After going on a quick route yesterday, I was convinced that this was the right move for me. Using a Dura-Ace bar-end shifter with my On-One Midge handlebar, the shifts in "friction" mode were beautiful. I'm staying away from the index shifting mode - I spent a couple of hours trying to adjust the thing so it wouldn't skip gears and I just couldn't get it to work since the SLX rear derailleur does not have a barrel adjuster for fine tuning. Since I've been using downtube shifters in friction mode on my road bike, the bar-end felt like second nature to me.
Surprisingly, friction shifting is wonderful for the trail. Yes, you don't get that feeling of clicking through gears, but you can go from the smallest cog to the largest cog in one flip of the shifter - and that does come in handy. I am having problems with my road bike shifters and an e-mail out to Rivendell Bicycle Works is going out today to see if I can get it sorted.
Every time I ride this bike I fall in love with it. 29'ers have now become really specialized with their carbon fiber/titanium/full-suspension/DW-link/whoopty-do-dah features. But riding a mountain bike in a pure rigid form, a STEEL one for that matter, is something to be appreciated. I cannot say enough good things about this bike.