View Full Version : Cross bike cantilever brakes

04-13-2011, 11:31 AM
I love my bike, except for the brakes. I just replaced the wheels and the brake set, because the rims were worn down where they contact the brake pads, and because the bike shop thought a more heavy weight brake system might have better contact and more power. Braking is smoother now, but still far from ideal. I rented a road bike last week and was really envious of the downhill braking power, even with narrow tires!

My bike is a Jamis Nova (and older model steel frame). I believe the new brake set is by Shimano. Beyond that, I'm not much of a gear-head, and don't know the specifics. I also don't have time to toe-in and fiddle with the brakes all the time, and sometimes I fail to do after-ride hosedowns as I probably should to keep the bike clean.

Are disk brakes what I need to be thinking about? Can they be installed on existing wheels, or is it a whole new wheel system. Can you do disk brakes on just the rear, and would that be enough to give me the hard stopping power I'm looking for?

Thanks in advance for advice.

04-13-2011, 12:26 PM
Disc brakes require a fork and frameset that has specifically been built to mount them. For example: http://surlybikes.com/frames/pugsley_frame/
Probably will result in new wheels, too.

04-13-2011, 01:39 PM
Before you buy a new fork and brakes, try changing your brake pads and adjusting your brakes. I'm a big fan of the Kool Stop salmon-colored pads, they are intended for use in wet conditions put stop quickly and quietly on my bikes. Adjusting canti brakes is accomplished mainly by voodoo (I still can't banish all the shuddering from mine) but a little work to set the correct toe-in, pad location, and angle can go a long way. If you can't do it, take it to a shop, and if that shop installed the new brakes on your bike they should have no problem making sure the pads are set up correctly.

It also helps to clean your brake tracks regularly or else you'll just be trying to stop on a layer of built-up gunk.

04-13-2011, 05:05 PM
Hang on a second: Cantilever brakes are generally considered the most effective rim brakes because of their awesome leverage. That's one reason they're used so often on cross bikes. One brand is often tagged as "powerful enough to crush your rims", as if that's a good thing! Side pull calipers, as usually found on road bikes, are only so-so. (Old-school centerpulls are generally the least effective, though that's mostly due to vendor engineering instead of overall design.)

If you preferred the road bike's brakes, there's something else causing your troubles. If someone came to me with the problem I'd start with new pads, then new cables and housings, then new levers, and lastly new brakes themselves. The rims are probably a whole different matter.

Also, a bike's front brakes are usually more effective at stopping the bike than the rear ones. When you brake, the weight comes off the rear wheel (making it easy to skid) and shifts to the front (holding it in tighter contact with the surface). If you put a more powerful brake on the rear you'll stop the wheel without stopping the bike, skid, and take longer overall to finally stop. It's best to use both evenly, and if you need a fast stop use more front. (Practice this somewhere safe - you'll be AMAZED at how fast you can stop with the right technique, and you can flip over the bars or cause a pileup if anyone is following you.)

Lastly, you can't -just- hose down your bike to get the dirt off. You really should remove any dirty oil and grease (more than just a hose down) and put fresh, clean oil and grease in its place. If you don't, things like shift mechanisms, brakes, cables, and levers will wear out faster and cause things like weak braking and poor shifting. Don't just add clean lube to dirty either because that accelerates wear.

04-13-2011, 09:40 PM
Thanks for all the tips. I need better brake voodoo! I love that term. Looking at my brakes, they are indeed centerpull style of cantilever. Looking around, I see that there's more than one kind of cantilever brake set. I'll keep investigating and really appreciate the responses!

04-14-2011, 09:04 AM
I totally agree and disagree with everything written so far. (Bwahahaha... That's the sign that this post will likely be 100% useless.) ;)

DSalovesh is right, you need to do more than just hose off the bike to positively effect brake performance. Brake and road grime can render the most lovely brakes almost useless. I would say that modern dual-pivot road brakes feel and brake better than pretty much any canti set-up I've ever used. That said, if your cantis are set up correctly, and the rims/pads are relatively clean, cantis should work well for general use.

If the bridge cable is too high, it can cut down on power. You can get pads that are grippier, but then you run into James Dean syndrome (live fast, die young) and need to change them often. Do your rims have machined sidewalls? That can impact how the brakes work.

Another option may be linear pull brakes. They fit on Canti mounts and have marginally more power than cantis. They require different brake levers though and if you've got integrated shifters, that gets kinda weird. Then a "travel agent" cam is needed to get the correct amount of cable pull from your existing brake lever.

Did I confuse things more? Good. ;)


04-14-2011, 10:08 AM
I have a cross bike with canti's similar to Avid shortys and they don't work as well as my sidepull road bike brakes.

They work fine and stop me OK but don't work as well as the road brakes.

DeSalovesh: I thought the main reason for Canti's on cross bikes was for mud clearance which you just don't get with the sidepulls.

I wish I could get mine to work better and to not squeal, which they do every now and again,and I've tried everything except for getting new brakes.

Paul G

04-14-2011, 02:05 PM
I'm going to take it in on the way home from work and see if my shop can make some quick adjustments -- hopefully that'll help.

I don't think my new rims are machined, but I've thought about trying to rough them up a little, or maybe rough up the pads with a nail file or something to get better grippiness. I realize that'll accelerate the wear on both, but right now I'm mostly concerned with reliable deceleration, especially on rain days.

I don't race or anything, and don't go off road on the bike -- I essentially use it as a rugged commuter bike on roads and trails -- so I don't really have an issue with needing a setup suitable for sustained mud rides or anything. I'll ask at the bike shop if there are any feasible alternatives that would have the side-pull sort of function for a bike like this without too much reengineering.

04-28-2011, 01:44 AM
sometimes I fail to do after-ride hosedowns as I probably should to keep the bike clean.

04-28-2011, 11:15 AM
I'll admit, on my 12,000 mile old commuter, I hose it down about once a month after a long soak in Simple Green, then re-lube everything on it. Haven't had any problems as a result. Might be slightly more careful with the new bike.