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What can I do to improve Universal 68 Sidepulls?

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What can I do to improve Universal 68 Sidepulls?

Old 04-14-24, 11:45 AM
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What can I do to improve Universal 68 Sidepulls?

I have a bike (1970s Mercian) with Universal 68 sidepulls, and another ( 1960s Bianchi) with 61 centerpulls. The 61s work well; the 68s are terrible. Both sets use the same levers and have Kool Stop Salmon pads. As far as I can tell, thé issue is the lever pull. I need to get in the drops to get enough leverage to pull the brake levers hard enough to get the brakes to do anything. Braking from the hoods is ok for gently slowing down, but is inadequate otherwise.

i would love to keep the 68s because I suspect they were original equipment in this bike, but if I must I can swap them for something else. I have Nuovo Record, Mafac, and Weinmann Vainqueur brakes at hand to use as needed. But first, I'd love to hear if anyone has any suggestions for setting up the 68s to work more efficiently. Thanks.

pic shows bike as I received it. I've posted a pic of the bike as rebuilt down a few posts, so you can see the cables and housing are new and in good condition.

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Old 04-14-24, 12:08 PM
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The center mount version of the Paul Racer would probably work.
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Old 04-14-24, 12:19 PM
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I have fully Mavic equipped Limongi. The Mavic branded brake callipers were made by Modolo. When I acquired the bike, it had been converted to flat bar with linear pull brake levers, a stupid combination. Wanting to convert it back to drop bars, I bought a pair of Tektro brake levers, forget the model name. I was very pleasantly surprized by how good the braking was the first time I rode the bike. The braking compares pretty well with much more recent dual pivot brake callipers. I believe that they are the RL340 levers which are very inexpensive. Worth a try
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Old 04-14-24, 12:28 PM
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Single pivot calipers were always poor for quick stopping unless the pads were freshly new and everything else perfect. Looks like you might have a steel rim. Those were always worse for stopping distance than a alloy rim. The dual pivot calipers stop much better than single pivots ever did IMO.

I never was one to experiment much with different pads. So you might try some KoolStop pads or others. Many other members recommend them.

Regardless of the poor stopping ability of the single pivots, they always stopped me in time. Even when wet. Though I came close to soiling my underwear many times! <grin>
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Old 04-14-24, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01
Single pivot calipers were always poor for quick stopping unless the pads were freshly new and everything else perfect. Looks like you might have a steel rim. Those were always worse for stopping distance than a alloy rim. The dual pivot calipers stop much better than single pivots ever did IMO.
I disagree. Really good single pivot brake callipers can stop you very well. My 1973 Raleigh Professional always stopped me reliably, especially later on when I converted to brake levers with cables routed under the bar tape. The OP's bike does not appear to have steel rims, but the cables appear to be pretty old. Brake levers and cables appear to often be neglected when it comes to poor braking. A hint: if when you operate the brake you feel variable resistance before the brake pads hit the rims, you need new cables
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Old 04-14-24, 12:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
I have a bike (1970s Mercian) with Universal 68 sidepulls, and another ( 1960s Bianchi) with 61 centerpulls. The 61s work well; the 68s are terrible. Both sets use the same levers and have Kool Stop Salmon pads. As far as I can tell, thé issue is the lever pull. I need to get in the drops to get enough leverage to pull the brake levers hard enough to get the brakes to do anything. Braking from the hoods is ok for gently slowing down, but is inadequate otherwise.
Clean the rims with acetone and wire wool. Check the cable is moving freely, the pivots are not slack and not binding, the arms aren't rubbing, the spring legs are sliding on the arms, the blocks are slightly toed in ... just all the usual stuff really, and a few drops of Tri-Flow.
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Old 04-14-24, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by grumpus
Clean the rims with acetone and wire wool. Check the cable is moving freely, the pivots are not slack and not binding, the arms aren't rubbing, the spring legs are sliding on the arms, the blocks are slightly toed in ... just all the usual stuff really, and a few drops of Tri-Flow.
Thanks, I did all that except the acetone. Nothing is binding, cable and housing are new and routed correctly, etc etc.
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Old 04-14-24, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01
Single pivot calipers were always poor for quick stopping unless the pads were freshly new and everything else perfect. Looks like you might have a steel rim. Those were always worse for stopping distance than a alloy rim.
nope, no steel rims on my bikes! I live in Seattle and they are a baaad idea here.

