Monday, June 25, 2007

What Does Everybody Have Against Brakes?


Recently I was riding through a trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn when I saw a guy locking his bike to a post. Naturally I quickly scan and assess any bike that enters my field of vision. This particular bike appeared to be a garden-variety 80s fixie conversion--with no brakes, of course. However, as my eyes made their way to the rear dropouts, I noticed something: a coaster brake, attached to the left chainstay with some metal wire.

Is this what people have come to? Are some people really so desperate to adapt the no-brake fixie look that instead of installing a decent caliper they will adapt perhaps the crudest braking system since the rod-operated spoon brake? Clearly, the rider I saw acknowledges the necessity of having a brake. Why not then simply affix a light, elegant, and powerful modern dual-pivot? I'd have to think a coaster brake-equipped singlespeed would stop even worse than a fixie with no brakes.

(And can somebody please explain to me why fixie riders who do have front brakes still skip-stop or skid in order to slow down? Do they give away free tires in Williamsburg or something?)

This absurd disregard for function and practicality goes beyond the urban fashion victim as well. As a mediocre rider, I have ample opportunity during road races to analyze the equipment choices of other riders, particularly on the rear of the bicycle. As such, I can tell you that roadies, now more than ever, are using their brakes as a way to proudly announce that they have way more money than sense. Sure, roadies will always shave grams and sacrifice quality for light weight, and going for a lighter, crappy single-pivot brake like those Dia Compe/Cane Creek units has always been a quick and dirty way to do so.

But now the lightweight brakes, while still crappy, are astoundingly expensive as well. One popular brake choice lately is the Zero Gravity.
These machined pieces of crap will compromise your braking power and save you the gram equivalent of a bladder's worth of urine for over $400. Their site actually has the audacity to boldly ask you if you've "Upgraded yet?" Yes, I have. To cold-forged dual pivots that were about a fraction of the price.

Even worse is the M5. I've been seeing way more of these hideous banana clips than I should be:
These suckers go for over $500 a pair, and Excelsports says that they are powerful but warns that you should "take a pass if you are more interested in modulation." Yes, I prefer to either be moving fast or lying in a crumpled heap after I've gone flying over my bars. None of that pesky "slowing down" for me. (Oh, by the way, brake pads aren't included. That might explain the modulation issues.)

So what is it? What is so repulsive about the functional brake that people will either sacrifice their tires skid-stopping at every light or spend half a grand on aluminum billet monstrosities in order to do without them? Last time I checked, quality, high-end brakes from the usual suspects were not only lightweight and responsive, but reasonably-priced as well. I suppose that may be it--people do seem averse to those qualities when it comes to bicycle equipment.

I for one am thankful that the mountain-biking world still recognizes the need in cycling for braking systems that offer power and modulation, and that as such some companies are still trying to actually improve brakes. You see, when you ride your bike a lot you actually want brakes that work well. I think that if mountain biking were to disappear the next high-end braking system would be a rubber stopper you affix to the heel of your carbon fiber-soled shoe.

27 comments:

RACER X said...

i suppose if you've never spent any decent amount of time running through traffic with no brakes you can't really understand. it's a different kind of challange a mental one as opposed to a strictly physical one. sure i'll admit there are far to many people who ride brakeless that shouldn't, but when you get the feel for it and know your body rythem it's quite a satisfying feeling. and as for the people that run a front brake and still skid, i'd have to say that the front caliper is more of an emergency brake and a down hill decender. to each there own. i cant see why people would want to wear spandex , it's pretty gross seeing some dudes side pipe, and sweaty padded ass. but then again i've never tried it . so who am i to say.
bike it the F uk up

Rob in Queens said...

I love the gram shavers losing weight at the expense of safety. I doubt those 300 or so gram record or dura ace calipers are what's making you drag ass while climbing. Shake off 10 lbs of flab and keep the brakes that actually stop the bike.

Anonymous said...

No spandex, Racer X? I'm getting all chaffed just thinking about it.

LuckyLab said...

Ahh, the don't knock it until you've tried it argument from racer x. I'm going to have to stick with the brakes that work. Sorry. Self-preservation and I seem to have a thing going.

Knives said...

My bar bike has a coaster brake because at 2am my hands are full of me being drunk. But seriously who is anyone to say what crap you run on your bike? atleast he was out on one.

C said...

