I rode into Portland at rush hour tonight. Roads were dry, a treat this time of year here so I was riding strong. There is a block and a half stretch where I work to get into the left lane to make a left turn. I start from the bike lane. The merge into the right lane was easy as it usually is. Often all the left lane traffic has pulled onto the onramp we have just gone by, but tonight a car was coming up on my left. O sensed it was turning left so I focused on it so I could pull over cleanly in front, using it to shield me from cars behind him.
Looked up. The car in front of me was stopped. Grabbed fistfuls of brakes. Rear wheel immediately slid two feet to the right, then just as fast, came back. (Thank you, fix gear!) There was a shriek from a pedestrian observer. Then, there I was, moving slowly, 10 feet to spare between me and the car ahead. Moved into the left lane and continued as if nothing happened.
Do I love Mafac front brakes or what? (The rear is a Diacompe copy of the classic Weinnman.) Those Mafacs are the one brake I trust to squeeze really hard AND that have the power to really stop a bike. Combined with Tektro areo levers and Koolstop pads, they stop as securely as anything out there in the dry and are good in the wet (as long as they are set up tight enough to not bottom out the levers). What I really like is the control I have. Really good at slowing bigtime and not locking up in front. Of course, a front brake with the power to lift the rear wheel does mean you have to be careful about the rear brake but that is just straight physics. The ultimately hard stop will be with all front brake and zero pounds of weight on the rear wheel.
This took place on my winter fixie, a near 30 lb bike with 28c Paselas on Mavic Sport front rim laced 36 spoke 4X. I was riding in the drops as I usually do. I had ~85 psi in front (for a previous wet ride) and ~95 psi in back.
I have the same brake set-up on my geared winter bike. I took the front Diacompe off the geared bike, then replaced the bolt with a rear bol. I replaced the rear bolt of the Mafac set with a front. Being centerpulls, usually all you have to do is go to a good hardware store and purchase a bolt with a long shoulder and the appropriate length. None of this fancy manufactured bolts with odd shoulders, threads, etc. as are typical with sidepulls and dual pivots.
Not bad for a brakeset that cost me what: $10 for the Mafac calipers (the Diacompes came on the other bike), $25 for the levers plus 2 standard hardware bolts and pads. I think I will keep them. Oh, and those calipers probably have 20,000 miles on them. I think they came off my former winter fixie and that change was 16,000 miles ago. Respectable (early) middle age for a Mafac.
Looking for those Mafacs but cannot find a shop that has any? They will be available at garage sales, etc. for years to come in like-new condition. $50 bucks. But you do have to detach and dispose of the Peugeot UO-8 that comes with them. (Keep the seat pin. Stronger, longer, more verstile and much better with a brake hanger than a Campy pin. My '1967 pin is still seeing service on my Peter Mooney with now absurd mileage.)