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Improving performance of suicide brakes (dual levers)

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Improving performance of suicide brakes (dual levers)

Old 06-15-24, 09:36 AM
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Improving performance of suicide brakes (dual levers)

No doubt because vintage bikes last and last and these brakes were so common ... they are still available brand new on Amazon for around $10.


I don't know how a brand new, say Schwinn Varsity, back in the day, stopped with these? But there should be some way to optimize their effectiveness on vintage garage-sale finds.

Some have suggested attacking the issue at the caliper ... e.g., use high-quality pads (Kool Stop) for best grip on rims.

What else can be done to improve the top-lever braking (other than proactively planning safer routes, deliberately slower riding, and being more self-aware and self-conscious of their limits and dangers and permanently adopting safer bike-riding)?

Last edited by elcyc; 06-15-24 at 12:49 PM.
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Old 06-15-24, 09:39 AM
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I think they work fine, as long as the calipers are adjusted fairly close to the rim so the levers don't bottom out against the handlebar tops.
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Old 06-15-24, 09:44 AM
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Performance wise they work just fine, the problem was that they could get loose from normal use, and then pop out of place if one’s gripping wasn’t optimal. Which in turn leave one with a malfunctioning component of no stopping ability.
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Old 06-15-24, 09:45 AM
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Compressionless Kevlar reinforced brake housing will take a lot of squish out of the system.
https://jagwire.com/products/housing...-brake-housing
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Old 06-15-24, 10:18 AM
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I put cross levers on my daughter's bike instead because she wanted those. These actually work and don't flex.


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Old 06-15-24, 10:38 AM
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There were a couple of brake levers of this type that didn't impair the function of the brake levers. There was an aftermarket kit that worked with Mafac brake levers that worked very well and I believe that there were Weinman levers that also worked quite well. The levers in the OP were the ones that were the worst
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Old 06-15-24, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil
There were a couple of brake levers of this type that didn't impair the function of the brake levers. There was an aftermarket kit that worked with Mafac brake levers that worked very well and I believe that there were Weinman levers that also worked quite well. The levers in the OP were the ones that were the worst
Totally agree. Those levers in the opening post were sloppy and loose. The ones made for bike boom Weinmann and DiaCompe center pulls were the sloppy kind. And as alcjphil says, the Mafac dual command lever was very good. I used a pair of those on an old Peugeot and was impressed. I kept them when I moved the bike on.
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Old 06-15-24, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by elcyc
What else can be done to improve the top-lever braking (other than proactively planning safer routes, deliberately slower riding, and being more self-aware and self-conscious of their limits and dangers and permanently adopting safer bike-riding)?
Make sure the bike fits - buying kids oversized bikes for them to "grow into" meant that they often couldn't easily reach the proper levers. That combined with poorly adjusted brakes made the "safety levers" ineffective in emergency braking situations. They are inherently flawed by geometry - they are too long because they have to reach the top of the handlebar, they don't pull enough cable before hitting the bar. They were only ubiquitous because they were made a legal requirement by people who didn't really understand the problem - interrupter levers are a far superior solution.
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Old 06-15-24, 01:04 PM
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Mine are thrown in a box with other random bike parts. They were terrible, how I tolerated them for years along with stem mounted friction shifters, I have no idea. Moved to Tiagra 4600 a few years ago, which is pretty good upgrade, its mainly a rare gravel trail or trainer bike now. Integrated shifters are the bees knees.
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Old 06-15-24, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by zacster
I put cross levers on my daughter's bike instead because she wanted those. These actually work and don't flex.
Hey that is so cool! Oh, wait, all my bikes have pre-aero cable "routing", ain't gonna happen.
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Old 06-15-24, 01:31 PM
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Again, I never bought a new bike with dual levers, so I don't know how good they were. I don't think Schwinn and other major manufs would've stuck to this design if there were a lot of "suicides".
Certainly the orig. vintage condition of un-replaced (garage sale) components don't help.
Most of the pads I find on thrift and yardsale pickups are hard as rock. But the pads look like they have a lot of un-used tread on them.
I wonder if some sort of better design on the pad dimensions and geometry (not just compound material) might not be good option to improve suicide performance?
E.g. on my Gary Fisher, I use these Kool Stop for cantilever:

Last edited by elcyc; 06-15-24 at 01:37 PM.
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Old 06-15-24, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by elcyc
Again, I never bought a new bike with dual levers, so I don't know how good they were. I don't think Schwinn and other major manufs would've stuck to this design if there were a lot of "suicides".
Um. The manufacturers did NOT in fact stick to this design. Look at Trek, Spec, Giant, Merida, and try to find dual control levers.
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Old 06-15-24, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by elcyc
I wonder if some sort of better design on the pad dimensions and geometry (not just compound material) might not be good option to improve suicide performance?
Try it and find out? No need to wonder. Report back.
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Old 06-15-24, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by tiger1964
Hey that is so cool! Oh, wait, all my bikes have pre-aero cable "routing", ain't gonna happen.
I made a similar lever for one of my non-aero-levered bikes. Took an old Weinmann flat bar lever, stretched the clamp so it mounted on the central ferrule of the handlebar, to the right of the stem but with the blade pointing to the left. Ran a cable from this into the top of the right side drop bar lever, and out of the bottom to the brake caliper (cable exits near the tip of the lever blade).

