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Thread: Suicide levers

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    Senior Member lin_kieu's Avatar
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    Suicide levers

    I finally found a used bike shop by my home. I've been looking a good used bike to use on my commutes to work. However, the majority of what I see have the old school "suicide levers" on them. I've read and heard that these are dangerous. Do any of you have these on your bikes, and what are your impressions of them? I'd like to vaoid switching out to a new set of brakes, but if they are dangerous, I'd rather do that than lose stopping power.
    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.


    Benjamin Franklin

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    Wood Licker Maelstrom's Avatar
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    Do you have a picture of what you would call suicide levers? I am not sure what you are talking about.

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    I am a lonely visitor RegularGuy's Avatar
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    Use the search function and you will find that this topic has been discussed in some detail previously. People have strong opinions about "suicide" levers. I think the dangers are probably overstated but the benefits are negligible. A new set of brakes will provide better stopping power than the older models that came with panic levers. If you want to remove the extensions, you can probably do so without too much trouble. I did it to a bike years ago. As I recall, you will need to get a shorter bolt for the lever pivot.
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    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    These are probably the auxiliary brake levers found on many older road-style bikes, which sweep in so that the brakes can be actuated from the tops of the drop bars.

    I hope I don't sound like a snob, but you could generally take these as an indication of a bicycle that's below "enthusiast quality." The extensions can be removed, although this will often leave a "stud" sticking out the side of the brake lever and would require a bit of brake adjustment in most cases, to take out the additional cable slack left over.

    As for safety, they have less brake power than the "real" brake lever (long story made short), and your hands will be close together if you're using them, which is not good for control.

    If you cannot afford a fancier bike, ask the shop if they'll sell you the bike with a different set of levers that don't have the extenstions. Another option is to remove them, readjust the brakes, cut the studs off (if present) with a hacksaw and smooth the cut with a file.

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    Queen of the Pea Pile oceanrider's Avatar
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    These brakes are an indication of the vintage, not necessarily the quality at the time of manufacture. The danger aspect is overstated. Mine do take some strength to squeeze the regular levers from the drops position which is a drawback for a cyclist with small or weak hands but then again, my brakes are low end. But squeezing the supplemental safety levers is very easy.
    Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies...

  6. #6
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    It is easy to remove the suicide levers and either replace the pivots with a non-studded pair or simply saw off the studs and buy a pair of brake hoods (CyclArt and others have these for around $10/pair). I have seen a few higher-end bikes, such as Schwinn Paramounts, with original suicide brakes (and TwinStick stem shifters).

    Suicide brake levers have two big limitations: 1) They frequently bottom out before the brakes are fully applied; and 2) The rider is far less stable with his/her hands near the stem than out on the drops. However, I suppose they are potentially useful if you favor John Franklin's "relaxed" position, with your hands on the drops, just above and behind the brake levers themselves.
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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by RegularGuy
    People have strong opinions about "suicide" levers. I think the dangers are probably overstated but the benefits are negligible.
    All you have to do is not use them. If the temptation is too much, take 'em off.

    Just because a bike comes with, "chicken levers," doesn't mean the bike is junk.
    No worries

  8. #8
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Yup, like John E says, you only have to remove the levers and like Pete says, "just don't use them".

    If you do remove them, simply remove the bolt that holds them on and remove the levers. Remember that the bolt also holds the primary lever, so you have to put it back in after removing the suicide levers.

    You will also have to tighten the brake cables after you remove the suicide levers.

    Personally, I do not think that the so-called suicide levers pose much of a threat. HOWEVER, I recently rebuilt an old bike for a friend of mine. I chose to remove the suicide levers because he weighs 260 lbs and has very strong legs. I thought it likely that he could generate enough inertia to overpower the leverage of the 'suicidee' brake levers, so I removed them.
    Mike

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by mike
    I chose to remove the suicide levers ...
    Seems to me I also remember being pinched once. OUCH!
    No worries

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    Senior Member diamondback's Avatar
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    When I was younger they were common. I liked them. They seemed to make a 14 mile commute through the city a more relaxed ride. They didn't have the fast city bikes back then(like the cannondale bad boy). They had big cruisers and road bikes, neither of these made sense for city commutes. The extra brake levers helped bridge the gap. I would like an updated 21st century design and positioning of these. Remember these were old style brake calipers with old brake pads on steel rims, of course they didn't work well. Nothing back then worked as well as they stuff out now.

  11. #11
    Queen of the Pea Pile oceanrider's Avatar
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    I'll second the bit about the steel rims. Bad rain ride. Sunshine only.
    Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies...

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    Senior Member Stor Mand's Avatar
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    It's funny ... I was just talking to someone tonight about those. I found them handy (this was 15 or 20 + years ago). Now that I'm thinking of it, they may have been the cause of one of my accidents back then ...
    I still think that they have a purpose in a pinch if your not on the drops.

  13. #13
    Year-round cyclist
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    Originally posted by mechBgon
    These are probably the auxiliary brake levers found on many older road-style bikes, which sweep in so that the brakes can be actuated from the tops of the drop bars.

    I hope I don't sound like a snob, but you could generally take these as an indication of a bicycle that's below "enthusiast quality." The extensions can be removed, although this will often leave a "stud" sticking out the side of the brake lever and would require a bit of brake adjustment in most cases, to take out the additional cable slack left over.

    As for safety, they have less brake power than the "real" brake lever (long story made short), and your hands will be close together if you're using them, which is not good for control.
    Around here, they were popular in the late 1970s and very early 1980s. I had a bike that came with them and I removed them. During the same period, my father added some on his bike. Comparing both bikes and a few others I have tried, these auxiliary levers may work ok if they have the proper shape, if the brake handle is appropriately placed (mine wasn't) and if they are rigid enough.
    If all these conditions are met and if they are adequately adjusted ( a tricky proposal at best), they work as well as the main levers. Otherwise, they bottom out too quickly and only offer a slow-down.

    Why have they disappeared? Two main reasons:

    1. Cantilever brakes eventually replaced the traditional centrepull brakes. Cantilevers require less strength and therefore are easily operated even when the rider rides on the hoods.

    2. On most bikes, the safety lever was only good for slowing down. So experienced cyclists dismissed the levers and often removed them. Casual cyclists -- those who usually ride slowly and therefore are OK with safety levers -- went for hybrids and "comfort bikes" when they became available.


    BTW, no need to get new levers. As others suggested, if you can't adjust them for hard braking, remove the safety levers (bolt on the side of the main lever), or cut them with a metal saw.

    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  14. #14
    Senior Member lin_kieu's Avatar
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    Thanks for the advice guys.
    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.


    Benjamin Franklin

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