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It used to be very common to see bikes with dual pull brake levers (if that's even the right name) as shown below. However now it seems almost impossible to find brakes like this. Even finding a picture to post was hard. It seems like it would be quite useful to be able to brake from various hand positions. There was an answer I read a while back (can't find it now) that stated that there was a reason they got rid of those, but no explanation as to why. So any technical reason, or is it just for looks?

dual pull brake levers

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@mathew -- I only rarely heard them called "safety levers". "Dual pull" was the more common term -- that and "suicide levers". –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 4 '11 at 19:12
    
@Daniel - Yeah, same here. From what I've heard, these are anything but safe. (Although I did survive using them as a kid.) –  Neil Fein Aug 4 '11 at 19:28
    
The manufacturer called them 'Safety Levers'. Sheldon referred to them as 'Extension Levers'. Personally I never heard of 'Dual Pull' and wondered if that was a term for centre pull brakes. It may be an Americanism that we didn't get here. That said, the wikipedia page for the CPSC mentions 'safety levers', 'suicide levers' and 'auxiliary levers' but no mention of 'dual pull'. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 4 '11 at 21:33
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I believe the CPSC term is "hand lever extensions", as found in 16 CFR 1512.5. It doesn't look like that's been revised since 1978, unfortunately I can't find a copy of the 1974 regulations to see if they differ - they were published in 39 FR 26100, which I haven't been able to find online. –  lantius Aug 4 '11 at 23:36
    
I think we need to email John Forester as he was the guy that kicked up the fuss about them. @lantius top marks for research! –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 5 '11 at 0:39

7 Answers 7

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I believe there are multiple reasons that "extension"/"dual-pull"/"safety"/"suicide" levers aren't seen anymore:

  1. They're really a solution for a poorly fit bike, where the rider can't reach the regular brake levers. Fix that and you don't need an extra lever on the flat of the handlebars. This was especially a problem for smaller riders. Bike sizing and fit have improved a lot since then.
  2. Since they effectively pre-pull your brake a little, they reduce how much travel you can get out of the primary brake lever which can reduce the effectiveness of that primary brake lever. (I guess some designs don't have this problem, but most did)
  3. Using them puts your hands in a location that doesn't give you much leverage for controlling the bike.
  4. It's an extra piece that can break (and leave you unable to brake). Especially, if the main brake lever is knocked out of alignment, the extension lever will hit the handlebar.
  5. Modern brake levers ("aero"?) have a different pivot setup that works better over all, but especially works better with hands on the hoods than old levers did. Extension levers simply won't work because of the way a modern lever pivots. If you look at a modern brake lever, when you pull the lever the top of the lever doesn't go down, it goes forward, and extension levers rely on pushing down on the top of the lever. Sin As you can see from these blurry pictures of a vaguely modern brake lever, the pivot is somewhat low and in front and the top of the lever rotates straight forward. enter image description here enter image description here
  6. Somebody invented "interrupter" or "cyclocross" levers which go mid-cable instead, allowing you to get the same end result (a second brake lever) without any of the problems of extension levers.
  7. Some regulation changes and historical market realities that ʍǝɥʇɐɯ discusses in his answer.
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Although there is a lot of common sense in this answer it is not set in the context of regulation changes and historical market realities. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 4 '11 at 18:21
    
@ʍǝɥʇɐɯ -- didn't know about regulation changes or historical market details. Added a link to your answer –  freiheit Aug 4 '11 at 21:01
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I checked the terminology on Sheldon's site. I worked on hundreds of these back in the day and Sheldon doesn't mention the main problem with them from a mechanic's perspective - they main levers get knocked out of alignment and getting to the bolt to put them tight after lining them up is hard because the cable is in front of the 5mm allen bolt. This meant having to undo the 10mm bolt on the brake, pulling cable through, getting the lever straight and then re-adjusting the brake. This was in the days before cable slots so the back brake needed it too. Replacing the hoods was also a palaver. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 5 '11 at 0:35
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+1 for mentioning interrupter levers. I think they're a great option and am surprised they're not on more bikes. A huge safety feature considering how many people I see riding on the flats and having to scramble for the levers when someone in front of them brakes –  Mac Aug 5 '11 at 0:38
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Interrupter levers have their own set up issues, but definitely better than suicide levers. And I think they could be designed better than they are. Mainly, not enough people think this is an issue for anyone to fix it. –  zenbike Aug 5 '11 at 8:55

Short Answer

Because Shimano did not make them.