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Old 06-15-24, 05:56 PM
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I just gave a 1980 Miyata 310 to my neighbor's kid to ride. The first thing I did in fixing up the bike was to get rid of the turkey levers. I do have a set on my 1970s Sekine SHS 271 which I use as a lock up bike. I didn't have the heart to replace the "safety" levers as the bike is nearly completely original. It was a quality bike back in the day with a Tange chromemoly frame, forged dropouts, chrome socks, and a lot of early Shimano goodies. Kool stops help but I would not trust the extensions in a hard stop. I do like the levers for speed modulation but that's about all they're good for.


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Old 06-16-24, 08:24 AM
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If you couldn't tell by my picture above, not only did I add the cross levers but the calipers themselves are new Centaur with new pads. The Tektro levers are Campy copy and since I ride Campy 10sp they felt perfect in my hands. The whole setup just works. And the thing that changed between suicide levers and today is that the brifter type levers are all easily workable from the hoods. The old levers would work that way but not as well. I never put my hands in the drops anymore for any reason, not to brake and not to get into aero position. I don't even know why we have drops anymore, they could cut them off beyond where they are needed, and yes I've seen lots of bikes where they have been.

This is my adult daughter's bike and she's just a casual rider. She just loves the setup because she mostly just rides the tops and in NYC you need to be able to stop.
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Old 06-16-24, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by zacster
I put cross levers on my daughter's bike instead because she wanted those. These actually work and don't flex.


Originally Posted by tiger1964
Hey that is so cool! Oh, wait, all my bikes have pre-aero cable "routing", ain't gonna happen.
You might consider "guidonnet" levers, in that case.
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Old 06-16-24, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnDThompson
You might consider "guidonnet" levers, in that case.
I actually bought one from a forum member, for the single front brake on my Zeus track bike... which is still sitting on the stand awaiting completion.

Not sure that, in most instances, I'd be all that comfortable in having those in lieu of conventional brake levers.
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Old 06-16-24, 09:30 AM
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Turkey legs (safety levers) never stopped very well compared to using the brake levers. But they always stopped me in time. Sure, there were times when I had to unclamp my butt cheeks from the saddle, but obviously I'm still here.

And the bikes I was using turkey legs with had chromed steel rims, which never stopped well anyway compared to alloy rimmed bikes.

I wouldn't try making them stop better. The gain will be too marginal. The way they angle and are bent between where they attach and the operators hand position just make for losses in amount of travel that the hand does compared to the actual movement of the brake lever. The slightest play will be magnified in the losses created.

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Old 06-16-24, 10:17 AM
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Originally Posted by tiger1964
I actually bought one from a forum member, for the single front brake on my Zeus track bike... which is still sitting on the stand awaiting completion.

Not sure that, in most instances, I'd be all that comfortable in having those in lieu of conventional brake levers.
yeah. I tried them but 40 years of muscle memory just did not mesh with them.
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Old 06-16-24, 10:40 AM
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I’ve worked with quite a few of the ubiquitous Schwinn style levers and have them on several bikes. I’ve switched parts between many. I’ve come to some conclusions. First, the lever arms do flex and they will never be powerful. Here in the flatlands with casual riders at slower speeds, that doesn’t seem to be a killer problem as long as they are adjusted well with good cables and pads as mentioned.
We almost always are talking about very well used and very old levers though. So, just as in other mechanical systems we are trying to get more precision out of, we need to eliminate as much slop in the system as possible. Wiggling the extension lever on the shaft nubbin it attaches to shows a spot where there is often lots of slop. The nylon bushing has to fit good in three spots; the shaft it is on, the outer part of the bushing that inserts into the safety lever, and finally the thickness of the bushing flange between the safety lever and the common brake lever body.
Sometimes with a bunch of spare parts one can find the best fit and have a much better result. If that flange is too thick, the levers bind. If the bushings are worn and sloppy on the shaft, there is increased slop. So, do swap bushings around with the thought in mind that most of these are 40 or more years old. On one of my Super Sports that I put back to stock with the best looking and least used parts, I had some good luck swapping bushings to get a very nice fit. On a test ride, I even skidded the back wheel without really trying. I was quite surprised.
I also am the owner of a mini lathe, but not real competent with it. If I lived in hilly country and wanted to really improve the lever power and feel, I bet one could fabricate some nice fitting delrin bushings that would really be an improvement over some sloppy 50 year old ones. In general I am a fan of the turkey levers but do acknowledge their limitations.
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Old 06-16-24, 11:16 AM
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First, let's dispose of the hallmark of gaspipe bicycles: auxiliary brake levers or "safety" levers. These awkward devices are actually the antithesis of safety because they reduce lever travel, especially if they're misadjusted so that they bottom out on the handlebar. Auxiliary levers force you to place your weight in a poor position for maximum braking. Also, you can't have rubber hoods with auxiliary levers, and rubber hoods are worthwhile.
Thank you, Frank Berto.

It's pretty weird to be discussing these levers on an enthusiast forum...
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Old 06-16-24, 12:10 PM
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Not only do I hate those old "safety" levers because of their spongy/weak feel but I can guess how much worse a $10 Chinese set from Amazon (post #1) would be.
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Old 06-16-24, 12:20 PM
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Not only can you remove your basic safety lever, but if they are Dia Compes you can either cut off or replace the pivot and buy new hoods for the lever body.

My first good bike had these, and I replaced the levers with 105 aero levers. I kind wished I had just bought hoods on this bike I sold the next summer.
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Old 06-16-24, 02:32 PM
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these work best.
https://manualzz.com/doc/53868883/sh...-exploded-view

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