Brake lever hoods are, basically, perishable items.  Time ravages the materials, from which most vintage brake lever hoods were made.  Vintage road bicycle hoods are usually found discoloured, dried out, cracked and/or torn.  Some seem to have deteriorated at the molecular level, appearing to have actually melted, often times gluing themselves to the lever body.  For most vintage road bicycle rebuilds, the hoods will need to be replaced. Replacing hoods, in today's vintage bicycle world, is becoming an increasingly expensive proposition.

Brake lever hoods are made of a variety of materials, most appearing to be rubber based.  The rubber material is supposed to act as a cushion against road shocks while improving grip.  Both of these characteristics contribute positively to rider hand comfort.  A torn or ripped hood, presents little problem when comfort/grip is the issue.  A badly dried out set will do little, if anything, to improve comfort levels although the grip factor will be impacted minimally.

Vintage brake hoods are available in three basic styles.  Four, if one includes the no-hood set-up, which was the most common in vintage road bicycle days. 

The non-aero hood, with the brake cable exiting the lever through the top, is certainly the most common style and the easiest to work with when it comes to taping handlebars.  This style of hood is generally found on vintage bicycles up until the mid to late eighties.  Though all of similar design, they are rarely interchangeable.  And interchangeable in this instance is somewhat relative.  In other Shimano hoods will fit Campagnolo - sort of.  Weinmann will fit Shimano - sort of.  Dia-Compe are also somewhat interchangeable.  But nothing will fit properly unless they are designed to do so.

I have been unable to find a proper set of hoods for my 1975 Sekine SHT270.  Even though both the levers and the hoods are Shimano products, they are not a matched fit.  But the fit is good enough for me for now.  I am not about to pay the high prices that hoods are fetching these days.  Of course, this is a stupid decision on my part since that high price will be even higher tomorrow.

Aero lever hoods are today's standard.  The brake cable exits through the bottom of the lever pivot body, to be then routed under the handlebar tape or even through the handlebars, themselves.  This system allows for a much cleaner look and is also somewhat safer in my opinion.  With the brake cable running under the handlebar tape, there is nothing to catch your hands on when riding.  The one drawback to this system is the need for very good low friction cables.

Because of the added number of relatively sharp bends, the drag of the cable on the housing is increased considerably.  With this in mind, it is necessary to use the more modern nylon lined casing in conjunction with the Teflon coated inner cables.  This is hardly a drawback when performance is the issue, but it is a more costly way to go when building up a Street Restored bike.

Half hoods were relatively uncommon, even though there were a great many sets issued on the ever popular French Peugeots that were sold in huge quantities in the early  seventies.  I do not like the half hood set-up in any way.  Half hoods are difficult to tape around.  They do not offer nearly the same degree of comfort that the full hood does.  And finally, although this is a preference issue, they do not look good.  As far as I am concerned, the half hood should never have been invented, but that is just me.  And while on the subject, why were they invented?

And, of course, there is the No-Hood look that was most common on cheaper bicycles.  The fitting of no hoods lowered the cost to manufacture a bicycle.  Needless to say, it is difficult to neatly blend handlebar tape into the lever body.  And, of course, there is absolutely no ergonomic benefit from this arrangement.  Resting your hands on almost completely bare metal is uncomfortable to say the least.  To that add the fact that at the end of the day, your fingers might well be covered with a black stain caused by the mixing of sweat and aluminum oxide.

As often as not, vintage hoods will have to be replaced.  It is that simple and it will be expensive.  Even if you choose to go with aftermarket, no-name brands, which are appearing more frequently on Ebay, these days.  A set of original Campagnolo "World Logo" hoods can run near the hundred dollar mark, at the time of this writing. Three years ago, the same sets were selling for less than fifty.  Shield decorated Campy hoods will go for fifty to sixty dollars consistently.  There will never be more original Campagnolo Shield or Globe hoods available, than there are right now.  Expect to pay considerably more tomorrow, than you would today.  Of course, sooner or later, some clever copies will begin to surface, but they will only be copies.  Who would buy a copy?  Lots of people, including me.  But I will never buy another aftermarket set, unless I have no choice.  The Campy copy set I purchased was designed in the true spirit of consumerism - deteriorate fast and replace soon.

A couple of years ago(2005), three sets of original issue Weinmann second generation gum hoods could be purchased for roughly twenty bucks.  I bought six sets and wish that I had bought a lot more.  Today it is rare that I even see these hoods offered on Ebay.  When they do surface, it is for considerably more than what I paid so short a while ago. Expect to pay over $30.00 today, if you can even find a set.  And as for first generation Weinmann units - good luck.  They are even more difficult to find.

Universal hoods, used as one might expect with Universal brake levers, are also hard to find items, although there are some fairly good copies out there these days.  An original issue set will sell for a hundred dollars or more, at the time of this writing but there will be very few opportunities for purchase a set.  The copies sell, as one might expect, for thirty plus and, once again, you don't see them offered all that often.

There are a host of other hood types and makes, most of which are no better than the best and no worse than the worst.  Chang Star, Chin Lee, Carlton, Dia-Comp, Baillia, Acme and so on.  Be forewarned about these off brand hoods.  They are incredibly hard to find and are rarely seen listed for auction.  I do run across off brands quite frequently and, surprisingly  enough, they are usually in pretty good shape.  Perhaps hoods and bikinis have something in common.  The more they cost, the less you get.  Just a thought.