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  1. #1
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    Brake improvements

    I was talking to a fellow cyclist, and reflecting on changes in equipment over the last 20+ years.

    Generally I focus on things like frame and component materials, compact frames, index shifters, brifters, threadless headsets.

    But I realized that for my daily riding the most underrated improvment is that my brakes work!.

    Back in ye olden dayes, brakes might slow you but they could rarely stop you. Now I trust them and they're highly reliable. Without even thinking about it, I've taken faster speeds and more aggressive downhill riding than I would with the old brakes. Actually I think it's a combination of excellent brakes and the machining on the rims that has made the difference.

    Has any else from this ole f-rt forum had a similar perception?

  2. #2
    Senior Member late's Avatar
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    Hi,
    I suspect this may have something to do with the steel rims that were so common back then. There are no retrogrouches trying to bring those back!

  3. #3
    Resident Old Fart Olebiker's Avatar
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    Everything on my bike is less than two years old except my brake calipers. They are Shimano 105s from the late 1980s. Every time I think about spending $100 or so on modern, dual pivot calipers I realize that my brakes stop me just fine and I have never felt that they have failed me.

    I can't really say that I ever had a problem stopping with my noisy old Mafac Racers or Universal Super 68s either.
    Wag more, bark less

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olebiker
    Everything on my bike is less than two years old except my brake calipers. They are Shimano 105s from the late 1980s. Every time I think about spending $100 or so on modern, dual pivot calipers I realize that my brakes stop me just fine and I have never felt that they have failed me.

    I can't really say that I ever had a problem stopping with my noisy old Mafac Racers or Universal Super 68s either.
    I would agree with you on the old brakes......EXCEPT that I upgraded to dura-ace (from ultegra which was pretty darned good) a few months ago and I was shocked at the difference. The DA is much like power brakes on a car compared to non power. They both do the job but the DA takes so little effort on the handles and is so controllable, it totally changed the feel of the bike. And I would have never believed it before.
    Wiggy wiggy scratch yo yo bang bang

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    I switched from Weinman to 105 dual pivots several years ago. I have to concure with you, the improvement in braking efficiency does make for safer and more confident riding esp in dificult conditions. You have to match the calipers to Shimano brake levers to get the light action and fingertip control.

  6. #6
    Senior Member gear's Avatar
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    I commute in all sorts of weather conditions and one of my bikes is just for bad weather commuting. I put Avid mechanical road disc brakes on it and stops on a dime even in the rain (no need to ride slower to get the same braking). They are easy to adjust but almost never need it. My main road bike uses Campy record rim brakes and they are good stoppers but the discs are unreal.

  7. #7
    Older I get, Better I was velonomad's Avatar
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    The biggest improvement IMO is the quality of cables. housings and brake pad compounds. When I build the retro bike last year I tried a pair of Weimann centerpulls with Avid pads and was shocked at how well they worked. If fact I polished up the centerpulls and use them now. Cables now come in stainless steel and are prestretched. Brake housings are plastic lined and compress less.

  8. #8
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    The biggest improvement IMO is the quality of cables. housings and brake pad compounds.
    Talk about obscure improvements in technology, I never thought about the cables and housings before! I'd like to know more about this. Thinking about it, I now realize that after a year of riding I really haven't experienced the cable stretch and other problems I used to have.

    Pads I had thought about, as pad technology was beginning to improve at the time I stopped riding about 20 yrs ago, but the combo of pad materials and machined rims was (as far as I know) not yet on the horizon.

  9. #9
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Gone through all the range of brakes in bikes and the only thing I have found out is that if you get better brakes- you use them. Mountain bikes generally have "V" brakes or discs. V brakes were a big improvement over the previous centre pull calipers but they wear rims out. A set of wheels will only last me about 18 months or 2,000 miles before the rims get a bow in them. The Tandem was worse. It came fitted with V Brakes and the rims did not last 6 months and these were a heavy duty rim. The Tandem got disc brakes but at a very high cost. It does take good brakes to stop 400lbs from 40+ mph on a fast downhill.

    To be honest- It does not matter what brakes you have as you ride to the capabilities of those brakes. Or the capabilities of the brakes denote how you ride.

    What I have found though is the quality of all components on bikes. I know you can still buy the rubbish bits, but in general, Quality has gone up tremendously. For the same price or less.
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    I suspect that's a rim issue, too. Steel rims just didn't stop very well. Offhand, I can't think of any changes to the brakes in the last 20 years (other than pad material) that's made them work better. V-brakes, for instance, were designed to accommodate suspension movement, not because they're more effective. I have bikes with 1980s cantis and sidepulls, and they stop as well as my Rambouillet with new 105 brakes.

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    I don't remember steel wheels, I think I always used alloy wheels except back in my 3 speed days. That's why I focused on the machining on the rims, not the rim composition. The tiny grooves on the rims didn't used to be there, and they must add to the stopping power, when coupled with modern pads.

