Saturday, February 23, 2008

How To - Bar End Shifters for Crits

So someone recently said that bar ends are dangerous for crits. If someone said that to me, you know what I'd say?

"Are you serious?"

Tell Paul Curley (umpteen time Nat Champ), Pat Gellineau (former small country - Trinidad? - Olympic team, also multi Nat Champ) that their bar ends are dangerous. They're in their 50s and regularly hand Cat 3s half their age their derrières on a plate. And that's after winning a Masters race or two earlier in the day.

Bar ends have fallen out of favor with the advent of the brake-shifter integrated lever, but before the whole STI/Ergo thing, "crit specialists" were the only ones using them. The rest of the racers pooh-poohed them as being a bit too, well, obsessive.

The new brake-shift levers (or "brifters" as they're sometimes called) make it easy to have your brakes close at hand while you're shifting. A typical anti-bar-end argument is that this wouldn't be the case with bar ends - shifting would prevent you from braking and braking would prevent you from shifting.

This warning simply doesn't fly when you're dealing with properly mounted bar ends. I agree that having your hands near brakes is pretty important during a race, and I typically spend most of my time (when at/near the front) on the drops, the only place from which you can brake 100% effectively.

However, a properly set up bar end shifter bike will allow you to have a finger on the brake lever and a pinkie on the shift lever at the same time, even with medium size hands. I know because I raced with a bar end for 8-10 years or so.

I never used a left bar end shifter (for the front) because in virtually all crit races shifting the front is not as critical, and since it takes a while to shift the chain from one chainring to another anyway, it's not as critical to have the shifter at your fingertips. Look at the various riders that use a left downtube shifter with a right shift-brake lever.

Proper set up is critical in order to use bar ends correctly, but that's the case for anything that has to do with ergonomics and/or fit. Slapping a set of bar ends onto any drop bar is pretty careless and irresponsible. For virtually the whole population, doing so will prevent the rider from both braking and shifting without moving their hands. This is not desirable because a rider may suddenly need to brake when they're shifting. If they can't, they may crash or cause a crash, neither a desirable action.

You should probably use an aluminum bar since you'll have to cut it down significantly. I cut approx 3" off the right side and about an inch less on the left since I used downtube left shifters. In this age you may not have the option of using a left downtube shifter, in which case both sides should be even. On the right side I'd cut about 1" into the curve of the bar.

Note the far end of the bar, the right side, is cut a bit more, perhaps an inch more.

My preferred crit bars were mainly Cinelli 65-40s, 65-42s, and the Gimondi bend 3ttt. Curiously enough, they were all considered "crit bend bars". Imagine that.

I cut the bars down so much I regularly mix them up with my old bull horn bars when I dug through my box o'bars.

Which is the old bullhorn and which is the Crit bar?

The hint is where the logo is on the center of the bar and which one has the factory holes for brake cables. (Hint - the bar that's in front of the other bar is the bull horn)

The extra cut on the right side allows the shifter to be squarely under the heel of my palm when I have a finger on the brake lever. That's how I figure out where to cut - grab the bars on the bike, put a finger on the brake lever, and mark where the heel of your hand sits. Then subtract the length of the shifter mount/body thing and cut there.

Note that the heel of my hand sits on the lever mount. Note for the Suntour shifter that the shift bolt is centered in the bar, i.e. it's not above or below the midline of the bar.

For the left side just cut so the heel of your palm has some place to sit. Since the shifter mount/body is about an inch long, the left bar ends up about an inch longer. Once the shifter is mounted, both sides are "equal" in length.

Note that the heel of my hand sits at the end of the bar. Since the bike is not built, you'll have to take my word that my hand is in the right place. It is.

You lose the flat part of the drops (the bit that sticks straight back) but that spot is a dead spot anyway. You can't brake, you can't shift (with any system except improperly mounted bar ends), so get rid of it. As a bonus you'll virtually eliminate the chance of hitting said end of bar with your knee.

With Shimano bar ends it's better if you mod your shifter so the mounting body sits upside down in the bar (i.e. it points up, not down - to do this you swap the left and right mounting bodies and drill out the hole or something). This way you can use your pinkie for more of your shifts since the shifter is closer to said pinkie. It happens to stick down less when you're in the smaller cogs. However, in fairness, I don't think either of the racers I named run unusual shifters. One uses an old Suntour shifter, the other I think uses standard Shimano shifters.

