Compass Centerpull Brakes Are Here!

Compass Centerpull Brakes Are Here!

We received the last parts for our centerpull brakes, test-assembled them, wrote the instructions, and now they are ready to ship.
Click here to read more about the advantage of centerpull brakes.
There are a lot of parts to a centerpull brake. It all starts with the braze-on posts that mounts onto the fork and seatstays. The holder for the spring is a ring that slides onto the post. It gets brazed in place when the builder brazes the posts onto the frame/fork. The builder can rotate the rings inward or outward to get more or less spring tension. (In practice, the standard setting, with the holes directly above the bosses, works great for most riders and with most brake levers.)
The posts are available in three models:

  • Front (top): mitered to fit the Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades without any additional filing. Of course, they can be mitered to fit most other fork blades.
  • Rear (middle): with an offset miter that works well for most frame sizes.
  • Universal (bottom): un-mitered bosses for any situation where the pre-mitered bosses don’t fit.

The brake arms are forged for the ultimate in strength and light weight, instead of machined. We analyzed many different shapes, and found that the classic Mafac Raid model optimizes strength and weight, while providing the optimum leverage to work with a multitude of brake levers. So we started with that shape and subtly optimized it for the added grip of modern brake pads. (You can use classic brake levers as well as modern STI/Ergo/DoubleTap lever with these brakes.)
The springs are custom, too. We tested stainless steel springs, but found that their rate changed over time, so ours are chrome-plated spring steel. That way, your brakes will retain their consistent performance for decades.
We made custom brake pad holders, which are a bit shorter than most modern pads. This allows them to clear the fork and seatstays when you open the brake, so that even fully inflated 42 mm-wide tires can pass through. The pads are Kool-Stop’s salmon-colored pads. These old-style pads are thicker than modern ones, which means they’ll last a lot longer. Of course, they use the best modern compound for the ultimate in brake power, both in wet and dry conditions.
Even the bolts are custom-made. (The only off-the-shelf parts are the silver washers on the left and the straddle cables.) Using custom bolts not only allows us to have smaller (and lighter) bolts, but the brake arms themselves are smaller and lighter, too.
The straddle cable attachment consists of four custom pieces. At one end (right in the photo above) there is the “dumbbell”, which acts as a quick release. (You unhook it from the brake arm to open the brake.)
On the other side (left), there is an eyebolt with a spacer and a special nut. The advantage of this system is that the two anchor points of the straddle wire can swivel as the straddle cable angle changes when you apply the brake. This eliminates the stress that tends to break straddle cables. It allows the use of a thinner shift lever cable as a straddle cable. The thinner cable can make a tighter bend at the cable hanger, so it doesn’t have as much springiness that translates into lost travel when you apply the brake.
Using a standard shifter cable as the straddle cable also means that if you ever need to replace the straddle cable, it’s easy to find a replacement. And you can set the straddle cable height where you want it – here it is set high so the hanger does not obstruct the taillight. (Centerpull brakes are not very sensitive to straddle cable length, unlike some cantilevers.)
Many will recognize these design features from classic Mafac centerpull brakes. We tried to improve on them, but with a few exceptions, we couldn’t – those mid-century French engineers knew what they were doing! Using tried-and-true technology not only means that we don’t need to worry about parts breaking, but also that our hardware fits on classic Mafac brakes.
If you have an old Mafac brakeset, you can use the new Compass hardware to replace everything but the arms, which shouldn’t wear out… If you want a brake for narrower 700C tires, a set of Mafac “Racer” arms and our hardware will get you a brake that is as good as new.
We didn’t like the stamped aluminum Mafac straddle cable hangers, so our brakes instead come with a replica of the lovely René Herse straddle cable hangers. These are reversible, so you can either set them that the roller spins freely, and equalizes the brake force of the two arms, or, if you have problems with one pad rubbing, you can set it so that the roller is fixed.
Together with the brakes, we offer a rack that is custom-designed to offer the same clearance as the brake. The rack is patterned after those made by René Herse. It is a clever piece of design that eliminates most of the stress risers where racks can break. Made by Nitto to our specifications, it’s also very light and elegant. We added a light mount, so that modern headlights (Edelux, IQ Cyo, etc.) can be mounted directly.
The rack attaches to the brake posts with special René Herse bolts, as well as to braze-ons on the fork. (Unfortunately, that means it isn’t an easy retrofit.)
We feel that by combining the genius and expertise of René Herse, Mafac and Nitto, we have created one of the very best brake/rack system for bikes with wide tires.
Click here for more information on the brakes, and here for information on the rack.

