Friday, July 22, 2011

The Phoenix Project - Dura Ace SL 7700 Shifters

Today's task on The Phoenix Project is to replace the retiring Sachs ratcheting downtub shifters. These are rather attractive units with an art deco flair.

Choosing the new shifters was easy. First, I'm not doing combined brake/shift levers on an all rounder type bike. At the moment,  although I've been warming up to them in recent years, I still consider them too complex, too expensive, too unrepairable in the field, and none have a friction option to be used at least as a bailout.

Bar ends are a reasonably priced choice, but despite my best efforts, this old dog can never get comfortable with them.

That leaves downtube shifters and there is not a whole lot of choice. Sunrace makes a vulgar version, the Rivendell Silver shifters are a wonderful friction only tweed fave, and Shimano Dura Ace downtubes are still widely available for the 7700, 7800, and 7900 Dura Ace serious.

Amongst the Dura Ace options, only the SL-7700 offers a friction mode alongside its 9 speed indexing. The SL-7800 and SL-7900 models, despite a very similar appearance to the SL-7700 model, are ten speed indexing only.

That brings it down to Silver shifters vs. SL-7700.   The SL-7700 with both friction and 9 speed indexing offers more operational modes than the friction only Silvers.

So the SL-7700 levers get the nod with an honorable mention for the Silvers and a recommendation for including a set in the Tierra del Fuego expedition spares inventory.

There, wasn't that easy.

Street Cred

Dura "Been getting the job done for decades" Ace?  Is there any question?

Gizmo Lust

Dura Ace's flawless fit and finish is worth 1 point.  Dual friction and indexing mode nets another.  Finally, chrome D-rings yet one more point.


Downtube shifters in and of themselves are paragons of traditional sensible cycling virtues.  But its possible that the indexing mode on these ones is a gateway component...

Tweed Factor


When they need downtube shifters, Tweedboyz get Silvers.  Plus, the price tag on Dura Ace offends their general ethic of dumpster diving frugality.  Finally, while they like shiny and silver,  Dura Ace takes it to a level that makes all their other expensive components look like Sunrace parts from

Phoney Accent


Anyone who produces so retro a component as downtube shifters is under instant suspicion of felony Phony Componenting.

However, in an inadvertent stroke of luck, Shimano's ergonomic totalitarianism leaves them cleared of the charge.

When I was installing the left shifter, I at first thought something was wrong with the shifter, it would not rotate full forward to a position parallel with the downtube.

Like this:

I was just about to grab my BHM (big heavy mallet) when I though, ok, why don't I read the instructions?  Turns out that Shimano has decided that the bicycle ergonomics and the entropy of the universe is increased by having left downtube shifters about 30 degrees off parallel (but not the right one...).

No explanation given, as Shimano is wont to do.

Any savvy poseur looking to reproduce some old school look would immediately reject this look.  I'm still a little troubled by it myself, but I figure I'll get over it and start worrying about important things like whether my rims are aligned with my hubs such that the inner tube stem points to the hub logo.

Lily Gilding

There better be a pretty good argument for any Dura Ace component to not receive the maximum Lily Gilding score of 5 faberges.  Happily, there are two for the SL-7700, which cost me $79 at some online bike

First, there seems to be no other downtube shifters with both friction and indexing modes available from retail vendors anywhere in the world.  That is what google tells me.

So it isn't like I could have gone with the same units but in Ultegra, Altus, Prius, or whatever.  That alone is a pretty good excuse for going Dura Ace.

Another mitigating factor is that I recently sold a used set of C-Record shifters for about $10 more than I paid for the Dura Ace.

But it would be unconscionable for a Dura Ace component to get a zero Lily Gilding rating, so the SL-7700 gets 1 faberge on general principles.

Running Tally



Anonymous said...

on the left shifter issue:
I had a 600 shifter (7 speed index) that would sit at that angle at rest because it was spring loaded, a la the way Shimano started to do with their SLR brakes. Under derailleur tension, it would "flatten out".

The likely explanation if, indeed, that's as far as it goes: It makes it easy to reach across with the right hand, especially if you are doing the old shift to the big ring and pull back a gear in the rear at the same time. If the lever went all the way flat, it's a lot harder to get your fingers around the lever from the right side with the down tube in the way. Back in the day, some of us would leave some slack in the front cable to effectively do the same thing.

I've enjoyed reading your posts.

Mark Rothschild said...

Same here. I have a Nishiki Aero w/600AX, and they sit at the same angle.Fun post.