Reversing the mounting body is not required on Suntour bar ends since the bolt holding the shifter is in line with the bar center, not 1-1.5 cm below the centerline like Shimano.

I also drilled out my bars for the shift cable. Note the hole in the bar about an inch forward of the shifter. Note the drilled hole for the brake cable (this was something 3ttt expected you to do on this bar).

You'll also have to sacrifice the "jacked lever" and "jacked bar" position that seems to be in favor nowadays. Such bar and brake lever setups require you to sacrifice rideability in the drop position because they are only effective when on the hoods. Since bar ends require riding in the drops a lot, you won't want to sacrifice being able to brake or shift from the drops.

Comparing it to my current setup - pretty similar shape. Things don't change over 20 years. In case you're wondering why my bars are pointing up so much, I just reassembled my bike after a trip and the bars are a bit "jacked". My bad.

Note the heel of my hand sits on the end of the bar. My hand is a bit awkward looking because I'm trying to reach to the other end of the bike to take the picture. Note my thumb on the shift button and finger on the shift lever. I can shift, brake, and sprint without moving my hand.

Properly mounted, a bar end shifter would work great even in this day and age of the brifter.

The only thing you have to think about?

Where to put your left (downtube) shifter.


Anonymous said...

great article. looks like it will be barcons with trimmed down bars for my next crit bike. I am planning on dropping the front der completely and doing a 1x8 drivetrain.

Aki said...

I'd leave a front derailleur on the bike as a chain guide, or a minimal version of it, like keeping just the very core of the front der cage, the 5-10 mm of cage around the pivot mount area. Chains bounce a lot and will come right off of a single front ring.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about that, but on my other single ring bike (1x6), I've never dropped the chain. I might braze together a minimalistic chain guide out of some scrap metal if the need arises.

Aki said...

For a race I'd have some kind of guide. It would be frustrating to enter a race and have to drop out because the chain came off, for whatever reason. I understand that you can pick up a chain etc without getting dropped but it's just unnecessary.

Remember that the wider the cassette range and the wider the actual cassette the higher the chance of dropping your chain. Keep in mind too that a no-front-guide set up is optimized for the middle cogs. You have a significant chance of dropping the chain when sprinting in your biggest gear, and trust me, you do not want to drop your chain when you launch your final sprint.

I suppose it's like rock climbing a 300' climb with no rope. You don't need the rope until you fall and it is technically extra weight you need to pull up with you on the climb, but when you fall it's really nice to have the rope there if you drop off the wall 250 feet off the ground.

Remember that a dropped chain doesn't justify a free lap in a crit. If you drop your chain and get dropped you're out of the race.

For example, even with a front derailleur, even with a jumpstop or similar inner ring guard, even though I know how to adjust a front derailleur, I don't shift into the small ring during most crits. I dropped my chain maybe twice or three times in about 15 years of racing on one particular course, probably 7,000 laps of racing (70-80 laps a week, 6-7 weeks a year) and close to that number of shifts into the small ring. The failure rate is super low but a dropped chain does not justify a free lap so I just stopped shifting into the small ring.

As far as weight goes you're saving maybe 100-150g-200g. It's not a lot at all and it puts you at risk. If you enter a race and can pinpoint that weight as the reason you didn't win or finish or something then that's one thing, but I honestly have never felt that a bit of weight on my bike has caused me problems like that. 600g in a rear rim or 30 pounds on me, okay, not 200g static weight on the bike. Heck my helmet cam weighs about 200g and I'm thinking of adding a second one.

If you weren't racing then it's a different story. There's design aesthetic at work and people will try all sorts of things to clean up a bike's looks.

Anonymous said...

great insight. I know exactly what I'm going to do now. I'm going to add a bottle boss where a front der. clamp/tab would normally go, fabricate a sleek little "drillium" bolt-on chain keeper from some scrap metal or some aluminum bar stock to go along with the 70s Nuovo Record aesthetic I am aiming for.

Aki said...

That's a nice balance between functionality and style. I like it.