|In the late 1980s, at a time when
Campagnolo was still hanging on to their woefully outdated derailleur
designs and losing the technological battle to Shimano and Suntour, a
new component line was introduced. Dubbed "C-Record,"
this gruppo was perhaps the pinnacle of Campagnolo's fanatical devotion to
Perhaps the most unique component on the new C-Record gruppo (released in 1986) was the Delta brakeset, named for the shape of the housing covering the complex inner mechanism. Inside the housing was an articulated parallelogram mechanism that moved the brake shoes toward the rim by expanding outward and pushing one the upper portion of the brake arms.
(Note: Although Delta brakes were first sold in 1986, they were originally shown to the public in 1984--for about an hour. Prototype Deltas were unveiled at a trade show that year, but were quickly taken down and removed from public viewing.) According to one account, only three sets of prototypes were made; two remain in private hands, the third is owned by Campagnolo.
The Delta brakeset (later offered in both the C-Record and Croce d'Aune gruppos) offered--in theory--the great stopping power offered by the mechanical advantage of the internal mechanism. (Read our road test below) In practice, the first year's production run was a disaster--the cable clamping mechanism would fail, and the brakes would of course stop working! (As a replacement while this glitch was solved, Campagnolo introduced the "Cobalto" brakeset, which was basically a Super Record brakeset with a blue stone set in the recess of a mounting nut swapped out from the lower-priced Triomphe brakes. The Cobalto brakeset ended up hanging around for several years and remains a prized collectible piece.)
Regardless of their inauspicious beginnings, the Deltas were a marvel to behold. Pick up a pair, and you'll find careful hand polishing in places where all that hard work is almost impossible to see. The underside of the brake body--the part that faces the tire--is polished, as are the insides of the brake arms. It's an amazing piece of workmanship that is not matched by even the Record groupset of today, and it puts to shame the finish of virtually every modern Campy gruppo. See the photos below for closeups.
Updated 1-17-01--Reader John Carrier added to our Delta timeline . . .Not counting Croce d'Aune, there were 5 variations of the Delta. The first (recalled) lacked stainless guts ... they corroded quickly and were withdrawn. The second had knurled adjustments and adjustable mechanical advantage levers. The third went to the conical adjusters and slightly improved mech advantage. The fourth went to black rubber trim (and I think the availability of Ergo ... standard levers lost the adjustment and dual routing option). The fifth with yet again more mechanical advantage (and definitely the Ergo option, standard levers were no longer adjustable). Around version 4 or 5 they introduced a second set of thicker orbital spacers so you could run narrow rims. (See the photos below for examples of early (CDA) and later linkages)
They were difficult to adjust ... God help you if you lost the 3.5 allen wrench. I manufactured a tool for final cable adjustment. Stopping power was fair, but easily modulated. I can lock the brakes, but it takes more effort than my dual pivots. Worn out pads can create problems ... you can run out of brake. They're heavy. They're beautiful. C-Record wasn't particularly light, but it had the some stunning pieces ... no Crank comes close to the lines of a C-Record.
One other interesting aspect of the these brakes--indicative of Campagnolo's tradition-bound decisions of the day--was the brake levers. For the C-Record group, Campagnolo switched from gum rubber lever hoods to white rubber, and changed the design of the levers from perforations to diagonal grooves. But even though aero brake cable routing was becoming the rage, Campagnolo decided to let the user decide whether to have the cables erupt from the tops of the levers in non-aero style or go under the bar tape. In fact, these levers even allow you to run the brake cable along the front or back of the bars--quite a range of options.
Delta brakes and the C-Record group lasted only a few years. Campagnolo eventually revamped their component line, introducing a working indexing system and the new Record, Chorus, and other groups. Deltas, however, remain a striking addition to even a modern Campy-equipped machine.
The Campy Only Road Test
We mounted a pair of Croce d'Aune Deltas on the Campy Only Bianchi in the Fall of 2002. We managed to find a NOS (New Old Stock) pair that had never been mounted on a bike in the 15 or so years since they had been introduced. We are using them with a set of Daytona (now Centaur) Ergo levers, since we didn't want to ditch Ergo shifting to get these brakes . . .
Mechanics reportedly didn't like Delta brakes, and it's easy to see why once you have attempted to install the brake cables. While standard brakes have the cable clamping mechanism out in the open where it's easy to see and work with, the Deltas put all of this inside. The cable is routed in from the top and into a slot; a small allen screw then clamps down onto the cable, holding it in place. Simple enough, but what to do with the extra cable? You can't fit most cutters into the small space inside the housing . . . we ended up getting everything set, marking the cable, removing it, cutting it to length, and reinstalling. All in all, a real pain in the a**.
