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  1. #1
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    brake lever help

    Hi all, I'm looking for some help to make my braking better.

    My bike has on it a pair of the old school Dia-Compe brake levers that have the lever off to the side so you can brake from the tops as well as the hoods.

    After having to make a high speed emergency exit from the MUP this afternoon into some loose sand where I went into a skid because I'd had my hands on the back of the levers (where the hoods would be) and my instinctive tightening of my hands to gain control accidentally caused me to grab the side-lever (don't know the real term) controlling the rear brake and I did some "fun" fishtailing. This made me think, that side lever thing has to go.

    Is it as simple as just unscrewing it and removing it and buying some hoods, or do I need to get a whole new lever (I wouldn't mind that, but I'm trying to keep the job relatively cheap if possible and I have little wrenching experience but don't mind learning)? The thing is these brakes aren't the best for braking from the hoods, so I'm not opposed to getting new levers if someone has some suggestions.

    A complicating factor is that I'm riding a bike that someone made into a nice commuter by taking an old hard tail mountain bike and throwing drops on it. So I've got those old style mountain bike brakes (not cantilever, but not caliper either). The ones where the cable comes down and ends in a bracket that holds the middle of a second brake cable that connects the two brakes. I'm not happy with the stopping power of these brakes (I get nervous about stopping when going high speed down a hill - the more so when, like yesterday I'm carrying a large amount of weight in picnic supplies or something), so if the suggested levers can handle this brake type and would provide more stopping power that'd be awesome.

    On a completely unrelated note, my seatpost is the cheap two part kind and I've been having a problem lately where after a while the nose starts to tilt up no matter how much I tighten it after setting it down. Would getting a single piece seatpost fix that? If so, could someone suggest an inexpensive source for a setback setpost, hoods, and possibly brake levers (and probably cables and housing should I need new levers)? And which ones I should get (I know I'll need to figure out the seatpost size myself)?

    Thanks so much.
    Last edited by himespau; 09-06-10 at 03:57 PM. Reason: I can't spell

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    Hi all, I'm looking for some help to make my braking better.

    My bike has on it a pair of the old school Dia-Compe brake levers that have the lever off to the side so you can brake from the tops as well as the hoods.

    After having to make a high speed emergency exit from the MUP this afternoon into some loose sand where I went into a skid because I'd had my hands on the back of the levers (where the hoods would be) and my instinctive tightening of my hands to gain control accidentally caused me to grab the side-lever (don't know the real term) controlling the rear brake and I did some "fun" fishtailing. This made me think, that side lever thing has to go.

    Is it as simple as just unscrewing it and removing it and buying some hoods, or do I need to get a whole new lever (I wouldn't mind that, but I'm trying to keep the job relatively cheap if possible and I have little wrenching experience but don't mind learning)? The thing is these brakes aren't the best for braking from the hoods, so I'm not opposed to getting new levers if someone has some suggestions.

    A complicating factor is that I'm riding a bike that someone made into a nice commuter by taking an old hard tail mountain bike and throwing drops on it. So I've got those old style mountain bike brakes (not cantilever, but not caliper either). The ones where the cable comes down and ends in a bracket that holds the middle of a second brake cable that connects the two brakes. I'm not happy with the stopping power of these brakes (I get nervous about stopping when going high speed down a hill - the more so when, like yesterday I'm carrying a large amount of weight in picnic supplies or something), so if the suggested levers can handle this brake type and would provide more stopping power that'd be awesome.

    On a completely unrelated note, my seatpost is the cheap two part kind and I've been having a problem lately where after a while the nose starts to tilt up no matter how much I tighten it after setting it down. Would getting a single piece seatpost fix that? If so, could someone suggest an inexpensive source for a setback setpost, hoods, and possibly brake levers (and probably cables and housing should I need new levers)? And which ones I should get (I know I'll need to figure out the seatpost size myself)?

    Thanks so much.
    The style of brakes you describe are indeed called 'cantilever...' sometimes called 'centre-pull cantilever' to differentiate between them and 'V-brakes' (side-pull cantilever). Any brake lever that is not 'V brake compatible' will work with those brakes.

