"All braking must be accomplished using the riders' feet. No Mechanical braking devices are allowed."
The rules for street luge state no mechanical braking, and that the riders' feet must be used. This means that we need to stop Flinstone's Style! This is actually one of the best ways to slow and stop. Wheels have virtually no contact patch with the ground, so using mechanical brakes on the wheels will bring the luge to a stop in a longer amount of time than the feet. Other mechanisms can lend to instability.
We all need brakes, but unlike the brakes on our cars we can't go down to Jiffy Lube and have the pads replaced. So what do we to do make a good set of brakes?
The simplest thing to do is grab a pair of shoes. While the rubber sole of a typical tennis shoe provides ok traction, they don't last long. It is possible to go through two or three shoes in one event. I've seen people go through an entire sole on one run! To provide better protection, a cheaper alternative, and longer lasting brakes, the best thing to do is attach some rubber to the bottom of the shoe.
IGSA rules require ankle protection against abarasion and recommends high top shoes. I picked up a pair of basketball shoes from a factory outlet. You will want something the provides some ankle protection and support. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of high tops is it makes it harder to point the toes. A nice leather shoe is also important. Your feet will drag in a wreck, and can easily tear apart a cheaper shoe.
There are many substances that can be used for brake pads. I've heard conveyor belt material is nice and puts out some nice smoke, but I recommend tire rubber. The tire companies have down research and development for over 100 years to create a good compromise between traction and braking abilities.
Please do not use steel belted tires. Not only are they almost impossible to cut, they will leave dangerous wires sticking out of the edge of your sole. Nylon belted tires are an alternative, but be careful when the rubber wears down to the nylon. The nylon is almost a frictionless surface, just the opposite of what we need to stop!
If you can't find a spare tire to use, then find a good hard rubber. If the rubber is too soft it might melt off the bottom of the shoe. A retread company can provide you with some retread, which is great material to use. Rick Wilson teamed up with a tire company to provide QuickStop rubber.
While you don't need to trip the rubber down to the shape of the shoe, it will look better though, you will need to cute the rubber. If the rubber is thin enough you could just use a knife, but I've found that a jigsaw works the best for me. A band saw might work even better, but not everyone has one of those. The key to cutting the rubber using a jigsaw is to keep the rubber rigid. One way to accomplish this is to pull the rubber apart as you cut it. I just cut the rubber very close to the edge of the table. If you don't keep the rubber rigid, then you will just vibrate the rubber and not really cut it. It is highly recommended you wear a mask while cutting the rubber.
I've found using chalk is the best way to mark the rubber to cut it.
While there are many ways to cut it, the jigsaw was what I used.
Once you've picked your shoes, and cut out your new brakes you will need to attach the brakes to the bottom of the shoes. Although there may be some exotic way to weld the two pieces of rubber together, I see only two viable methods. Screws, or some sticky substance like glue. Screws may be a quick fix, but not one I'd really recommend. If you screw the screws in from the bottom you will have sharp pointed metal pointed at the bottom of your feet. You can screw the screws in from the inside of the shoe (under the inliner). The cool thing is you will throw up sparks, but you also run the risk of heating the screws up and burning your feet!
You can glue the brakes on. Most glues won't be strong enough or won't stick to rubber. ShoeGoo was a popular glue a few years ago. It advertises itself as shoe repair. The problem is it can't stand up to the heat generated during braking. I even had problems with it in the hot Southern California dessert, just walking on the hot asphalt.
The problem with using glue to weld the brake on is after the brake is worn down, how to replace it. Ideally you want to remove the old brake and replace it with brand new rubber. If you used a good enough glue, then it will be very difficult to remove the brake!
The solution is to use Velcro. I found it easier to glue the Velcro to the shoe and to the brake, that it is to glue the shoe to the brake. You can bring extra brakes to a race, and quickly slap them on if needed. I originally discovered this method from Pete Eliot and Jeremy Gilder. They would bring rain brakes in case of rain.
But does it actually work? Velcro has an amazing property in that it has incredible sheer strength. That is it is virtually impossible to separate if the force is applied parallel to the strips. When braking the sheer force is the one that we care about, your foot will apply pressure forward, and the road will apply force backwards. After the first year of using Velcro I had to use a larger screwdriver to remove the brake!
I use Industrial Strength Velcro. This Velcro has an adhesive backing. I don't really know how strong this adhesive is, although I think I saw someone using just this adhesive at a recent race. The best adhesive I've found is Contact Cement. This stuff is easy to use, is incredibly strong, and doesn't break down in the heat.
The directions for Contact Cement recommends cleaning the surface before apply the cement. There is only so much you can do to clean the rubber. I like to sand down both the sole and the brake using some sandpaper or a hard wire brush. Mix up the cement using a stirrer. Remove the backing from the Velcro strips, and lay them out. Using a small brush apply a thin layer of cement over the surface of the Velcro and brakes and shoe bottom. Don't apply the cement on too thick, but cover the entire surface.
Let the cement dry for fifteen minutes to half an hour. If you wait for more than two hours you will need to reapply the cement. When you are ready to attach the Velcro, carefully place the Velcro in place. Be very careful, once the two sides with cement touch, they are almost impossible to remove. Actually you can pull them apart, since the glue isn't dry, put you will remove most of the glue from one side, so you will need to start the process over. After you have attached the Velcro you need to apply about 30 lbs of pressure. The simplest is to whack the Velcro with a rubber mallet.
Let the glue dry for a day or so. Trim the Velcro to the desired shape.
I would recommend attach the loop or soft Velcro to the brake, and the hook Velcro to the shoe. Mainly because you might toss extra brakes into your bag, but probably not extra shoes. And your shoes will probably have brakes attached. If the brakes have the soft Velcro, they won't stick to anything in the bag. Another reason is the hooks tend to last longer than the loops. So having the hooks on the shoe means you don't have to replace the Velcro on the shoe as often. I made the mistake of putting the loops on the shoe and needed to replace them after several years.
While placing the Velcro on the bottom of the shoe, it is a good idea to wrap a bit of the Velcro up the front and up the back. The Velcro can actually be stronger than the glue! If you don't wrap a bit up the side, you run the risk of pull the Velcro off the shoe!
I tend to use up the brake on my heel more than the toe. The first time I made my soles, I cut one piece of rubber. After one season the toe piece of still fairly thick, while the heel was almost gone. So I cut the brake in half, underneath the arch of the foot. And created just a new heel piece. After almost 4 years the toe of my brakes was about half what it used to be. While I cutting the brakes for this article I was almost out of rubber so I decided to cut another toe piece. I have not had a problem with the two different pieces of rubber on one foot.
Another option is to attach the shoe to the brake, instead of attaching the brake to the shoe. This works really well with a small motorcycle tire. You want to find a tire a little wider than your shoe, but not too much wider. Cut the tire a little longer than your shoe, but leave the sidewalls on. Drill some holes into the sidewall, near the top. Lace laces, or a bolt through the hole. Place foot into tire, and lace it up. The advantage of this is you can use regular shoes, just put the brakes on before riding, and remove them at the bottom. The disadvantage is a lot more rubber on the bottom of your feet while riding.
Now that you have a good set of solid brakes on your feet, you can confidently brake the next time you hit that hard turn!