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 Schwinn --or Motobecane or any number of other continental European manufacturers-- it most likely had the Vainqueur. (Motobecane, Raleigh, Schwinn and some other bike-makers re-badged the brakes.) 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  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 (but 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 Mafacs had over Weinmanns 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; however, 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".


  1. I have purchased a set of modern Dia Compe centerpulls for one of my restoration projects. They have even more reach than the excellent Tektro R559. The pads are a gray compound which is unfamiliar to me. I remember getting frustrated with centerpull brake adjustment early in my cycling career. But practice makes perfect. Thanks for writing about these cool vintage parts.

  2. Didn't you MEAN to say that the Mafacs were more adjustable in that fourth paragraph?

  3. Excellent post. I find as well the MAFAC are far more adjustable than the Weinmanns, both in pad setting and straddle cable. They are both excellent brakes. When setup properly with good pads they can feel as powerful as modern dual pivots design. But it is true they were a bit "spongy".

    1. Thank you. I tried to show the differences between the brakes while showing that each, in its own way, was very good. I know: I've used both.

  4. Hi Justine, I believe that photo of the multiple colored anodized Weinmann calipers is mine taken on my office wooden floor. If you need more info let me know. Craig Griffith swissbicycles.com

  5. Craig Griffith—Thank you. I don’t remember where I found the photo. I always try to find as much information as possible about any material I use and acknowledge my sources. No plagiarism was intended.

    I will check out Swiss Bicycles: it looks interesting.