    As for the seat problem, the component that has failed is the bracket under the seat (the one with 13mm or 14mm bolts on the side). You can buy a new bracket for ~$5 from a LBS. Make sure it is properly tightened or it will get damaged again.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Steev's Avatar
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    My memory of those dia-compe levers is that you can just un-bolt the suicide levers, but it's been a while, so there may be something more needed, like putting the screw back in to hold the main pivot. A close examination will make it all obvious.

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    There is a protruding piece the pivot , the piece that remains after you remove the other side lever..
    may have to be sawn off ..

    they fit in the gap between lever and body of the lever , so brake readjustment is required
    The likelihood of finding a brake hood for a discontinued 25 year old brake is rather remote, good luck on that..

    Might be a U brake on the mountain bike frame .. maybe reasonable to go back to the mountain /cantilever brake lever
    if you cannot get adequate braking Avid Speedial levers are adjustable leverage advantage..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 09-06-10 at 07:50 PM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    There is a protruding piece the pivot , the piece that remains after you remove the other side lever..
    may have to be sawn off ..
    Depends on the lever. not all of them have this, and you can just take the lever off.

    they fit in the gap between lever and body of the lever , so brake readjustment is required
    The likelihood of finding a brake hood for a discontinued 25 year old brake is rather remote, good luck on that..
    Hoods are available for most of the dia-compe non-aero levers.

  6. #6
    Real Men Ride Ordinaries fuzz2050's Avatar
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    Amazingly enough, the most expensive solution to the problem I can think of is these brake levers (look around and you can usually find them for under $20). They would require new cables and housing, and likely new bar tape as well, but if you are lucky enough to live in a place with a bicycle co-operative of some kind, they could walk you through all of it for just a few dollars.

    If you are really on a budget, as others have mentioned, you can usually just remove the axillary brake levers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    ...My bike has on it a pair of the old school Dia-Compe brake levers that have the lever off to the side so you can brake from the tops as well as the hoods.
    ...I went into a skid because I'd had my hands on the back of the levers (where the hoods would be) and my instinctive tightening of my hands to gain control accidentally caused me to grab the side-lever (don't know the real term) controlling the rear brake and I did some "fun" fishtailing. This made me think, that side lever thing has to go.
    OK, I see. You didn't want to brake at all, but accidentally pulled at the auxilliary lever and went into a skid.
    IME the main issue with those curled back levers was always that they flexed too much to provide decent and reliable braking.

    You might want to take a look at www.sheldonbrown.com. That site will tell you all about what brake you've actually got, and how to get the most out of it. Cantis (particularly smooth post) can be a pain to set up, but do provide sufficient braking for most applications.

  8. #8
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Ok thanks guys. For some reason, I thought the V-pull levers were the only ones that were cantilevers, good to know what I have are called that as well. Will definitely read more up on that Sheldon Brown article.

    So I guess I have two problems with my brakes as currently set up, one is that the suicide levers are in the way (unintended braking or just not comfortable to rest my hands) and the other is that they don't provide enough stopping power, but, because they're in the way, I have a hard time getting to the main levers except when I'm in the drops.

    So the lack of power breaking might be just due to the suicide lever design? That's good to know. I use them most often just because they're easiest to get to when I've got my hands anywhere but the hoods. I was afraid that there was something about my style of brakes (center pull cantilever) that was just incompatible (or not as compatible) with these levers as the brakes are further apart (because the tires are bigger) than would be on a road bike from which these levers originally came.

    It looks like the bolt on the suicide levers may be required for the pivot and it sticks out kind of far, so I'll have to see whether I want to replace it or just remove the lever.

    Good thing is, unless it requires me to have someone else do it, it looks like it'll be a cheaper job than I feared.

    Also, I recently replaced the tape and didn't do the greatest of jobs, so I'm going to need to be rewrapping that anyway in the near future.

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    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    ..I thought the V-pull levers were the only ones that were cantilevers, good to know what I have are called that as well. ...So I guess I have two problems with my brakes as currently set up, one is that the suicide levers are in the way (unintended braking or just not comfortable to rest my hands) .
    As posted, those can be removed. End result may vary in sophistication, but easily doable.

    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    .... the other is that they don't provide enough stopping power,
    Well, IME they're long and curvy things which tends to do a lot of flexing before providing proper braking. Others may have different experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    ..... I have a hard time getting to the main levers except when I'm in the drops.
    The design of both bars and lever bases have changed over the years. With sharper radiuses to the bars and another lever base design reasonable braking can be achieved from the hoods nowadays.

