Existing examples, that I've come across at least, are generally a mess and ride more like early proof of concept experiments than something that should ever have been put in the hands of normal people. They're difficult to modulate and add what feels like an arbitrary and unpredictable amount of power to the braking system. This impression of them became more or less entrenched, and that's essentially the last we've seen of them.

But why did it end there so decisively?

In the canti design, instead of completely replacing the pivot with a helical interface, why can't you combine the two? I.e. have a traditional pivot doing most of the work but with a helical interface with a very short, controlled amount of travel layered alongside it to amplify the power up to a certain point. Or, similarly, in a disk brake, couldn't you have traditional pistons but at the end of them there's a little track angled on either side towards the rotor for the pad to get pushed down, similarly adding a controlled amount of braking power?

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    Mainly, there's no need. Unless the cyclist has a disability, the human hand is capable of providing all the energy necessary to fully energize a bike brake. No sense complicating things for no good reason. (Though now that you've brought it up Shimano will probably come out with something because it's "sexy" to their gotta-spend-money market segment.) Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 0:53
  • @DanielRHicks Thing is, many of us wouldn't mind having more powerful brakes if the tradeoff isn't too high. People seek out more powerful braking in various contexts. And regardless we're ultimately more talking about demand more than actual need here. Existing SE brakes do hint at a way of getting more power without adding much complexity, weight, or cost. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 7:22
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    As modulation is widely accepted to be more of an issue than raw stopping power, you would need a design that maintained all the control of current systems even under slight misalignment. I don't agree that this is as easy as you say. I sometimes want more stopping power - when I'm on my '92 MTB with canti brakes and chrome rims. Entry level v-brakes on alloy are good enough for most things, and you can do better than that. Under what circumstances are hydraulic disks not adequate?
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 7:43
  • Oh, you are not talking about something like e-tap or Di2 for brakes, but rather a mechanical brake with power assist to increase stopping power, aren't you?
    – gschenk
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:50
  • I'm talking about brakes like the Pedersen and Suntour self energizing brakes, or theoretical disc brakes that play similar tricks. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 8:33

2 Answers 2


The reason is stability. Systems with positive feedback, like the self-energizing brake, are inherently unstable unless there is some kind of negative feedback or damping in place. The instability means that the same force at lever translates to varying braking forces, and especially maintaining a stable force at lever would produce a rapidly increasing braking force. A negative feedback system to control this would have to adapt to manufacturing tolerances, component wear (which your suggestions don't do) and be reliable and affordable. This is rather difficult to do, I'm not sure if it even can be done without electronic control, and doesn't solve any practical problem.

Power brakes on cars work differently, using external power from engine input manifold vacuum to multiply vacuum force. This system does not have positive feedback and is stable. Bicycles don't need this kind of braking power, can't afford the weight of brake boosters and don't have a power source at hand.

A similar but more complex problem is controlling unstable aeroplanes. It can be done, but with complex electronic control.


Power assisted brakes that amplify the amount of force applied to a bicycle wheel hasn't taken off because the idea doesn't provide a large enough a benefit of increased stopping power and saved energy required to stop to counter the cost of R&D.

Cars have mechanical assistance because of the amount of force that is needed to bring that much mass to a stop is not possible with the amount of leverage and force a human can safely do alone. To get the vehicle to stop in a safe distance, you need to exert a huge amount of force onto the wheels to get the car to stop.

Bikes with their human passengers require much less force to stop. Stopping power is sufficiently amplified through mechanical leverage and friction materials - enough to easily lock up a front or rear wheel with a slightly tighter squeeze of your hand.

My impression of an enhanced brake system on a bicycle is that your range of power application would be narrow due to the limited range of motion in your brake lever. Your brake lever already moves so slightly from no-braking to full lock that a device that amplifies the amount of power applied throughout that range would send your brakes from 0 to 11 near instantly. Of course you could tweak the device to be more sensitive - or - just use mechanical brakes and not worry about a more complicated system.

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    Enough people already worry about the "perils" of using a front brake, I can only imagine what they would think of a system that ramps up the braking force further!
    – Rider_X
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 23:49

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