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Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Components 
 

M.A.F.A.C.

Manufacture Auvergnoise de Freins et Assessoires pour Cycle (Manufacturer in the Auvergne of Brakes and Cycle components)

A SHORT HISTORY BY STEVE GRIFFITH: VCC MARQUE ENTHUSIAST 


Ah Mafac?  One senior VCC member remarked when I took on this role?  That steady arrestor of laden bikes and the first brakes that really worked.

I am firmly of the view that Mafac occupy a crucial place in the develop of braking. They developed the first of the modern generation of centre pulls and their design of cantilever provided the foundation for braking on Mountain Bikes.

Mafac brakes are amongst that select band of components that were used by a wide range of cyclists from Tour de France riders, time trialists to tourists and riders of tandems/trikes. Thus almost any lightweight from the early 50's to the mid 80's could be appropriately retro-fitted with Mafacs.

Origins

Established after WWII they were originally known as Securite (the 'r' elongated to underline the word as the  'a' later in Mafac). Under their original name they marketed three out of four of their core products: the cantilever, the brake lever (at this stage without a rubber hood and the blade of solid construction) and the tool kit (in either a metal tin or leather pouch). The name changed in the autumn of 1947 (ref advertisement in Le Cyclist 11/47).   The levers were originally open at the back by the end of the 50's they had become half open (far more comfortable on the hands when riding on the hoods). The brakes were invented by one M Bourdel, the proprietor.
Mafac hoods 250
The rubber hoods originated in the late 1940's first as a half-hood and later as a full-hood. Typically these were black or tan but also came in other colours including white, blue and green. Later the lever with half-hood was known as the 'course' and the full hood the gummed lever.  

They also made a Guidonnet lever (fitted below the flat parts of drop bars), which was popular with tourists, offering access to the brakes from the top of the bars.  These were best used with randonneur bars, which swept up from the centre; with ordinary Maes type bars there was very little distance between lever and bar. The first use of these in Britain I am aware of was in the late 50's when the owner of Major Brothers (a small builder in Thornton Heath, South East London) brought them back from France when he found he could not use a conventional lever with his arthritis.

Cantilevers

The Cantilever was the first Mafac brake developed in 1946 it remained in production almost unchanged for nearly 40 years.   Extremely powerful yet simple and light weight. To use these brakes you needed braze-ons to mount the pivot bolts.  There were a number of versions.   The most common, the Criterium was made in steel as well as alloy with same quick release at one end of the straddle cable as the centre pull.  There was a longer arm more powerful (tandem) version. Mafac made a two-cable brake lever especially for tandems. In the 1977 catalogue there is a short arm model listed called the Jacky.

The Driver made from 1962 to 1967 in a design similar to Top 63 model identified by the ball-type fitting for the cable which has no quick release, a single pivot alloy arm in medium and short arm versions. You cannot adjust straddle cable length (if the straddle is not the correct length it may foul the brake arms).
 
Cantilevers were very popular with Cyclo cross riders (the distinctive profile of the arms at 90 degrees to the forks can be seen in may Cyclo cross pictures), tandems and tourists. They had a special appeal to the rough stuff rider in that they were far less prone to clog up with mud than with a conventional brake.  Some specialist builders fitted the rear braze on facing forward to avoid the arms fouling pannier bags. I have seen this done on Jack Taylor, Tony Oliver and Wester Ross frames.

mafac-cantilevers-s
Full range of Mafac cantilevers and proprietary brake levers (1964)
(Click for larger image)

The importance of this design cannot be overstated, copied by Japanese manufacturers and lead to the development of the Vee Brake so ubiquitous on modern mountain and hybrid bikes. Weinmann also copied these brakes in the 70's until they ceased making a cantilever.

The other huge advantage of these brakes compared to the Resilion cantilever was that they were very easy to set up  They had  a built in  quick release for wheel removal and were multi-adjustable so the correct angle could be obtained for the brake block.

