Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Setting up Cantilever Brakes

Cantilever brakes were replaced in the mountain biking world because people believed they didnt stop as well as a V brakes (and later disc brakes). However, they never really budged in the cyclocross community due in part to their ability to modulate speed. This post isnt about whether cantilever brakes are the best option for cyclocross, that's already been decided. Verdict: they are. This post is about how to set up your cantilevers.

Keith Bontrager used to have a very good article on how to set up your canti's. That article has been taken down by Bontrager Inc., but going to the internet archive machine, I found it. Unfortunately, when sites get archived they usually lose their pictures. This lack of photos is unfortunate because Keith wrote the articles based upon the pictures he took of Gumby and cantilever brakes. That article can still be found here: http://web.archive.org/web/20000819042455/www.bontrager.com/rants_f1.html

In it he said, "I've heard riders say things like STX brakes suck, or these pads rule. These claims are not based on good science of course, and they are usually wrong. STX brakes work well, pads and all, when they are set up and maintained properly. You need to have the cables set right, the overall adjustment right, and you need to have reasonably fresh clean pads in them. That's all. Your bike may not have come with straddle cables that can be set up to perform well, and it may be up to you to improve it if you want good brakes."

Also, I will link to the Man himself, Sheldon Brown. His article titled, "Traditional Center-Pull Cantilever Brakes" does a great job of showing how to set up a pair of canti's.

Among other things, he states, "Squealing brakes is a common problem, and there's no one simple solution to it. It's caused by the friction of the brakes against the rim flexing the brake arms, which then slip back, grab, slip back, grab, etc. This process happens at such high speed that it often causes an audible vibration. All brakes do this, but with luck the pitch (frequency) is too high for human hearing. This is generally annoying, but not a safety issue. Unlike automotive brakes, bicycle brakes that squeal are usually in good functional condition."

Cantilever brakes arent easy to set up. But they are easy to set up once you know some basic principles of what youre doing and what works. The two articles above explain these principles and hopefully help all those out there whom need some assistance dialing in their brakes.

photo courtesy of Harris Cyclery http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/cantilevers/xt2.html

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