13 July 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Campagnolo Mirage LP linear pull brakeset

For whatever reason, I've never had great luck pairing cantilever brakes with drop bar levers. Coming from the mountain bike world, I know what kind of modulation and power properly set up canti's can provide. On my 'cross bike, however, I've just never felt the love. For a time, I ran Shimano V-brakes with a cable pull-amplifying cam- that worked alright but was heavy and (more importantly) looked awful. When my 'crosser was reborn as a fixed gear commuter, I decided to do things "right"and splurge on a set of sexy Paul Neo Retro and Touring cantilevers- which were plain awful. For a time, I went retro with some beautiful Control Tech cantilevers, but soon tired of the lack of power and dead-raising squeal, so set out to find the perfect 'cross bike brake.

For those of us working at bike shops in the mid-1990s, the introduction and popularization of Shimano's V-Brake linear-pull brakes was the best thing ever. While canti's could be set up to work powerfully and quietly, getting them to that point was often a nightmare. The process involved multiple tools, perhaps the flap torn from a tube box, bloody knuckles, cursing and what felt like hours sucked into a brake dust-filled black hole. By contrast, V-brakes required a 5mm Allen key and were almost impossible to set up incorrectly. Their frame-flexing power was amazing, as was the fact that mechanical advantage increased with cable pull rather than the other way 'round. Their requiring low-leverage brake levers, however meant that their use with high-leverage road brake levers was out of the question.

Somewhere along the line, someone realized that there were two ways to make linear pull brakes work with road levers: increase the levers' cable pull (with special levers or the sort of cam mentioned above) or by shortening the brakes' arms. Seeing as road and cyclocross tires are much lower profile than the mountain tires for which V-Brakes were designed, there was plenty of room to shorten the arms without running into the tire. Several companies (Shimano and Tektro among them) have worked out the magic formula and are now making linear pull brakes to work with normal road bike levers.

Pricing my options, it was soon clear that cheap brakes wouldn't do. While its hard to make a bad V-brake, these brakes would be on my fixed-gear commuter, a bike assembled around the idea of minimal maintenance. With the idea of leaving them on the bike indefinitely, I opted to go with Campagnolo's Mirage LP brakeset. The thought was that any additional cost ($70/set vs. $40 for Tektro's RX5) at the outset would be offset by reduced noise and longer life. At least that's what I told myself- the reality is that I wanted Campy brakes.

Because I have a limited production, handbuilt frame, nothing mounts up as easily as it should. The rear brake bosses are far to widely spaced while those on the Ritchey Hakkalugi fork are far too close. As a result, the stock Campagnolo pads got thrown in the parts drawer in favor of some Kool Stop thinline v-brake pads in the front and Avid cartridge pads (with added spacers) in the rear. 99% of properly built bikes won't have this problem, so don't worry. I only mention this because I have no way of knowing if the Campagnolo pads are awful or would have blown my mind, if they're silent or make the bike howl like a banshee. Weird bike issues aside, setup was straightforward. Cable housing was not included (something I take for granted as a Shimano customer), but being able to do away with both seat clamp and steerer tube cable stops cleaned up the bike's looks and allowed me to lower my handlebars to their rightful place.

Over the past six months, the Mirage LP's have been perfect. Their power is much better than either the Control Tech or Paul cantis' and I no longer need to choose between quiet and stopping (or attempting to). There looks to be enough clearance to run low-profile mudguards or 40c tires, which would make them ideal for both commuting and touring. Linear brakes tend to provide a bit less clearance between pads and the rim than canti's, so 'cross riders in muddier areas might run into a bit of trouble on nasty days. For anyone else looking to make their 'cross or touring bike stop as well as a modern mountain or road bike, the Campy's are perfect. Neither the Mirage LP brakes nor the polished Veloce versions are on Campagnolo's website, so get 'em while they're still around.




Bob H. said...

Any idea where to find Mirage LP brakes? Looked around a bit here in Chicago, and on interwebs, and can't locate any for sale.

bikefix said...


Not sure if you're striking out there- you can try saving a search on eBay- make sure you've ticked the location box for "worldwide"... Good luck,


Bob H. said...

Thanks. I appreciate the tip.