Compass Centerpull Brakes

compass_brake

When we started Compass Bicycles, we dreamed of a new centerpull brake. We started developing and testing right away, but it has taken a few years for that work is coming to fruition. We just received the first production samples! The new Compass brakes will be in stock in early November.

For a bike with wide tires, centerpull brakes with brazed-on pivots are the best brake option. With pivots on the fork blades, there is little flex compared to a sidepull (or dual pivot) brake that reaches all the way around the tire. And since the pivots are close to the fork crown, they don’t twist like those of cantilever brakes. As a result, centerpull brakes offer more brake power and better modulation than other rim brakes. (The fact that Shimano’s latest rim brakes also use pivots high up on the fork blades shows that we aren’t the only ones who have figured this out.)

Of all the centerpull brakes, the Mafac Raids stand out. Mafac designed them in the 1970s, when they had decades of experience with this type of brake. The relationship between the upper and lower arms is perfect, which means you get lots of brake power, yet the pads don’t have to be set very close to the rims to prevent the brake levers from bottoming out. The brakes work well both with modern aero levers and with traditional levers. (Their cable pull is right in the middle between sidepull and cantilevers.) We tried many other centerpull brakes, but none came close in performance and feel.

During the development of our brakes, we did finite element analyses of various centerpull brake arms. We found that they varied greatly in their stiffness. Once again, the Mafac Raid came out on top. So when it came to decide on the shape and general design of our brakes, we couldn’t improve on the Raids.

cable_roller_1

We wanted a lightweight brake, so of course we forged the brake arms. Like the Mafac originals, our new brakes use custom hardware throughout – a huge project when you look at how many special bolts, nuts and washers there are on these brakes. (When you design a brake for standard screws that you can buy at hardware stores, you inevitably have to compromise weight and performance.) The hardware is made from chrome-plated steel, which is stronger than stainless steel.

We did improve a few things compared to the original Mafacs:

  • We made the arms slightly thicker, to make sure the brakes work with the higher brake forces generated by modern pad compounds. The weight gains are minimal.
  • The bushings of the original were cheap plastic and often developed play. Ours are special IGUS bearings that should last a long time.
  • The original pad holders were made from stamped aluminum, and the posts could come loose. Ours are cast as a single piece, with integrated posts.
  • The mounting bolts of the Mafacs, with their thin heads, also are known to fail when you aren’t careful during tightening. Ours are stronger, with integrated washers based on a René Herse design.
  • We improved the finish of the arms and the plating of the screws.
  • Our braze-on pivots don’t have the ugly aluminum plates to hold the spring. Instead, there is a ring with the spring hole that the builder brazes onto the post. (The photos still show the Mafac/Dia Compe braze-ons, since ours weren’t ready when the frame was built.)

compass_brake_rack

To go with the brake, we’ll also offer a small rack to support a handlebar bag. The rack is made in Japan from CrMo tubing, so it is very light, yet strong. It’s patterned after the racks René Herse made for his randonneur bikes. The rack requires braze-ons on the fork, so it’s not a retrofit. If you plan to get a new bike, these brakes and rack are a big step forward.

We’ve been testing prototypes for quite a while, and we are excited that the new brakes will be available soon. We’ll also offer the hardware separately, so you can make your old Mafacs as good as new with new bushings, new hardware and new pads.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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125 Responses to Compass Centerpull Brakes

  1. Steve Palincsar says:

    Will there be a bolt-on version as well?

  2. Mitchell Gass says:

    Hi Jan,

    What will the calipers, rack, and hardware for Raid brakes sell for? And when can we expect the Nivex derailleur copy?😉

  3. Jan, how much reach will these brakes have?

  4. Wonderful! Will the cable roller also be available?

  5. Christoph says:

    Jan, the improvements you made to Mafac’s original design all make sense and are much appreciated.

    There’s an issue you did not address, though – adjusting brake pads can be a bit of a chore (to put it charitably…) on old Mafacs because there is no proper way of locating the pad holder while tighening the nut. More often than not it’s difficult to apply the torque required to keep the pad in place while using my hand to locate it, making the procedure of adjusting or replacing brake pad a lot more difficult and time consuming. A pad holder bolt that takes an Allen key (as seen on cantilever brakes) or 10mm wrench would have been a very welcome update.