    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    ..So the lack of power breaking might be just due to the suicide lever design?
    If you can brake OK from the drops, but not by the suicide levers, then obviously your actual brake is reasonably healthy and it's the lever that's the weak link.

    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    .... I was afraid that there was something about my style of brakes (center pull cantilever) that was just incompatible (or not as compatible) with these levers as the brakes are further apart (because the tires are bigger) than would be on a road bike from which these levers originally came.
    Lever and brake should work together.
    However, a big drawback(!) to canti brakes are their adjustability. There are several angles who interact with each other and whose initial and final position has a big influence on brake response and efficiency. Splurge on some new pads, then follow Sheldons instruction on brake set up. I can almost guarantee a pleasant surprise.
    You might want to look at interrupter/CX levers before you do your rewrap. They'll give you a nother braking position up on the straight section of the bar.

  10. #10
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    Here is another source for the Tektro levers fuz2050 recommended. I have a set of them on one of my biles and they are both comfortable and strong. They will require new cables and housing but that's probably a good idea anyway.

    http://www.loosescrews.com/index.cgi...id=48362808540

  11. #11
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Thanks for your suggestions all. My bike has the drop in bars and I've been thinking about replacing those for a while, the bend back provides an extra hand position, but I mainly use it when climbing and that flexes too much for me to put much force on it. If I'm taking the tape and levers off anyway and trying to rerun it all, might not be a bad time to do the bars too to a more standard design (though I know this will significantly raise the cost - sounds like a decent winter project though after it gets too cold and I wimp out from riding for the year). Is there a place on the bars (or stem) that will say the diameter of the bars, or will I just have to measure to know the size I need to get for replacements?

  12. #12
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    If you're keen on keeping this tightly in budget instead of spending a lot of money on it there's a few things you could do that I can think of.

    • Some of those suicide lever setups had the activation fingers fit between the lever base and the lever itself. When you remove the suicide lever the main lever sits up further and moves the reach out too far. If you don't need the finger to act as a spacer then just remove it and put the screw back in. If this makes the shaft too wobbly or the lever reach is now too far then cut down the suicide lever to leave just the hub or the hub and forward fingers to act as a spacer. A hacksaw and some sandpaper or a file will make short work of removing the suicide part.
    • Some of the old and cheap levers, oddly enough all the ones that had suicide levers seem to fit this price point, do not have hoods. But there's nothing saying that you can't make your own just by wrapping the bars and hoods with foam bar tape. You'll still want to do the whole wrap in one go to avoid joints but it would not take much to wrap up off the bars and put a layer of foam onto the hoods of your cheapie levers and then run back down onto the bars again. Or wrap the hoods separately and just lock the tail of the wrap under the bar tape as you get there. I haven't tried it but with a little thought about which way to wrap it so that the edges are all being pushed in a way that doesn't lift them will result in a tidy job without a lot of issues.
    • Assuming your rims are aluminium and not chromed steel switching the pads to Koolstop salmon coloured pads will lighten up the lever effort needed to stop. That'll make stopping from up on the hoods a lot easier.
    As for the seat post the types that have the two part with the tube and clamp being separate are the cheapest of the cheap. It indicates to me that this is not a high end bike. Now there's nothing wrong with that at all if it's getting the job done for you. But it also means that if you "upgrade" to a one piece alloy seatpost then go for a less expensive one. Same with any upgrades to the bars and levers. The money you save could then go to other hobbies or towards a "nice" bike that comes with good stuff all 'round instead of starting with a heavy frame and trying to dress it up with fancy upgrades. The other budget option would be to just get the new top clamp for the saddle as mentioned already.
    Last edited by BCRider; 09-07-10 at 11:49 AM.
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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    As said dia-compe, like Weinmann there is a round piece that forms the pivot axis for the 'suicide brake lever'
    a screw goes into it , ... inside the lever body the screw that pulls up the band mount .. to hold the brake on the bar.
    it goes thru the same piece.. thru across , rather than into the end... back in the day the piece was made shorter
    if the end screw wasn't needed.

