dull brakes tradition!

Brakes…we all need them, V brakes, disc brakes, cantilever brakes, these we all know about, drum brakes we probably associate with a car…but Sturmey Archer and SRAM still make drum brakes for bicycles and they work ok…One type of brake that is perhaps not so known about in the UK is the Roller brake….made by Shimano ,the Japanese giant that brings you the biggest range of cycle components on the planet…they make components for all styles, abilities and price points of the cycle world.

One of Shimanos product categories is ‘comfort’… it basically has all the dull boring sensible cycle components in…with tedious design qualities such as low maintenance, annoying features such as protected internal mechanisms and unfashionable enclosed braking systems for consistent working in all weathers.

I am sure you will agree that all these yawn inducing qualities do make the ‘comfort’ range of Shimano components very dull indeed. These components are designed so that you would hardly know they were working beneath you, it is as if the clanking of the gears, the squeaking of the brakes, the constant adjustments that all bike riders need to perform regularly, the need to be actually moving to change gear has been designed out…. Shocking..

Shimano’s ‘comfort’ range turns a bicycle from an enthusiasts tool into a practical vehicle, almost as mainstream practical as a Ford Mondeo , Volvo or VW golf…ridiculous…we all want Ferraris and Alfa Romeos for bicycles, of course we do……these components from Shimano are so sensible and so ‘practical’, that manufactures rarely show them in public…. A shiny Alfine internal gear hub might be paraded on a concept show bike or tucked away on a hybrid but always with disc or v brakes….…(it will not take a roller brake) its as sensible as some UK manufacturers feel comfortable going…Shimano keep the ‘comfort’ range pretty low key in the UK seemingly embarrassed that a product so easy maintained bears the Shimano name..

So then, roller Brakes…. they slow you down, ..now that in itself is dull….some slow you quicker than others…but you fit them and forget them* ….(you need suitable wheels). roller brakes are kinda modern looking,  sometimes almost invisible (hardly a selling point) they need a squirt of roller grease every now and then applied through a small hole with a rubber cap on…even that’s not very adventurous, where’s the 90 pound workshop service in that…!!?

If you have made it this far without wondering what time tea is, then you might loosen your cardigan a little, tap out your pipe and read on…

there are three main models of roller brake available in the UK…all by Shimano, unusually for such a dull product, the roller brakes perform really well…

First up is the entry level roller brake..the IM 41…cheap at 30 pounds ish..this neat little unit slows you down nicely…durable and works the same in the rain as the dry and will not wear your rims out…no stoppies with this unit…no headaches either.

Next up is the understated IM50,  it’s priced at about 40 pounds to buy, much the same look as the IM41 but with a more noticeable round cooling fin to dissipate the heat that can get generated by braking surfaces on a long down hill stretch.  All brakes generate heat…heat is the byproduct of friction so its always going to be an issue with any brake, V brakes are cooled by the air stream, as are disc brakes, but because roller brakes are enclosed, protected in a metal shell, they need a way of cooling down, this is achieved by means of a heat sink or round cooling fin to dissipate any heat build up. Some cite overheating as the Achilles heel of the roller brake but it’s bad talk with an element of fact…if the brake over heats it will lose the lubricating friction, and the brake will be grabby and fade, so you need to keep the brake oiled…a squirt of roller grease every 6 months will do it…and if you have a heavy load to haul or huge hills to speed down regularly then buy the best roller brake you can afford…IM70’s are more than capable of stopping a big bike down hill and quickly without issue.Which neatly bring us to the daddy of the UK Roller brake world, that very same IM70, on some European bikes a super (almost sexy) spec roller brake is fitted (IM77) but for us in the UK at the moment the top spec available is the IM70.very good braking with this unit, the large cooling fin is round and looks a little like a disc brake ..which is a little cheeky of it…

you can even get models that to fit on a disc fork, utilizing the disc tab…it’s an alternative that not many know about…(you need a roller compatable hub) but great for a commuter mtb bike or a daily hack….or for bikes that do not want to see a workshop very often… about 50 pounds to buy an IM70..not too bad when it will last 10-15 years in normal use if neglected and un-maintained.