    Or maybe I am the only person having this problem?

  6. Olof Stroh says:

    I could certainly use those brakes so please make a bolt on version. Couldn´t some kind of loop around the fork legs lessen the flex?

  7. Julian says:

    Jan, In the top photo there appears to be some sort of thick washer or spacer on the top of the fender underneath the brake caliper. What is that, and what purpose does it serve? Also, in that photo the fender has a seam a cm or so behind the brake — is this a repaired fender, or is something else going on?

  8. Peter says:

    How do these compare to the Paul Racer brakes?

    • The Pauls are nice brakes, but they have a few compromises that made them more economical to manufacture. The arms are CNC-machined, not forged, so they have to be much beefier to offer the same strength. The pivots are Paul’s standard cantilever pivots, which are much larger than centerpull pivots and encroach on the tire clearance. (This also means that the Paul brakes don’t fit standard centerpull bosses.) The Paul brakes use standard screws rather than custom hardware.

      • Daniel says:

        And how do these compare with the Dia Compe 750? Will the Compass centerpull be a direct replace for Dia Compe 750? I recently had a frame made for the Dia Compe 750 if these are better and are directly compatible, I’d love to upgrade!

      • I am not too fond of the Dia-Compes – they don’t offer nearly the brake power of the Mafac Raids/Compass brakes, because the upper arms are too short. The Dia-Compe braze-ons have different spacing, too, so the Compass brakes aren’t a simple swap.

  9. Alex says:

    Jan, congratulations on bringing such a fine, useful and timeless product to market!
    One question: I still can’t get my mind around the notion of a bolt with an integrated washer (i had the same question with Compass/Herse crank, whose bolts also have integrated washers). Is it REALLY better than a bolt and a separate washer, or is it (dare i say it?) “historical reenactment”, a phrase occasionally bandied about these parts (pardon the pun), or simply a way to protect the chrome parts?

    • The integrated washer actually is better. It prevents the bolt from turning independently from the washer, so it’s less likely to come loose. For the same reason, you shouldn’t grease underneath the head of the René Herse crank bolts. (Grease the threads to reduce friction and get a consistent torque, but the head should lock into the crank surface…)

  10. Will the FEA data perhaps make it into a BQ article?

  11. Is the toe in adjustable?

    • No. We played with a few solutions, and none were satisfactory. On centerpull brakes, I find that after the first ride in the rain, the pads bed themselves and no longer squeal. Centerpull brakes don’t flex like cantilevers, so they aren’t as sensitive to toe-in adjustment.

  12. David says:

    Will these brakes use cantilever braze-ons? Also, what options will we have for a front rack if our forks don’t have braze-ons for your new rack? Looks like the brakes will cover the bolt hole on the fork crown used by many tacks.

    • The brakes use centerpull braze-ons. Cantilever braze-ons are larger and won’t work. We offer the braze-ons, too. There is no good way to attach a rack without dedicated braze-ons. A framebuilder can add them to your fork at the same time they add the centerpull braze-ons.

  13. Johan Larsson says:

    Great news! I have been planning for making an adaptation of Charlie Cunningham’s lever link brake for my own hybrid bike, but this brake is for sure much prettier. A forthcoming dedicated randonneur bike will deserve brakes like these.

  14. Jeff Loomis says:

    It looks pretty, but I’m wondering why you chose to use the eye-bolt style mounts of the pad holder to the arms. Modern threaded pad holders with spherical washers are so much easier to set up and are widely available. I have Paul centerpulls on my bike and they look clunky compared to your brake, but the pad mounting is the reason I chose Pauls instead of polishing up some old Mafacs.

    • The arms are stiffer this way. Otherwise, they are twisted 90 degrees to accept the threaded pads (like Weinmann/Dia-Compe centerpulls), which adds a lot of flex. With Mafac’s tool, the pad adjustment is a snap.

      • Fred Blasdel says:

        The Paul design isn’t twisted! It forms an angle section for the entirety of the arm below the pivot, which drives the ‘clunky’ look but certainly fixes the problem.

