My Brother Invented Bar Mounted Index Shifting

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Yesterday’s post about innovation in cycling got a lot of responses from guys about what changed their riding experiences the most.  Innovation in the mechanical aspect of the sport is a big part of why it is appealing to some of us.

There was a comment from Aki and he said – “I tried to make up for my pedaling deficiencies by using technology. The first trick was the Leonard Nitz inspired right side bar end shifter. I could out jump others because I was in a lower gear then out sprint them because I was in a higher gear.”

I thought that was a good observation, but it wasn’t accurate.  My brother “inspired” the indexed bar shifter.

It was in the mid 80’s and I have already won cyclocross Nationals a couple times.  We were riding friction bar end shifters back then.  Then Shimano came out with their index shifting or SIS shifting. Index shifting is where there is a positive click, where you don’t have to adjust the gearing in the back manually.  This was in 1984 I think.

The first time I saw index shifting was on Greg Demgen’s bike.  He and Marianne Berglund had went to Japan for a Shimano race and when they returned, they both had SIS shifting on their bikes.  It was 6 speed back then.

I rode on the Levis Professional Team at the time and we were sponsored by Shimano, so soon we all were riding “the new” shifting.  This was pretty much the start of the demise of the domination of racing equipment by Campagnolo.

The Levis Team went defunct, so I started riding for Schwinn.  The Nabisco criterium series was going on then and that was a focus of the team, so we were racing a ton of criteriums. I started thinking about using my cross set up on my criterium bike.  But there were only fiction bar end shifters.

I was talking to my brother, Kris about it, and he went and took a pair of downtube SIS shifters and fabricated a mounting boss.  He flipped the right downtube shifter upside down  and all of a sudden we had a rear bar end shifter with index shifting.  My brother made other guys on my team some shifters.  I think that Tom Broznowski and maybe Alan McCormick (anyone know Alan rode the Tour of Spain?  I didn’t.) were riding them too.

Leonard “Harvery” Nitz,  was primarily a track racer, who rode for 7-11, and was going over to Japan to do the fall Shimano race there.  This was in the late 80’s.  I think Wayne Stetina called and asked me about getting Leonard a index shifter for the right side.  (We were riding just the left side shifters, with a normal downtube shifter for the front.)  I really don’t remember talking to Leonard about it, but maybe did.

Anyway, Kris was stoked about making a shifter for Leonard.   It didn’t take very long and then we shipped the shifter to Leonard, who I believe lived in Sacramento at the time.

Anyway, the next year, Velonews did an interview with Leonard and asked him about his right index bar end and he said that he came up with the idea and fabricated it himself in California. That was rubbish.  He knew full well that my brother made it and we sent it to him the year before.  It hurt my brother’s feeling at the time.

I’m not sure if it was the next year, but really soon, Shimano came out with STI shifting, which is the brake lever mounted shifting we all ride now.  I’ve always credited my brother with the idea of bar mounted shifted.  It wasn’t a big leap for the Japanese engineers at Shimano to take the index bar mounted shifting and moving it to the brake lever, which was more accessible in normal riding situations.

So, to answer Aki’s comment, no Harvey Nitz didn’t invent index bar shifting, my brother Kris did.  Now the record is straight, publically.

Shimano cleaned them up when they started producing them. I probably have an original one in my basement still.

Shimano cleaned them up when they started producing them. I probably have an original one in my basement still.

Tucker came back a tad dirty last night on the walk.

Tucker came back a tad dirty last night on the walk.

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “My Brother Invented Bar Mounted Index Shifting

  1. Spinner

    Yet, fixed gear and single speed bikes have returned! Who would have thought that a fixed gear world wide crit series would come out of their return,

    I was at the Northbrook track the night Nitz won the 10 mile race. He put on a real display of riding that was a pleasure to watch.

    He should have given your brother credit for the shifters, Steve….

     
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  2. Aki

    Thanks for the mention, I appreciate it.

    I should clarify that I put on a bar end shifter before index shifting appeared, using the Suntour Barcons. My teammates Lou Kozar and Mike Hartley were the guys that used them first, locally. I won’t give them credit for inventing the idea as there were others using a right side bar end shifter in the area. I named Leonard Nitz only because he was prominently featured using a right side bar end in some national publication, either Velonews or Winning or whatever the USCF publication was called back then.

    Mike, the guy that taught me about leadouts and teamwork, tinkered endlessly with his bikes and gave me a number of tips for the bar end shifters. The first was to remove the plastic-rubber cover; this really improved feel and made for better shifting. The second was to cut down the bars so the shifter ended up in the palm of my hand when in the drops (see pictures in link below). When the Shimano SIS bar end came out he went one step further and adapted the left mount for the right shifter so the shifter sat a lot higher, further into the palm of his hand.

