Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Simplex Retro friction Shifters Part 2

According to velobase the next available version of retro friction shifters were produced by Simplex for Gipiemme in 1982.  These shifters are the ultimate version of retro friction shifters.  Not only were they the lightest version (70 grams) of retro friction shifters, but also easily the most attractive.  Looks and weight aside, these shifters are almost totally sealed.  The entire spring mechanism is held within the shifter body, therefore making  the shifting mechanism almost impossible for dirt and grime to infiltrate. 

Profile view of Gipiemme Crono Sprint retro friction shifters.

Often referred to as "coke spoon" shifters, given their elegant, spoon like shape, these shifters were likely able to shave extra weight by incorporating shaved down contours and less bulky shifter stops than on the "tear drop" style, which can be seen in the photo below.  The production of these shifters appears to have been quite limited as they were only available for a very short period of time.  Likely the cost associated with the extra nice polishing and more intricate shape made these shifters too expensive to continue producing. 

Profile comparison of Gipiemme Crono Sprint and 3rd generation Simplex SLJ shifters

Also around this time, Simplex began producing a newly styled version of their shifter lever.  Simplex removed the original "S" encircled with a star and replaced it with a "tear drop" shaped handle embossed with the company name.  The reason for this change was more than likely to reduce the weight of the shifters.  

Exploded diagram of the 3rd generation, "tear drop", retro friction shifters.

The earliest example of these levers I could find was in a french Peugeot catalogue from 1983.  These new style shifters appear on what I believe was Peugeot's introduction of the carbon fiber frame (PY 10 FC), which would give further credence to the idea that the design change was a weight saving measure.

Image of Phil Anderson from a 1983, french Peugeot Cataglogue showing the "tear drop" style retro friction shifters.

Aside from the change in looks, the shifter was still identical internally to the second generation shifters.  The weight was reduced by 20 grams, from 95 to 75 grams.  These shifter were still available in clamp-on and braze-on models.  During this time Simplex also produced these shifters for Spidel, Mavic and Gipiemme.  Spidel shifters had their name embosed on their shifters.  Mavic and Gipiemme shifters were identical, varying from the Simplex shifters by the fact that they were unbranded.  The unbranded shifters were available in both silver and a black anodized version and were included in various Mavic and Gipiemme groupsets starting around 1984.

1984/85 Mavic groupsets including "tear drop", unbranded retro friction shifters.

The "tear drop" version of retro friction shifter were likely produced until the late 80s when Simplex began their demise by bankrupting for the first time around 1985.  There was one more version of the retro friction to come, which was produced by Mavic and included in their ZAP groupset.  The Zap groupset was first introduced at the 1992 Tour de France and later publicly available in 1994.  Only the left shifter was retro friction.

The last retro friction shifter released by Mavic (821) as apart of its ZAP groupset.  Only the left lever in this set was retro friction.

This concludes the history I was able to dig up on the retro friction shifter.  If I come across any more info I'll make an updated post with corrections and/or new info.  Next post will likely be on my selection of brakeset.


  1. Hi, Haffa.

    Have you ever attempted to repair one of these shifters suffering from a slack/broken spring?

    Thanks for your attention!

  2. Kallikak,

    I've not yet had any issue using these shifters aside from the bolt coming loose now and again. The only 'servicing' I've had to do is to change out the attaching bolts on one set of shifters. As for the spring, I'd image that if you had a damaged spring you'd just need to simply replace it or the shifter all together. As for tensioning a slack spring, I'd probably tackle that the same way I would a cantilever brake spring by removing the spring (I've never done this on a retrofriction shifter) and tensioning or untentioning the spring by flexing it in the intended direction. Just an FYI, you really need to torque the shifter bolt down quite snugly, otherwise the shifter can feel not as responsive. I would try upgrading the bolt to an appropriate machine head screw which allows for greater torquing when installing the shifter, as well as a drop of loctite or even nail polish to hold the screw in place more securely. I hope this suggestion helps.

    1. Hi, Haffa.

      Since my earlier post, I've obtained repair parts for my Mavic-Simplex right shift lever (turns out the spring was broken!). They can be had from Wayne Bingham at Velo Classique Bicycle Emporium in Purcellville, VA (540-338-8376). Be advised that the spring is a tight fit around the central shaft and its removal and replacement will test your ingenuity and patience!

      If you are disassembling a non-sealed unit, you will be amazed at the amount of dirt that has infiltrated the inner works.

  3. Thank you for making this available! Very interesting and answers lots of questions I had.

  4. I took a set apart for cleaning and lubrication. The best way to install the spring is: (1) get it started; then (2) place on shifter boss and screw the shifter onto the boss. This will force the spring into the shifter body very nicely.