    FWIW Aero levers and Top-mount levers that interrupt the housing,
    combine to work well as a brake lever in both positions ,
    the un realized goal of those older setups..

  14. #14
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Yeah, I was thinking I could get new aero levers, interrupt cross levers cables and housing and do it all for $50. A setback seatpost and a new bar would significantly increase that (though I saw a bar on clearance at nashbar for $10 and I've seen cheap aluminum seatposts for $30-40 or so). But yeah, I do realize that upgrades to the bike won't be giving me really a return in terms of value, functionality maybe, but not resale. Fortunately, I'm not planning on selling it. Right now money is kind of tight, and I have a hard time convincing my wife that I should drop serious cash on a new (to me if not brand new) bike when I have one that's doing the job (sort of, when she stopped short in front of me while we were halfway down a hill on the way back from a picnic and I was fully loaded and I wasn't sure I could stop, I wouldn't say it was doing the job).

    FWIW, the bike I have now is a Mongoose Manuever, which is an old hard-tail Mongoose mountain bike that (according to the previous owner who put the drops on it, moved the thumb shifters to the stem and put fenders on it) was an LBS bike before they started being x-mart bikes. But yeah, it's ChroMo frame with hi-ten fork, so heavy and definitely not top of the line. With the rack I put on it, I can carry pretty heavy loads though, and it's pretty much bomb proof, so it's great for commuting now that I've put slicks on it.

    Still, I'm not sure about the fit (it might be a little small, but for a bike that I originally dropped $100 on on Craigslist, I'm not going to spend that or more on a pro fitting) as it's only a 22.5" frame and I'm 6'2. When I raised the seat a cm or 2 last weekend it made a world of difference, but I still feel a bit forward and the saddle is as far back as I can go on the rails, which is why I'm thinking setback seatpost. But yeah, cheap heavy frame that may be too small, there's only so much to be gained from making updates.

    Here in Boston, I'm not seeing cheap used things in my size on Craigslist (if I were to replace it, I'd probably want a touring-ish bike in the 60 cm range), so I'm trying to see what I can do to make it work. Plus, as a scientist who only does thought stuff all day, I'd like to get back to working with my hands occasionally, so learning to wrench has it's appeal. I really miss the summers from when I was in undergrad when I financed my college working in various factories (spotwelding, running air hammers and injection mold presses and whatnot). Don't want to go back to that full time by any means, but I miss getting out of my head and swearing at my tools when things don't go right occasionally. Good stress relief.
    Last edited by himespau; 09-07-10 at 01:30 PM.

  15. #15
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    The old original Mongooses (Mongeese? ) were certainly decent enough bikes. And I've yet to find a Cr-Mo frame that was not worthy of riding and tarting up a little. So I heartily withdraw my suggestion that you ended up with a cheap frame. By all means sneak a decent budget alloy seatpost onto it and a few other budget upgrades when the weekly pocket money allowance allows.

    Unless you're sure it has the right forks on it there's a chance that they were swapped out to a set that is too short. This would alter the seat tube angle and leave you thinking you need a more setback seatpost. Check your chain stay angle. On most of the moutain bikes they seem to sit level when the fork is the correct length. If yours are angled down towards the BB shell this may be a clue.

    The frame IS the right size for you. Keep in mind that they use a sloping top tube for more stand over clearance so you can't measure then by the same standards as road bikes. A 22.5 inch frame for your height should not need a set back post unless you're trying to ride it where you can still touch your feet to the ground at a stop. The correct height for the saddle is where with your foot at the bottom of the stroke that your knee just doesn't quite lock over center. By the time you get your post up that high it should have moved back far enough that you don't need a setback post or at least the posts that have their mount clamps at the rear edge of the tube should give you enough to tune the bike to your needs.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    It looks as though my chainstay does slope a bit downward (not much but a slight angle) and my top tube doesn't slope much (if at all). The fork definitely goes with the bike (same paint job and the sticker is a mongoose sticker of the same style as the one on the frame, but I suppose they could have subbed in a smaller size). Old pic below (new tape and saddle among other cosmetic changes).