    I still have my original shifters – I’ve had this thought of building my bikes back up as I first had them. It’s been 20 or 25 years since the bikes have been together so maybe it’s a pipe dream, but still. I pulled them after I found one of my old bars and took some pictures:
    http://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-to-bar-end-shifters-for-crits.html

     
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  3. Ken

    When I was racing in New England around 1980 and 1981, there was a guy who was at all the races who had rigged Campagnolo Nouvo Record downtube shifters to the inside of his NR brake levers so they worked like paddles he could flip with his hands on the brake hoods. I may be misremembering this, but I think maybe it was Chris Chance, the frame builder out of Cambridge, MA.
    That guy, Kris and others followed in the spirit of Tullio Campagnolo himself – riders finding ways to improve their equipment. Nitz apparently followed in the tradition of people who just take the credit (such as when Al Gore invented the internet).
    What the hell ever happened to Nitz, anyway? Steve, you seem to see a lot of that old crowd, esp. when you’re out in California. Nitz seems like a name you never hear.

     
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      1. Ken

        Interesting. Is he riding, coaching, or spectating? It’s always interesting when big names keep on it. When you say the right track, I assume you might mean Hellyer. As an aside, I did the regional master’s event last month at T-Town where the legendary Brice Donaghy was competing. Now there was a guy who had the opposite experience of Nitz – in his prime Donaghy was a member of the 1980 Olympic team that boycotted Moscow, where four years later Nitz won bronze at the watered-down 1984 Olympics where the Eastern Bloc boycotted us. I always felt sorry for the 1980 guys, other than Lemond, for whom that was probably just a footnote.

         
  4. channel_zero

    The Levis Team went defunct, so I started riding for Schwinn. The Nabisco criterium series

    How far the federation/sport has fallen. Races are lucky to get the local gas station to put up money now.

    I feel sorry for the kids coming up in the modern system. They think being “pro” means getting paid next to nothing.

     
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  5. KrakatoaEastofJava

    I don’t see why you have any trouble shifting with STI while in the drops. Unfold your fingers, point em forward, and shift. Unless you’re talking about needing to hold the bars where they’re parallel to the road… But that’s damn dangerous in a sprint. As the guy next to you, I prefer you hold the bars in a stable way!

     
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  6. Doug

    Thanks, Aki, for the reminder…..to cut off an inch or so off the bar when installing barcons…it minimizes the chance of knee banging, and, as you said, puts the barcon in the palm of the hand.

     
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  7. Conrad

    I still use ultegra 9 spd bar end shifters for cyclocross, and get a decent amount of good natured heckling for it. They are super reliable and cheap. I’ve never been thrilled about packing expensive brifters full of mud, and I’m not convinced 10 and 11 speed cassettes/chains are a step forward for cyclocross. With the money you save on the drivetrain, you can buy some FMBs and still have a better overall setup. There are plenty of hot riders out there riding the Di2. The only way I can beat them is when their shifters stop shifting, or their disc brakes rub or stop working. It happens more often than you would think.

     
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  8. Wayne

    “I’m not sure if it was the next year, but really soon, Shimano came out with STI shifting, which is the brake lever mounted shifting we all ride now. I’ve always credited my brother with the idea of bar mounted shifted. It wasn’t a big leap for the Japanese engineers at Shimano to take the index bar mounted shifting and moving it to the brake lever”

    The engineering required for STI was a lot more complex than installing a shifter onto a handlebar. It’s great your brother experimented, but you’re downplaying what shimano achieved.

     
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  9. Jonah

    Steve, you should post a pic of the old modified bar shifter to put these hecklers to rest. That’s so bush-league of your brother never getting a shout out. My first road bike was a steel Raleigh with SIS bar end shifters so it reminded me of a story.

    In the late 90s, I went to Cannondale MTB camp in Patagonia, Ariz., for a day (I worked at a nearby dealer), where a young Christoff Sauser and C. Evans were there, Tinker, as well Brian Lopes, who was riding a prototype susp. fork called the ‘Solo’ at the time. After the ride, a chatted a sec with a couple Cannondale engineers and they agreed the ‘Solo’ name wasn’t great. After noting the fork was left-legged, and after my buddy (Todd Sadow of Epic Rides) offered the name ‘Southpaw’, I mentioned the name ‘Lefty.’ Of course the engineers didn’t say a word to us, just sat there, and we moved on with our lunch. A month later, Cannondale introduced their new fork and the rest is history. I was dirt poor at the time, and would have taken some swag for naming the Lefty, but of course a couple of 21-year-olds couldn’t do anything. The reality is that it simply hurt my feelings those guys did that – even with Todd as my witness. But that’s the world we live – happens everyday I suspect. Maybe pales in comparison to SIS and Shimano, given I’m not sure the Lefty saved their company in the end anyhow.

    It shouldn’t matter much, but I totally get why you’ve brought up this story. People matter, ideas matter, and it’s a good reminder of the dog-eat-dog we live in. Cheers!

     
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