Classic Lightweights UK

The CLB Story: Braking French Style

Author Steve Griffith
CLB3 comp
CLB were second only to Mafac as the leading post-WW2 French manufacturer of brakes. Like many French cycle component manufacturers they were located in St Etienne, specifically the suburb of St Chamond.  CLB history typifies the history of the French cycle component industry post World War Two: initially very innovative then core products marketed for a long period of time. Finally, decline in the 1970’s caused by a failure to understand and respond to the changing market and demise in the 1980’s.
CLB seems to have emerged at the end of WW2.  Brakes of the 1940’s/50’s are marked CLB ALP. Their full business name was Angenieux CLB SA. Their full business name was Angenieux CLB SA. CLB stands for the initials of the founder Charles Lozier Bourgoin.  CLB used the initials for advertising slogans, e.g. Ce Le Bre and Cha Leger Bloque. 

1940’s and 50’s, CLB’s Heyday
Before WW2 a number of French companies had marketed alloy brakes. The most successful of these was Lam who realised that it was necessary to use more metal when switching from steel to alloy otherwise the brake would flex and offer very poor braking.  Lam are also credited with being the first company to offer a hooded lever (mid 30’s)  which enable the lever body to be used as a position for the hands.
CLB took on both these Lam innovations. Their top product in the 40’s/50’s was an alloy side-pull available in two depths: standard (46 to 63mm), the Competition and short (35 -54), the oddly named Hi Life.  Of all the alloy brakes of the period they are the most effective, a fact I attribute to the thickness of the arms and the quality of the alloy which reduced flexing.  The brakes soon became a favourite with top racing cyclist in France and BLRC riders in this country. CLB brakes were offered as an option by Paris and Stallard, to name but two of the more progressive builders. The Competition/High Life have a distinctive profile, a unique quick release with a cable adjuster and brass bolts (see images below).  A variant of the Competition was the Professional, introduced in the mid 50’s.

CLB 1 Competition CLB 2 Competition
Two images of the ALP (CLB) Competition brake showing unique QR mechanism
Images courtesy of Peter Lowry)

These are the classic CLB brakes, and at the time, the best stoppers available.  The quick release enabled rapid wheel change and they proved themselves on the early post-war Tour de France races (many of the roads still suffering from war damage). Their only design weakness was that under repeated heavy breaking the central bolt could bend.

CLB also made a range of basic side pulls model 650, 700, 800. The larger the number, the bigger the drop.

With the introduction of Mafac centre-pulls in 1951/2 CLB popularity suffered a serious decline. As period photographs show, Mafac rapidly became the brake to have. Tour riders very quickly adopted them as did many riders in this country.  The more conservative British rider stuck to GB leaving a very small market share for CLB. As a result of competitor developments CLB were no longer in the forefront and played second fiddle to Mafac.

CLB 4 compLevers
CLB levers (left) until the late 50’s have the clip as part of the lever body. This was also a feature of Lam, Burlite and early GB levers, an idea soon dropped by manufacturers due to the high incidence of fracture.  From their early days until their demise CLB made levers in different sizes.

1960’s and 1970’s
During the 1960’s they were imported by Ron Kitching. In the 1960’s/70’s British manufacturers and riders began to favour Weinmann as the brake of choice; CLB equipped British bikes were extremely unusual.

Throughout the 1970’s CLB’s main focus was on reducing weight. Lighter and lighter alloys were trialled; levers were drilled and even titanium used for some very expensive brakes.  They had some success in breaking into the US market during the mid 1970’s.  It is interesting to note despite the change of material and design the distinctive quick release was retained.  They even tried to lighten the brake cables, marketing an alloy cable (model Duralinox) for the true lightweight obsessive. ….. someone who would put weight saving above safety. (Emanuel Lowi, from Canada points out: It is just the outer housing which is lightweight alloy. The cable itself it steel like any other. There is no safety risk involved in using the CLB housing.)  

In 1984 they were taken over by Sachs who had three years earlier bought Huret and Maillard.  Around this time they took part in a joint venture with Vitus who marketed aluminium frames.  The brakes continued for a few more years under the CLB name and then disappeared.  Sachs found that CLB and other French companies with their outdated factories, outdated management and union practices were simply unable to compete in the modern world. With the exception of some top quality cantilevers for the Sachs New Success ATB group set Sachs ceased brake production. A nice touch is that these final products have a brake shoe is actually shoe shaped!