Retro-Practical Thumb Shifters

I'm sick of my SRAM shifting because:
1) The rear derailleur pivots wear out and get sloppy after a season.
2) 1:1 ratio makes it take three or four strokes to shift down the whole range of gears.
3) With my giant hands I often shift accidentally.

I'm now running "vintage" Suntour Accu-shift Plus Expert thumb shift levers with an XT Shadow derailleur and XT 8 speed cassette on my trail bike (2x8 speed), and with an older XT derailleur on my commuter (1x8 speed). The shift action is the QUICKEST, most intuitive, simple, and concise of anything I've used in 20 years of trail riding. I never wanted 9-speed and would still use 7 if I could get good hubs. Shimano's new Shadow derailleurs are the best design and have the strongest spring of any I've seen.

Problems though are arranging the shifter around bulky hydraulic brake levers, and simultaneous control actions (shifting, braking, and holding on for dear life).

My trail bike with Suntour Accushift 7/8 speed levers.
Detailed Version:

Hey kids, gather 'round and listen to old-man Larry blather about bike shifting. Since 1988 I've tried most types of shifters for trail bikes. My first bikes had top-mounted lever shifters, or thumb shifters. Initially they weren't even indexed and you had to hunt around to get your derailleur aligned just right. Indexing was a glorious development.

Grip shift was short lived on my trail bike and has appeared on a cruiser or two. It is an elegant, simple, intuitive, light technology. I like it on a comfort bike or commuter, but on the trail the big wrist/arm motion is hard to isolate from your steering, and since my hands are freakishly large, I found myself accidentally shifting through tech sections. Not good.

Rapid-Fire and other triggers are really the most practical solution for trail riding. You can simultaneously maintain grip on the bars, apply the brakes, and shift. I do have some gripes though. Over time the action required to perform the task of shifting keeps increasing. I recall (correctly?) the original XT rapid-fire could down-shift the entire range with one thumb stroke but subsequent generations required two strokes. SRAM's 1:1 actuation on rear derailleurs increased a full range shift to three strokes. 1:1 is marketed as improvement to shifting accuracy, but I argue indexing and derailleur alignment are what affect shifting accuracy. Shimano accuracy was never a weakness. My other complaint with recent SRAM triggers is the hair-trigger and location of the up-shift lever makes it extremely easy to unintentionally upshift, especially with my goon-hands. I think Shimano rapid-rise shifters have the same issue, but I have never really used them.

My urban commuter. Note the contact between the shifter and brake handle.

Though I preferred Shimano shifters, I preferred SRAM rear derailleurs for their stronger springs. Unfortunately SRAM and Shimano shifters and derailleurs are not compatible, so for the last three seasons I rode SRAM. A downside to SRAM derailleurs has be the main pivots have shit bearings. I've been getting little more than one season out of SRAM derailleurs, while the same XT I rode for at least 3 seasons is still in service on my urban bike.

Shimano has finally issued the Shadow deraileurs, which besides having the strongest spring of any derailleur I've seen, also has a very practical low-profile design reducing the risk of bending your derailleur. The XT Shadow is the nicest I've ever used.

To me, more speeds are an unnecessary cross country and road racing trickle down. Racers like to meet an exact cadence so more gear ratios may make sense. The rest of us don't give a shit and just want our favorite few combinations as quickly as possible. More gears are pretty easy to ignore though and don't bug me as much as the wider cassettes that came with the jump to 8 speed. The wider cassette standard reduces how much width is between spoke spindles, which reduces lateral strength of the wheel.

Trail bike again. Note my 1.5 grip setup for those of us with less dainty hands.

Anyway, this rant is inspired by my latest shifting configuration. My increasing distaste for my SRAM set up has given me a new appreciation for a setup that can sweep the entire range of gears with one motion in either direction. I've installed a set of Suntour Accu-shift Expert 7/8 speed shifters mated to and XT Shadow derailleur and XT 8 speed cassette.

Best Burrito In Salt Lake City

Flavor (F 1-5): Fresh ingredients, preparation, and a good recipe.
Value (V 1-5): How filling is it for the price?
Beer (B y/n): Can you get a beer?

Hit List:

Lone Star Taqueria (F-5 V-4 B-N): I don't wander down to the Ft Union area often, but will go out of my way to eat here. The best tasting. Large. Very fresh and rich with grilled (not fried) fish options. Business hours are a little limited and no Sunday. :(

Barbacoa (F-5 V-5 B-Y): Several locations around the valley now. Very lean, healthy ingredients with great flavor. Fast counter service. A bit spendy but the burritos are as big as my head.

Rico's (F-5 V-5 B-N): Besides their frozen burritos you can find at most local grocery chains, you can venture down the 600 S industrial district to their new Cafe location. Rico's used to have a lunch deli near Liberty Park where they now only have a market. :( If you choose the right variety you will get a great tasting burrito meal on the cheap. Some flavors should be avoided though. I think they forgot to taste-test the spinach feta before putting it on the market. Go for the vegan mole (weather you're a veg or not) or the con creme options.

Alberto's 500 South (F-4 V-5 B-N): Open 24/6, this place has decent size at a cheap price, and the ingreedients are pretty good. Best late-night option.

Shit List:

Cafe Rio: Actually the burritos are yummy, but I refuse to eat there for two reasons. The line there is longer that a ride at Disney Land, and sugar is a major ingredient in most of the food. Every time I eat there I'm a bit disturbed by the gluttony.

