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  1. #1
    Senior Member ianbrettcooper's Avatar
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    Extension levers - Sheldon Brown says they're evil. I disagree. What do you think?

    I hate to take issue with the great man himself, but I think Sheldon's glossary article ( http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_e-f.html ) on extension levers (aka 'suicide levers') is 100% wrong. I'll to address his article point by point...

    Sheldon: "In the early 1970s, many people bought bicycles with drop handlebars, for reasons of fashion, even though drop bars did not suit their casual riding style. Given the frame and stem designs commonly available at the time, it was generally impossible to get drop handlebars high enough up to allow a low-intensity rider to reach the drops comfortably."

    Many people in the 70s may have purchased drop handlebar bikes for reasons of fashion, but drop handlebars are still produced for touring bikes because they generally offer more alternative hand positions than any other bar (especially when combined with extension levers). This is not a fashion statement - it's an ergonomic necessity for anyone who spends more than a few minutes on a bike every day.

    Sheldon: "The problem was worse for many women, whose shorter torso made it hard to reach forward to the drops. Though a taller handlebar stem with less forward reach might be installed, this often did not occur. Also, small hands could not comfortably grasp typical drop-bar brake levers of that time."

    Taller handlebar stems were available in the 1970s. Failing to install one is hardly the fault of the bike (or the extension lever). It is the responsibility of the bike shop to sell bikes that fit their customers - this hasn't changed since the 1970s, nor has the willingness of some to sell (and to buy) bikes without ensuring proper fit.

    Sheldon: "Dia Compe invented bolt-on extensions that allowed Weinmann-type brake levers to be operated from the tops and middle of the handlebars, making this type of bar bearable for casual cyclists..."

    I don't know why Dia Compe invented the extension lever. I do know that it was not merely used by casual cyclists. As a bicycle tourist, I relied on the extension lever to moderate speed from the bar top or (underhand) from the bar top 'corner' (where it starts to curve). The extension levers are great for this. I agree that they are not suited to full-on braking from moderate or fast speeds, but I do not believe they were intended to be so used. If they had been, they would have been engineered differently so that they applied the brake fully.

    Sheldon: "The extension lever partially applied the main brake lever, reducing the available lever travel. Not all brands/models suffered from this, but the most common ones did."

    I have used various models of extension levers for 30 years. I have never felt that the main brake lever was reduced in travel significantly by any model I've used. The ones Sheldon is talking about reduce travel by, at most, 3/16" - and on every extension-lever-equipped bike I've had, the top of the main brake lever is shorter to take this into account. But even if the earliest ones weren't, it is hardly a problem - cable stretch poses the same problem and it has the same solution: brakes can be adjusted.

    Sheldon: "The attachment hardware precluded the use of the top of the brake lever hood as a comfortable riding position."

    I have never felt that the hoods were uncomfortable while using extension levers. Yes, they are an extra 'lump', but hands are flexible. The idea that it 'precludes' the hood as a comfortable hand position is going a bit far. Anyway, one of the most common extension lever brakes is streamlined so that it is comfortable.

    Sheldon: "They encouraged the practice of riding with the hands on the top, middle section of the bar, which is a position that doesn't give very secure control, especially on bumpy surfaces, because the hands are too close together."

    Extension levers "encourage" nothing of the sort! They permit more safety in alternate hand positions. This is essential for the long-distance tourist, and it is something that no other brake system permits - not even interrupter levers.

    Sheldon: "The hardware that held the extension levers to the main levers was prone to fall off."

    In my 30 years of cycling as an adult, including over 10,000 miles spent touring on a bike with extension levers, I have never yet had an extension lever fall off a bike. If they fall off, they're either missing the lock washer, or they're not properly tightened.

    Sheldon: "In the early 21st century, an greatly improved system of "interrupter brake levers " appeared, with all of the advantages and none of the drawbacks of the older extension levers..."

    The interrupter lever is not a "greatly improved system". It does not do the same thing at all! It is a brake - it is not an extension. It cannot be used to slow a bike as efficiently or with as much control as an extension lever. I own a bike with an interrupter lever fitted and I own two bikes with extension levers. As a touring cyclist, I would never install an interrupter lever on a touring bike, because it can only really be used as a full-on brake, and only from one position - the top of the handlebars. Extension levers can be used from two positions, allowing speed reduction (not full-on braking) from the entire length of the bar top from hood to hood. No modern braking system allows this.

    I feel Sheldon has misrepresented the much-maligned extension lever in his article. Extension levers are hardly the ridiculous and deadly 1970s-bell-bottomesque folly that Sheldon Brown makes them out to be. I think they are unfairly judged by some. For a while, before the introduction of the interrupter lever, they were the only way to slow a bike from the bar tops. I mean which is better - some braking ability from alternate positions, or none at all?

    I think extension levers still have a place in some bicycle loadouts - and not just as a quaint V&C anachronism.

    But what do you think?
    Last edited by ianbrettcooper; 05-10-11 at 11:03 AM.
    1997 Jamis Aragon (converted to touring bike), two white 1974 Gazelle-built Raleigh Grands Prix, two red 1973 Gazelle-built Raleigh Grands Prix.

