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I'm in the process of upgrading a well loved 1970s steel frame from a downtube shifter system to a modern 'brifter' system.

Through this process I've had to look at many disparate sources to get information from all over the internet. Generally, LBS have been rather sketchy about this - they'd rather sell me a new bike. I think it would be ideal if we could have one question under which we could address as many of the general problems & solutions that the process throws up, and maybe have a collection of resources that someone who wants to follow this process would be able to refer to for more specific problems. I'm going to provide an answer myself, once it's established that the question is valid! My question is:

What potential issues will I need to consider when modernizing a pre-1990s steel frame?

Please note, I am getting brifters. Answers which say 'you'd be better off staying with downtube shifters' are not helpful in the slightest.

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closed as too broad by whatsisname, zenbike Jul 4 '14 at 21:27

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

It is going to be a lot of work, especially if you fit a modern hub in the back (you'll have to deform the rear triangle to do it right). You might want to reconsider and keep the downtube shifters, upgrade the components to the top-of-the-line for that era. Downtube shifters, when adjusted properly, are nice and responsive. The only thing I would get rid of are those unsightly brake cables looping high into the air-- replace those with aero brake levers (early-80's tech). – Angelo Jul 3 '14 at 13:05
@Angelo Hi Angelo - I've already begun the process, frame has been spread, parts ordered, new braze - ons to take the cables where modern shifters need them, tiagra groupset in the post ;) I'm not interested in people suggesting that I shouldn't do it - it is doable (although a lot of work), and I want this to be a resource to people who want to take on this enjoyable challenge themselves! – 7thGalaxy Jul 3 '14 at 13:31
Down tube shifters have a look. If you change the look it is no longer a cool old bike. – Paparazzi Jul 3 '14 at 14:18
@Blam Hi Blam - the bike already has a mishmash of parts, I have no interest in restoring it to original condition, as I have no idea what that would be! The frame's lovely though, and will remain so. – 7thGalaxy Jul 3 '14 at 14:33
Then I suggest you add more to the post. What frame? A picture. Modern 'brifter' could mean a lot - what? Without detail people are going to ask why. – Paparazzi Jul 3 '14 at 14:56

I think it depends on your frame, I have a 1973 Peugeot UO-8 which I replaced the 27inch wheels with 700 28CC and even replaced the handle bars with modern alu bars from MEC. The seat is now a Brooks and because the seat post tubes on french bikes are smaller I had to use a BMX chromoly post. My bottom bracket is a new square one from Velo-Orange instead of the cotter cranks of old. I decided to go with a flip flop hub but it would easily accomodate a 10 speed cassette. I installed modern TekTro brakes to replace the original Maffac whcih where truly appalling. And altthough I am sure there is a way to convert the down tub shifters, you would be better off sticking with newer shifter at the same location.

I upgraded and converted my steel frame becuase it is so rare that I find a bike that fits nicely and I really wanted a steel frame for commuting. You might just be going to the wrong LBS. I went to two awesome shops in MTL that where quite please to help out with this project bike. I do have to warn you that older parts for French bikes are not cheap. In total it cost me about $300 to convert the bike and I propbably spend another $200-300 a year on it in parts, tires, chains and BB (fixie is murder on the BB).

Good Luck and have fun with it.

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I've got the following sorted so far, so here are some answers about the first part of the process for me. Next up will be installing the groupset.


27 inch wheels are slightly narrower in width, and greater in rim diameter than the closest modern standard, 700c. In order to fit a modern 700c wheel you will have to worry about two things:

  • The spacing of the frame will have to be changed. This can be done at home, Sheldon Brown has a page describing the process here. Alternately, you can get a LBS to set it for you (potentially more accurately)
  • You will need 4mm longer 'arms' on the brakes. Long drop brakes might be long enough - otherwise tektro do some extra long drop brakes. Sometimes you can file the slit in the arms a little bit, if it's very close.

Bottom Bracket:

You will want to check what size your frame takes - in my case, British standard seems easy enough to find still. Some things don't change! You will want a BB which is compatible with whatever groupset you are putting on the bike.


Some older handlebars won't take modern shifters/brake housings happily. You can convert from an old style 1 inch quill stem into a modern system with this bit of kit if you want to go that way.

Cable routing:

You might want a set of cable stops on the downtube, around where your shifters once were. These might require some additional brazing. The cable routing around the bottom bracket might also need some work - I got these done by a custom bike builder. It wasn't cheap, but peace of mind that I was getting everything necessary made up for that.

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