When specialist bicycle components manufacturer Modolo threw their hat into the fiery furnace of professional race components manufacturing during the late 1970's, their "Professional" model race brake was an instant success. The appearance of the Modolo "Professional" race brake at the Paris and Milan shows of 1977 first cemented Modolo's new reputation. In 1984 the same brake was still being manufactured alongside an ever increasing lineup of new models, some produced to suit modest budgets. Other Modolo variants were purely designed to appeal to riders with a strong commitment to aesthetics, the Speedy Piet Mondrian inspired La Vie Claire model fitted this design brief squarely. If Modolo's galvanic reputation was built on their Professional side pull brakes, then the antithesis of the Professional's success was the Kronos. Some dogmatic velo aficionado's believe that Modolo's Kronos Time Trial brakes might as well be destined for cycling's showcase of horrors, mated up perfectly for display in the same cabinet as Campagnolo's C-Record Delta's.
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Modolo brakes were a favourite for many passionate bike riders who were looking for an alternative and efficient braking system. One Modolo bike aficionado is Ben Smith, we featured Ben's meticulously restored Motorola Eddy Merckx MX Leader earlier this year. Now we have on show Ben's entire Modolo brake collection featuring all the top models from Modolo's halcyon days. Lasting about a decade from 1977 Modolo's high end brake sets were used by many professional riders, it's this period that Ben's collection covers. By the 1990's Modolo focused their attention on handlebar and stem production, as a result the array of classic styled Modolo race brakes which Ben Smith has collected, gives us a comprehensive view into a single decade of unique manufacture.
Modolo's strength was founded on a commitment to developing prototypes, here's how it started, their products and Ben's Modolo brake collection.
Modolo As An Industrial Enterprise with a dedicated prototype Race Department
"We Start By Stopping - Brakes are the dominant motif of the brand - Total Control - World Champion"
The success of Modolo's braking systems began in 1976 when Domenico Modolo joined his father's well established company. It was Domenico Modolo's degree in mechanical engineering, and his desire to work with the latest technological advancements that drove forward the Modolo production facility in a quest for technical perfection.
Under Domenico Modolo's instruction a lot of the work was still done by hand, like hand finishing and polishing of components. Alongside traditional processes computers were used to seek ever greater tolerances, remember computer aided design might be common place today, but back then this was a big thing. The first project which exemplified this approach was the development of the Professional brake model, after it's successful release to the public in 1977 at the Milan and Paris exhibitions, limited production was slowly increased to meet demand. The original design of the Professional brake was so successful, it was never changed.
From a description aimed at the bike trade in a 1985 Modolo Catalogue -
"MODOLO to-day, is a well organised company employing professionals, responsible at all levels, with constant quality controls. These controls numbering no less than 62 in the production cycle, are programmed automatically by computer systems.
Laboratory analysis is very complete, taking into consideration the analysis of the material composition, the matallographic studies-evaluating the structural strength of the metals used, as well as electronic control of the protective coating, including dimensional optical or electronic checks. The whole equipment is very sophisticated, guaranteeing safety with a high standard of performance. MODOLO Brakes for this reason are the only ones carrying a Certificate of Guarantee.
The production cycle is a complete one; from the lever to the smallest part of the brake: for the mechanical manufacture of the thermal treatment, from the finishing to the smallest screw or bolt, to the mounting and final packaging.
Included in the factory is an especially well equipped department with the most modern and sophisticated machines working in conjunction with the technical department to produce and improve output.
A special prototype section alongside the R and D office directed by Mr. Domenico Modolo, works, testing, improving and inventing brakes, using the counsels and ideas of the specialists following the championship teams who further the progress of cycle racing."
Modolo Kronos the pure Racing Prototype
The standout model from the Modolo prototype division was the Modolo Kronos braking system, a pure prototype, created solely for the advancement of research into materials, design, functionality and performance. For this reason only 3,000 units were produced.
Some say the Kronos, limited edition, lightweight aero TT brake was a failure. Roberto Visentini won the last stage of the 1983 Tirreno Adriatico, for G.S Inoxpran using Kronos levers and calipers. In reality the Kronos probably doesn't deserve the reputation as a Modolo failure. Modolo stated at the time that "The Kronos is an experimental brake series, with a limited production for the purpose of promoting new lines and solving problems. Kronos is in fact a … prototype". Kronos brakes were specifically designed for time trial racing, the key experimental concepts being aerodynamics and weight. Kronos brakes were deliberately designed to be "soft", the goal being high corner speed.
