What Are Suicide Brakes? (Beginners Guide)

What Are Suicide Brakes

Many bicycle owners today have little idea what suicide brakes are; some even get a little uneasy at the name.

Suicide brakes, however, have their uses and several people enjoy them. It is called that for a reason, though.

Suicide brakes are nicknames for extension pulls or safety levers because they produce little braking power. The levers aren’t pulling on the brakes directly but on a mechanism that pulls the brakes. It, therefore, produces a less effective stopping power than the primary brakes. 

What are Suicide Brakes on a Car?

What Are Suicide Brakes

Suicide Brakes in cars are quite different from their bicycle counterparts.

They’re called the single master pot cylinder and are the most basic type of master cylinder. Its structure is comparable to a plastic medical syringe. 

In this mechanism, the plunger pistons are pushed into the cylinders by the brake pedal lever.

Subsequently, the plunger returns to its original position when the brake pedals release with the help of springs inside the cylinder.

It results in fluid flow through the lines and into the slave cylinder.

Single master pot cylinders are suicide brakes because they’re unpredictable and could break down or fail at any time.

Many people have complained of crashing their vehicles due to brake failure of the single master pot cylinders.

Some have experienced rupture of their brake lines even after proper maintenance.

Single master pot cylinders are pretty old and have been around long before dual master pot cylinders came.

However, some people do fine with the so-called “suicide brakes” and have very few complaints.

They attribute this success to constant checks and maintenance practices. Incorporating the dual master pot cylinders in place of the single master pot cylinders is advised.

It is because they’re safer and are less likely to break down or fail, unlike the single master pot cylinders.

In situations where they do, you can still initiate your brake enough to bring your car to a stop before making repairs.

Suicide Brake Levers…Does Anyone Still Use Them?

The suicide brake levers are known for their inability to carry out sharp brakes and help light braking.

It has earned them the infamous nickname ” brakes,” as you can’t use them for emergency stops.

Due to this inability, most people would instead take them off or replace them with other dual levers that work. 

Suicide brake levers are also called extension levers, and back in the 1970s, bicycles bought came with drop handlebars.

It was primarily done in a fashion sense and was without much benefit. It also made it difficult for low-intensity riders to use comfortably due to the frame design.

Drawbacks were present such as the difficulty for persons with smaller hands to quickly grasp the drop-bar brake levers.

Also, women were at a more significant disadvantage because of their shorter torsos, limiting their reach to the drops.

Though not often used, a handlebar stem that’s taller and with more reach serves as a remedy.

How Does Suicide Brake Work?

When using suicide brakes or extension levers, the mechanism involved could either be mechanical or hydraulic.

The mechanical mechanism uses a combination of brake levers and Bowden cables to control the brake arms.

It forces pads against the tires or braking surface, causing friction and heat energy that stops the bicycle.

The cable or mechanical mechanism is cheaper but usually requires proper maintenance of uncovered cable areas.

The hydraulic mechanism, on the other hand, also forces pads against the tires or braking surface.

It achieves this by pushing fluids through hoses to facilitate the movements of pistons in a caliper.

Hydraulic actuation mechanism usually uses disc brakes even though hydraulic rim brakes are.

They are reliable and rarely fail; however, they would require special equipment to repair in such cases. 

There are two types of brake fluids in use these days: 

  • Mineral oil
  • DOT fluid.

The hydraulic mechanism functions in a closed mechanism and is less likely to develop faults connected to infection of uncovered areas.

The mineral oil is ordinarily dormant, while the DOT fluid has a corrosive effect on the frame’s paint.

It also has a higher boiling point, and harmful fluids can induce swelling or corrosion of seals.

Things to Know About Suicide Brakes

Suicide brakes or extension levers are also called safety levers. However, it seems to be a contrast to popular opinion.

Many believe the safety levers aren’t exactly safe, earning them nicknames like death grips, turkey wings, etc.

Various authors and safety officers also labeled “suicide levers” because of these issues.

Bolt-on extensions made by Dia Compe helped casual cyclists by removing the need for drops.

He made this possible by enabling the operation of Weinmann-type brake levers from the tops and middle of the handlebars.

Weinmann exchanged licensing with him after discovering his invention’s large-scale prominence and duplicating each other’s commodities.

You’ll find multiple brake levers on bicycles with drop handlebars for each brake to control braking from various hand positions.

The extension levers enabled riders to use brakes while using the top bars and came about in the ’70s.

It was later called suicide levers due to their poor actuation of the brakes. The suicide brakes have some other disadvantages that can affect the rider:

People sometimes get used to riding with their hands at the top, middle section of the handlebars, which is dangerous.

This practice occurs because your hands are too close to each other on the top of the handlebars.

This practice can also lead to accidents when riding on bumpy roads, reducing your control of the handlebars.

There is a reduction in the available lever travel when the extension levers partially apply the main brakes.

It, however, isn’t a common problem as some brands don’t suffer from it. Some companies even managed to tackle some of the issues.

Better “interrupter brake levers” emerged relatively recently in the early 21st century, with new and improved features.

It had all the benefits of the extension levers without any of its deficiencies.

They are also compatible with modern aero brake levers, which are advantageous and better designed than the older ones.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of suicide brakes;

Pros of Suicide BrakesCons of Suicide Brakes
Prevents falling off due to abrupt braking.Suicide brakes only allow a partial application of the main brake lever.
Maintenance is pocket-friendly.Their positions on the bike encourage holding the bar in the middle, which is not so secure.
The component connecting both levers tends to fall off easily.

How To Use Suicide Brakes?

Suicide brakes primarily reduce your bike’s speed as you can’t get much braking power using them.

To use them, however, you need to fit them carefully to a particular handlebar shape and adjust them precisely for effectiveness.

It requires some technical know-how if you intend to do it yourself.

Suicide brakes are pretty challenging to find these days for those who still want to use them.

Since that’s the case, eBay is an excellent place to find vintage parts or a local vintage bike shop.

They mostly have similar designs: a locking star washer, a naked bolt, a shim, and a brake lever housing nut.

Modern levers are more sophisticated and safer to give you a better braking experience.

They also have various styles of brake pads that will help. It is still advisable to take them off instead of using them or replacing them with better, modern levers.


In conclusion, suicide brakes are an alias given to extension levers or safety levers due to their dangerous characteristics.

The suicide brakes, or turkey wings, as they are also dubbed, have little braking power, and using them is considered suicidal.

It is so, especially in emergencies, as you can’t count on them to stop you instantaneously, resulting in accidents.

Josh Matthews

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