        You decry that they’re not forged, but doesn’t the additional material they used to be strong enough when machined also make them significantly stiffer?

      • I don’t see where the Mafacs would need additional stiffness. Having used both the Pauls and the Mafacs, their braking seems similar…

    • Steve Palincsar says:

      It’s funny, everybody says those threaded post pads are “easy to set up,” but every time I mess with the ones in my Avid Shorty 4 cantilevers I end up baffled, with brakes that both squeal and judder. Adjusting the Eagle 2 pads in my Mafac Raids: mindlessly simple, and never a problem. Also, there’s a whole lot more pad material on the smooth post pads than the threaded V-brake thinlines.

      • Matthew J says:

        Agree with Jan and Steve.

        My hand eye coordination stinks. Setting up Raids was no problem to me. On the other hand, Paul Racer and RacerM proved challenging.

  15. Dylan says:

    This is great news Jan! I’m really glad that you’re going to offer the hardware separately, so those of us with Raids can still reap some of the benefits. Those bushings tend to get worn out over the years!

  16. Daniel says:

    What is the spacing of the braze on posts? And the position of the eyelets for mounting the rack?

  17. Lynne says:

    How would one mount a headlight?

  18. Jeffrey says:

    Jan: I’m in the process of getting everything in order to approach Jeff Lyon and have him build me a frame and fork — likely in November — and likely a 650b L’avecaise (thanks to you and BQ). Assuming he’ll do it — will you be providing specs for builders — and the brake posts and braze-on bits for your racks well?

  19. Chris L says:

    Will the traditional TA rack also work? I’d assume it would if you’re modeling these on the classic Mafac design.

  20. Bubba says:

    Congratulations. It must be rewarding to see this come together. They look splendid.

  21. Pauly says:

    Rinko rear fender eh? Beautiful centerpulls! Congrats…

  22. Jim says:

    Jan-

    What an excellent step! I use brazed on Mafac Competitions on my Bertin C 37 and they are outstandingly rigid and easy to modulate, especially with Koolstop pads. The Raids, with their adjustable transverse cable should be even better. Thanks for bringing out the replacement bushings and bolts to support Mafacs still in use. Now, if you only could arrange for some re-manufactured Mafac lever hoods………

  23. StarMichael says:

    are those pictured straddle hangers going to come with the brake sets? (fingers crossed!)

  24. nickskaggs says:

    I was going to ask about hardware compatibility with the original Mafac Raid brakes, but you answered that question in your final paragraph.

    Will any pieces of the new hardware be *incompatible* with the Mafac Raid brakes?

    Congratulations on getting a great design back on the market!

  25. Jon Gehman says:

    Please consider offering bushings to fit the Weinmann/Dia Compe twins. As much as I’d like a set of these Compass Brakes or to find some Raids in my price range, I suppose I’m committed to Weinmanns and Dia Compes. You did me a big service making braze-on posts available to help me get the most out of them but it would be even nicer if I didn’t have to rob usable bushings from otherwise good brakesets anymore.

  26. Stig V. says:

    Now, if you’d just offer prebuild forks for this you’d have a real blockbuster. Not all that many options necessary – choice between 650B or 700C, all crome, all black, or raw. All of them including braze-ons for brakes, racks and fenders. That would be an extremely attractive proposition for a lot of people who would not want to fork out (pun intended) the money needed for a custom-built bicycle.

    • Interesting idea. This would also allow one to convert an older racing bike to a low trail randonneur esque bike to test the waters. A PY-10 CP would be ideal with its center pull braze ons ready to go in the rear, providing ample clearance.

  27. tommo says:

    Any chance there will be a version of the rack that fits/comes with detachable low riders?

  28. rodneyAB says:

    oh Sweet Development!
    now to find a builder who can build a proper fork, and a frame to follow it . . .

  29. Rob says:

    Nice work.
    The old Lewis marque deserves a mention here. Their T46 centerpull brake for braze ons predates Mafac’s models, looks to have been their forerunner, and features mounting bolts with integrated washers.

