I really don't like indexed shifters, at least on the front. They're harder to adjust, more sensitive to cable stretching, and limit the number of gear combinations you can use (because you can't adjust the front derailleur cage manually to not rub on the chain).

So.. why are they impossible to find these days?

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    FYI, it's common for "touring" bikes (Surly LHT, Trek 520, Novara Randonee, Raleigh Port Townsend, Bianchi Campione, Fuji Touring) to have shifter levers, with the front shifter non-indexed, and the indexing on the rear easily disabled.
    – freiheit
    Jun 13, 2011 at 16:34
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    It's worth pointing out that at least some of Campagnolo's brake-integrated indexed front shifters allow you to micro-adjust the trim of the front derailleur. The real question is why no one has yet re-introduced something like the SunTour Symmetric shifter (youtube.com/watch?v=FyR9Sezf1PM). Seems like Shimano DI2 could do it trivially.
    – lantius
    Jun 14, 2011 at 7:19
  • @lantius: I'd never seen the symmetric setup before. It looks like an excellent solution for people with derailleur gears. I suspect the reason you don't see them is that it requires both shifters to be in the same place and that's rare these days.
    – Мסž
    Jun 16, 2011 at 4:49
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    @freiheit: Interesting. I don't really have a problem with indexing on the back -- on the front though the system gets out of alignment seemingly every 10 minutes. Nov 13, 2011 at 17:38
  • The Surly Long Haul Trucker comes with indexed/friction shifters. surlybikes.com/bikes/long_haul_trucker/bike_specs Nov 10, 2017 at 21:17

6 Answers 6


There is no 'conspiracy' to keep friction shifters off the market just so that you have to buy the index shifters. It is simply a matter of supply and demand. Nobody in the OEM market wants friction shift gears because bikes with friction-shift simply do not sell. That leaves the after-market and you have a similar position there - the demand does not exist amongst people building up bikes/repair old bikes.

One reason why the replacement part market does not exist is that friction shifters rarely break, even 'back in the day' they were not a common spare for shops to stock in depth.

As for your front-shifting problem, you do have the outer cage 'flat-bit' parallel with the chainset and clearing the outer ring by all of 1-3mm? Without that accurate positioning it is unlikely you will get your front mechanism to work. New cables help, and if you follow the Shimano/SRAM/Campagnolo manual to the letter, making sure no dropouts or derailleurs are bent, you will have a chance of getting optimal shifting.

I know that a simple shift-lever adjustment would be easier, but that is progress for you.

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    That cog position, commonly called cross chaining, is not recommended for several reasons. The biggest reason is that it causes unnecessary wear and tear on your drivetrain. on an old school bike, with 5-6 rear cogs spaced fairly widely apart, you could get reasonably accurate sifts with a friction shifter and a little practice. Put 10 rear cogs in the same space, and it gets orders of magnitude more difficult. In addition, most quality indexed shifters on a road bike offer a "trim" position on the front shifter. A half shift up or down specifically to address the needs of stubborn fogies.
    – zenbike
    Jul 4, 2011 at 6:43
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    So my suggestion would be, learn proper shifting patterns, first, and then consider upgrading your Trek 1500 to something a little more performance oriented before you complain about how the old days were better. You look about 20, BTW. Have you ever ridden a road bike with straight friction shifting?
    – zenbike
    Jul 4, 2011 at 6:45
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    I'm sorry if I come across a little annoyed about the question. But I am. You're a Microsoftie, right? This is a little like me buying a first gen EeePC, and then complaining to you because it has no optical drive, or I can't use it to crack a 128 bit TLS key in a usable time frame. Buy good equipment first. Then complain if it doesn't do what it is intended to do. Wouldn't be a bad idea to take your bike down to Woodinville Cycles in Redmond, downtown not Overlake, and ask them to check whether it is adjusted properly to start with.
    – zenbike
    Jul 4, 2011 at 6:48
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    @BillyONeal -- The problem with indexing on the front is that changes in chain angle affect the ideal derailer position. Because of this, most better front shifters have a "half shift" feature to allow "fine tuning" of the front derailer. But often people are not aware of that feature. Nov 24, 2011 at 15:20
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    It's not "expensive" hardware, just not always available on BSOs. I would think that any Shimano shifter has the feature, eg. Nov 25, 2011 at 2:17

One point that seemed to be missed in the answers so far (though I'll admit I didn't read every word) is that indexed shifters are only a small part of indexed shifting.