    I'm running Campy Centaur brakes and they're far and away superior to the original Campy brakes I had in the 70's.

  12. #12
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    I routinely replace any and all Shimano brake pads with KoolStop pads. They stop better, smoother, and last a long time. And Campagnolo brakes are even better.

    Al

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    The brakes on my '73 Schwinn simply will not stop the bike. I've tried changing pads and that helps, but, in general, they just are not aggressive enough. I guess I'm exaggerating some - they do stop the bike, but not very effectively. I had that bike with me in NYC when I tried a steep decent down to the path along the Hudson on Riverside Drive. I had to get off and walk the bike down because the brakes were not going to hold and I could not risk losing control on such a steep, lengthy decent. Although they aren't great stoppers, those brakes seem to be maintenance free. I adjust them when I install the pads and they never seem to need interim adjustment.

    My new bike has disc brakes and I can at will lock up the rear wheel or catapult my body over the bars by clamping down on the front brake (ok, that's hypothetical 'cause I haven't actually tried it - but am confident enough to back off that front brake a bit when I have to brake really hard).

    The point is that those disk brakes really do stop the bike no matter the weather conditions or the speed.

    In my experience, however, they are far from perfect. It seems I am forever adjusting them. They tend to gently rub the rotors and produce a high pitched squeak. Adjustment is easy enough - it just doesn't seem to last. I can't explain it.

    I bought a Trek something or other MTB for my daughter some six years ago. It doesn't get ridden much, but the cantilever brakes really stop the bike. I can't comment on rim damage as the bike doesn't see that much service - but those are good brakes and I would rank them right up there with my discs on dry days. Can't comment on their rainy day performance as I've never tested them in the rain.

    Caruso

  14. #14
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Over in Classic & Vintage, there is a great thread regarding Campagnolo sidepull brake calipers. Sheldon Brown notes that shoes, cables (particularly the housings), handles, and calipers all affect braking power, roughly in that order. Having said that, and having upgraded the brake handles and shoes on my Bianchi, I am still dissatisfied enough with my Campagnolo calipers to want to try dual-pivot Shimanos in their place. The worst brakes I ever owned were long-reach Weinmann sidepulls with nonaero handles, old-fashioned compressible cable housing, and OEM Weinmann brake pads. The best are probably the SunTour RollerCam front / Shimano U-brake rear combo on my Schwinn.
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  15. #15
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    The best brakes I've used are discs. The second best are V-brakes. Others are fine, but the previous two really excel!

  16. #16
    Senior Member CrossChain's Avatar
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    Last year I put a pair of NOS Superbe Pro brakes on the front of one bike (like OleBiker above, I have a set of Reagan-era 105 late 80's calipers in the back still going strong. (The 105's up front had their quick release break last year.) The original Superbe pads, which had been in the original plastic wrapper, perhaps 20 years old, are still on the Superbes. I abraided them a bit and they modulate/stop beautifully.

    And.....these old single pivots are beautifully finished....they're also big, meaty and muscular looking and, glancing down at them, inspire confidence. The pads, well-- confidence so far.
    Riding and aging don't get easier, you just get slower at slowing down.] (FiftyPlus observation inspired by G. Lemond.)

  17. #17
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    Over in Classic & Vintage, there is a great thread regarding Campagnolo sidepull brake calipers.
    could you paste in a link to that thread?? thanks.

  18. #18
    Dharma Dog lhbernhardt's Avatar
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    When you see some of the cr*p that we used to ride back in the 70's (and even before), you begin to wonder how the people who designed and built these thangs could live with themselves, releasing such products to the general public. I mean:

    Mafac "Racer" centerpull brakes - poorly finished in rough aluminum, difficult to adjust precisely, no way to "tune" each arm, flexible and prone to squealing.

    Simplex nylon derailleurs - not very robust; I remember breaking the spring on a Simplex Prestige at the Nevada City race.

    Huret derailleurs - either extremely heavy (remember the "Schwinn-approved" Huret Allvit?) or wierd and unreliable.

    Lyotard pedals - the Marcel Berthet pedal looked nice, but I remember breaking the axle on one, as well as on some other French-made pedal.

    TA cranks - easily broken.

    Weinmann sidepull brakes - the long-reach models were so thin and flimsy, and they were a nuisance to keep centered.

    Pivo stems - just plain ugly, no finish.

    It seemed like only Campagnolo (and to some extent Universal) made any quality products. Well, OK, the rims (Fiamme, Scheeren, Mavic) were good, but they were too light and easily dented.

    So I can see where the Japanese could come in and just take over the market from all but Campagnolo (at least for a while) because the standards in Europe were so insanely low. Today, I think we have come to expect just a higher standard of appearance and operation.

    - L.

  19. #19
    Freewheel Medic pastorbobnlnh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by late
    I suspect this may have something to do with the steel rims that were so common back then. There are no retrogrouches trying to bring those back!
    Actually, I don't believe steel rims nor old brake calipers were the blame. Cables and the way people adjusted their brakes were bigger factors in poor braking performance.

