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My brakes don't work very well, what can I do about it?

There are many different types of brake you can find on a bike; in this post I will go through a few of them, discuss how they work and also some of the potential issues you can encounter with them.


V brakes are one of the most common type of brakes you find on a bike. They have been around since circa 1996, when Shimano released the XT and XTR models to be used on pro level bikes. They are reliable, easy to maintain and relatively inexpensive which is why you still find them on bikes produced today. Although these are really reliable brakes, if they're not set up properly and the pads are not in line with the rim, you can encounter problems like uneven pad wear or pads rubbing against the rim whilst riding. This can be corrected with a few fine adjustments using a 5mm Hex key to adjust the pads/blocks, and Phillips screwdriver to adjust the limiter screws on each side of the brake.


Cantilever's are another super reliable brake that offer reasonably good performance at a relatively low cost. You often find them on Cyclocross bikes, partly due to their good "clearance" around the seat stays, allowing mud to pass through them without any cloggage. Old or rough brake cables can cause decreased braking performance on this type of brake however, so that's one this to check if you are experiencing poor braking performance.


Road bike rim brakes are also a tried and tested solution when it comes to excellent stoppage. They're lightweight, involve relatively low maintenance and just work really well. One thing to bear in mind with these brakes is that due to the friction caused by the pads against the rim, you will eventually wear down the rim. If the rim is no longer flat and has a deep concave dip where the brake pads touches it, it's time to replace the rim/wheel.


Hydraulic rim brakes are something you don't see every day, but they are great brakes if you have the type of bike that would suit them. You can find them on trials bikes and sometimes on dutch style bikes. They offer really excellent braking performance, however, they are heavier and bulkier, and involve more maintenance than their cabled counterparts. If you have these brakes on your bike and you are finding they are not working as well as they used to, they could need bleeding, which is the process of replacing the brake fluid and the air from the hydraulic system. Check online for the manufacturers recommended bleed instructions if you plan to do it yourself, or book it in for your LBS (local bike shop) to do.


Mechanical disc brakes are a good option if you are looking for a touring bike or something similar, as they offer excellent braking performance with the added weight of panniers or bike packing bags, without the risk of hydraulic leakages. Just take a set of spare brake pads and a spare brake cable and you should be able to fix most problems you encounter along the way.


Hydraulic disc brakes are an excellent choice for MTB's, Ebike's and even more modern road and gravel bikes. You have arguably the best braking performance out of all types of brakes on the market. Although the rotor will eventually wear down, you do not have the rim wear to take into account as you would with rim type brakes, which, in that sense will save you money in the long term. You will need to bleed these brakes, and also replace the brake pads more frequently to ensure they work properly. A common problem I see with this type of brake is a loss of pressure, or a "spongy" feel to the brake. This could be one of two things, either the brake needs bleeding, or there is a leak in the system, which is often not a cheap fix, so be prepared to spend a bit more on maintenance if you opt for this type of brake. The relatively new innovation of road hydraulic brakes is one that is certainly welcomed, but is perhaps not as refined yet as some of the more tried and tested MTB models. Brakes like the Ultegra, Dura Ace, GRX, or the Sram Force and Rival seem to burn through brake pads much more quickly; and if you choose the "cooling fin" type pads (designed to disperse heat more effectively), this will not come cheaply. They also seem to be more susceptible to brake pads rubbing on the rotors, which if you're a competitive cyclist, is going to inevitably lose you precious watts. Check out this clip of Tour de France winner Chris Froome discussing this very matter:



There are a few more, lesser known brake types out there, for example Roller Brakes, which you can find on some dutch style bikes and are similar to the "drum" style brake that you can find on old cars. These are less common I think, as they seem to add a lot of unnecessary complication to the bike, as well as lot of additional weight, all for some brakes which don't offer much stopping power. But if you're sticking to flat land and like to have something a bit different, then perhaps these are the brakes for you. The most common issue people approach me about with these brakes, is that they simply don't brake very well, and although there is some servicability with some models, like the Shimano Nexus, they still won't perform fantastically even after they have been serviced and properly set up.


The one thing that all types of brakes have in common, is that there will be some level of maintenance involved no matter which you choose, and prevention is also key. A correctly set up brake will offer the best performance whilst also preventing excess wear of components and increasing the length of time between servicing intervals.


I enjoy answering questions so please get in touch via the website or pop into the shop if you have any you'd like answered!

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