It used to be that you needed friction shifters because, in order to shift to a larger sprocket, you had to "over-shift" substantially -- push the lever beyond the point where it would eventually end up, then move it back once the chain had begun to move. Because of this, indexed shifting was essentially impossible, even though it was no doubt a sought-after goal of many inventors.

What changed was the chain and sprockets, with carefully-engineered profiles that would cause the chain to "climb" the sprocket if it was pushed ever so slightly in that direction. This invention made indexed shifting possible, and largely eliminated shifting as a major roadblock in the way of a "mass market" for bikes.

But, rather incidentally, the change to chain and sprocket profiles made possible shifting under load, something that was largely impossible before. While many of us would willingly give up indexed shifting (I miss the sensation of the lever that allowed me to inherently know what gear I am in), how many would be happy to give up being able to shift under load?

  • Could you not combine the two? (Though honestly, any indexed system I've ever used still has just as much of the overshift problem as my 30 year old "bridgestone" bike -- one has to push the lever past the shift point until the chain moves, then the never returns to the stop point and does the "centering". Nov 13, 2011 at 17:37
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    Yes, you could combine the two -- install a friction shifter on a bike with "indexed" chain and sprockets. (But to be frank, I've kind of grown fond of my "brifters" in my old age.) Nov 13, 2011 at 23:06
  • A lot of downtube shifters and bar end shifters are switchable between friction mode and index shifting (by turning a knob on the side or something).
    – Batman
    Nov 11, 2017 at 14:20

Hehe- I'm a fossil who still uses downtube friction shifters on my 1972-vintage Euro roadster.
But I do admit that as I get even yet older the allure of those nifty "brifters" is there.

Once learned, they are easy to use, forgiving of adjustment, and accommodate a wide variety of gear clusters with no problems. I took my originally 5-speed rear end up to an 8-speed with no change at all to the shifters.

As noted, indexed shifting does have its problems as well. I see many kids here at the university with multi-speed mountain bikes who get off and push the bike up hills, or struggling with a way-too-high gear. I have stopped a few and asked why, and the answer is usually: "It's too hard." or more likely, "It shifted OK when I got it, but now it doesn't work." Kind of sad. A well-adjusted gear-train is a joy to use, gears effortlessly leaping from cog to cog. Usually, after an initial adjustment after new-cable stretch, shifters will stay in adjustment for a long time. I'm surprised that riders who are not maintenance-prone don't use the hub-shifters more.

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    "...and the answer is usually..."It's too hard." or more likely, "It shifted OK when I got it, but now it doesn't work." Kind of sad." Truth. But more likely a problem with the rider's lack of knowledge or motivation, than with the equipment they've got.
    – zenbike
    Jul 4, 2011 at 6:51
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    Neither of the problems you identify with indexed shifting are problems with indexed shifting at all. People who don't understand how to use indexed gears certainly won't understand how to use friction shifters, which require a little skill to select the gear and require you to be more careful about pedalling while changing gear. And, yes, badly maintained bikes work badly. Hub gears aren't more popular probably just because they're more expensive, and a large fraction of the market just want the cheapest bike possible. Nov 12, 2017 at 17:21
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    @RyanHaining While your edit is completely correct, it doesn't really change the message or improve it significantly. Minor edits can be annoying because they re-awaken the question and put it back on the "active" list.
    – Criggie
    Jun 23, 2018 at 0:32

Indexed shifting keeps the rider's hands on the handlebars. Indexed shifting also correlates with a move to integrated shifters for road bikes, so the hand position doesn't move, at least on the hoods and drops.