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Comments (44)

  • Cory

    You guys have absolutely outdone yourselves! Amazing work! I will definitely be ordering a pair of the roller hangers in the near future.

    December 4, 2014 at 6:25 am
  • Alistair Spence.

    Impressive piece of design and engineering Jan. The surface finish of the parts looks top quality too.

    December 4, 2014 at 6:49 am
  • somervillebikes

    Very impressive, and I was also very pleasantly surprised at the pricing and options. These are very accessible components! If I hadn’t already taken delivery of my L’Avecaise this year I’d be specifying these brakes and rack!

    December 4, 2014 at 7:07 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Thank you for the nice words. Being a small company, we have low overhead. Top-end quality will never be cheap, but we strive to keep it affordable.

      December 4, 2014 at 7:16 am
  • Kevin Humphreys

    Very nice. Will the hardware set fit Mafac “2000” calipers too?

    December 4, 2014 at 7:44 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It will work. The main bolts, bushings and brake pad holders are the same. You wouldn’t need the straddle cable bolts – the 2000 uses special straddle cables that are difficult to find. The ends of the arms are machined differently, so you cannot simply convert to the Compass/Racer/Raid straddle cable attachment. Maybe we can see about making a small run of straddle cables for the other Mafac models.

      December 4, 2014 at 7:54 am
      • Alex

        Scott Davis, of, and on eBay, sells the straddle cables for the MAFAC competition / 2000 brakes. And Jordi Bartoll of is making the full rubber hoods as well . . .

        December 9, 2014 at 2:05 pm
  • Not a a weight weenie Darren

    Impressive indeed. I’m curious about the weight, How does it compare to the Raids (brake arms only and all hardware and brake arms)? Also, I’ve gathered nos Mafac parts to use for the build, are the Mafac springs of the same quality as yours?

    December 4, 2014 at 7:50 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The weight is roughly the same as the Raids. Our arms are a bit thicker, but since each arm weighs only 32 g, the difference is not signficant. The bolts, etc., are the same. Much of the weight is in the pads – if you really want to save weight, you can use modern pads (Campagnolo pads from the late 1990s fit), cut the supplied pads in half, or simply wait until they are half-worn. (I actually did install worn pads on the rear of my randonneur bike, since I use that brake only a few times a year when it’s really slippery.)
      The Mafac springs are good quality, just the plating is relatively poor. So if you have rusty springs, you can use ours as a replacement. In the coming weeks, we’ll add more spare parts to the program…

      December 4, 2014 at 7:58 am
  • Jeffrey

    Jan, being in a position to actually order these due to a pending build I have in the works, I must say that you present a mighty tempting product here — and well in line cost-wise with a set of Paul canti’s that I’ve been considering. Because of this, I’m having a hard time imagining why I wouldn’t opt for a pair of these beyond perhaps wondering whether I’d ever want to maintain the ease of switching wheel sets between ones shod with 42mm tires to another utilizing a wider tire (without having to deflate). Admittedly, this is not much of a concern if I really think about it — but out of curiosity — how much extra room do these brakes afford when removing an inflated 42mm tire?

    December 4, 2014 at 8:29 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The main reason to prefer centerpulls over cantis is that the posts are near the fork crown, so the fork blades don’t twist much. That gives you more brake power and most of all, much more linear modulation. Cantis tend to lock on as the fork blades twist and the pads lose their toe-in.
      The second plus is the rack. It means that instead of a custom rack, you can use an off-the-shelf item.

      December 4, 2014 at 11:38 am
      • jimmy

        I believe your second point does not stand.
        Nitto makes a rack that is both off-the-shelf, and fits canti brakes.
        And Paul has the required adapters to allow that rack to fit those brakes.
        Am I missing something?

        December 5, 2014 at 10:11 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The Paul brakes have pivots that are much longer than standard canti pivots, so the adapters work only with custom racks, not the standard Nitto racks. So if you want to use the standard Nitto rack, you need to use a standard canti brake, not the Pauls.

          December 5, 2014 at 10:17 am
  • kris

    Beautiful. Any chance of Mafac style canti brakes in the future?

