Tag Archives: Deore

Why I still prefer thumbshifters

Gear shifting technology has come a long way. The latest groupsets offer unrivalled shifting performance, with electronic shifting and autonomously calibrating derailleurs now available at the very top end of the Shimano spectrum.

But I still prefer thumbshifters, namely Shimano’s 7 speed Deore and Deore XT early 90s. In fact, I still use thumbshifters on most of my mountain bikes.

See, for example, my Haro Extreme, my Raleigh M Trax 300, or my Rourke. I’m also planning to use a set on my soon to be built Dynatech Voyager and Dynatech Mission.

Here’s why:

* low cost (typically 20-30 GBP per pair).

* reliable, virtually indestructible, they just work.

* allows the user to trim the front mech to avoid chain-rub on the mech’s plates.

* they have a hidden extra click, allowing use with an 8 speed cassette.

The Meaning of Deore

Deore has been among Shimano’s off-road groupsets practically from the very beginning of the first wave of mass-produced MTBs. Offering an excellent compromise in terms of price vs weight and performance, Deore has long been a favourite for riders who are unable or unwilling to splash out on the slightly superior XT (and XTR) groupsets.

There are a number of suggested origins for the name, including ‘of gold’ and ‘of ore’, but the original meaning is quite different. However, the deer head motif on some early XT derailleurs points us in the right direction.

To put it simply, ‘Deore’ means ‘deer’, and is a loanword absorbed into the Japanese language from English. In a way, I find it touching that the early engineers and their marketing should have imagined mountain bike riders as akin to deer, gracefully making their way through the wilderness.

A far cry from the hardcore freeriders and downhillers that characterize the modern MTB scene!

My Haro Extreme Comp: First Build

What first drew me to this frame was its unique design, with its elevated chain stays, curved top-tube, and the U-brake bosses on the rear. After having a detailed look at the original, complete bikes shown in the early 90s Haro catalogues, I had to have one, and I acquired my 21.5 inch, 1990 or 1991 Haro Extreme Comp frame as a Christmas present.

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Then, over a period of a year and a half, I slowly but surely acquired the parts that would be necessary to build the complete bike. Although not identical to the original bike as shown in the catalogue, the mix of parts, importantly, is period-correct and give a very similar look.

This is the result of my first build:

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In particular, the chrome-plated chrome-molybdenum Big Fork from Tange has a striking form, and contrasts with the black paintwork of the frame. The vintage Dan Falvey stem and Deore DX seat post help keep things real with steel, for added strength and some extra shock absorption.

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The Shimano Deore 7 speed thumbshifters give slick, accurate shifting, with the added bonus of allowing the front derailleur to be trimmed when necessary.

The bike rides really well, particularly when sprinting or riding uphill. Unlike my hardtail rides, even on the steepest climbs there’s no sign of the front wheel lifting or wandering.

Moreover, and this might be imagined, it feels as though I’m faster, or more powerful, on climbs. I might test this using Strava, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the shorter chain stays and head-down were to be delivering greater traction and/or greater power.

Unfortunately, in its current form I have a few problems with the bike.

Firstly, the short head tube means it’s not easy to set the bars at a comfortable height – even using a quill stem with a bit of rise such as the one currently fitted. And the narrow bars make the steering a little twitchy at times. Solutions I have in mind include fitting a wider bar, and looking for a quill stem with even greater rise. Fitting a suspension fork would also help to elevate the front end a little, although I’m growing rather fond of the chromed Tange Big Fork – at least in the looks department.

The brakes don’t quite have the stopping power I’d like. This is partly due to my poor set-up of the front cantilevers (which can be sorted with a bit of work), but the lack of set-up options for the rear U-brake means the only way to change the modulation is to experiment with different brake levers (incidentally, this is one of the reasons U-brakes fell out of favour in the 90s). A set of shimano servo wave levers (with shifter pods removed) would be my first choice here, but Magura hydraulic brakes could also be a useful alternative solution.

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Undoubtedly, there are many options to make my Haro Extreme Comp more enjoyable to ride. The real question is whether it makes sense to spend much time or money doing so.

Is XTR FD-M9050 the new SL-MT62?

Some mountain biker swear by thumbshifter gear levers, such as the Shimano Deore SL-MT62 lever shown below. Renowned for their reliability and functionality, these components can command surprisingly high prices when in good working and cosmetic condition.

Shimano Deore SL-MT62 thumbshifters.

One of the main advantages thumbshifters have over the more common, modern trigger shifters, is their ability to easily trim the front mech, in order to find its ideal position for each gear. The same can be said for throttle gear shifters, such as those produced by SRAM, Sachs and others.

Fast forward several decades, and we find that Shimano has finally realised that trimming a front mech can be useful, and that the 2015 XTR range will include this. According to Shimano:

The FD-M9050 uses computer controlled auto trim as the chain moves up and down the cassette to keep the drivetrain running smoothly.

In other words, Shimano have finally found a way to allow users of trigger shifters to trim their front mech, to avoid the annoying rubbing chain sound that can happen when the chain is at one of the extreme ends of the cassette. Albeit an extremely expensive and complicated way, that may take some time to trickle-down to more modest groupsets.

But I’ll be keeping my Deore thumbshifters for the time being.