Background

In the late 1980's Shimano began bringing out compelling groupsets that included compelling innovations such as indexed gears, BioPace chainrings and improved brakes. The brakes had a spring in the lever and a lighter spring in the brake making them much easier to use. They also pioneered hidden cables from the brake lever.

At the time the Yen was low and Shimano products competed very well on price.

Furthermore, Shimano did a 'Microsoft' on the OEM market, to use the indexed gears you had to have the whole groupset. There was no mix and match like you have today.

As a consequence of Shimano's improved technology, the value of the Yen and their sales tactics of complete groupset or nothing, their competitors had a tough time. This led to consolidation in the European component business leading to the SRAM company that we have today.

The dual-pull levers pictured were most likely to be a Dia-Compe design made by Weinmann. Weinmann brakes were de-rigeur in Europe OEMs until the Shimano era of market domination. They lost their footing in the marketplace and haven't been seen since the early nineties.

These levers were marketed as 'Safety Levers' and they were a requirement for bikes imported into the USA for a time. Exactly what the law was requiring the 'Safety Lever' and when it was no longer a requirement is a matter for further research - not a lot exists online.

In time the dual-pull levers emerged in copies from the far East. The Dia-Compe/Weinmann patent on the dual-pull lever may have expired making the way for clones. These clones appeared on bikes after the demise of Weinmann and are of inferior quality to the originals with chrome parts rusting up pretty quickly.

Here is a picture from the 1983 catalogue:

enter image description here

http://www.velo-pages.com/main.php?g2_itemId=29093

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SRAM is an American business, comprised of purchases of primarily American components manufacturers, until they could produce a complete groupset of their own. How did this begin as a consolidation of the European component business? –  zenbike Aug 4 '11 at 18:04
    
SRAM are important to the story for challenging the groupset sales practices of Shimano. After the gained the GripShift foothold they went on a venture capital backed buying spree in Europe to get the rest of the drive-train: The Sedis chain is now a SRAM chain. The Sachs-Huret derailleur business and Sachs hubs. (Sachs had consolidated those businesses beforehand). They also bought U.S. companies that outsourced to the Far East. To this day they make vastly more stuff in Europe than they ever did in the U.S.A. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 4 '11 at 18:20
    
Sure seems like if there had been sufficient demand (such as if they always worked well), Shimano would've caved into customer demand and made them. –  freiheit Aug 4 '11 at 22:16
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Not really. The design was a Dia-Compe patent shared with Weinmann. They may not have wanted to licence the patent to their competitor. In fact that is the whole point of patents, to preserve your innovations so that your competitors don't steal your ideas. So no, Shimano did not necessarily find themselves able to copy. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 5 '11 at 0:25

They have the nickname of suicide brakes for a reason. Because they are not pulling directly on the brake, rather pulling on something that pulls on the brake, you are not going to get the same stopping power you would if you used the primary braking mechanism. At our shop we encourage people to let us take them off and we bend them into bike hooks using a vice because we would rather people get their braking power from a primary system. Also if you brakes are not as tight as they should be, like most people's, these will provide almost no stopping power anyway. So they are pretty much useless unless calibrated perfectly.