I can imagine some sly race tactic in the 80s with a rider timing their breakaway to coincide with a gear change by other riders in the group. Having your hands on the brifters means your hands are not ~30 cm away from the bars, and you're faster to respond.

Modern bikes have 10+ gears across the back, that's a lot more positions and a friction lever would have narrower "good" spots for each gear making accurate changes slightly more difficult.

With that many gears, it is more common to change up/down to a slightly different gear for comfort or power. If the shifter is further away and needs a more coordinated movement, you're less likely to do it. An older 5/6/7 speed bike might have 3~4 tooth jumps between some gears, so the cadence can change a lot compared to a single tooth jump, which is more common when there are more gear cogs across the cassette.

In short - fewer gears meant fewer shifts, and riders might have been pedalling slightly outside their preferred cadence to maintain the bunch's pace.

In addition, keeping your hand position still would be more aero - leaning down to downtube shifters will move the whole upper body. Even stem shifters move the whole arm, changing airflow.

You can doubtless get friction-shifters still but they are definitely less common. Properly tuned indexed shifters work very well, and are a gateway to fully electronic shifting which is functionally identical for the rider.

Summary moving the shifting to the brake lever forced the use of indexed shifting.

this answer applies equally well to pod/thumb/trigger shifters on MTBs, but there's less "race craft" in MTB and more riding technique, so reacting quickly to changes in the peloton is less important.
Also, MTBs never really had downtube or stem shifters, their friction shifters were normally bar-mounted levers so were closer to the grips.

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    I'm imagining a kickstarter for "wireless friction shifter for DI2" where its just one sliding rheostat, adjusted by a large brass handle mechanism.....
    – Criggie
    Aug 26, 2020 at 3:35
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    This answer seems to be more an answer for/against downtube positioning of the shifter rather than whether it is friction or indexed. Aug 26, 2020 at 20:05
  • @BillyONeal yeah its hard to separate them - there are no friction-based integrated shifters, though there were indexed downtube/stem shifters available. Basically "Moving the shifting to the brake lever forced the use of indexed shifting"
    – Criggie
    Aug 27, 2020 at 0:30

What I see is they're forcing bicycles to be like the automobile market; "old is bad" and "replace every 3 years (or sooner if WE TELL YOU TO)". Anything they can do to keep selling parts and bikes is "Good" for the "Economy" (AKA THEM) I just damaged the frame on my 16 year old Specialized Hardrock. The indexed "collar grip" shifters had cracked and failed in the first 6 months, fitted on the thumb lever friction shifters from my previous bike, and replaced parts as they wore out over the years. My new bike is in the garage half disassembled as I refit it, replace the front shocks with a solid fork, friction shifters, 'long enough' seat post on order, and installing my double layer thorn stripping. My real problem is I'm running out of parts as I repair other peoples bikes. Dumping the indexed shifters usually fixes them. Thorn strips and ooze filled tubes fixes their other problems. Indexed shifters are fine if you want to take the time to tune them, and if you ride frequently; tuning them twice a month. I am considering manufacturing my own friction shifters during slack time at work, but it's not a cheap way to do it.

  • Im' a mountain biker, do a lot of rockgarden descents, almost downhill type of riding in a cross country bike, the same I use to get to the top of the mountain in first place. I usually spend 20 minutes of indexed shifter tuning that last for 3 or 4 months, so I wouldn't complain... ;)
    – Jahaziel
    Nov 17, 2011 at 20:06
  • I found a number of friction shifters with Google. In particular the Falcon shifter appears to be new/new stock and sells for around $10 as set. Nov 24, 2011 at 15:17

Index shifting I've found to be somewhat unreliable. shifting down may go smooth but going up again will often not work unless you jump a gear or vice versa. No amount of adjusting will cure the problem. The front shifters aren't so bad and oft times the front is friction anyway controlled anyway.

  • 1
    Thank you for joining SE - please take a moment to read the tour The question here is "why has indexed shifting displaced friction shifting" and your reply doesn't address that question.
    – Criggie
    Aug 26, 2020 at 3:20

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