    I restored a '66 Schwinn Collegiate this summer. It has relatively low end Weinmann side pulls and those really wide S-6 steel rims. I replaced the cables and the brake blocks/holders (which were in really poor shape) with relatively inexpensive new ones. I also adjust my brakes so that I have great leverage on the levers (I put a great deal of space between the inside of the block and the edge of the rim).

    The Collegiate stops me very well, I am heavy (240 lbs), and NH has some steep hills. Maybe I just have a "monster" grip from shaking all those hands on Sunday , but 40 year old calipers and rims with new cables and blocks stop this big "retrogrouch" just fine. BTW, the picture shows the original blocks and holders which were gone by the next day!
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  20. #20
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    You guys really use your brakes? For me the biggest improvement in cycling in 30 years is the vastly improved quality of good riding shorts.
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

  21. #21
    Dharma Dog lhbernhardt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NOS88
    You guys really use your brakes? For me the biggest improvement in cycling in 30 years is the vastly improved quality of good riding shorts.
    There were some pretty bad cheap shorts made in those days, and chamois takes on the consistency of industrial cardboard after it's been washed, so a thorough "crinkle out" and treatment with chamois fat (we used this expensive Dutch perfumed fish oil-based cream called "Jecovitol" - smelled great when you first put it on, and you knew the shorts were due for washing when you could smell the North Sea herring)were required, but I have to disagree. Few shorts today come close to the feel of a nice pair of Vittore Gianni wool shorts.

    They were thick wool with thick chamois, and the legs were quite long for the time, unless you bought the track shorts. The track versions were a little shorter, but they had a reinforced back with a white stripe on the left hip, behind which was a long, narrow pocket for slipping in the "jamming tool" when riding madisons. This was usually a rolled-up towel that gave your partner something to hang onto when executing a "hip sling." (Nowadays everybody does handslings.)

    As I recall, the road shorts even had buttons on them for attaching suspenders. That's "braces" for you English guys (I have to be careful because "suspenders" in England means "garters," and I have indeed seen some of the ladies of the night in downtown Vancouver wearing cycling shorts with stockings, and you can see the garter straps in between, but that's another thread...

    - L.

  22. #22
    Hypoxic Member head_wind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lhbernhardt
    When you see some of the cr*p that we used to ride back in the 70's (and even before), you begin to wonder how the people who designed and built these thangs could live with themselves, releasing such products to the general public. I mean:

    Mafac "Racer" centerpull brakes - poorly finished in rough aluminum, difficult to adjust precisely, no way to "tune" each arm, flexible and prone to squealing.

    Simplex nylon derailleurs - not very robust; I remember breaking the spring on a Simplex Prestige at the Nevada City race.

    Huret derailleurs - either extremely heavy (remember the "Schwinn-approved" Huret Allvit?) or wierd and unreliable.

    Lyotard pedals - the Marcel Berthet pedal looked nice, but I remember breaking the axle on one, as well as on some other French-made pedal.

    TA cranks - easily broken.

    Weinmann sidepull brakes - the long-reach models were so thin and flimsy, and they were a nuisance to keep centered.

    Pivo stems - just plain ugly, no finish.

    It seemed like only Campagnolo (and to some extent Universal) made any quality products. Well, OK, the rims (Fiamme, Scheeren, Mavic) were good, but they were too light and easily dented.

    So I can see where the Japanese could come in and just take over the market from all but Campagnolo (at least for a while) because the standards in Europe were so insanely low. Today, I think we have come to expect just a higher standard of appearance and operation.

    - L.
    My wife and I have '73 Peugeot UO-8s that we are scared to ride. The one item that you didn't hit that pertains to them was that the steel rims were knurled. Sounds like a good idea but was terrible.

  23. #23
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    Think modern rim surfaces have improved stopping your bike as much as any of the things mentioned.

  24. #24
    Let's do a Century jppe's Avatar
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    From my experience Dura Ace 7800 brakes are exceptional. I recently paid a premium for a set of Zero Gravity brakes and I'm VERY disappointed in their performance. They're very difficult to keep adjusted and as my LBS expert says, "They just don't have a lot of whoa to them!!"

    Probably the worst dollars I've thrown at my bikes.......

  25. #25
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    Brakes? My very first ride was my dad's bike. . .one that the local Norfolk and Western Station Master gave him when he [the Station Master] retired. [I $hit you negative, I started riding long enough ago that the Station Master was still living. . .name was Pitts Early.] Anyway, it was an early 40's rig weighing in the same general range as a Spruance Class Destroyer and had coaster brakes. You had to plan your stops several minutes ahead of time.

    I've seen a striking improvement in the durability of tubes and tires as measured in perceived Mean Time to Failure [MTF?].

    Then there's Brifters!!! Mmmmmmmm-Brifters!

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