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I've never actually heard the term "suicide brakes". –  Kibbee Aug 4 '11 at 15:10
    
It's a fairly common term in my neck of the woods. –  zenbike Aug 4 '11 at 15:51
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So just because there are two levers instead of one it's bound to not work? does not make much sense. –  gcb Aug 4 '11 at 22:00
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@gcb: not just because. But in this case, with this design, they didn't work, for pretty much the reasons pointed out in this answer. Given today's higher quality manufacturing, they could have been made to work. But then Shimano came out with STI shifters integrated into the brake levers, and any room for these went away. Since most every bike now uses some version of STI, they were never redesigned. Interrupter levers are a new idea to produce the same effect, better, on modern bikes. –  zenbike Aug 5 '11 at 9:00
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My recollection is that they were called "suicide levers" for two reasons: One is that they placed the hand position, when braking, too far back for stability. The other is that they easily "bottomed out" when braking. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 5 '13 at 13:47

A lot of cyclocross bikes come with inline "interrupter" levers that do much the same thing as these older levers without interfering with the main brake lever/shifter.

They install in the inline with your brake cable run so you will need to cut and maybe re-cable your brake cable. You should be able to put these on almost any road bike with drop handlebars.

Image Found on Sheldon Brown

Cyclocross Brake Levers

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I really like interrupters and won't get a commuting/touring bike without them. They're much better than the old "safety levers". –  obelia Jan 5 '13 at 19:21

I think they still do exist, but are much less common, and in a much improved design. The old design (as pictured) would "bottom out" very easily, especially given the flex in the lever. So they didn't provide very effective braking.

In fact, I'm thinking that the CPSC had something to do with their disappearance, by requiring that they be demonstrated to be effective, essentially eliminating the cheaper models (which comprised about 99% of those made).

In addition, the drop handlebar fell out of fashion for casual riding, where the levers would be most useful.

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Actually the CPSC had something to do with their presence in the first place - bikes had to have 'Safety Levers' if they were to be imported into the U.S. (not that bikes were made in volume in America at the time). I would like to see more research into what this law was and when it was rescinded. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 4 '11 at 18:27
    
Do you have any evidence that they still exist (by which I assume you mean are still manufactured)? I've done a bit of searching and can't find any that aren't vintage. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 10:54
    
@naught101 - Haven't seen them in a few years. The inline levers, which avoid several of the negatives of the classical "suicide levers", have likely supplanted them. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 3 '13 at 11:17

These are features which are inherent to the look and feel of certain 70's/80's mainstream road bikes. As a teen i had them on a early/mid 80's Raleigh Arena and never struggled with braking, last year i bought an old school Raleigh Pursuit as my second bike (restoration job) with the levers still on and in doing the bike up over the last 8 months (and now riding it out) i am steadfastly refusing to remove them. They are very useful when hands are on the top of the bar or positioned just behind the hood and in the main i use them for 'feathering' on descents or coming to a progressive stop. If you ride in anticipation of hazards and read the road ahead you should never need to slam on the brakes using the additional lever, use the primary brake lever as you would normally. There are too many riders who have never used them in the past and who talk with limited authority based on what they may have heard from other riders who never used them either. Purely to look 'pro' i recall i did however try and take the secondary levers off of the Arena and it messed up the mechanism causing a fair bit of rattle in the primary lever. If you want to lose them i would advise replacing the lever mech completely. That said, it is nice to look different and be able to talk with proper authority as to their benefits and how to use them.

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The look is irrelevant to me, but I definitely agree about their usefulness. The position you describe is the one I'm describing in comments above. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 10:56

They were called "suicide levers" because the rider could use them in the upright position with high center of gravity. At the time, most LBS's would tell you to lower your center of gravity in preparation to stop, and these were frowned upon since their purpose was to make it unnecessary to hold the bar at the lower point, lowering your center of gravity.

My guess is that they were called "safety" levers by the manufacturers using the same logic that GM does in marketing their SUV's as "energy efficient" -- a bold marketing lie to confuse an inherent weakness in the product.

If the LBS's or riders insisted on them then Shimano would have made them and they would still be around, but when you think about it, they are unnecessary and encourage the bad habit of applying brakes with high COG.

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And just ask Garrison Keillor about the hazards of a high center of gravity. –  Daniel R Hicks May 13 '13 at 0:12

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