The dual pivot calipers stop much better than single pivots ever did IMO.
Yes, so I hear. They are not the best choice for the wide tires I prefer, though.
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Old 04-14-24, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
Thanks, I did all that except the acetone. Nothing is binding, cable and housing are new and routed correctly, etc etc.
Good to know, but the included photo shows cable housing that looks well worn
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Old 04-14-24, 12:59 PM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil
I have fully Mavic equipped Limongi. The Mavic branded brake callipers were made by Modolo. When I acquired the bike, it had been converted to flat bar with linear pull brake levers, a stupid combination. Wanting to convert it back to drop bars, I bought a pair of Tektro brake levers, forget the model name. I was very pleasantly surprized by how good the braking was the first time I rode the bike. The braking compares pretty well with much more recent dual pivot brake callipers. I believe that they are the RL340 levers which are very inexpensive. Worth a try
I was also thinking of trying different levers to see if they improved the braking. Thanks for the recommendation.
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Old 04-14-24, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil
Good to know, but the included photo shows cable housing that looks well worn
When I got the bike, yes. Here's what it looks like now. Sorry for the confusion there!


Bike as refurbished with new cables and housing.
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Old 04-14-24, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
nope, no steel rims on my bikes! I live in Seattle and they are a baaad idea here.



Yes, so I hear. They are not the best choice for the wide tires I prefer, though.
I get it. That photo shows that you have tons of tire clearance which was pretty common in the early 1970's. I still suggest that you spend $25 and buy a set of Tektro RL340 brake levers. An inexpensive experiment. As a bonus, the levers have an additional release on the lever allowing wider tires to pass through if the release on the calliper doesn't give you enough width for wider tires

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Old 04-14-24, 01:06 PM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil
I get it. That photo shows that you have tons of tire clearance which was pretty common in the early 1970's. I still suggest that you spend $25 and buy a set of Tektro RL340 brake levers. An inexpensive experiment
Trying different levers does sound like the best solution. Those Universal levers are pretty ratty!
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Old 04-14-24, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
Trying different levers does sound like the best solution. Those Universal levers are pretty ratty!
Tektro levers work so far above their price point that is worth the experiment I also have them on my touring bike. Makes it easy to open the cantilever brakes when I have to change a tire
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Old 04-14-24, 06:21 PM
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If you shop around, there are levers with greater leverage, which comes at the cost of reduced cable pull. That may solve the problem, though they'll call for more aligned wheels and less forgiving brake adjustment.

You may not want to replace the levers, hoping to keep the bike more original, but the 50 year old para hoods are probably rotting anyway (mine are).

In any case 2 thoughts.

1 these brakes originally had cloth reinforced rubber shoes, with a higher coefficient of friction than most modern shoes. Higher CoF means greater friction with lower brake pressure, so I'd try to source this type of shoe before giving up.

2- this was designed as a brake for racing bikes, not utility bikes. In the racing world, brakes are barely used under conditions while riding the hoods, and if so, only for small corrections. Real brake use tends to happen when riding the drops, so both the maker's and the riders (,including me) were fine with what you find to be a problem.

So, you can't eat your cake and gave it too. Decide whether to prioritize keeping it original, with small tweaks and marginal improvement, or go with another brake better suited to your needs.
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Old 04-14-24, 07:47 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
If you shop around, there are levers with greater leverage, which comes at the cost of reduced cable pull. That may solve the problem, though they'll call for more aligned wheels and less forgiving brake adjustment.

You may not want to replace the levers, hoping to keep the bike more original, but the 50 year old para hoods are probably rotting anyway (mine are).

In any case 2 thoughts.

1 these brakes originally had cloth reinforced rubber shoes, with a higher coefficient of friction than most modern shoes. Higher CoF means greater friction with lower brake pressure, so I'd try to source this type of shoe before giving up.
This, I did not know. Whenever I heard about those (or similar) shoes it was in the context of steel rims and rain, so I dismissed them.

2- this was designed as a brake for racing bikes, not utility bikes. In the racing world, brakes are barely used under conditions while riding the hoods, and if so, only for small corrections. Real brake use tends to happen when riding the drops, so both the maker's and the riders (,including me) were fine with what you find to be a problem.

