Retro brake levers for small hands

modolo.jpg Back in the old days before drop bar levers had adjustable reach, a savvy mechanic could bend your levers for your small hands. I’ve never seen it done, so when I decided to modify my early ‘80’s Modolo Professional levers I just winged it.

Those Modolo levers are drilled out to a ridiculous extent, so there was definitely the risk of snapping the levers in the process. So I made a couple of forms from a two-by-four, stuck the levers in between, and then clamped down on the sandwich in a vise. Voi la! Accurate, controlled bending on both levers.

I bought these levers from a teammate in 1995 for $20 with the matching blue calipers. Every few years I forget how much better new stuff works than old, and I start a retro bike project…which is usually me stripping off the Dura-Ace STi from my steel Bianchi and throwing on the Modolos with some Superbe Pro. But this time I’ll be able to reach the brakes much better… the braking power still sucks though.

modolo 2.jpg


Yeah, I’ll ride 30 year old derailleurs, changers, cranks, handlebars, etc. all day long and love it, but braking is the one area where I accept no compromises.  The new stuff works so much better and is about 100% more comfortable.

In the interests of cost control, I kept the old Dia-Compe G calipers on my girlfriend’s “new” bike, an early 80s Bianchi Limited.  The amount of flex when cranking the levers is really surprising.  I wonder if the fact that I installed brand new Tektro r100s has anything to do with the rubber effect —do aero levers pull more or less cable than old-style?  I can never remember.  If she ever takes that thing camping (it fits 35s AND fenders!  And it’s not even a touring bike!) I would insist on modern brakes in the interests of safety.

that’s a good question about cable pull of vintage non-aero dropbar levers versus newer levers (aero and integrated).  Sheldon Brown had said that non-aero levers had less mechanical advantage (implying more cable pull) than newer levers, but he didn’t specify examples. 

i’ve been hella busy at work, but that’s something i’d like to measure at some point.  one thing i would like to clarify is whether older levers actually have a low mechanical advantage or if they just have so much throw that they end up pulling a lot of cable.  in other words, on any given handlebar, older levers like my Modolo, the actual moving lever is pretty far away from the bar.  this long stretch prompted my bending operation, of course.  so maybe older levers actually have the same ratio of lever travel to cable pull (the definition of mechanical advantage in regards to the lever itself), but the older lever pulls more cable simply because it has a greater distance to swing before it hits the bar.

just to complicate matters, for most levers the ratio changes continuously as the lever progresses through its travel, some more than others.  for instance, the newest Dura Ace integrated levers are designed to ramp up the mechanical advantage at the end of the stroke.  and over all, the newer DA levers have lower mechanical advantage than previous generations, such that Shimano recommends against mixing levers and calipers from different generations. 

Reminds me of the time I parts-bin’d a TT bike with old Campy Aero brakes (the ones that were shaped like a triangle). So scary, took them off almost immediately. Looked cool on the bike though.

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