    December 4, 2014 at 9:29 am
  • AdamB

    Beautiful in both form and function. If my next (custom 650b Rando) bike doesn’t work out to have disc brakes, I’ll spec these for certain. BTW, is there a reason the first picture displays the pad carrier/pad installed upside down?

    December 4, 2014 at 10:38 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Disc brakes are great, but they require stiff fork blades – you lose a lot of shock absorption. I see what you mean about the pad – it looks curved. The pads and holders are straight, that is just distortion from the camera lens.

      December 4, 2014 at 11:40 am
  • Aaron

    Congrats on bringing these to market, everything looks excellent and well thought out!
    Will you be posting a diagram or list of critical dimensions for the rack? I assume the post spacing is the same as Mafac Raids (75mm) – primarily interested in finding out the distance between the upper and lower mounting tabs, to see if it will fit my fork’s existing rack mounts.
    A photo with a text overlay or someone holding a measuring tape in the right spots would be very helpful.

    December 4, 2014 at 10:58 am
  • somebody

    Wow! Beautiful brakes and so awesome to have spare parts for the old Mafacs! Is there a way to adjust toe-in with your brake hardware? Is the spare parts package for 2 brakes or a single brake? In your previous post I think you mentioned using IGUS bushings but the spare parts descriptions says they are brass. I’m curious why you went with brass over the IGUS bushings. It’s always very interesting to read about your product development and design choices. The straddle cable hanger rollers are such a wonderful detail.

    December 4, 2014 at 11:08 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The spare parts package is for 2 brakes. We tested the IGUS bushings in Japan, and found that during very long mountain descents, they developed too much play. So we custom-machined brass bushings instead.
      There is no way to adjust toe-in, because it’s not necessary. Unlike cantilevers, centerpull brakes are not very sensitive to toe-in. The pads bed themselves within a few rides, and then are quiet – as long as your bushings don’t have excessive play. If you like, you can file the groove in the washer under the pad and thus adjust the toe-in.

      December 4, 2014 at 11:43 am
  • erick

    this rack-brake set looks wonderfull, but maybe just maybe a extra pair of eyelet in the rack for a custom detachable low-rider would be nice

    December 4, 2014 at 11:37 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We’ve looked at various low-rider solutions, and the best one still is the one pioneered by René Herse and others, and later copied by Blackburn, Tubus and others. It attaches the low-riders to mid-fork eyelets and stabilizes them with a loop of tubing that goes over the front wheel. Attaching the low-riders to the bag-support rack may be tempting at first, especially if it eliminates the mid-fork eyelets, but you’ll get more rack flex to the detriment of the bike’s handling.

      December 4, 2014 at 11:56 am
  • Michael Kennedy

    Beautiful! I don’t need any right now, but I’m tempted to buy a pair just to thank you for all your hard work. One question–is the hammered Honjo fender a simple fit, or would you need to beat a small dimple into the fender edge to make the arms clear? It’s hard to tell from the pictures…

    December 4, 2014 at 12:05 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      No need to dimple the fenders to clear the brake. You’ll need to dimple the fenders at the fork blades and chainstays, though.

      December 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm
  • Mark Rosenberg, D.C.

    Beautiful work Jan! If I get another custom I would spec these brakes, so we will see what the future will bring. In the last BQ, you mentioned that Dia Compe is reissuing the GC450 centerpull brake for bolt on use. Will you be carrying this brake? It would fit my two current rides, no braze on’s required. Thanks.

    December 4, 2014 at 2:29 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We won’t carry the GC450. It’s not an optimized design, as far as the arm shape is concerned, and it requires shorter posts, so it doesn’t even work with our braze-ons. I am sure you’ll be able to get it from other sources, though.
      An alternative is finding a used, beat-up set of Mafacs. Polish up the arms, replace the hardware, and you are set with a brake that offers better performance. And those don’t require braze-ons, either.

      December 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm
  • Al Russo

    Beautiful brakes!
    I’ve got a set of Mafac “Competition” centerpulls on brazed on bosses on a 700C bike. Would the hardware work with the Competitions? How about the straddle wire? Thanks for any information, and kudos for bringing such a beautiful and classic brake “back to life”.

    December 4, 2014 at 3:25 pm
  • David

    Very nice work indeed! Would it make sense to replace some of the hardware of the Mafac Racer (without braze-ons) to improve the braking performance?