So there you have it, Roller brakes…doing braking with no fuss, almost unseen and asking for no thanks, a little bit sensible, a little bit too practical, a bit too brakey. …, too maintenance free to even warrant a salesman selling you them, …..just like a modern car, one that just gets you there with no fuss and in comfort.

Roller brakes are a well kept secret, we all know that ‘dependable’ and ‘practical’ are not an advertiser’s favorite strapline so roller brakes have their work cut out to get the recognition they deserve….…Roller brakes are modern technology to meet a need, the best braking system for daily urban riding bar none….so try some, Gazelle dutch bikes have them fitted to many models, workcycles too…you can retro fit them. don’t tell anyone, but i don’t think they are dull at all,  innovative and modern are the words i would use. They might not be poster material but roller brakes will be there for you when the latest 6 bolt hydro XLXT R2D2 is now the wrong colour. So break with tradition and consider something thats not touted in your face, not sold with this years colours and at a premium, but available in the shimano catalogue for a good price and is a real product for real everyday biking.

let’s hear it for the dull roller brake…hip hip…hurrah


* all mechanical things need looking after, a tube of grease cost about 15 quid and will last bloom’n ages…hub gears and roller brakes are great, give so much back for a little love.

see also https://reallyusefulbikes.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/not-no-maintenance-but-low-maintenance-roller-brakes-an-idiots-guide/

10 thoughts on “dull brakes tradition!

  1. Thank you Rob for your witty and insightful article. I have a gazelle with roller brakes and they are doing just fine over the last almost 12 years. Off late I was finding the brakes becoming less effective and now I realise that they had not been greased for so many years. Will do so quickly. Kudos to roller brakes for being so dependable!

    • A grease every now and then pays dividends…a tube of roller brake grease in about £15, and there are some better shimano brakes out now too if you needed replacements and fancied upgrading…Thanks for your comments. respect to shimano for producing them, even though they don’t shout about it.

  2. I like Shimano roller brakes, I was write impressed with the one I installed on my girlfriend’s rear hub. I’ve been a bit disappointed with what I’ve heard about the power modulator clutch on the front roller hubs, it seems like a good idea but a lot of people have had issues with them. What is your experience with them?

    Drum and roller brakes, fit and forget about it, hardly fitting with the UK bike scene as it stands is it?

    • I know of one broken one on a bakfiets that has had loads of use over many years, but that was a broken/worn out unit and i think a non dynamo nexave unit… I have yet to hear of anyone with any authority to have inconsistant braking from a maintained nexus roller brake. the dynamo equiped nexus bikes i ride can lock up the front wheel if you so wish…..also, and this should not be under estimated or ignored, if you do not grease the roller brake with special roller shimano grease the performance can be either snatchy or very reduced…

  3. Thanks for the article and all the follow up info. You’ve pushed me completely over to world of the roller brake to go with my new nuvinci hub. But I want a sturmey archer drum dynamo on the front and a shimano roller on the back. Are the levers from each company cross compatible?

      • There is actually more choice than you think..not just from SA or shimano…i have a selection here if you mail me. I have or can get most everything for roller brakes or SA drums.

  4. Sorry to be such a bore but I love my Gazelle 700c Esprit particularly because of the 7 gear hub and the Nexus Inter M IM41 roller brakes. Am currently trying to source an e motor for front wheel. Yikes – shut me up quick before I offend a real cyclist!

    • Not sure its a bore to talk of such things. just technically difficult..the roller brakes and dyno hub are not compatible with most electric motors.
      basically you would need to ditch dyno hub, replace brakes with disc or v brake, which would necessitate a new fork…new forks with brake bosses or disc tabs don’t tend to come with 1 inch steerer tube…..and so it goes on. better to invest in a purpose built bike in my opinion. Gazelle do some nice ones.
      good luck with the project…

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