Then there's that small allen screw. It's just one of many well-thought-out parts on these brakes. On the side that clamps down on the cable, there's a rotating flat part so that the rotation of the screw as it is tightened doesn't twist the cable. A real nice touch.
But . . . for some unknown reason, Campagnolo's engineers decided to use a 3.5mm screw in that spot. We dare you to try to find a 3.5mm allen key. We tried several local sources, including the largest metric tool house in Sacramento, and found nothing. A search on the internet was similarly fruitless. We even called up Park Tools, where the nice guy on the phone just chuckled when we told him what we were looking for. Nope, not even Park Tools makes (or ever made) a 3.5mm allen key. He advised taking a 19/64-inch allen key (which is easily available) and filing it down carefully until it fits. We did that, and it works, but we could hear the distant curses of those mechanics, scrounging around for a weird allen key . . .
Updated 1-17-02--Several readers have pointed out that Campagnolo provided a 3.5mm allen key (engraved "Campagnolo") with the brakes. In later versions, the clamping bolt was changed to a 4mm, and the special key was no longer needed. Thanks to David Hunter of Atlanta (who has a few extra 3.5's laying around, for volunteering to send one for the Campy Only tool kit.
The next step in setup-aligning the brake shows--is made easier by a marvelously complex set of brake shoe holders. The Delta brakeset presaged the much simpler modern brake shoe setup (now made with a ball-and-socket adjustment) by allowing a combination of rotation to match the rim shape with a toe-in adjustment made by two tiny allen screws. These screws (one each in front of and behind the mounting bolt) push on a plate that sits behind the rubber brake shoes--adjust the screw in, and that part of the brake shoe moves toward the rim. It's a complex system with too many tiny parts, but it works.
If you like, you can at this point also take advantage of a unique feature of the Deltas--the ability to move the entire caliper assembly up and down on the pivot bolt. If your frame has a little extra tire clearance, for example, you can move the brake body closer to the tire. This keeps the effective length of the brake arm as low as possible, helping make the brakes that much more solid.
And a final word about adjustment and setup . . . Delta brakes like to be run loose. The mechanical advantage of the mechanism increases as the brake arms move more, so it's best to start loose. We run our Deltas with the brake shoes about 3mm from the rims--about twice the distance of a dual-pivot brakeset. It took some trial and error to figure this out, but the brakes work much better this way.
And how do they work? We would put their performance about midway between old Super Record/Nuovo Record brakes and modern dual-pivots (or even Differential brakes). They work, and they will stop you, but not with the sheer stopping power of dual pivots. We're a little nervous using them on steep, technical descents, but the style points gained by having them on the bike outweighs those concerns. While pure stopping power is somewhat lower, modulation (the ability to control braking power) is perhaps better. The Deltas' stopping power is more progressive, starting light and getting stronger as the brake arms move toward the rim. Reader Chris Ashley flatly calls Deltas "the best brakes for pack riding any one has ever made."
Why don't they work better? As noted above, the mechanical insides give these brakes a theoretical advantage. Perhaps it's the relatively small brake pads (smaller than SR/NR) that's to blame. One reader tells us that he uses modern, larger brake pads and gets improved performance.
A word about weight--these brakes have it. Compared to a set of Record Differential brakes, Croce d'Aune Deltas are real anchors. Our digital scale says the Delta calipers weigh a full 18 ounces (510 grams), about 7.1 ounces heavier than current Record brakes. The Record version of the Delta was lighter--reader Phil Grizic of South Africa weighed his at 14.8 ounces (415 grams), not that much more than modern dual-pivot brakes. Says Phil, "I have been riding them for the last 10 years and they are fantastic - yes a bit heavy on the hands but you get used to that. I would not change them for anything."
Once again, concentrate on the style points and forget about how heavy these things are. Says reader Rob Sallnow, "I still use my Delta brakes (I have 3 pairs!) with my otherwise full 2001 Record setup. I have no plans to change that. Its the Deltas that get all the attention from other cyclists I meet."
Reader Stuart Laing offers these thoughts on Deltas:
Set up: I had the aero brake levers with the 3mm adjuster in the center for the longest time. These worked very well with the delta's. When the Synth brake shoes came out, I put them in both my Delta and Cobalto brakes. They really helped out a great deal. Also, you have to set the Delta brakes slightly slack to allow the arms to pull in. These were slacker than my delta's.
I then got some of the first ergopowers in the country and got rid of the aero levers and used the ergo's with Delta brakes up until a few years ago when I sold the bike. Using Synth brake shoes worked very well. Never a problem. You have to keep the cable inside the brake short, this is hard to do with some cable cutters. How I fixed this problem was to take the wheel out after I hooked them up and pulled the brake all the way in. The 4mm screw was a bit hard to get used to tightening but you use a 10mm spanner against the brake and that is solved.
Have you used Delta brakes? Email us with your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org