Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

02 August 2012

What's New? Old Brakes

To get your bicycle to do what you want to do, have to listen to it--especially when it's telling you it likes, or doesn't like, something.

A corollary to that pearl of wisdom is this;  Just because something fits on a bike, that doesn't mean it will work well --for the bike or you.

So it was with linear=pull (a.k.a. "V")brakes on Vera.  I never could get them adjusted quite right.  They had lots of stopping power--as long as I pulled my brake levers all the way.  In other words, I experienced the "all or nothing " response some people experience with V brakes.  I couldn't decelerate with them; I could make only "on the dime" stops.

Also, I simply could not keep them centered, especially on the front.  Instead of standing vertically from the posts on which they were mounted, the brake arms stuck out at one- and eleven=o'clock angles.  That was more than an aesthetic concern:  It made the brakes difficult to adjust.

Finally, even when I unhooked the cable, it was difficult to remove the front wheel because the brakes and pads fit so closely.  The likely reason for that, and possibly the other problems I mentioned, is, I discovered, that V-brakes are designed to be used on frames and forks with the brake bosses spaced further apart than they are on Vera.  In fact, most older touring and cyclo-cross bikes, and road (or roadish) bikes made for cantilevers, have brake bosses that are more narrowly spaced than they are on mountain or post-1996 hybrid bikes.

I installed the V-brakes (Shimano Deore LXs) to replace the low-profile cantilevers that came with the bike.  Those brakes just seemed weak, at least compared to cantilevers I had back in the day.

So, guess what I did?  I found a cantilever brake like the ones we used back in the day:

I found these vintage 1985 Shimano Deore XT-MC70 brakes on eBay for a reasonable price.  While they protrude from the frame more than the other brakes, they have more power than the low-profile cantis--and better modulation than V-brakes.  I also found them surprisingly attractive on the bike.  

Of course, I changed the pads:  Even if they look OK, twenty-year-old pads have dried out at least somewhat.  Plus, Kool-Stop (Mathauser) salmon-colored pads are kinder to lightweight alloy rims than the old Shimanos.

(The current Tektro 720s seem to be patterned, at least to some degree, on these brakes).

One other benefit--at least from my point of view--of the cantilevers is that they allow me to use inverse (bar-end) brake levers like the ones I have on Helene.

I'll try to give a follow-up report on how these brakes work with Vera.  So far, everything seems good.


  1. I changed out my own OEM V brakes for cantis.

  2. Very interesting. I only have cantilevers on my bikes, mainly because they are from the 80s. That's what came on bicycles of that era. While I wouldn't let v-brakes stand in the way of purchasing a new bike, it confirms that sometimes old is better. I'm glad cantis are still being made (I see cyclocross bikes have 'em) and sometimes they work better in certain situations.