  30. Darren says:

    Sweet! They look gorgeous! Curious, why are you going with the René Herse cable roller instead of the Mafac’s style? Aesthetic reasons or are they better than Mafac’s?

  31. Vincent says:

    Very nice brake. Will there be any braze-on post available for titanium frames? Can any existing titanium post be modified?

  32. mark ballogg says:

    Jan,

    I have a pair of Raids on my Rando now and they don’t seem to work that well. They are brazed on with good pads and appear to be complete. They stop the bike but require quite a bit of pressure and never give you a crisp stop. Of my bikes they exhibit the poorest braking.

    Any ideas why this might be?

    If I was to replace them with your brakes- from the description it sounds like they would fit ? and would they work better?

    A puzzler,
    Mark

    • It’s hard to diagnose from a distance… I’d replace the pads with Kool-Stop salmon-colored pads. Many so-called “good pads” aren’t that great – as we found on numerous Bicycle Quarterly test bikes. The Mafac Raids should offer excellent stopping with very little hand pressure.

      • Matthew J says:

        I do not ride in mountain territory so cannot say for sure this swap is ideal, but I found it quite easy to install these smooth post Yokozuna cartridges on Raids with good braking on moderately hilly southwestern Wisconsin roads and trails.

      • mark ballogg says:

        I have the Kool Stop salmon colored pads in place.
        I have no idea why the stopping power seems weak but it is.

        I’ve had Billy David (CR) look at them and he can see no reason for weak performance.

        I have pro Superbe brake levers on the bike. Could the levers make a difference?

  33. Hi Jan,

    this is great news, and in particular compatibility of small hardware and ‘pieces detachees’ with the original. I have always liked the look and function of these brakes when in good conditions.

    Out of curiosity, one question on this frame: on the pictures, the silver seems not to have pulled fully through between the tip of the fork crown and the right fork leg. Its probably only an illusion?

    Kind regards from the country, where Mafac Racer, Raid, and Competition and even the Jeay roller cams are still a common sight on vintage bicycles that found a second life as commuters.

    Cornelius

    • The frame is the first frame I’ve built. The silver did go all the way through, but the cosmetics could be improved! Once it’s filed, the little globs of brass here and there will be gone. And once it’s painted the little runs of silver won’t be visible any longer, either!

      • Congrats on building your first frame!! This answers my first thought while gazing at the photos: “the builder doesn’t seem experienced with the torch.” However, it looks great for your first one and happy filing!

      • Actually, I did not do the brazing of the main tubes, figuring that I did not want to practice with superlight tubing… That was done by an experienced builder. I mitered all the tubes, brazed the rear triangle and the fork, etc. What you see is mostly flashing that will come right off when the frame is sandblasted…

      • David Feldman says:

        Congratulations, Jan. No thrill like the first descent on the first fork that one has built!

  34. Congratulations and deep respect. Likely only very few have the opportunity to equip a frame they have built with components they have developed/produced themselves, and to ride the finished bicycle the way you do.
    Cornelius

  35. Greg says:

    Jan, can you tell us the approximate weight of that rack? It looks quite nice….

    • We haven’t weighed it yet… It’s substantially lighter than the standard Nitto racks (which are made from mild steel tubing), since the tubing walls can be thinner when using CrMo steel.

      • Fred Blasdel says:

        Are you confident in that? The Nitto racks are universally advertised as being made from cromoly, and I think their failures would be quite different if they weren’t.

        Years ago I did a lot of riding with rack prototypes from a taiwanese shop where such a substitution had been made because they couldn’t source 4130 in small sizes off the shelf. The platform members would “taco” from load over their whole length in a particular way, distinct from crash damage on cromoly of the same gauge.

      • I am not confident in the mild steel, but I do know that the standard Nitto racks are not made from CrMo. They use heavier walls to get the strength…

  36. Matt Sallman says:

    Jan,

    Wow, what an unexpected and welcome product. You are making so many new items available at very high quality.