Modolo Orion budget priced Aero Race Components
The Kronos lineup included a down tube gear shift lever in special alloy, which in 1983 was also produced in a lightweight carbon fibre version. Complimenting the Kronos components Modolo supplied an economical version of brake and shift levers which they called "Orion". White Orion brake levers were aerodynamic in design and supplied with light grey brake hoods. Orion shift levers were constructed of reinforced glass resin and supplied in a nylon bag, no fancy packaging. In 1986 a pair of Kronos levers were 82.400 lire from the factory, compared to just 38.260 lire for Orion levers.
Modolo Master Pro a Super Transmission
The success of the Professional model was followed up in 1983 with a new flagship pro brake, Modolo's "Master Pro". Modolo's prototype department worked closely with professional teams implementing feedback from top pro riders and team mechanics. Modolo documentation of 1983 reveals that the Master Pro brakes were " A practical study proving it's validity: a Formula One in miniature, passing all the season's tests and now in production."
Professional racing teams were using Modolo Master Pro brakes, in 1983 ten pro teams raced with Master Pro's fitted to their machines. Greg Lemond won the world championship at Altenrhein using a set of Modolo Master Pro brakes for the G.S Renault Elf Gitane team, also in 1983 Laurent Fignon won the Tour de France and Bernard Hinalut won the Vuelta Espania, all on Modolo Master Pro's. It was clear that by 1983 Domenico Modolo's experimental prototype division had captured the attention of anyone who's interest was winning races and required a braking system that was equal to the task.
"Other tests have been made on the transmissions and from them have emerged a super transmission, supplying full braking potential without weakening it's elasticity. The testing of the oxidation treatment of the brake levers and brackets (the first time in the world) has been a tremendous success because of the greater rigidity obtained (film of 100 microns of hard oxide) there is a total absence of wear and an incredible resistance to scratching : this especially with levers in a fall. Titanium pins pressed and treated have reached a point guaranteeing maximum safety in every situation to the advantage of weight. The separation of the brake brackets in self-lubricating bronze have a "flash" in 24k gold to ensure against external corrosion."
You could buy a set of Master Pro Brakes from the factory in 1986 for 295.180 lire, the most expensive brakes on Modolo's price list.
Modolo Super Prestige
At the opposite end of the spectrum to the Corsa (Modolo's ugliest and lowest priced brake set), were Super Prestige Modolo's, coated in white teflon with gold detailing using the 919 anatomical hoods. A high end brake set for discerning riders who were after a particular look which came together with performance. Modolo described Super Prestige brakes as "A special series". Super Prestige brakes were the second most expensive on the list at 236.900 lire in 1986.
Modolo Professional the original Winner
By the mid 1980's, Modolo had an extensive range of brake sets available, and their facility at Sarano di Santa di Lucia di Piave (Trevisio) was pumping out 300,000 complete pairs of brakes annually. (Later at Via Conegliano, 96, Susegana Trevisio) All components and small parts were manufactured in house. In 1985 Modolo still produced the "Professional" model, if you were a keen racing cyclist with some cash, you could weigh up the benefits of choosing either Professional, Master Pro or Super Prestige brakes. Modolo maintained that the Professional was unchanged from 1977, yet it did receive a slight mid 1980's upgrade with "transmissions" derived from the 1983 Master Pro and now with Synterised D-0015 blocks. Available on the 1986 price guide in silver, black, gold red and blue.
"It is the first brake (Professional) produced by MODOLO, so perfect that to-day, it is still identical to the original, having successfully passed years of testing by many professional international teams. The finish, beauty and harmony as well as it's technical superiority make it the "rolls" of the brakes. Every little part is hand brushed by competent labour."
Professional brakes in 1986 at the Modolo factory cost 205.180 lire.
Available for 1985 was a new budget model, the "Equipe", fashioned after the Master Pro "but at a very competitive price". Equipe Modolo brakes stole the hard anodised anthracite grey look of the Master Pro combined with white anatomical hoods, supplied with synterised D-005 brake blocks. A good choice if you wanted the looks and performance characteristics of the Pro Model, but without the big price tag. Factory price in 1986 105.650 lire
A budget version of Modolo Super Prestige, Modolo Team brakes were also coated in white teflon and had gold detailing. Factory price in 1986 104.035 lire
Modolo Speedy also designated at the factory as "Speedy Stratos"
Modolo "Speedy" brakes had already been established as a budget racing model in the early 1980's, available in a range of colours, black, silver, red, blue and gold. (Red or Blue were produced "on demand" if sufficient quantities were ordered). Speedy's came with pantographed levers, by 1985 fitted with D-0015 blocks and light forged, hand brushed calipers. Factory price in 1986 83.850 lire.
