03 December 2014

The Best Kind Of "Retro": Simplex "Teardrop" Shifters

Yesterday I wrote about what may have been the most jewel-like bicycle component I ever rode:  the Huret Jubilee rear derailleur.

Today I'm going to write about the part that might be a close second in the beauty contest.  I mentioned them in yesterday's post:  Simplex "retrofriction" levers--in particular, the "teardrop"-shaped ones. 

Most retrofriction levers in that shape were made to fit brazed-on lever bosses. I rode with those levers on several of my bicycles, including the Colnago Arabesque and Miyata 912.  The levers were also available in other configurations, including a "coke spoon" version made for Gipiemme.  

Simplex also made the levers in other shapes and colors for Mavic, Galli and other component manufacturers.  And, of course, there was the original version, which was usually attached to a clamp but was also available to fit braze-ons:

Although they all functioned in the same way, the Gipiemmes might have offered the best hand-feel.  (I am only guessing, as I never tried them myself.)  But whatever their shape, they offered the smoothest action of any lever I've ever used.  That is because they had a spring-clutch mechanism on the inside that kept the lever from slipping (and, thus, the derailleur from shifting accidentally) but allowed a shift with a lighter touch than was needed for other levers.  

Campagnolo and other friction levers, on the other hand, relied on nylon bushings and D-shaped screws to hold them in place--which made them more balky to shift.   The ratcheted SunTour levers were like Simplex's retrofrictions in that they,too, stayed in place when they weren't shifted but were easy to shift.  However, they had a clunkier feel and it was a bit harder to fine-tune shifts on them in much the same way that a one-bolt seatpost with notches is more difficult to adjust to exactly the right seat angle than one without notches, or a two-bolt post.

So, SunTour's "power" shifters tended (at least in my experience) to work better with wide-range slant-pantogaph derailleurs on which only the lower pivot was sprung like the SunTour's VGT or Cyclone GT.  On the other hand, Simplex's more nuanced action seemed to work well with just about every derailleur, with narrow-range racing or wide-range touring gears.  But they seemed especially well-suited to derailleurs that required smaller amounts of cable travel, such as the SunTour Cyclone S and Superbe, Campagnolo Record--and, of course, the Simplex Super LJ.

And, oh, yes, the Huret Jubilee.  It and the retrofriction levers seemed to go together like croissants and coffee.  The original Jubilee levers were made with a large drum that pulled too much cable for the Jubilee, which caused it to overshift.  Later, Huret made a lever with a smaller drum that was intended for both the Jubilee and the titanium Success rear derailleur.  But Huret's lever operated on friction, so Simplex's shifter was smoother.

If I were going to set up a bike with friction shifting, I'd definitely want the retrofriction levers.  However, that would mean using no more than seven cogs in the rear:  what made them so pleasant to use with derailleurs like the Jubilee is the small drum, which cuts down on the amount of cable the levers can wrap up.   In other words, even pulling the lever all the way back probably won't get it to shift onto an 8th cog.  (At least, it didn't on my bikes.)

But, of course, if I wanted to choose components purely on aesthetics, I would choose the Simplex retrofriction levers--and Huret Jubilee rear derailleur.


  1. tip: i use the Simplex's on a 10 speed Campy casette with an Athena 88 deraillure = perfect shifting and the Athena 88 handles a quite wide range too 53/39-12/30