    I do have a quibble though. You said that you would not be making a yoke to mount these on a standard bolt-on bike. A Mafac Raid yolk would work, but the reason I have DiaCompe 750s on my bike is because I have not been able to win a set of Raids on ebay – and I haven’t even seen a set for sale the last couple times I tried. I am not currently in the market for a new frame nor do I want to repaint my bike to cover the braze-ons. This means that I am stuck with these brakes that you have said here, and in BQ, are not close to this quality.

    I realize it is your company and you can produce what you like, but I only ask you to consider that your new Compass brakes, even if mounted on a yoke, would still be a better choice than DiaCompe 750s! Alternately, from your description of the 90 degree turn in the DiaCompe arms, would a similar no turn design that would fit the many DiaCompe/Weinmann mounts in existence still be better than what we currently have?

    Well done,
    Matt

    • If we offered a yoke for braze-on mounting, you’d have to cut off the Dia-Compe braze-ons… The main issue is cost: A yoke would require another forging die, and those are very, very expensive. However, there are plenty of old Mafac Raid yokes lying in people’s tool chests – every bike that has Raids on brazed-on pivots made a yoke surplus to requirements. Our brakes do fit on the Mafac yokes… Just make sure you have one for the Raids, and not for the narrower, shorter Racers.

  37. heather says:

    Thank you, nice looking brakes and am glad the parts can be used for Mafac brakes. I reluctantly sold my set because I was missing bits and didn’t want the hassle, but now whomever owns them will be able to upgrade!

  38. Carl Otto Wollimn says:

    Good News Jan,

    Are “rebuilt kit” for the Raids compatible with MAFACs cantilever brakes? Have you looked into a solution for top rubber parts for the MAFAC brakelevers thats hard to come by these days?

    • Many of the parts are interchangeable, but not all. The rubber half-hoods – I don’t bother with them any longer. I find that the bare aluminum is fine, especially since with long ramps, I rarely ride on the hoods, but usually in the position behind the hoods (on the ramps).

      • Carl Otto Wollin says:

        OK Rubber halfhoods are out of the question, Is it possible to find a threaded skewer as a cable stop in the production line for the future? I really like the feel and vintage look of my old MAFAC levers.

      • Joe Kendrick says:

        Mr. Jan Heine,

        This is very exciting news. Have you ever talked with or interviewed the old skilled dudes who made the Mafac brakes? If they are still alive, I would guess they’re tickled, and proud.

  39. Jan, You mention the new Shimano brake design with high-on-the-fork/frame-mounted pivots. What are the advantages of having center-pull actuation? I’m thinking that, assuming the same mechanical advantage, the side-pull will have more power.

    • The centerpull actuation saves weight, but it requires a cable hanger. In theory, linkage like the Shimano allows you to get a non-linear mechanical advantage (first the pads travel quickly to the rim, then they provide lots of squeezing power), but in real life, you don*t need that much mechanical advantage if you don*t have all that brake flex to overcome. The Compass brakes can be set with generous clearances to the rim, and yet there is no risk of the brake levers bottoming out.

  40. Since you decided to develop your own brake instead of just selling the Grand Bois centerpulls you must think their brake is inferior. What’s wrong with it?
    http://grandbois.jp/grandbois/original-parts/brake/

    • First of all, sorry for the late approval of comments. I was out of reach touring in Hokkaido (testing the new Compass brakes) and now we are stuck here waiting out the Typhoon before we can get back to Tokyo…

      The Compass brakes have been in development for a long time… Grand Bois decided to do their own because they like the arm shape of the old Dia-Compe high-end brakes, even if they are not as stiff as the Mafacs. We also prefer the added margin of safety of the CrMo hardware over the Grand Bois stainless hardware, even though CrMo is almost twice as expensive… In the end, each brake reflects a different style of riding.

  41. cpkestate says:

    Wouldn’t pointed brakepads like koolstop’s canti’s or v pads instead of the three circular design work better?

  42. radriver says:

    Will the rack and or brakes fit the toussaint?

  43. Hunter says:

    Will this “small” rack adequately fit and well support a full sized Berthoud rando bag, say the 22 mid-size, or others? Thanks!

    • It is designed for a standard handlebar bag. The.is is how I have been riding it for the last four days on a tour…

      • Hunter says:

        Thanks for the response Jan! I am looking forward to the release of these, and I am glad that someone out there cares about form and function enough to produce these products—excellently functional beauty. So thank you.