Modolo designated the black coloured Speedy's as a supplemented colour for an additional cost of 5.510 lire, or the other supplemented colours of red and blue could be supplied for an extra 11.125 lire.
Modolo Speedy Piet Mondrian - La vie Claire
If you thought of yourself as a velo fashionista, then the Speedy Piet Mondrian, also known as the La vie Claire was your ticket. When La vie Claire racing team adopted Piet Mondrian styled imagery for their team graphics, Modolo followed suit with a Piet Mondrian coloured brake set.
Modolo Speedy Max Identical styling to the Speedy Piet Mondrian except for the graphics. You've got to take a second look at Modolo Speedy Max's when they are sitting in the box next to the Piet Mondrian's they're that similar, separated only by the blue, green and red variation on the graphics.
Modolo Flash in "Normal" or "Stratos" silver
Another budget model conceived in the early 1980's was the "Flash", "These are brakes for the exacting cycle amateur." Featuring forged alloy calipers and rubber blocks that lasted a whole six months, not the expensive synterised blocks, thus cutting costs - "The blocks are special rubber and lasts six months." Flash levers were pantographed, and the brakeset was available in Oxidised Brilliant Silver or a slightly more expensive "Stratos Silver" version. Factory price Stratos Silver 52.580 Factory price Normal 50.425
Modolo Sporting two models Standard "Sporting America" and "Sporting"
Modolo Sporting America an up-spec version of the Sporting model, some were teflon coated white like the team and Super Prestige brakes but with black instead of gold graphics. Another America version was similar to the basic Sporting model, finished in a forged silver finish, but with the word America painted in black. The basic model did not have a painted finish to the pantographed details. Factory price 42.615 lire. Sporting America's also came in a black anodised version, for an extra cost at the factory of 2.940 lire.
Modolo Sporting. Even more economical on your wallet was Modolo's "Sporting" brakeset. Standard Sporting Modolo's featuring forged and oxidised brilliant silver calipers, rubber blocks and a shock absorbing pure rubber hoods, which were not of an anatomical design like the high end Modolo pro race brake sets. The club racer version supplied "Only in Silver" and presented in an "Elegant plastic box." Factory price 31.580 lire
Suitable for beginners, the "Corsa" was equipped with one important feature - safety, Corsa's looking very agricultural compared to the pro models. Rough untreated forged light alloy calipers, no hand polishing here, delivered in a - "Box with loose parts, Special Industrial Packaging." If you ordered 100 pairs of Corsa brakes you could have them for 17.100 lire per pair. They could be supplied with quick release for an extra 890 lire per pair. Black or gum coloured brake hoods were an extra 3.240 lire.
A mid 1980's addition, Modolo Race brakes were finished in a battleship grey anodised colour with red graphics and grey anatomic rubber hoods. Some collectors believe that the Race brakes were composed of a Magnesium alloy. Another Modolo brake which looks very similar, with grey and red graphics was the Flyer.
Other miscellaneous additions included the Modolo Cross again Modolo teamed up with the best racers in the business to produce a cyclo cross brake. There was also a collaboration with Colnago-Ferrari where a hydraulic brake system was created. Later Modolo introduced the MACH 1, 2 and 3,ALX 90,X Setra which included stems and bars, and the MasterSLK 30 and 90 "Super Titanium" and in 1992 Sachs New Success.
Two other innovations stand out for Modolo, first the 919 "Hand Rest" or brake hood.
919 Anatomical Hand Rests
"Patented "919" ANATOMICAL HANDRESTS These special shock absorbers in pure rubber are equipped in the top series of the Modolo brakes. These are product of a "medical sports-study", giving perfect comfort on account of their shock absorbing features and their special internal cavity. It's anatomical form permits cycle control with full command, since the design takes the form of the mould of the hand." 919 Patented Anatomical Modolo Handrests were available in natural gum rubber, white, grey and black.
D . 0015 Syneterised Brake Blocks
The second Modolo innovation mentioned earlier, was the modolo D . 0015 Synterised brake block. These were quite a revelation when they were first introduced in the early 1980's. At the time Campagnolo brake blocks had a strong reputation as a strong performer, yet a lot of racing cyclists swapped out their campag blocks or whatever else they were using for these new synterised Modolo blocks. Modolo Synterised blocks were claimed to provide greater stopping power, especially in the wet. I was racing in Switzerland at the time and used the synterised blocks at various times, they were better in the wet.
