Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

23 October 2014

Stopping Everywhere: Weinmann Brakes

A couple of days ago, I wrote about something no one seems to make anymore:  a component (as opposed to an accessory) found on bicycles in all price ranges.  Specifically, I wrote about Mafac Racer brakes, which were found on everything from the most elegant constructeur frames to utilitarian commuters.

Today, I am going to write about another such component.  Interestingly enough, it is also a brake.  Like the Mafac, there's a good chance you rode it, especially if you came of age during the '70's Bike Boom.  You may still be riding it.

I am talking about the Weinmann Vainqueur center-pull brake.  If you rode a derailleur-equipped bike from just about any British maker, or from Motobecane, Schwinn or any number of continental European manufacturers, it most likely had the Vainqueur. (Motobecane, Raleigh, Schwinn and some other bike-makers re-badged them.) Schwinn outfitted their otherwise-Campagnolo-equipped  top-of-the-line Paramount road bikes with Vainqueurs; on the racing version of the bike, they could be replaced with Campagnolo side pulls for an extra cost. Such an option was not available for the touring version, which had larger clearances for wider tires and fenders.

Also in common with the Mafac Racer, the Weinmann Vainqueur was often found on bikes made by constructeurs like Rene Herse and Alex Singer.  On such bikes, the brake arms were likely to be fitted to brazed-on posts like those used for cantilevers.  It must be noted, however, that you can't use cantis on a center-pull mounts or vice-versa:  The studs for centerpulls were located higher up on the fork or seat stay than those used for cantilevers.

The Weinmann Vainqueur was introduced around 1957, or five years after the Mafac Racer. From the beginning, they were made in two lengths:  the 610 and 750.  All of the additional length on the 750s was below the pivot bolts. That might be a reason why some cyclists thought they were flexy.


The earliest Vainqueurs, made until 1964, featured engraved lettering and red washers over the metal pivot bushings.  The calipers were usually silver, but they were also available anodized in red, black or dark blue, rather like the "midnight blue" brakes Galli made a decade and a half later.  (At that time, Weinmann also offered wing nuts in those same colors!) To me, those brakes look rather nice--certainly, nicer than the Racer or any other brake Mafac was making at the time. 

Even more important, the earliest iterations of the Vainqueur had a single continuous spring that coiled around both pivots; after 1962, each pivot had separate springs.  Some argued that the single-spring models were stiffer and had a harder "feel", which made them more modulate-able.  (Is that a real word?)  I have never tested that hypothesis, so I couldn't say.  However, I can tell you that having separate springs makes cleaning and maintenance easier--and, of course, you can replace just one of the springs, if need be.

From 1965 onward, Weinmann abandoned the engraved lettering on the outer arm in favor of a foil applique.  It was red until some time in the late 1970's; after that, it was black.

Perhaps its most important feature--later copied by Dia-Compe, which made a virtual clone of the Vainqueur--was the "finger" that stuck out from the inside pivot arm into a groove on the back of the outside pivot arm.  That "finger", coated with plastic that matched the color of the sticker (and pivot washers), forced the two arms to work together.  I always liked that:  Once you adjusted and centered the brakes, you knew that there would be a nice, even action when you pulled the lever.

Some argue that Mafacs were of higher quality than the Weinmanns.  I find that debatable; having ridden thousands of miles on both and worked on dozens, if not hundreds of sets of both brands, I think the quality of the arms was about equal, though the finish on the Vainqueur was a little better than that of the Racer (though not of the later anodized brakes Mafac made).  However, I always though the quality of the fastening and attachment hardware was better on the Weinmanns than on the Mafacs.  At least, Weinmann's seemed a little beefier and didn't rust, tarnish or pit as easily as Mafac's.

One clear edge Weinmanns had over Mafacs was adjustability.  Weinmann brake shoes had threaded posts and bolted directly into the slot on the brake arm, in contrast to Mafac's pivoting eyebolt.   As I mentioned in my post about Mafac, that feature was important when many rims did not have parallel straight sides; when Weinmann's centerpulls came out, the trend was moving toward straight parallel sides, which nearly all new rims (the notable exception being those made for disc brakes) have today.  

Also, the transverse (straddle) cable on the Mafac Racer was infinitely adjustable in length; Weinmann's transverse cable had fixed ends.  But, in later years, Weinmann (as well as Dia Compe) offered their transverses in a variety of lengths.

