44t.  Here’s why 1x’s are popular:  they’re new + they work fine with bulgy weird carbon designs and dual suspension bikes.  They’re a lazy solution to a simple problem.  We put a big wide range (40t) rear cassette on a bike, a big mountain derailleur, and combined it not with a single ring up front, or a double, but a triple.  It gives you a mega wide range of gearing, road gearing to get to the trail head, normal mountain gearing for trail riding, and ultra wicked never before used low gearing for loaded touring off road.  It’s perfect.  And it’s possible because of friction shifting.  We keep this stuff in stock, so you if you want to break out of the mold, we’ve got the tools.

42/36/26 up front and a 13/40 out back. You can go wider, if you want.