    All I need is a bike and a road, and to be left with the same freedom any other road user has to decide what's the safest lane position.

  2. #2
    Senior Member randyjawa's Avatar
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    The safety levers, of which the OP speaks, are just as popular today as they were back when they were issued. The college and university kids want them...


    The problem with the levers is that they can bottom out. They must be installed properly on the bike and the wheels must be kept true. True wheels allow for tighter brake adjustments, and less lever movement when the brakes are applied.

    Just an old guy's opinion.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member ianbrettcooper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ex Pres View Post
    Evil. Bring back the bell bottoms instead.

    Oh, and cables don't stretch.
    They sure seem to stretch - and a lot more than 3/16". Maybe they slip. Maybe evil gnomes replace them with slightly longer ones. Either way, eventually they need adjusting.
    1997 Jamis Aragon (converted to touring bike), two white 1974 Gazelle-built Raleigh Grands Prix, two red 1973 Gazelle-built Raleigh Grands Prix.

    All I need is a bike and a road, and to be left with the same freedom any other road user has to decide what's the safest lane position.

  4. #4
    Senior Member ColonelJLloyd's Avatar
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    It can be tough having a dissenting opinion.

    I'll note that you did not address one of my biggest objections to extension levers (suicide levers, turkey wings, what-have-you); they don't allow the use of hoods.

    Personally, I think they kinda suck. They're inefficient, bulky and unsightly. If you want to retrofit any more of your rides let me know. I have some levers I can send you.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member auchencrow's Avatar
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    They are called "suicide" levers for good reason.
    - Auchen

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    Senior Member due ruote's Avatar
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  7. #7
    Senior Member rootboy's Avatar
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    I have to agree with just about everything Sheldon said on this subject. Meant, presumable, as a safety feature. They weren't.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Flying Merkel's Avatar
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    I remember the ones on my Varsity. The brakes were marginal as it was. A true wheel was not to be seen in the 'hood. The turkey wings would barely slow the bike.

    I can the OP's point. A well designed set would be useful for the touring or commuter rider. Been so long since I've used a set I can't really comment.

  9. #9
    Bianchi Goddess Bianchigirll's Avatar
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    I believe as long as the brakes are properly adjusted and the rider is aware that the extension or safety levers are more for controlling speed and not quick 'on a dime' stops they are OK.

    I am still looking for the shimano areo brake levers that accept safety extensions and the extensions.

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  10. #10
    You gonna eat that? Doohickie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by auchencrow View Post
    They are called "suicide" levers for good reason.
    What reason is that? This is what EVERYONE had when I was a kid and I never heard of anyone having a problem with them.
    I stop for people / whose right of way I honor / but not for no one.



    Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."

  11. #11
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    Like all other mechanical artifacts, they are neither good nor bad. They are what they are. They have attributes and constraints.

    I've had them on my bikes. In my opinion, they suck, so I don't have any and wouldn't have them on my bike. What I have noticed is they are the hallmark of a POS bike. They are not proof positive of POS status but you'd better know what you are doing if you think otherwise.

  12. #12
    Nipples of Steel! AngelGendy's Avatar
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    I like em' I was considering getting them on my ALLEZ since I pitched the brifters,

    Send me yours Colonel!
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  13. #13
    Bianchi Goddess Bianchigirll's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=ColonelJLloyd;12622635] I'll note that you did not address one of my biggest objections to extension levers (suicide levers, turkey wings, what-have-you); they don't allow the use of hoods. QUOTE]


    it is not exactly comfortable to ride on them, but if you get the right bits you can have both hoods and extension levers

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    Others but still loved,; '80 RIGI, '80 Batavus Professional, '87 Cornelo, '86 Bertoni (sold), '09 Motobecane SS, '98 Hetchins M.O., '09 K2 Mainframe, '89 Trek 2000, '?? Jane Doe (still on the drawing board), '90ish Haro Escape

  14. #14
    Senior Member ianbrettcooper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ColonelJLloyd View Post
    ...I'll note that you did not address one of my biggest objections to extension levers (suicide levers, turkey wings, what-have-you); they don't allow the use of hoods...
    I did cover that:

    Quote Originally Posted by ianbrettcooper View Post
    Sheldon: "The attachment hardware precluded the use of the top of the brake lever hood as a comfortable riding position."

    I have never felt that the hoods were uncomfortable while using extension levers. Yes, they are an extra 'lump', but hands are flexible. The idea that it 'precludes' the hood as a comfortable hand position is going a bit far. Anyway, one of the most common extension lever brakes is streamlined so that it is comfortable.
    Quote Originally Posted by ColonelJLloyd View Post
    Personally, I think they kinda suck. They're inefficient, bulky and unsightly.
    I find derailleurs inefficient, bulky and unsightly, but like extension levers, nothing that does the job better has ever become available at anything like the same reasonable price. In the case of extension levers, nothing else ever made does the same job. Interrupter levers are a very poor substitute.
    Last edited by ianbrettcooper; 05-10-11 at 11:58 AM.
    1997 Jamis Aragon (converted to touring bike), two white 1974 Gazelle-built Raleigh Grands Prix, two red 1973 Gazelle-built Raleigh Grands Prix.

