Also in the late 60s, a new brake design made its debut, although to little notice or fanfare: the dual-pivot sidepull. Originally made by the company Altenburger, and later copied by Weinmann, it was marketed mainly for lower priced bikes and didn't really perform any better than the single-pivots or centerpulls of the day. In the mid-90s, the design was resurrected and improved by Shimano, and now it is the single-pivot sidepull that is the endangered species, and considered by some (unfairly, if you ask a Retrogrouch) to be the "lesser" brake.
The modern dual-pivot brake has just one primary advantage over the single-pivot design: more mechanical advantage. What that comes down to is that one can reach full braking power with less effort at the levers. Some people describe it as "two finger braking," as one can brake hard only with two fingers, rather than a full-hand grip. On the other hand, the dual-pivot brake doesn't track as well as a single-pivot on a bent or out-of-true rim. Another disadvantage is that many of the dual-pivot brakes, even those with longer reach, don't have as much clearance underneath the arches for fenders.
Although the light touch/strong braking power combination of modern dual-pivot brakes is arguably a good thing, I would be more than hesitant to call single-pivot brakes "lesser" or "inferior" brakes. Here, I'd like to look at notable single-pivot brakes.
|A very early Campagnolo Record brake caliper, likely from |
1970. The 1968 set had no name engraved on the arms.
Some riders with experience using the old Campy brakes will describe the effort to stop as being pretty hard (no "two-finger" braking with these!). But I find that they are improved tremendously by modern brake pads and low-friction brake cables. Actually, I find that to be the case with most older brakes, at least the better quality ones -- that modern pads and cables narrow the performance gap between single-pivot and dual-pivot brakes by a lot.
|Weinmann Carrera caliper. (photo from |
www.classicrendezvous.com with permission)
Weinmann Carrera: Weinmann of Switzerland made many types and styles of brakes (rims, too) and in a wide range of price and quality levels. Their "Vainqueur" centerpulls were pretty much ubiquitous on bikes in the middle price range throughout the 60s and 70s. The Carrera sidepull brakes of the mid 70s and early 80s were their top-of-the-line brakes for performance road bikes -- intended to compete with the Campy Records. In some ways, they were up to the challenge. In some ways, a little less. In other ways, better. In terms of the materials and finish, they were very nice. The caliper arms were thick and nicely finished (far superior to other Weinmann offerings), and a good match for the Campys. The quick release, on the other hand, was not as nice -- essentially a two-position open/close lever.
But the Carreras did have one thing that I believe made them even better than the Campagnolo Records. Weinmann incorporated simple nylon bushings at all the pivots – anywhere metal moved on metal: between the caliper arms, and even at the points where the springs contacted the caliper arms. That little addition made the action of the brakes much smoother, and lessened the lever effort significantly. I actually installed these brakes on a bike that is otherwise fully equipped with modern 10-speed Campy Ergo integrated brake/shifting components. In terms of feel, with modern brake pads and cables, they are almost as light in action as dual-pivots, modulate really well, and made mounting fenders easier than with the dual-pivots I almost used.
|Early 80s Superbe brakes - 47 - 57 mm reach. Updated|
with more modern pads. There's a 32 mm tire plus fender
fitting under there just fine.
Dia Compe/SunTour Superbe (early 80s): The Superbe brakes from SunTour, which were actually made by Maeda Industries partner Dia Compe, were closely modeled after the Campagnolo Record brakes. There was also a nearly identical version marketed with the Dia Compe name. On the Superbe version, the quick release was, like Campagnolo’s, an eccentric cam design, and the brake levers were almost exactly like the Campy levers. Later, a Superbe Pro version was produced that incorporated a nylon bushing at the pivot, like the Weinmann Carrera, which made their action even smoother. That version also had somewhat thicker arms which likely reduced flex and thereby improved them even more. The materials and finish on these is every bit as nice as the more expensive Campagnolos.
|Internal springs, thrust bearings, spring-loaded levers.|
Spotted on eBay for mega dollars.
SunTour Superbe Pro – Internal Spring (late 80s): In the late 80s, SunTour introduced their exceptional Superbe Pro brakes with internal coil springs, as opposed to the exposed hairpin-type of spring common on most sidepulls. They were made by Dia Compe, but unlike earlier versions of the Superbe/Superbe Pro brakes, there was no equivalent model with the Dia Compe label. In addition to the hidden springs, these also had stainless steel thrust bearings at the pivot between the caliper arms, making them extra smooth, yet also reducing flex in the system. The levers were also spring-loaded, which balanced the tension with the caliper springs, giving exceptional "feel" to the brakes. Dia Compe and SunTour called it the "BRS" system. Shimano did something similar and called it "SLR." The finish on these was jewelry-like. Today, they have a cult-like status and command top dollar.
|Shimano 105 SLR: top dollar brakes for a budget price.|
After Shimano resurrected the dual-pivot calipers in the 90s, single-pivots quickly started to disappear, to the point where they are almost rare now, and the perception is, at least among some riders, that they are not as good. But some of the brakes I've discussed here can just about match dual-pivots when it comes to brake feel or effort, yet are lighter and offer better modulation -- which on the whole, in my book, actually makes them superior.
|Campagnolo's top-line Record brakes - still|
available in single-pivot. Campy claims the benefit
is lighter weight and better modulation. I wish they
still had that eccentric cam quick release, though.
So why have dual-pivots swept the industry? Part of it is, no doubt, due to the fact that the industry hypes anything "new" as a major improvement (whether it actually is or not), and many people are happy to swallow that. I suppose for another thing, there is an impression that "two finger braking"-- that is, being able to virtually lock up the brakes with almost no effort -- is somehow desirable. I generally prefer a little more effort with a more linear response, myself. But I also suspect that this desire to be able to get full braking force with minimal effort has something to do with the fact that the riding position on road bikes has changed over the years.
Look at performance road bikes today compared to ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. It used to be that the tops of the bars were just a little lower than the top of the saddle. On a serious road racing bike back then, the difference was probably two inches at most. Now, that difference tends to be greater. Back then, when the bars were a little higher than now, a person rode down in the drops, or "in the hooks" more often, and that position allowed the rider to get a stronger grip on the brake levers. Today, the bars are so low in relation to the saddle, that unless one is really flexible and in really excellent physical condition, riding down in the drops is hard to do for very long -- one's neck and shoulders get strained. People now spend a lot more time riding with their hands on top of the lever hoods, where getting a good full grip on the brake levers is more difficult. Dual-pivot brakes make it easier to get full braking power with the lessened hand force that comes with the top-of-the-hoods riding position. It's just a theory, but that's one thing that I believe has been a driving force in the change.
That gets me thinking that I'll have to look at the changing riding position in a future post.