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Teach me the ways of the Mafac Racer

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Teach me the ways of the Mafac Racer

Old 03-09-22, 08:45 PM
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uncle uncle
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Teach me the ways of the Mafac Racer

So, I fell into a good (well, a pretty good) deal on a Manufrance partial bicycle that was destined to be garden statuary before I flashed the gentleman owner some green. One of the items that this bicycle had on it was a somewhat sad set of Mafac Racer brakes, complete, with the cable stops and levers. Having never worked on, or owned, a set of Racers... I have questions. 1) Are some of the bolts and such totally devoid of chrome... were they zinc coated, or something like that? 2) If the attaching hardware is now devoid of it's protective coating, what preventative measures do you take? 3) The cable stops (the seat bolt one and the headset stack one) have missing chrome... so the same preventative measures question? 4) Is there a benefit to replacing just the rubber portions of the shoes... or is it better to replace the whole shoe-w-stud assy's? 5) Do Racers have some sort of quick release detail (does removing the one side of the straddle cable assy double as a quick release, for the most part)? 6) The levers are a bit of hand stretch for me... is there a preferred shorter reach brake levers upgrade (hopefully a vintage appropriate and cheap alternative)? 7) Any nifty tricks to make them even better at braking than they were new? Thanks for any advice you'd like to throw at me....
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Old 03-09-22, 08:56 PM
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Originally Posted by uncle uncle View Post
So, I fell into a good (well, a pretty good) deal on a Manufrance partial bicycle that was destined to be garden statuary before I flashed the gentleman owner some green. One of the items that this bicycle had on it was a somewhat sad set of Mafac Racer brakes, complete, with the cable stops and levers. Having never worked on, or owned, a set of Racers... I have questions. 1) Are some of the bolts and such totally devoid of chrome... were they zinc coated, or something like that? 2) If the attaching hardware is now devoid of it's protective coating, what preventative measures do you take? 3) The cable stops (the seat bolt one and the headset stack one) have missing chrome... so the same preventative measures question? 4) Is there a benefit to replacing just the rubber portions of the shoes... or is it better to replace the whole shoe-w-stud assy's? 5) Do Racers have some sort of quick release detail (does removing the one side of the straddle cable assy double as a quick release, for the most part)? 6) The levers are a bit of hand stretch for me... is there a preferred shorter reach brake levers upgrade (hopefully a vintage appropriate and cheap alternative)? 7) Any nifty tricks to make them even better at braking than they were new? Thanks for any advice you'd like to throw at me....
1) Are some of the bolts and such totally devoid of chrome... were they zinc coated, or something like that?
All of the steel bits were chrome plated, I believe - someone check me here
2) If the attaching hardware is now devoid of it's protective coating, what preventative measures do you take?
Hmm....
3) The cable stops (the seat bolt one and the headset stack one) have missing chrome... so the same preventative measures question?
Hmm...
4) Is there a benefit to replacing just the rubber portions of the shoes... or is it better to replace the whole shoe-w-stud assy's?
Just the rubber. Koolstop 4 dots are the way to go. I use the salmon colored ones, great compound.
5) Do Racers have some sort of quick release detail (does removing the one side of the straddle cable assy double as a quick release, for the most part)?
Straddle cable does the trick.
6) The levers are a bit of hand stretch for me... is there a preferred shorter reach brake levers upgrade (hopefully a vintage appropriate and cheap alternative)?
Pretty much any short reach brake lever should work fine. You can adjust the straddle cable length to dial in the performance to the lever you use.
7) Any nifty tricks to make them even better at braking than they were new?
New salmon Koolstop pads!