So, you can't eat your cake and gave it too. Decide whether to prioritize keeping it original, with small tweaks and marginal improvement, or go with another brake better suited to your needs.
I can understand that point of view, but I have had long experience with Nuovo Record sidepulls and Mafac centerpulls. Both of those brakes (especially the Mafacs) are reasonably efficient on the hoods. So I was wondering if the Universal sidepulls could be adjusted or modified to be at least as good as the Campagnolo brakes. I'll test them with some different levers to see if I can improve them. If not, I have another set of NR brakes in my piles.

Thanks!
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Old 04-14-24, 08:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
.....So I was wondering if the Universal sidepulls could be adjusted or modified to be at least as good as the Campagnolo brakes. I'll test them with some different levers to see if I can improve them. If not, I have another set of NR brakes in my piles.

Thanks!
Brake caliper leverage is cut in stone, but total brake leverage is the result of both caliper and lever geometry.

So, measure the distance from the pivot to the cable swivel. Shorter means more leverage, and may solve your problem.
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Old 04-14-24, 08:14 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
Brake caliper leverage is cut in stone, but total brake leverage is the result of both caliper and lever geometry.

So, measure the distance from the pivot to the cable swivel. Shorter means more leverage, and may solve your problem.
That was exactly what I intended to do.
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Old 04-15-24, 08:57 AM
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I came to the point with the ‘68 where I gave up on them. Either the calipers’ bend for the pad slot had crack, the pivot bolts broken, or the lever bodies (famous for cracking on installing) were broken.
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Old 04-15-24, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Mr. 66
I came to the point with the ‘68 where I gave up on them. Either the calipers’ bend for the pad slot had crack, the pivot bolts broken, or the lever bodies (famous for cracking on installing) were broken.
Another example of a product that served well for years, but who's time passed with the advent of either new technology and/or ham fisted mechanics.
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Old 04-16-24, 12:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
... I live in Seattle...
Recycled Cycles in the south end of the U district has great prices on used parts, big selection. I found some fairly obscure brake levers there (L-handles, so can grab on bar-ends too), like new, cheap. Replacement shifter, $5. Check days/hours, I think still closed on Sunday and Monday, close at 6:00 p.m.

All modern brakes, short and long pull, have a partial return spring in the handle, to reduce cable friction. Make sure the brakes and levers are matched.
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Old 04-16-24, 08:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Duragrouch
Recycled Cycles in the south end of the U district has great prices on used parts, big selection. I found some fairly obscure brake levers there (L-handles, so can grab on bar-ends too), like new, cheap. Replacement shifter, $5. Check days/hours, I think still closed on Sunday and Monday, close at 6:00 p.m.

All modern brakes, short and long pull, have a partial return spring in the handle, to reduce cable friction. Make sure the brakes and levers are matched.
Oh yep, I know Recycled well! Gotten a lot of bits there over time. Thanks.
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Old 04-16-24, 11:20 AM
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I used Universal 68s for 7-8 years, until I finally sprung for a full Super Record kit. Following the move away from centerpulls in the early '60s, nearly everyone used these until Campaganolo made a Nuevo Record brake set in 1968. Give them a thorough cleaning and lube around the pivots, and adjust the free play at the pivots by adjusting the locknuts. Then replace the cables and housings, and clean up the levers. This maintenance is long overdue. If that still isn't cutting it, look for new pads. Anything that fits like old-style Campagnolo Record will be an improvement.
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Old 04-16-24, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by oldbobcat
I used Universal 68s for 7-8 years, until I finally sprung for a full Super Record kit. Following the move away from centerpulls in the early '60s, nearly everyone used these until Campaganolo made a Nuevo Record brake set in 1968. Give them a thorough cleaning and lube around the pivots, and adjust the free play at the pivots by adjusting the locknuts. Then replace the cables and housings, and clean up the levers. This maintenance is long overdue. If that still isn't cutting it, look for new pads. Anything that fits like old-style Campagnolo Record will be an improvement.
Thanks. I am happy to have advice from someone who used the brakes.
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Old 04-16-24, 05:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Aubergine
Thanks. I am happy to have advice from someone who used the brakes.
FWIW, I was happy with mine for years, and replaced them with Campy Record (1st gen) only after a crash bent my front brake. If not for the crash they'd still be there.
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