Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Inconvenience of Convenience

A happy customer rode away yesterday on his new Fuji Cross Comp cyclocross bike. It seemed to be the answer to his dreams. But he lives near the top of one of the area's most notorious walls. He's been riding a mountain bike, so he's used to the triple crank and low gearing.

I told him the roadier geometry and lightness of the cyclocross bike might make it climb more easily than the gearing would suggest, but he found that the wall stalled him. He asked if we could put on a triple.

"No prob," I assured him. We can figure out how to do anything. Bikies developed powered aircraft and laid the foundation for the auto industry that seeks to kill them off. We can do anything.

The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a little longer.

Try fitting up a triple with a reasonable selection of gears to a bike with ten-speed STI shifters. It can be done, but it takes a lot of page-flipping and Internet searching to come to the conclusion that you can try mad science with a 74-110 arm set or suck it up and try the Deore LX model that comes with 26-36-48 rings in 64-104, four-bolt configuration. These are listed as "9-speed," but the chain will fit the teeth. I checked. The only question is whether it will drop on top of the middle and inner rings when shifting down, instead of engaging them properly.

I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing to have so few options. We may find we have no options at all, if both those possibilities still don't shift cleanly with the dinky ten-speed chain. And who pays for the experimental surgeries? What works on one bike can mysteriously fail to work on another. Barnett would say that's because I am a primitive rock-banger instead of a steely-eyed Engineer about all this, but Barnett can take a hike. I know what I have experienced over the years. Some things are hard enough to measure and predict to be considered functionally unpredictable. Then you just have to fall back on whatever the Art of Tweaking can do for you.

If we'd had a Surly Cross-Check to sell the guy right off the floor we wouldn't be going through this. I'd do the standard conversion to 118 BB, granny ring, Tiagra triple front derailleur and 12-27 cassette. He'd be back out the door in a couple of hours at the most.

Multiple gears are only a convenience, not a necessity. Same goes for clicky-click shifting. As bikes evolved, shifting systems improved, but indexed shifting creates the compatibility headaches we have today. I'd settle for a reliable seven or eight. that work in many configurations instead of nine or ten that require perfection to work at all.


Dingbat said...

Your post hit as precisely the right time: I was wavering on whether I'd build up the frame (a Surly Crosscheck, incidentally) that I have arriving this week with the 3/9 STI's I got on EBay last year or the Suntour DT shifters I found in the "Everything $5!" box at my LBS. I have to keep reminding myself, "You will not race this bicycle!" Brifters back on the Bay, friction on the bike.

cafiend said...

Down tube! You da man! I'm not so much da man anymore. I really like the convenience of the bar-end shifters. They allow me to keep my hands on the bars but still avoid the pitfalls of proprietary brifters.

Down tube shifters have a real purity to them, but when dealing with tight traffic I didn't feel confident enough in my ability to make instantaneous, perfect shifts anymore.

I run the barcons in friction. Friction shifting rules.