MAFAC Racers can be found for cheap. If your bike has a really worn out set, PM me, I have several for spare parts that are in good shape.
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Old 03-09-22, 10:02 PM
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One clear advantage is that you won't need a bell given how load those Racers will squeal when applied.
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Old 03-09-22, 10:35 PM
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The front hanger was slotted so the cable ferrule could be lifted out; this was one of the Quick release options for the front brake. The quick release for the rear could be done by disengaging the straddle cable at the caliper end. Usually, (IIRC) the adjustable cable stop was the preferred end to utilize for the quick release side. I think it was slightly bigger than the lead end and therefore easier to grip in the removal process.
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Old 03-09-22, 11:38 PM
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1) I may be wrong, and the certainly there were likely variations over the years, but I believe the bolt heads were chromed, but not all the other bits (washers, nuts, pad blocks, etc.). At least that's my limited experience.
2) I'm a big fan of the product QuickGlo (I use the fine grade though I see they have a new P3 Ultra grade which is even finer). It removes rust, polishes, and leaves a protective coating.
3) ditto above
4) Keep the original holders & replace pads with KoolStop pads as suggested by DD. They work well, are affordable, and maintain originality (cool + more $ if sold in the future).
5) Yes, straddle serves as quick release.
6) I've got fairly large hands, and I also sometimes find the MAFAC levers a bit of a reach depending on the bars. Typically, when setting up levers, I run a straight edge along the bottom of the drops and set the bottom of the levers along that line. With MAFAC levers, I find it works better to set them just a little bit lower than that. Obviously, shape of the bars will affect set up to some extent.
7) New Kool Stop pads will make the biggest difference, but I find MAFAC brakes to be great stoppers regardless. Much more powerful than most of my side-pulls. Also, the washer that goes under the stud/post on the pad holder can be angled to create toe-in.
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Old 03-09-22, 11:39 PM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
One clear advantage is that you won't need a bell given how load those Racers will squeal when applied.
The squeal is not a given with the KoolStop pads. In my Boston days, I loved that squeal. (KoolStop's parents hadn't met yet.) When a car cut me off, I'd hit the front brake extra hard, then point to the car. Every pedestrian's head on the block would turn and look. See me. Eyes follow my point. Driver, awakened from his stupor by the brake squeal, looks up and sees everybody looking at him! Driver slinks off like bad cat that's been discovered.
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Old 03-10-22, 02:32 AM
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(1) they came in cheapo and luxe variants, the difference being the plating. Cheapos had ugly gray plating and Luxe of course was bright chrome, at least on some parts. I don't think there ever was one where all the steel parts are bright chrome.

Some models and/or years had stainless steel for the hangers at headset and seatpost bolt. Grab those when you see them. Also the bands that hold the levers onto the handlebar, the nice ones are SS.

I have found almost all the bright chrome hardware for sale NOS, factory-shiny, but if you had to buy all those parts at market prices it would be an expensive brake. Sometimes the nice bits are cheap on ebay.fr (use google translate, makes the French website easy to use) but then shipping might bite. I used to get deals that way, pre-pandemic. Rene Herse sells the hardware for their Mafac RAID knockoff, which is made in Taiwan to amazingly high standards, beautiful chrome, but $$$.

Someone made stainless replacement springs, I think it was Scott Davis of sdbicyclegarage.com. Don't bother going to the website, it's down for maintenance, but he still sells stuff on ebay from time to time. He's probably out of springs since I don't see them on the 'bay at the moment. I bought some which I am hoarding, not for sale. Not bright polished, but nicer looking than zinc plating, and they'll never rust.

Careful with those 12 mm bolts that hold the arms onto the pivot posts, they were brass on at least some Racers. Too much torque and you'll get to see the insides of the bolt, where the sun is never supposed to shine. Luckily (?) the wrench flats are so thin that it's hard to put much torque on them before the wrench slips off.

Mark B
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Old 03-10-22, 02:51 AM
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In 1960's, when MAFAC reigned supreme in the pro peloton, many (mostly non-French) riders would substitute their levers with Universal items.

Eddy was one of them:



I have done it, and liked the result:

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Old 03-10-22, 02:55 AM
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MAFAC Racer Brakes

Originally Posted by gugie;22434041
1) Are some of the bolts and such totally devoid of chrome... were they zinc coated, or something like that?
[b
All of the steel bits were chrome plated, I believe - someone check me here (checked below)

2) If the attaching hardware is now devoid of it's protective coating, what preventative measures do you take?
Hmm....

3) The cable stops (the seat bolt one and the headset stack one) have missing chrome... so the same preventative measures question?
Hmm...