I love the "young 'n dumb" crowd who think they're immortal and therefore don't need brakes. Whenever I ask they give me the "dude, I skip stop!" Uh-huh. Tell me genius, how you gonna stop if your precious, overpriced NJS chain snaps? I also skid stop my fixie but I still keep a brake for emergencies. It's sort of like a fighter pilot having an ejection seat: you don't plan to actually use it but you're gonna be mighty happy to have it if the excrement impacts the air conditioning and something goes horribly wrong! Oh well, the world needs young organ donors.

Surprised you didn't list the AX Lightness brakes. They make the Zero Gravity brakes look normal by comparison. BTW, I love how on the AX Lightness site they refer to them as "Breaks" not "brakes"! That certainly inspires confidence!!!

Colin R said...

racer x -

he's trashing people who run crappy/expensive brakes, not people who run brakeless.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Racer X--I've never argued with anybody who said lycra looks silly, though I'm not about to try doing a six-hour ride in anything else. I also hear you on the traffic argument, but to me a fixed drivetrain coupled with a brake is really the ultimate level of control. Like using both your transmission and your brakes to slow a sports car.

c--Yes, thank you for reminding me about AX Lightness. Their entire product line is self-parodying. The "carbonbreaks" on their website is priceless.

colin r--I'm actually ribbing people who run brakeless too. Good quality rubber is expensive, and I don't understand using your tire as your one and only brake pad.

But, as Racer X points out, what bothers me most are the people running brakeless who came to riding yesterday. They're the ones putting themselves and others at risk because they want to look a certain way.

I once went to a party at a fancy loft. The shower was literally in the middle of the living area, fully open, and the shower floor was slick marble. Nothing to offer any traction. All style, no brains. Can you imagine standing on soapy, wet marble? The best part was the host was literally in a sling due to a recent fall in the shower. I believe they call that being hoisted by your own pittard.

That's the kind of attitude I try to satirize on the site--vanity trumping common sense.

sumadis said...

I'm all for the kids and the skids. It makes the trend more like roller-blading - in a panic stop they've gotta grab something, someone or crash. The courts love it - more crap to tie up the legal system. It also helps the LBS rotate tire stock, ensuring fresh rubber on the shelves. And what would be the value of all those skidpatch calculators springing up on the web if we didn't have skip-stoppers? I'm pushing for the next trend - highend road bikes w/ no brakes (saves 800 grams!), you buy 200$ track-gloves and grab on to stop!

Anonymous said...

The thing about that 'different kind of challenge' is, ya might want to consider the other folks on the road. Y'know, you don't have to use the brake, it's just a nice gesture to have one. Not running a stopper is all about the look, since that 'satisfying feeling' can be achieved by challenging yourself to not grab the lever unless you absolutely have to. Same mindset applies that any bike is a singlespeed if you choose not to shift. Better to have options and not use them than to end up in a smear of your own blood on the tarmac.

Art said...

Could be worse. I see kids around here running no rear brakes and freewheels.

Adam said...

Dropping a single-pivot on the back is a great way to save weight without compromising safety. Most of your braking power, especially when braking hard, comes from the front brake. The rear is really only useful for drag braking on downhills to save your front pads and as an emergency brake in case of failure. A hard stop will unweight your rear wheel almsot completely and transfer all braking power to the front wheel, while less panicked stops will normally have a 80/20 power distribution front to back.

This is why Campy Record groups come with a dual-pivot for the front and a single pivot for the back. It's lighter and doesn't compromise braking power, since the rear doesn't have much. This is also the reason why riding brakeless on a fixie is not the brightest thing to do.

Anonymous said...

heh. he wrote "challange" and "rythem". darwin award winner in the making!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the next generation of S1Q fixies will opt to put a caliper on the underside of the chainstay bridge like a few of the new tt bikes. With some internal cable routing, now it just looks like you have hoods and levers for leverage and you get to maintain your cred!

http://www.cyclingnews.com/road/2007/tour07/tech/index.php?id=/photos/2007/tech/features/tour_boonen_transition07/Boonen_Transition_rear_brake

Plantmiester said...

Haha, c, AX lightness was the first thing to come to mind when reading this article.

Who doesn't need 990 euro brakes that couldn't stop Cipo on a climb?

mb said...

i have a brake but part of the fun of riding fixed is learning how to skid & skip stop! it's just fun.

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