Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 2nd, 2011 at 3:40 pm
The world of bicycle shifting is dominated by two big names: Shimano and Campagnolo (and to a lesser extent SRAM). Now an upstart Portland entrepreneur is throwing his hat in the ring with a new product called Retroshift.
As its name implies, Retroshift is old technology with a new spin. The product is a lever for road bikes similar to an "STI" mechanical lever that allows riders to shift and brake at the same time. The big difference with Retroshift is that the shifter sits in front of the brake lever and the shifter itself is nothing more than an old bar-end or downtube shifter.
Watch the video below to see how it works:
As you can see in the video, with Retroshift you can slam through an entire gear range in less than one second. The system was invented by Adam Clement, a 44-year old Portland resident who came to the United States from Britain in 1993. After he got a job at the Hollywood Bike Gallery store, he worked his way up to manager before taking a job in international sales for Anodizing Inc., a Portland-based manufacturer that specializes in aluminum.
"This idea formed in my mind in about 1993," said Clement during a phone interview yesterday, "around the same time that STI came out. Most people have gone to STI on road bikes; but I have never given up my Simplex shifters [a classic French brand] and I never will."
The basic idea of the Retroshift system, says Clement, was a quest for a simpler way to shift on a bicycle.
For Clement, there's an appeal to the Simplex-style shifters that goes beyond their ease-of-use and simplicity. "There's something about them... Like vinyl records. There's more to life than the click of technology. I like to think of Retroshift as simply advanced... Our lives are so complicated there's an advantage to having a simpler system."
When asked why he thinks the big companies, with their million dollar R & D budgets and huge staffs, haven't come up with this idea themselves, Clement thinks it's probably because they feel the market would never be large enough.
As for the idea itself, Clement is humble. "Nothing in the bike industry is totally new. There's a 1978 patent that shows you STI before Shimano even did it. Am I brilliant? No. It was born as much from a simple mind as a complex one. I don't even have an engineering degree and this is what came up in my mind."
From photos and the video it seems pretty straightforward how to use it; but Clement says you've got to actually try it out to fully understand. "It shouldn't work, but it just does. Your fingers reach around it easily, you can shift and brake at the same time. It's very simple, very natural."
The system has particular appeal for cyclocross racers who spend a lot of up on the hoods of their bars. Clement has had about 20 local racers using them for several months — everyone from beginner riders to well-known pro Erik Tonkin.
Tonkin, who also owns Sellwood Cycle Repair, loves the system and actually won his first race using them out at the Kruger's Kermesse on Sauvie Island last month. Tonkin was quoted in BikeRumor last week saying, "I’m surprised that STI levers didn’t evolve by way of the Retro Shift design... The Retro Shift levers have that 'Why didn’t I think of that?' quality."
Clement knows that his product won't appeal to some riders who favor flashy gear and who may have never experienced old-school shifters. His brother, a new rider, finds Retroshift "offensive." "But older cyclists," says Clement, "who have been around a while are thrilled with it. 'This makes so much sense' they say."
Clement is dedicated to local production and says that 75% of the current production — the anodizing, machining and engraving — is done right here in Portland. The only thing that comes from overseas (Taiwan) is the Tektro lever that provides the base of Clement's design (a design that was co-created by none other than famed local bike builder Mark DiNucci). "I dumped a lot of money into lawyers and patents, because I wanted to protect the design and I want things to be made in the U.S."
Eventually Clement wants to make 100% of the product in Portland.
Response to Retroshift has already been strong, even without much marketing to speak of. Clement plans to sell them from his website; except for Portland customers who will have to get them from their local bike shop.
Retroshift costs $120 a pair and the first big production batch is set to be ready by December 15th. They come without shifters and will work with any type of old bar-end or downtube shifters. Another exciting aspect of the Retroshift system is that they give new life to older, 7-speed cassettes lying around. The system works with older parts that aren't compatible with STI. It gives those old parts, "A new lease on life," says Clement