    December 5, 2014 at 1:23 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Replacing the bushings would improve brake performance a little, especially if the old plastic bushings are worn. We’ll offer the bushings separately soon by themselves. The rest of the hardware is mostly cosmetic – rusty bolts don’t look good!

      December 5, 2014 at 6:59 am
  • ascpgh

    Compliments! This brakeset boils the kettle of my imagination which has already been simmering the subject of a 650b low trail bike in my future. They simply trump the pragmatic discs I accept on my commuter because of rain and the months of winter, where the fork rigidity has been an OK trade for working brakes. Back to the drawing board for a frame, this isn’t going to be stock anymore.

    December 5, 2014 at 5:24 am
  • Frank

    A minor point: “The thinner cable can make a tighter bend at the cable hanger, so it doesn’t have as much springiness that translates into lost travel when you apply the brake.” I solved that problem many years ago, by simply pre-bending my straddle cable so it matches the curved contour of the central cable hanger, then runs in a straight line from the brake arm to the hanger. No motion is lost in straightening the straddle cable when the brakes are applied.

    December 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm
  • John Duval

    I ordered a set just before this posting showed up in my e-mail. The original anticipated release date of early November was when my constructuer anticipated starting my build, so that was a “stop the presses” Moment! From that day forward I checked the website 3-4 times a day, and reworked the rest of my component selections to match the polished appearance.
    So maybe I will have bragging rights for being the first retail customer to have a bike designed around this brake and rack. I think that says a lot about the trust and influence you cary Jan.

    December 5, 2014 at 6:51 pm
  • Gerard

    Is it possible to see the light attachment point? I can’t make it out. Presumably just on one side?

    December 6, 2014 at 12:19 am
  • Hadrian

    It so very refreshing to see bicycle products designed around functionality and quality.
    Do you have plans to retail bike frames?

    December 6, 2014 at 2:50 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      No plans to make or retail bicycle frames at this point. We value our good relationships with many builders, who we feel make wonderful frames. Compass’ goal is to provide the parts that are needed for these wonderful bikes, not to duplicate the efforts of others.

      December 6, 2014 at 5:54 am
  • Bubba

    Will you be selling the brake pad holders separately?

    December 6, 2014 at 7:29 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We will offer them separately as soon as we have enough in stock. Polishing them is tricky, since the posts must remain full diameter and completely round… so our stock of pad holders is just sufficient for the complete brakesets right now.

      December 6, 2014 at 7:31 am
  • Allan Sindelar

    The predecessor to Mafac’s “Racer” was the “Dural Forge”. I had a pair of these on my 1970 PX-10, the vintage with Nervex lugs. Are there any of the Compass parts that will fit the Racer but not its predecessor?

    December 6, 2014 at 6:23 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Our replacement hardware will fit your “Dural Forge” brakes.
      They are actually Racers – when you look at Mafac’s ads all the way back to the introduction of their centerpulls in 1952, they always are called Racers. In the early day, they just didn’t write the model name on the brake, since Mafac didn’t make more than one centerpull. So instead they wrote on the brake that it was made from aluminum and that it was forged, to distinguish it from lesser brakes. Most of the early Racers have brass bushings, rather than the later plastic ones, but I’ve seen some late “Dural Forge” Racers with plastic bushings. In any case, it may make sense to replace the bushings if your brake has seen a lot of miles.

      December 7, 2014 at 5:29 am
  • David Pearce

    SPEAKING of centerpull brakes, this is December, so I was looking admiringly at the René Herse Paris-Brest (1966) from the 2014 Calendar, which, I notice, has the centerpull brakes with the braze-on brake posts, and his beautiful straddle cable hangers.
    My question, though, has do with the lighting. Herse knew what was best, so I guess this bike came of age when battery / flashlight technology was better & brighter that dynamo lighting, I suppose?
    And yet I was surprised to see a bottle generator driven by the rear tire. Was this just for the tail light, or was there also a front dynamo powered headlight as a backup if he ran out of batteries?

    December 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The rules required generator lights, so the bikes all had to have them. As you surmised, the generator-powered lights served as a backup when the batteries ran out. Randonneurs dreamed of generator hubs – there were articles in Le Cycliste predicting that they would become available in the 1950s. It took another half century, but now we don’t need to strap flashlights to our racks any longer.

      December 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm

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