Beto's, 400 South: Not all Beto's are equal. I used to eat at the 400 South location but the quality has declined to the point that my dog won't even eat it. Last I checked the North Temple west side location was still good.

Molca Salsa: On 3300 South this was my local default dealer, but the prices keep going up and the sizes keep going down. Yummiest, smallest, $5 burrito in town. Also used to be 24/7.

Taco Bell: Spare me.

Cafe Rio: Food for fat people. Sweet meat and sauces taste like they've had a can of sprite dumped in. Always crowded and you have to wait in the amusement park ride line packed with kids and people who look like they need to back off the sweet pork.

Great Browser Game

My bro just linked me to this VERY COOL game. Very simple, challenging, and addictive.

Mexico Vacation

I just returned from my first real international travel. I've spent time in Canada which has no cultural difference for me, and Cancun Mexico, which was like Vegas with a beach. This trip took me beyond the culture and lifestyle I'm accustom to.

My traveling companion was Radha, an ex-girlfriend with whom I maintain a great friendship. Radha spent Summers in Mexico with her grandmother as a child, and was an exchange student during high school. She speaks fluent Spanish and knows the culture. She loves the people and they seemed drawn to her, despite the giant gringo she kept in tow.

Mexico City: We landed there and took a cab through an insane rush hour to a bus station. Compared to the US where traffic is very structured and procedural, there traffic is organic and dynamic. Vehicles flow like liquid, filling empty spaces and favoring the path of least resistance. When the flow on the freeway slows or stops, vehicles spill over the curb onto the frontage or side streets. Horn use is frequent and almost as sociable as a wave, usually announcing one's presence rather than displeasure.

Mexico City initially intimidated me. After our last night in Mexico however, which we spent eating one of the best meals of my life, night clubbing, and staying at a very stylish yet inexpensive hotel, I'd love to explore this city further.

Transportation: The transit systems were very effective and inexpensive. I see no reason to rent a car there. First class buses are very comfortable with big reclining seats. Greyhound is a farce by comparison. Taxis are cheap and I found them very entertaining. The front seat is usually offered, they laugh if you put on a seatbelt. 'Combis' or 'micros' are a taxi/bus hybrid, usually a VW bus, that run routes between two towns picking up or dropping off passengers along the way. They stuff them full of passengers. Someone may get on with a container of goods they are taking to market. One woman we rode with was transporting a giant, uncovered serving dish of hominy soup.

Acapulco: It's a resort town. Giant hotels. Tons of tourists. Fortunately we stayed at a small hotel at the other end of town where Mexicans come to vacation. We did venture out to some night clubs and a tourist island where we had heard correctly about a secret cove where we could snorkel.

Petatlan and La Barrita: My favorite place was Petatlan. A small town nearly completely off the tourist radar. We bussed in, checked into 'Hotel California', and went for dinner at a wonderful little restaurant on the town plaza. As we ate the plaza filled with families and teenagers. Radha explained that Sunday evenings are a customary time for social gathering in small towns. Kids were playing soccer in the basketball court, boys and girls were flirting or circling the plaza on motor scooters or farm pickups, boys teasing and mock-wrestling each other, girls holding hands as they walked, parents and seniors strolling around. It was a happy, trusting sense of community, and a surprising good time.

The next day we met Steve, or 'Esteban', an expatriate from Oregon who had been living for 35 years up the road near La Barrita, a tiny resort area with one small hotel and a few restaurants on the beach under palm ramadas. We spent the afternoon there and enjoyed it so much we stopped again and stayed a night during our return trip.

Hotels: We stayed at hotels ranging from about 300 to 700 pesos, which is a little less than $30 to $70 US dollars. The nicest hotel was only $35 in Mexico City; very modern, stylish, and comfortable. The more expensive hotels were the in resort areas. My favorite hotel was the bungalow we got in Zihuatanejo. It was on the beach with a view and $60 was a bargain. Hotels often had some minor problem: No hot water, AC or TV not working, elevator out of order. In one room we lost power and had to move to another.

Zihuatanejo: I loved it. It is touristy, especially coming from Petatlan, but much more pleasant than Acapulco. The sound of surf and the breeze blowing through our bungalow room on the hill above the beach was perfect. Toward town on the beach front was the expected tourist shopping district, but a few blocks inland things quickly felt more authentic. I loved the beach there and caught some pretty big waves body surfing.

We walked into an arcade and I was quickly challenged by a group of local boys to the best arcade game ever: A punching machine. It cost only one peso for four punches. It had a thick pad on a short lever that would sense the force or velocity when you punched it. It was a riot taking turns wailing on this machine, cheering and moaning with these local boys. It took the kid who appeared to be the resident champion a while to beat my high score.

Laguna de Mitla: On the return trip we spent a night at a small hotel near Coyuca with the lush Laguna de Mitla on in back and a beautiful beach in front. We body surfed, kayaked the laguna, lounged...

The vacation aspects, good food, sunny beaches, no worries, all wonderful and effective, but I can have a great vacation here in the US or Utah any time. Meeting such people living so differently was the real thrill and it has changed my perception and perspective.

Check out the photos.

Time Lapse Tempest

My dad stopped by again and we tweaked settings for the vector monitor. It looked like it had be serviced by someone who didn't have much experience with these fairly unique monitors, and once they had confirmed it was 'working' as well as typical arcade monitor they walked away. We made some huge improvements and now the game really pops.

Time lapse photos of Tempest are interesting. Here are a few with my crappy snapshot camera. I'll post some better ones later when I can borrow a better camera.