    It does look as though I can do new aero levers, cross levers, cables, housing, pads, seatpost, and handlebars for right around $100 if I do it myself (between sheldon's site and my park book that should be doable), so I'm thinking about doing it. I can see the size on my seatpost, but is there a good way to know the size of my handlebars? Am I going to have to take them off and measure the opening the stem or is there a place where they usually have it stamped? I looked in an old catalog listing and it looks as though the drop-in bars were only sold in 26.0 or 25.4 mm widths. http://www.bikepro.com/products/hand.../scottdrop.html I hope I can measure precisely enough to tell the difference if it's not stamped on the bar somewhere.

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    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Do you really NEED cross levers? I've managed fine for many, many years. I just don't ride on the inner cross part of the bars when I'm around something that may require me to use my brakes. By moving my hands out to the hoods for braking I keep my hands changing position to keep from getting tired and I've put my hands out on the outer part of the bars where I have more effective steering in case I need to do something more than just brake. Eliminating the cross levers from the shopping list would keep the cost of the upgrade that much more in control.

    Another option, as long as you're considering swapping a bunch of stuff around, would be to look at bullhorns with TT style brake levers. I've tried a couple of sets and like the reach and fit so much that I seriously doubt I'll put drop bars on any of my future bikes anymore. Mind you I'm not 25 to 30 and all that flexible anymore either. YMMV on this count.
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    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Need them, no, I don't NEED anything. I do spend a fair amount of time on the tops and so would like to be able to brake there, but it's not essential. Still looking around. Thanks for the suggestions. I do think I'll go with a traditional drop bar over bullhorns. Mainly because I've never tried the bullhorns, but generally know that I do like drop bars even if I'm rarely in the drops.

  19. #19
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Also since they're mountain cantilever brakes but road levers, do I go with the road cable, the mountain cable, or does it not make a difference?

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    Generic brake cables usually come double-ended, road lever button at one end and MTB-lever button at the other, then you cut the one you don't want off. If in doubt, let the levers decide.

  21. #21
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    The levers are the only end of the system that needs the ball end. So go with road end cables. Or buy the double ended ones that dabac describes and you've got them for either option.

    You'll certainly like the aero levers. The hoods are far more comfortable. And if you set them in place just right the "back" of the hoods line up with the upper bend to form a much nicer shape for your hands when resting on the hoods and the bar just behind than the old cheapie levers.
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    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    Yeah, I'm looking forward to more aero levers.

    One more (probably stupid) question. If I go with a new bar, I'm pretty sure I need 25.4 mm. I'm not 100% sure though. If it turns out that I needed the 26.0 mm bar, I can buy a shim to make up the difference, right? Obviously there's nothing I can do if I need to go the other way.
    Last edited by himespau; 09-08-10 at 03:32 PM. Reason: because I'm an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about.

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    Quote Originally Posted by himespau View Post
    Yeah, I'm looking forward to more aero levers.

    One more (probably stupid) question. If I go with a new bar, I'm pretty sure I need 25.4 mm. I'm not 100% sure though. If it turns out that I needed the 26.0 mm bar, I can buy a shim to make up the difference, right? Obviously there's nothing I can do if I need to go the other way.
    Or you can buy a cheap set of calipers and eliminate all doubt.

    For example:
    http://www.harborfreight.com/4-inch-digital-caliper-47256.html

  24. #24
    Senior Member himespau's Avatar
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    That would have been a good idea. Instead I pulled the trigger on an order of most of the stuff I wanted over at Jenson. I figure I can stop by the lbs for some shims if it turns out to be too small. I'll probably need some short lengths of cable to redo the cantilever parts of the brakes anyway (unless I trim off enough when I do the front brake with the cables I bought, and some end crimps anyway. Totally stoked to try the aero brake levers. That's the bummer about ordering online (and choosing the cheap shipping). Have to wait a long time now. Ordering calipers online would have made it take even longer (still would have been a good idea had I thought of it).

    But for the record, I went with the salmon kool stops, the tektro aero levers, the cross levers (I know I don't need them, but sort of a security blanket), new ergo bars, cables and housing, and a new seatpost.
    Last edited by himespau; 09-08-10 at 08:09 PM.

  25. #25
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    For cantilevers, the short length of cable "straddling" the tire is called a straddle cable. It's often tricky to adjust properly, so pre-measured straddle cables with fixed straddle angles were introduced, and make life easier. For example: http://www.jensonusa.com/store/produ...Link+Wire.aspx

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