4) Is there a benefit to replacing just the rubber portions of the shoes... or is it better to replace the whole shoe-w-stud assy's?
Just the rubber. Koolstop 4 dots are the way to go. I use the salmon colored ones, great compound.

5) Do Racers have some sort of quick release detail (does removing the one side of the straddle cable assy double as a quick release, for the most part)?
Straddle cable does the trick.

6) The levers are a bit of hand stretch for me... is there a preferred shorter reach brake levers upgrade (hopefully a vintage appropriate and cheap alternative)?
Pretty much any short reach brake lever should work fine. You can adjust the straddle cable length to dial in the performance to the lever you use.

7) Any nifty tricks to make them even better at braking than they were new?
New salmon Koolstop pads!
NON! NON! NON! MON FRÉRE... In reference to 1,2 & 3...

Most history was written by those who weren't there but I was.... hahaha

First hand experience - many many hundreds of French bikes went though our shop for sales and service during the 70's. Most of them had MAFAC brakes.

Here's a treatise that I wrote on the subject back in 2009 and posted it on the GitaneUSA.com Forum:
gitaneusa.com :: View topic - Mafac Brakes.... Dural Forge, Racer, Competition

The first MAFAC Racer brakes were introduced at the 1951 Paris show and started selling in 1952. They were stamped "DURAL FORGE" meaning that they were made of forged Duralaluminum 2024 an aluminum alloy that was developed early in the last century. Notice how flat the caliper arms are.



About 1969 MAFAC dropped DURAL FORGE and added "RACER" to the caliper arms. The characters were stamped or embossed into the arms, not the more expensive engraving process.



The European bike manufacturers didn't practice "FIFO" (First In - First Out) inventory control so there were still a lot of DURAL FORGE stamped MAFAC Racers in the pipe line throughout the Bike Boom. We were seeing new French bikes with those brakes as late as 1973.

MAFAC made some CHEAP Racer brakes that came on CHEAP entry level garbage quality bikes! Why garbage quality? Because they were poorly assembled at the factory, everything was cheap, especially the cables and housings! When someone brought one of those bikes in for service, it was going to be at least $50 in 1970's costs to get the bike functional and safe to ride! In the hour or two it took to service one of those bikes we could assemble 2-3 new bikes for sale! Simple economics.

Getting back to the cheap MAFAC racers, I've only seen them listed in a catalog one time. All steel parts were zinc or cadmium plated and easily rusted. Being that it was the Bike Boom Fad, there was no telling when these would show up on a bike??? I have one or two of these calipers that I scrounged for parts.



The early (cheap) front brake cable hangers were flat and zinc plated. The better ones were chrome plated. Note the flat on the inside rear - this is for a 25mm French steerer.



Later front hangers were shaped - the cheap ones zinc/cad plated but the better ones were stainless steel. French style steerer flat.



Stainless steel hanger with a tab for a the groove in British/Italian 25.4mm 1" steerers.



The rear hangers came in zinc/cad plated, chrome plated and stainless steel, also 2-3 lengths.




Back in the mid 70's we imported cases of MAFAC Racer brake sets. Not because they were in demand but because we were selling them wholesale to shops around the country for replacement parts. The sets were costing us $6.00 USD and we were selling them dirt cheap for $12.00 USD a set. Since we were bringing them in with the Bertin bikes we were importing, freight cost was nil.



Until Campagnolo side pull brakes came out in 1969-70, MAFAC Racers were some of the most popular brakes among pro cyclists. Many pros used them into the early 1970's.

BITD I surmised that MAFAC was supplying 3 different brake blocks. The originals were about 1/2 fiber and as the rubber dried out, they crumbled - no idea how old they were. The interim type had more rubber but were still bad. The blocks that came on late bike boom MAFAC brakes had a lot more rubber and less fiber. If they were soft they stopped well.

Kool-Stop brake pads work very well but still need to be toed in to prevent the banshee from hell screeching. I sand about 1/2mm off of the face of even new blocks to get down to the soft inner material. I use the black ones but I DON'T ride in the rain anymore.