    All I need is a bike and a road, and to be left with the same freedom any other road user has to decide what's the safest lane position.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Chombi's Avatar
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    A genuine dead horse topic if there was ever one in C&V.....but I guess I cannot resist commenting.
    I think they are generally OK for casual, level ground, low speed, street riding, as long the brakes are adjusted properly with minimal slack, otherwise........ many or us that did use them during the 70's and early 80's would be dead now. Just make sure you don't use them when bombing down long descents! As for them coming back on bikes anytime soon, no way.......there's been so much negative press against them through the years that no manufacturer in their right mind will ever risk having them on their product.
    JMOs

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  16. #16
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    it was not just Sheldon that hated them Tom Cuthbertson of Anybody's Bike Book Fame (my bible in high school where the nearest bike shop was 140 miles away...same distance as the nearest Starbucks is to my home town today) had no use for them (or simplex plastic derailers). My experience was they did not stop as well as the regular brakes.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Citoyen du Monde's Avatar
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    If all you have ever experienced is garbage, you become accustomed to it and act accordingly. I used to own a 1950's car that had laughable brakes, but you quickly adapted your driving style to suit the brakes and I never had any problems, but could I keep up with modern day traffic? absolutely not! Did it matter to me? No, because I would never dream of using that car when I was in a rush or needed to get somewhere in a hurry. Likewise, suicide levers can be used on bikes but should not be confused with proper functional brakes that can be depended on in accordance with that which is defined by modern standards of performance.

    Back in the 70's and 80's when I worked in a number of bike shops, we removed far more of these extension levers than we were ever asked to install (by a margin of at least 10 removals for every one installation), so this would seem to indicate that the general consensus of those who did use them found them to be inadequate and not worthwhile.

    PS: Ex Pres is correct about "stretching", what normally does occur is that the strands of the cable "bed" in with use, making for a more tightly wound cable over time, but the individual strands do not increase in length.

  18. #18
    Senior Member vonfilm's Avatar
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    I rode with extension levers for years and years with no problems. Properly adjusted they will stop very well. Guidonnet levers accomplish the same goal in a different way.

    0430201173SS 125 by vonfilm, on Flickr

    0430201173SS 122 by vonfilm, on Flickr

  19. #19
    Large Member realestvin7's Avatar
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    Turkeys can only fly for a few hundred yards. I rest my case.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member ColonelJLloyd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ianbrettcooper View Post
    I did cover that:
    My mistake. But, on what planet are hoods not a great improvement over no hoods?

    Quote Originally Posted by ianbrettcooper View Post
    I find derailleurs inefficient, bulky and unsightly

    It's certainly subjective, but I find a good derailleur system to be quite the opposite of your assessment.
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  21. #21
    Senior Member Binxsy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vonfilm View Post
    I rode with extension levers for years and years with no problems. Properly adjusted they will stop very well. Guidonnet levers accomplish the same goal in a different way.

    0430201173SS 125 by vonfilm, on Flickr

    0430201173SS 122 by vonfilm, on Flickr
    I want a set up like this, this just looks wonderful.

    But The extension lever I always think a bout using them but I hate how they look and the comments from local guys at shops about them are sort of seared into my memory.

    http://www.rei.com/webservices/rei/D...:referralID=NA

    I would say that compared to those there isnt not much to argue about.....Other than personal preference.
    pixel.gif
    So It Goes.....

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    Turkey Lever Sound Off (Maybe?)

    Hello Fellow Veloista's: I am a newbie to this forum and I appreciate reading all the good stuff concerning vintage cycling that I have read so far...but, I personally like the Safety Levers on my circa. 1979 UE-18 Peugeot...I just keep the brakes adjusted properly (I am very anal about this area) and then use the front for scrubbing off speed. My preferred cycling is commutting back and forth to work and they seem to provide me with a very ergo-easy position when cycling the local bike paths..Only my opinion of course. Take care and Ride Safe

    Regards,

    Jeff Smith, Ottawa Canada

  23. #23
    Senior Member tiger1964's Avatar
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    data point: I was recently in the same zip code as a set of these things, in the parking lot of a Pakistani restaurant. A friend was handing over his wife's old bike as a "loaner" as my wife's bike was stolen (see other topic). Anyway, it has suicide levers and, as I had not been around them in a while, was not careful. Pinched my hand just getting the bike out of his minivan!

    Well, they go, for sure, as soon as I get near a shop for "short barrels" and gee, thanks to this topic reminding me, a set of hoods. The SL's go into the dumpster along with the front and rear frisbees, reflectors and anything else I can unbolt.

    And if the bell bottoms do come back, I recently saw my 1960's Terry trouser bands (the good thick ones) in my bottom drawer.
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    Senior Member rootboy's Avatar
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    They'll probably end up valuable collector's items some day. I think I'll start stockpiling them now and be in like Flynn when that day comes.
    (or my wife will have to haul them to the scrap yard when I'm dust.)

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    Why doesn't someone engineer a better "turkey wing"? One that is stiff enough over its entire length to ensure adequate braking before the lever bottoms out on the bar.

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