        On another note, I’d like to give some credit to Paul Comp. Even though their racer brakes have made some compromises to be cheaper (a relative term here, they’re great quality and not cheap), and bulkier to attain stiffness, by using standard hardware Pail at least ensures that you’ll be able to go to any machine shop or hardware store and get parts for their brakes.

        Personally, I’m very much looking forward to using your Compass brakes for both functional and aesthetic reasons. But let’s state clearly that Paul offers an effective product made for a long life of service.

  44. radriver says:

    The rack triangulation looks great and the brakes are amazing! I’m thinking about building up a 60cm toussaint which should have a little more flex than the 57 no?

  45. radriver says:

    We can’t by definition achieve perfection but we can approach it and i think you’re getting close! Retrofriction style downtube shifters next?

  46. David M says:

    Lovely brakes Jan, delighted to see them. I’m seriously considering a new fork, rack and front brake for my Soma Grand Randonneur, using Kaisei Toei blades, your new rack and brakes, and with a more elegant and forgiving lower third curved. I’m wondering if a rack with a headlamp mount on the right side might be an option though, for Irish, UK and Japanese roads? Also I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Rinko-style bike when finished. Compass retrofriction gear shifters in the offing maybe, useable on bar-ends and downtubes, with the range for up to 8/9 speed cassettes? Wouldn’t they look nice on the Compass website…?

  47. JPI says:

    And how do these compare to the Grand Bois Chouette brakes?

  48. Mark Schneider says:

    So I am having a frame built with compatibility for Paul Racers, will these fit?
    Thanks

  49. rodneyAB says:

    Interesting Headset, makes me wonder on your geometry. . no worry of shimmy? Would like to see more photos of this bike before it is painted and complete.

  50. thebvo says:

    They look gorgeous, and given your attention to detail and refusal to accept performance compromises, they’ll probably be wonder to use. I wonder if there will be a trend towards brazed on centerpulls… Either way, they are VERY cool!
    Was it a collaboration with Grand Bois? I saw a GB labeled centerpull prototype on one of their bikes last spring, but I didn’t get any details about them. Speaking of details, I can’t wait to read about your first try at frame building. I’m curious about your choice of tubing due to your preference of thin tubes, but I assume they aren’t first timer friendly. (you know what happens when you assume…)

  51. Gerard Manset says:

    Are these going to come with Mafac style brake pads? Do you have a preference for this shape, if so why?

  52. marmotte27 says:

    And now for the last (?) big challenge, Compass ‘Maxi-car’ hubs…

  53. ”The rack requires braze-ons on the fork, so it’s not a retrofit. If you plan to get a new bike, these brakes and rack are a big step forward”. Rivendell sells very heavy duty clip on’s support for rack and fenders. they come three different sizes. These would allow Jan’s rack to be mounted. I have used the clip with no problems On their web site
    Charles Nighbor

  54. Mark Fisher says:

    I’ll be building up a bike and may give them a try. Nice, classic look with updates. That said, I have noticed a number of things in the brakes and cranks that bug me as a mechanical engineer developing products for 30+ years. Why use chrome on steel bolts? Chrome is expensive, bad for the environment and can result in brittle parts if not baked after plating. High strength stainless bolts like A286 or 17-4PH steel are about the same strength (about 8% less) as a grade 8 steel bolt and plenty for any bicycle application. Chrome plated steel, with a proper copper underplating and post-baking can be plenty strong and not brittle, but it takes a lot more control to make sure it is done right. Chrome plated bolts look great, though. And please don’t get me started on not anodizing aluminum……

    • The stainless that is commonly used for bolts isn’t nearly as strong as good CrMo. Our bolts are made in a factory that makes 90% of the bolts for the bike industry, so they are made to the highest quality standards.

      Anodizing aluminum: It depends. 7000-series absolutely has to be anodized. 2000-series will get gray, but is fine. 6000-series does not need to be anodized. The brake arms are made from 6000-series aluminum, so they don’t need anodizing. This way, you can re-polish them if they get dull or scratched after years or decades of use.

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