retro bicycle mechanical brake calipers and lever

I spotted this while riding around Finalborgo, the medieval walled town that’s one of three boroughs in Finale Ligure, Italy, following Cannondale’s mountain bike team camp. Actually, this is one of many really cool bikes and hacks we spotted while ducking in and out of alleys, paths and streets, but the rest will pop up as Pics of the Day soon.

What makes this one worthy of its own post is the brakes. Before cables were cool, there were rods and pivots, and this one has them in abundance! Click through to see one serious set of linkages…

retro bicycle mechanical brake calipers and lever

The brake handles rotate through the handlebar and pull the first rod up. That rotates a lever and pulls another rod along the downtube.

retro bicycle mechanical brake calipers and lever

That one rotates a lever at the bottom bracket…

retro bicycle mechanical brake calipers and lever

…which pulls a rod connected to another lever at the top of the seat tube. That one pulls the brakes up and puts them in contact with the rim.

retro bicycle mechanical brake calipers and lever

The best part is that someone’s still riding this daily!


  1. Very cool. Nice to see it on the street, as a daily, instead of a museum or someone’s “personal collection” and never ridden. Great to see the mechanical-ness of that system. Thanks for the post!

  2. Why so much astonishment? It’s a kind of a common italian city bike till ’60, like hundred others… Do you want one? XD

  3. A guy that regularly comes into my bike shop tried to order tires for a bike very very similar to this one. His was a “Raleigh Tourister” model according to what was left of some of the paint. The rod brakes were really cool to play with and poke at… but their stopping power wasn’t anything but questionable. Sadly…. he wouldn’t part with it. My horde of bikes will be missing something like that for ever it seems.

  4. you can dredge these kind of bikes out of the amsterdam / utrecht canals without any issue. they do have a rear rack tough. and a stand that pivots around the rear axle.

  5. FWIW, tires, tubes and brake pads for these bikes and Raleigh DL1 Tourist bikes are available at your local bike shop through the company I work for, J&B Importers.

  6. Not only has this style (“rod” brakes is the typical name) of brake been around seemingly forever, they are still manufactured brand new in India and probably China and other places as well.

  7. there is more of this style rod actuated stuff in the world than new fangled brakes. thats is for sure.

    get out a bit more.

  8. These are a dime-a dozen in Europe. I saw them everywhere when I studied in Denmark and Scandinavia. Still cool though, thanks for posting something different.

  9. A lot of parts to keep lubricated. Not sure why rod brakes persisted so long on city bikes. Cable brakes have been around forever: racing bikes and tourers have had them since the 20s. Rod brakes were never on race bikes, in fact: the stopping power is terrible.

  10. Hey, bikes of that breed are in good shape and still being manufactured in India. Even more, you can still see plenty of them on every street here in Argentina. Even more, I’ve seen them in Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

    Maybe the States are overpopulated with fixies, 27.5 and 29er bikes, but the rest of the world still runs these bikes nowadays on a daily basis… Google Eastman Products (the India-based company, not the broke one from Rochester, NY) and take a look at some classic bikes still being massively produced. And believe me, no Colnago, Pinarello, or Breezer in this world could claim they have seen as many miles go under their wheels as this particular model…

  11. like others have said these are still alive and well. They are manufactured by the thousands in India and China with a large portion being imported into Africa. The proper name for this style of brake is called “Phillips” style, although “rod” brakes is commonly used as well. When set up well they actually work pretty well. getting them set up right however requires a little more Captain Kirk than Mr. Spock.

  12. Flying Pigeons from China still have ’em.

    These guys are everywhere in Africa, too.

    But yeah, the brakes are really only to slow you down. If you’re going downhill, they aren’t going to stop you.

What do you think?