Since I never had a rim like the Constrictor Asp, I never needed the kind of adjustability the Mafac offered.  And, as better replacement pads (such as Mathauser/Kool Stop) and cables became available, whatever advantages Mafac offered became less important.  It was probably for this reason, and the fact that Weinmanns were easier to set up, that some bike manufacturers--most notably Peugeot--that had been equipping their bikes with Mafacs shifted to Weinmann during the late 1970's.

Mafac went out of business around 1985.  Weinmann continued to make the Vainqueur for a few years after that.  But the demand for center-pulls dried up as the advantages offered by Campagnolo trickled down into mid- and lower-priced sidepulls, some of which were made by Weinmann.

Whatever one thought of Weinmann centerpulls , their name offered a moment of levity when some people--including Fred "Fritz" Kuhn, the longtime proprietor of Kopp's Cycles in Princeton, NJ--pronounced it "Vain-queer".

22 October 2014

Will Danes Go Dutch On Bike Parking?

In previous posts, I've lamented the bike-parking situation here in New York and in my own neighborhood of Astoria.  But, I must say, our problems pale in comparison with those in Copenhagen:

I don't think I've seen anything like that here.  Penn Station, on its busiest day, has nothing like the cluster of bikes in front of the Danish capital's main rail terminal:


You might say that Copenhagen has become a victim of its own success as a bicycle-friendly city:  In a city with more bikes than people and more than half of those people pedal to work.  Moreover, about 41 percent of those who commute from homes outside of the city to jobs in it arrive at their workplaces on their cykler.

But many cyclists are frustrated by the lack of good parking spaces.  At the same time, some non-cyclists are upset because bikes are sometimes parked randomly on sidewalks, blocking entrances to stores and people's homes.

City officials are looking all over--especially to bike-friendly cities in nearby Holland--for ways to solve the problem. One includes converting disused automobile parking spaces in residential areas to bike ports.  Another is the building of bicycle storage facilities like the one that can hold 10,000 bikes under the train station in Groningen.  It's watched by a guard day and night.  In Utrecht, three floors above the rail terminal offer parking for 4300 cycles.  Soon there will be another facility east of the station, which can shelter 12,000 velocipedes.

What officials are dealing with in Copenhagen is, I believe, one of the last major hurdles in turning cities into places where it's more feasible for most people to ride bikes than to drive or even take municipal buses or trains.  If the folks in the Danish capital can work it out, I think we'll see bike commuting grow exponentially in a number of cities around the world.


21 October 2014

Going (Wing) Nuts

These days, when I hear the word "wingnut", I think of Rush Limbaugh, Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell and Sean Hannity. 

Now, some of you may have decided to stop reading this post--or my blog--having read that.  But, hey, we have our differences, but we all love cycling, right?

Anyway...I am old enough to remember (There I go again!) when the term "wingnut" actually denoted a specific bicycle part.  And, I actually used a pair on one of my bikes.  You may have used--or still be using--them.

I had a pair that looked something like these on one of my bikes, long ago and far away:

Mine were chromed.  But they were shaped like those and indeed made by Huret in France.  I never saw the bronze version until I went to France.  At first, I thought they were corroded, as it's not unusual to see French people--especially in the countryside--riding bikes as old as they are.  Even if they (I'm talking about the wingnuts now!) were corroded, they would have been lovely.

Actually, I don't think I've seen a bike wingnut (as opposed to a right-wing radio talkshow host) that wasn't lovely.  Maybe it's not possible to make one that isn't attractive.

Of course, with good cheap quick release skewers available, there is little practical reason to use them today.  In my opinion, they should never be used on a rear wheel unless the rider is very light or weak and never rides uphill, into the wind or out-of-saddle.  But, I guess if you have a bike with solid axles and want to make the front wheel easily removable--say, for transport or storage--a pair of wings on the front is a good, and less expensive alternative, to replacing your axle or wheel.

And, of course, you can give your bike a little more style or enhance a "retro" look.  In addition to the Huret, I particularly like these from GB:

and from Gripfast:

I would trust the Gripfast ones because I've used their track nuts, which are solidly made and lushly chromed.  I never had any problems with my Hurets.

If you prefer something more modern, check out the ones from Velo Orange:

They're almost Bauhausian, at least to the extent that a wingnut can be Bauhausian.  Plus, they're made of stainless steel.  The only reservation I'd have about installing GBs on a bike I'd actually ride (as opposed to one that would hang on a wall) is that old alloy can be brittle.  That's a reservation I'd have about almost any old alloy component; it's not a commentary on the item's quality, as GB was making good stuff during the time those nuts were manufactured (1940's-1960's).

Here are some more examples of vintage wingnuts.  Have a good time looking for them on eBay!