[CR]History of Brake Calipers-Hilary Stone

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Date: Fri, 24 May 2002 11:25:07 -0700
From: Chuck Schmidt <chuckschmidt@earthlink.net>
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
Subject: [CR]History of Brake Calipers-Hilary Stone

Another from the archive of interesting CR posts:

The history of aluminium calliper brakes goes back to the mid 1930s. A nd steel callipers goes back to just pre WWI days. The original steel calliper brakes came from France (I wouldn't know the maker to ascribe their intro to but Bowden are amongst the earliest I've seen) and clamped to the fork blades or seat stays.
      In the early to mid 20s someone came up with the bright idea of a single bolt through the fork crown or seatstay bridge. There were countless makers of this type of brake on the continent – Pellissier (French) were one of the best known.
      The earliest aluminium callipers I know of were sold in Britain as Ambra Superga (the trade name of their importers (Tabucchi) but were made in Italy.
      In Britain from about 1930 on the most popular brake on lightweights was the Resilion cantiler. This brake was nothing like a modern cantilever but clamped around the stays or fork blades and was operated by individual cables on either side of the rim which went back to a junction box which joined them to a single cable to the lever all enclosed in outer cable. Resilions went on right into the early 50s and were still popular with tourists then. Their secret was a brake lever with a very high leverage (nipples used to often break off at the lever end) which made it reasonably effective, otherwise it was a pretty poor performer.
      Other makes of aluminium calliper brakes around in the immediate pre-WWII years in Britain were Gloria, Bowden and Lam. Lam were notable for being the first I know of to introduce the hooded lever. Prior to the Lam lever all levers featured narrow bodies with the cables com,ing directly out of the top of the body and which were not really suitable for resting your hands on – the Lam were much broader and with a hooded piece for the cable to come out from (hence the name) though they didn't feature rubber hoods. I think it's quite probable Universal were also made pre-WWII – I have an ad from a 1955 'Bicycle' magazine which lists Model '39' as well as Model '51' side pull brakes. Post-war in Britain, GB launched in 1946 an aluminium side-pull calliper brake which soon became very popular. The very first versions were not stamped GB – they had plain arms with the steel springs operating directly on the arms. There were countless versions of GB brakes made right up until the 1970s. An earlyish version was simply stamped GB Hiduminium. Other models included the Coureur, Coureur Plus, Sport, Sport Mk3, Sprite (late). The business of the number being the date cannot be relied upon though – GB's Coureur 66 (one of the centre-pull types) were not launched in 1966 but earlier before 1963. I have a review from a 1963 'Cycling' in which they test Coureur 66 brakes and talk about them being a 'modified version of the original Coureur 66s'.
      There were several other English makers too in the late 40s/early 50s – Burlite (very similar to GB Hiduminium), Strata and Lytaloy (Hobbs of Barbican). There were a number of continental makers available in Britain too Alp (which became CLB), Beborex (a slightly different side pull with it was claimed an extra mechanism that increased leverage), San Giorgio and Universal. Weinmann 500 and 730 side-pull brakes became available in around the early 50s. Up until about 1960 the engraved script was quite different, being much larger and plainer. Weinmann centre-pulls I think came out around 1960ish but I couldn't be quite certain of their date.
      GB soon launched centre-pulls of a similar design (there are several versions of these, the earliest ones had a quite different spring arrangement) and a dual-pivot which was almost identical to the Altenburger dual-pivot. GB had a close working relationship with Altenburger (they sold the Altenburger gears) but who made what and where is shrouded in the the mists of time.
      Campag side-pulls were sort of launched in 1968 but probably weren't properly available until 1969. And there were lots of detail changes on these over the years too.
      I covered Mafac Racer brakes in an earlier posting to the old CR group (June). Hilary