Hey gugie, common' back down to NorCal and you wont need salmon Kool-Stops.... I worked up in PDX and the I-5 corridor for a few years back in the early 90's. Webs were stating to grow between my toes! hahaha

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Old 03-10-22, 03:45 AM
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MAFAC - Universal Brake Levers

Originally Posted by non-fixie View Post
In 1960's, when MAFAC reigned supreme in the pro peloton, many (mostly non-French) riders would substitute their levers with Universal items.

Eddy was one of them:

There were a lot of variations in Universal brake lever shapes. I just noticed that the left lever on my Motobecane is straight like the levers that Eddy is using above while the right lever has a compound curve.



1966 Eddy Merckx on a bog standard PX-10 with MAFAC levers.



1967 - Looks like he's riding MAFAC levers with Universal hoods and adjuster covers. What I'm looking at is the cobby fit of the hoods rather than the lever shape! The rider with him has standard MAFAC levers and they look the same as Eddy's. Definitely not a bog standard PX-10 either!



These look like real Universal levers and hoods on a non real PX-10...


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Old 03-10-22, 08:49 AM
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Originally Posted by verktyg View Post

1966 Eddy Merckx on a bog standard PX-10 with MAFAC levers.



1967 - Looks like he's riding MAFAC levers with Universal hoods and adjuster covers. What I'm looking at is the cobby fit of the hoods rather than the lever shape! The rider with him has standard MAFAC levers and they look the same as Eddy's. Definitely not a bog standard PX-10 either!



These look like real Universal levers and hoods on a non real PX-10...


verktyg

So - Eddy's bikes make me think of the OTHER Peugeot that wasn't a Peugeot, Tom Simpson's Masi-in-Peugeot-livery that he rode that day on Mont Ventoux -
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Old 03-10-22, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
One clear advantage is that you won't need a bell given how load those Racers will squeal when applied.
"Loud brakes save lives"
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Old 03-11-22, 01:26 PM
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Originally Posted by tiger1964 View Post
"Loud brakes save lives"

I think the modern equivalent is called Avid BB7.
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Old 03-11-22, 01:51 PM
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Originally Posted by verktyg View Post
NON! NON! NON! MON FRÉRE...
It's been awhile since I've been fact checked by Chas. Maybe my sub-conscious was feeling the lack of love...

Originally Posted by verktyg View Post
Hey gugie, common' back down to NorCal and you wont need salmon Kool-Stops....
Yeah, right.

TdMIL 2019


TdMIL 2021


And no way I can afford to move back there. The house we lived in Redwood City is now valued at 229% of what we sold it for in 2014. I do have my zero bike hidden in a garage at the People's Republic of Berkeley, however - and it has MAFAC RAIDs with salmon pads on it, which work well both wet and dry!
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Old 03-12-22, 08:23 AM
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If the chrome is bad on the pivot bolts I often paint them to match the bike. Weinmanns in this case.

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Old 03-12-22, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by gaucho777 View Post
1)...
2) I'm a big fan of the product QuickGlo (I use the fine grade though I see they have a new P3 Ultra grade which is even finer). It removes rust, polishes, and leaves a protective coating..
So Gaucho777... how long does the 8 oz container last you? Is it about a half-a-life time supply (that's my own life expectancy window)?
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Old 03-12-22, 01:06 PM
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Originally Posted by big chainring View Post
If the chrome is bad on the pivot bolts I often paint them to match the bike. Weinmanns in this case.
Good idea; I might steal this. I was thinking about doing something like this, but go with that "safety orange" type color, to pay tongue-in-cheek homage to those crank bolt heads all the cheap 10-speeds had on them, from my youth.
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Old 03-12-22, 01:22 PM
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I'll add my $.02 based on things I personally experienced or observed.

1) Once you have the pads adjusted to where you want them, don't ever move them again. They are for too much of a PITA to dial in. Whoever had the bright idea to control the adjustment of four different possible movements (up/down, in/out, swivel, and rotate) with a single bolt should shot. If he or she (but almost certainly a "he") is not longer with us, then he should be exhumed and then shot. As you might guess, this is based on personal experience.