Mafac brake blocks (three, four or five studs) were an excellent balance between being durable, effective and not too hard on rims.

Dural forge /Racer - The classic centre-pull design

Mafac Racer 350In 1952 the Racer centre-pull (left) was introduced.  The earliest reference I have found is in the CTC Gazette November 1952, their review of the Paris show. The advantages of these brakes were many:

a)  Quick release straddle cable giving easy wheel removal
b) Blocks were multi adjustable in both the vertical and horizontal plane. The could also be angled a great advantage when using a rim such as the Constrictor Asp whose braking surfaces were not parallel
c)  Wide drop (50 to 75mm) which could accommodate most frames (brakes were made in two depths achieved by varying the drop on the rear plate).
d)  As the length of the straddle cable could easily altered so could the mechanical advantage of the brake.
e) A consequence of the design of lever clamp was that the lever body could be removed without untaping the bars. A very useful feature if you wanted to swap the hood or tighten up the pivots (which can be done with a few taps of a hammer).
f) Easy to disassembly and service especially if using Mafac tools.


The adverting slogan was: 'braking with one finger sufficient'

The only design weakness was the front brake hanger which was rather flexible and worked best wedged against the top headset race.  This was easy to do with headset such as the Stronglight P4, which had a wide circumference.

The profile of these brakes is very distinctive and even a cursory glance at photos of Tour riders in the 50's and 60's will reveal many to be stopping on Mafacs. I recall once buying a set of Mafacs and asking which model only to be told: 'You know, the ones Anquetil won the Tour on'. 

None of Mafac's competitors, eg. GB, Weinmann and Universal, marketed centre pulls until the late 1950's.

For the rear brake they made an alternative fitting in which the centre bolts fits vertically to the frame. This method was used by many French builders as it gave a neater way of fitting the rear mudguard (without the need for a bridge).

TA made a front bag support that fitted on via the Racer pivot bolts and under the fork crown. Some specialist French builders offered brazed on versions of these brakes using a cut down cantilever boss. This reduced flexing with the top end of the spring acting directly onto the frame instead of the back plate.

In the late 1960's they acquired red plastic bushings and the stamping 'dural forge' was replaced by 'Racer'.  I have seen Racers stamped 'dural forge' but with the red plastic bushings. This would seem to be a transitional version (late 60's early 70's) before they moved to stamping them 'Racer'.  These were also made in black anodised versions in the 1970's.  Final versions of the Racer do not have the model name on the stirrups and are merely stamped 'Mafac'.  In the 1970's a longer arm version was introduced, the 'Raid' (reach 60 to 85 mm).

Mafac TigerDevelopment : The Tiger and Top 63

The main innovation was around 1960 when the Tiger brake (left) was introduced the arms were set further apart to provide increased leverage and the straddle cable was re-designed and became fixed in length.

The lower end of the spring now fitted in the stirrup arms instead of against the brake shoe holder. The brake shoe could not be moved up and down only angled dramatically reducing the drop range. Mafac recognised this as a problem so they elongated the centre bolt hole to allow some vertical adjustment.


Mafac Top 63This brake was further developed into the Top 63 (right) introduced in that year.  According to the Holdsworthy Aids for 1964 this brake:
"A development from the earlier Tiger, this has the man carrying arms formed by two mouldings which are bolted together and the frame via a curved slot. One arm slides into the other allowing the stirrup to be opened and supplies the vertical adjustment needed to align the blocks to the rim. There is no up or down movement of the blocks"

This was not a commercial success partly because it was quite complex to set up and did not offer better braking that the Racer. It was more expensive 75/- compared to 59/-. By the mid 1960's both these brakes were dropped from their product range.

Their rarity makes them prized by collectors. An interesting example of a manufacturer having to abandon innovation and revert to their original product, the Racer, which was made until their demise in the mid 80's. A parallel example being Sturmey Archer giving up on the SW and reverting to the AW in the late 1950's.

For more on Mafac - MAFAC II