1983 September D 0015 Synterised pads released, in conjunction with Greg Lemond's Altenrhein World Championship win. Modolo's literature on their compressed syntered powder blocks explained,
"In 1983 experiments were conducted with synterised powder blocks of diverse formulae giving unbelievable results (Formula D-0015) now mounted on the brakes in series."
Modolo claim also that they were the first syntered brake blocks produced without rubber or asbestos.
Production of Modolo brake sets ended when the concept of fitting out bikes with entire groupsets from one manufacturer became more common place. From the 1990's Modolo produced mainly cockpit parts, bars and stems.
"When the fashion of groupsets, especially from the Japanese manufacturers, Shimano and SunTour, supplanted the traditional system of specifying components individually."
In 1998 Modolo produced a real candidate for the cycling showcase of horrors the Modolo Morphos shift /brake lever. Modolo should have left their range of beautiful 1980's brakes to stand alone in history. Intended to compliment group sets from both Campagnolo and Shimano, the Morphos universal brake / shift lever was a monumental fail, and Modolo has sold mainly cockpit parts since then.
The Morphos shift lever project, even though it failed, highlights what was great about the Modolo company and their high end braking components. A philosophy of producing experimental prototypes, created from technical research combined with feedback from professional riders and their mechanics, resulted in superior braking systems that not only performed well but looked great too.
At the beginning I wrote, "Some dogmatic velo aficionado's believe that Modolo's Kronos Time Trial brakes might as well be destined for cycling's showcase of horrors, mated up perfectly for display in the same cabinet as Campagnolo's C-Record Delta's." Without companies likeModolo and Campagnolo, pushing the boundaries with aesthetics, materials, aerodynamics, and performance goals, we would not have access to these beautiful, albeit experimental components. Besides, bike collectors worldwide salivate at the sight of a shiny NOS pair of Delta's or Kronos brakes, tucked away neatly in an unopened box!
Modolo Brake Milestones
1952 Modolo Company founded by Adamo Modolo in Santa Lucia di Piave, producing steel brake levers. 1975 Modolo components had been mounted on more than one million bicycles 1976 Domenico Modolo, Adamo's son joins Modolo. Up to then Modolo had only been know for steel parts and accessories. Domenico brought with him a degree in mechanical engineering, he then applied himself to using technogical advancements and precision engineering to drive the company forward. 1977 Modolo showed off their Professional model at the Milan show, the Professional model a world first incorporated a self lubricating Teflon housing. Original silver model was followed by black, gold, blue and red. Special tempered and forged alloy, made to tight manufacturing tolerances in the order of hundredths of a millimetre. 1979 Speedy and Flash brakes introduced 1980 Aero Kronos carbon resin levers introduced. 1981 Kronos lightweight centre pull brakes. Limited to a production run of 3,000. The Kronos was the precursor to Modolo's hydraulic system, designed in collaboration with the "Colnago-Ferrari" bike project. 1982 Modolo introduced an anatomic grip called the "919", plus Equipe, Sporting, America, Flyer and Team models. 1983 Master Pro model which featured titanium bolts, anthracite hard anodized calipers, white lever hoods, ball bearings.
September D 0015 Synterized pads released, in conjunction with Greg Lemond’s Altenrhein World Championship win. Modolo’s litarature explained, “In 1983 experiments were conducted with synterized powder blocks of diverse formulae giving unbelievable results (Formula D-0015) now mounted on the brakes in series.”
1988 Mach 1,2,3, ALX 90 Late 1980's "When the fashion of groupsets, especially from the Japanese manufacturers, Shimano and SunTour, supplanted the traditional system of specifying components individually." The complete brake systems that Modolo built their reputation on, went out of favor with cycling aficionado's. Afterwards Modolo concentrated on handlebars and stems. 1990 Master SLK 90, "Super Titanium". 1992 Sachs New Success In 1998 a hybrid brake lever system called Morphos was destined for the Cycling Showcase of Horrors
Below are some highlights of Ben Smith's Modolo brake collection. All photographs by Robert Cobcroft, with thanks to Echelon Sports for use of their warehouse as a temporary photo studio. A big thanks to Ben Smith for allowing me to photograph his Modolo brake collection which includes his collection of Modolo paraphernalia, detailed factory price guides, catalogues and books. I had extensively referenced Ben's archive to collate all of this information in one place.
Want lots more stuff on Modolo, catalogue, price guides and a quick reference guide here.