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I was doing a cleanup at the storage room and found a box of mint 105 parts (brakes, FD, RD, triple crankset and BB). Based on the newspaper inside the box, the parts were laying there for at least 10 years.

I have a vintage Nishiki road bike with friction shifters and 6-speed freewheel and would like to upgrade it with 105 parts if possible.

I assume the brakes, BB and crankset should fit no problem. However, I'm a bit concerned whether the rear derailleur (Shimano 105 RD-5501) would work with friction shifters (SR Suntour, mounted on the frame)? And what speed freewheels might be compatible with it?

I don't have much experience with vintage bikes and parts so I hope you can help me out and tell me if my idea to upgrade the bike makes any sense?

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Friction shifters do not care what kind of derailleur is at the other end and do not care about the number of speeds on your cassette or freewheel; they just pull the cable. So long as the shifter can pull enough cable to move the derailleur the appropriate range, everything is fine between the shifter and derailleur.

So there's no compatibility issue with the shifter and the derailleur to be concerned about.

The derailleur just needs to be able to move the range of the cassette/freewheel and clear it (depends on the maximum number of teeth, also how much chain it needs to take up depending on which chainrings/cogs you're in). A 6 speed freewheel should be fine; if you are to buy a new freewheel, in most cases a 7 speed freewheel would be the way to go; you may have to put a washer on for it to fit (but if you find a new 6 speed freewheel and want it for some reason, that's your choice).

Edit: As Nathan points out in the comments, make sure to use a 9 speed chain (which should work with a 7 speed freewheel); the derailleur cage narrows as the # of speeds goes up, so you need a narrow enough chain.

  • Upvoted, but should probably add that a chain wider than around 8 speed may scrape the inside of the cage. Using 5/6 speed type chain often works badly with modern RDs. – Nathan Knutson Dec 7 '18 at 1:45
  • @NathanKnutson Can I use 9-speed chain on 6-speed freewheel? – Andrew Dec 7 '18 at 5:38
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    It physically fits because the inner link gap is 3/32" among all derailer chains. It might be a little sluggish shifting, although with friction it may not be very noticeable. Honestly I don't recall trying that combination, but that would be my guess from putting 9 speed chains on 8-speed clusters, etc. You could also try an 8-speed chain because they work well with both 6-speed freewheels and 9-speed RDs, but it won't play as nice with the FD and cranks as a 9. (It will take up more space in the FD cage and may be able to rub the inside of the large ring in some small ring combinations.) – Nathan Knutson Dec 7 '18 at 9:25
  • Although less than perfect, the 105 mixed with 8 or 9 speed chain and 7 speed free wheel will likely shift better than the existing drive train which is probably fairly worn. – mattnz Dec 7 '18 at 19:26

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