2) Be very vigilant about reconnecting the straddle cables after you put a wheel back in. A friend brought his Mafac-equipped Gitane Tour de France to a ride. He pulled it out the car, put the wheels in place, and took off - without reattaching the straddle cable. Fortunately, the result was merely comical and not disastrous or tragic (I still tease him about this almost 50 years later), but you get the idea.
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Old 03-12-22, 03:16 PM
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I have a set of MAFAC “Racer” calipers that are in relatively nice condition from a ‘70s donor bike that was beyond resuscitation.



I’m quite sure that the “FIFO” concept mentioned in an earlier reply was definitely in play as, while the set definitely came from the same bike, one caliper is slightly different in appearance. One has “Made in France”, the other does not. One has arms that are slightly thicker than those of the other. To the casual observer tho, they’re identical.
RE: previously chromed/ferrous parts that have suffered from flaking and/or rust, has anyone ever considered “blueing” the parts with gun blueing paste? I’ve often thought about it but have yet to try it out. I liked the suggestion of painting the bolt heads to match the frame color. I might consider appliance enamel to be a good choice too but the color selection won’t be great. Paint might be a better choice if the bolt heads are significantly pitted.

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Old 03-12-22, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by bikingshearer View Post
I'll add my $.02 based on things I personally experienced or observed.

1) Once you have the pads adjusted to where you want them, don't ever move them again. They are for too much of a PITA to dial in. Whoever had the bright idea to control the adjustment of four different possible movements (up/down, in/out, swivel, and rotate) with a single bolt should shot. If he or she (but almost certainly a "he") is not longer with us, then he should be exhumed and then shot. As you might guess, this is based on personal experience.

2) Be very vigilant about reconnecting the straddle cables after you put a wheel back in. A friend brought his Mafac-equipped Gitane Tour de France to a ride. He pulled it out the car, put the wheels in place, and took off - without reattaching the straddle cable. Fortunately, the result was merely comical and not disastrous or tragic (I still tease him about this almost 50 years later), but you get the idea.
No, just sent to the Russian front. The hyper adjustment of the Mafac caliper is hard to become friends with. It can be done, but it requires much finesse, without that go Universal or Campagnolo.
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Old 03-12-22, 04:35 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by bikingshearer View Post
1) Once you have the pads adjusted to where you want them, don't ever move them again. They are for too much of a PITA to dial in. Whoever had the bright idea to control the adjustment of four different possible movements (up/down, in/out, swivel, and rotate) with a single bolt should shot.
I disagree, I find them easy and intuitive to adjust. I readjust the pads to keep them centered on the rim braking surface as they wear thinner, because otherwise they ride higher up on the rim and can start cutting into the tire sidewall.

Do you know about the trick of disconnecting the springs while adjusting the pads to the rim? One of the (many) nice features of a Mafac, how easy the springs are to disconnect while adjusting pads. Well, on a Racer and Raid anyway; some other models don't have that feature, like the Cantilevers.

You may like this tool from Grand Bois in Kyoto Japan:

It holds the pad while you tighten the nut. And look at that beautiful chrome!

I've never felt the need for it myself, since I find the pad adjustment easy, so I've resisted buying the tool even though I'm a nut for odd bike tools. But I have it on good authority (framebuilder and randonneur Hahn Rossman) that the tool works well and is worth buying.

Mark B
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Old 03-12-22, 06:20 PM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by uncle uncle View Post
So Gaucho777... how long does the 8 oz container last you? Is it about a half-a-life time supply (that's my own life expectancy window)?
I’d say I use at least a couple 8 oz containers per year. Obviously, it depends on how many projects you do and how much maintenance/use your fleet gets. I sweat a lot and live near the ocean, so rust abatement is a constant battle. I think I did 4 builds over the last 12 months, plus maintenance on the others. I also occasionally use it for household chores (removing rust from shower rods and other bathroom fixtures, for example). It really is a remarkable product.

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Old 03-13-22, 03:17 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by rustystrings61 View Post
So - Eddy's bikes make me think of the OTHER Peugeot that wasn't a Peugeot, Tom Simpson's Masi-in-Peugeot-livery that he rode that day on Mont Ventoux -
Simpson advised Merckx where to get an "Alternate" frame.
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