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Give Me a Brake
One-handed bicycle braking solution provides control and safety for police officers
By Jim Chliboyko
Policing is the type of job where you need as many hands
as you can get - especially for those operating a bicycle as part of their duties.
Of course, aside from any sudden advances in genetic engineering, the average human
being is stuck with only two hands. The solution, then, is to give those two hands
less to do, or, at the very least allow them to used more efficiently.
This is the thinking behind Brake Director, a one-handed bicycle power braking solution invented by Seattlites David Krafchick and David Hawkins. While most bicycles have two-handed braking — the front brakes are controlled by one hand, the rear brakes with the other — bicycles equipped with Brake Director require only one hand for both front and back. And it only needs the usual amount of force normally used to apply both the front and back brakes simultaneously.
For Hawkins and Krafchick, it’s been a
16-plus-year endeavor. It initially started out as an attempt to develop a braking
solution for disabled riders, or simply for people who didn’t have full use of both
hands. One of those ‘disabled’ riders happened to be Krafchick himself, who has
a weak right side due to complications of a subdural hematoma he suffered as an
infant. The motivation came a few years later.
“I was seeing a girl who rode a bicycle, and she and I went from shop to shop to shop,” says Krafchick. His inquiries led him to the door of transplanted Californian David Hawkins, who had been professionally involved with bicycles for years, by that point, and they soon set about developing a one-handed braking solution. The current iteration of Brake Director is the tenth prototype; Krafchick has personally tested them all.
“The limitations market is just one side of the market,” says Hawkins. Another potential market is for organizations, which actively use bikes, like police, for example.
Krafchick continues, “In a couple of cases when I’ve shown the Brake Director to bike police in Seattle, for five-minute rides, they say, ‘This is cool. We’ve never seen that before.’”
For the technically
curious out there, the solution works -- according to the company website -- by “installing
the output cable from the single lever to a varied ratio cam. The cam multiplies
the force up to double and operates a dual output differential, which distributes
100 percent of the created force to the brakes via two cables. Each brake is thus
supplied with more than the standard force of a single hand.”
It can be installed
on any existing cable-operated brake solution. For those nervous at the prospect,
there is a Basic Installation video on www.brakedirector.com.
A Brake Director solution can be installed for either the right or the left brake lever, a setup that received positive response from the police. The main unit, except for the cables, weighs only 2.5 ounces and, according to the inventors, has some other benefits, too.
Officer Chris Bowling of the West Precinct Seattle Bike Police in a staged apprehension from a bicycle equipped with the Brake Director. It allows him to brake with one hand and arrest with the other.
allows the brakes to balance each other, which prevents skidding and yet give you
the feeling of using the brakes effectively,” says Hawkins, who does the final assemblies
Amongst the potential benefits of such a solution is safety. Ask anyone who has experimented with his or her own bicycle; squeezing one set of brakes too strongly can lead to some interesting and rather spontaneous stunt work, like an unplanned trip over your own handlebars. As well, for anyone who needs to make sudden and urgent stops, it may prevent the type of clumsiness that might occur if someone is, say, attempting to brake while also talking into a radio.
“A very controlled stop with a free hand would be a great advantage to have. It’s making the stop very controlled. It’s similar to an ABS system in practice,” says Hawkins.
But it’s not just available in the U.S. It’s been an international effort, right from the beginning. Their first unit was sold in England, and they’ve since shipped units out to France, up north to Canada and places in between. Back home, Krafchick and Hawkins have their eye on particular markets.
“In the south, bicycle police are active year-round,”
They are also openly courting the law enforcement market with discounts on the solutions for police officers and a deeper discount for members of the International Police Mountain Bike Association. The pair may be also benefiting from good timing, especially in the wake of record oil prices.
“With the gas prices being as high as they are we’re hearing rumors about how police departments are looking to put more patrol officers on bicycles instead of regular patrol vehicles,” says Hawkins.
Though it has been a long wait and a long journey already, it’s not over yet for the two.
“We’re still in the first few years of business development. It’s steadily growing. Both David and I made the commitment that we take the time to make something that actually works,” says Hawkins.
“Even today, there are different solutions, but there is nothing like us,” says Krafchick.
Read a Brake Director testimonial from a police officer
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