V Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes: Which Work Better for Your Bike

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As a cycling enthusiast, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with different types of brakes on my bike. Two popular options that often come up in discussions are V brakes and cantilever brakes. Both have their pros and cons, and in this article, we’ll dive into the details to help you decide which one is better for your bike.

In the following contents, we will compare V brakes and cantilever brakes in their different features, including the design, the braking power, the modulation, the compatibility, and the maintenance.

V Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes: Design

V brakes, also known as linear pull brakes, are widely used on modern bicycles. They consist of two long brake arms that are attached to the frame or fork of the bike. The brake arms are connected to the brake pads via a cable, which is pulled when the rider squeezes the brake lever. This action causes the brake pads to clamp down on the rim, creating friction and slowing down or stopping the wheel. What needs to be noticed is that this braking system has a single cable that runs from the lever to one arm and then to the other arm through a noodle and a rubber boot.

v brakes

Cantilever brakes, on the other hand, have a different design. They feature two separate short brake arms, each attached to one side of the frame or fork. The brake arms are connected to the brake pads via a cable, similar to V brakes. However, instead of clamping down on the rim, the brake pads of cantilever brakes are pulled towards the rim from both sides, creating friction and slowing down or stopping the wheel. Besides, cantilever brakes have a dual cable system that runs from the lever to a straddle wire or link wire that connects the two arms.

cantilever brakes

And owing to these differences in their designs, riders will feel a different cycling experience on the bicycles with V brakes and the bicycles with cantilever brakes.

V Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes: Braking Power and Modulation

The braking power and modulation must be the most important factors to consider when comparing V brakes and cantilever brakes. After all, the whole point of having brakes on your bike is to be able to stop effectively and safely.

You may have known that the braking power of bike brakes is based on the principle of leverage. Leverage allows a small force to produce a large effect. And in the case of V brakes and cantilever brakes, their brake arms act as levers that connect the brake pads to the brake cable. When you squeeze the brake lever, the brake pads exert force on the rim, slowing down or stopping the wheel.

So, how do the brake arms affect braking power? Brake arms come in different lengths, and longer brake arms have more leverage, meaning they can produce more braking power with less effort from the rider. However, longer brake arms also have less modulation, which means they have less control over the amount of braking power applied.

In the design section above, we have shown that V brakes have longer brake arms than cantilever brakes. According to the principle, they will have more leverage and, therefore, more braking power. When you apply the brakes, the force is applied directly to the rim, allowing for efficient stopping power.

V brakes are known for their ability to stop the bike quickly and effectively. They require less effort and force from the rider to stop the tire from rotating within seconds. This makes them ideal for situations where you need to stop suddenly, such as in emergencies or when going down steep descents.

However, the increased power of V brakes can also be a drawback if not modulated properly. They can be too powerful, causing the wheel to lock up or skid, potentially leading to accidents. Additionally, if applied too hard or too often, V brakes can cause damage to the rim or the tire.

And the fact that the V brake system applies force directly to the rim makes these situations even worse.

On the other hand, shorter brake arms have less leverage, so they require more effort from the rider to produce the same braking power as longer brake arms. However, shorter brake arms also have more modulation, giving the rider more control.

This principle would go with the cantilever brakes, because they have shorter brake arms compared to V brakes. This means they have less leverage and, therefore, less braking power. It means that cantilever brakes may not be as effective as V brakes in situations where you need to stop quickly or apply a lot of braking force. They are generally less suitable for steep descents, heavy loads, and emergency situations.

However, they make up for this with better modulation and control. The force from the brake pads is applied at an angle to the rim, allowing for more precise control over the amount of braking power applied.

Cantilever brakes offer better modulation and control than V brakes, making it easier to apply a small amount of braking force without locking up the wheel. This can be beneficial in situations where you need to slow down gradually or navigate technical terrain. Additionally, cantilever brakes cause less wear and tear on the rim or the tire compared to V brakes.

V Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes: Compatibility

One key difference between V brakes and cantilever brakes, which we have mentioned several times, is their mechanical advantage. V brakes have a higher mechanical advantage than cantilever brakes, which means they can produce more braking force with less input force from the rider. This is due to the longer arms of V brakes, allowing for increased leverage. As a result, V brakes can provide strong stopping power even with minimal effort. (Sorry for repeating the old story.)

However, this higher mechanical advantage also means that V brakes require levers with a longer cable pull than cantilever brakes. The cable pull is the amount of cable movement required to achieve a certain amount of brake arm movement. In other words, V brakes need more cable movement to achieve the same amount of brake arm movement as cantilever brakes.

So to use V brakes, you may need special adapters or converters if you have levers designed for cantilever brakes or road caliper brakes. This is because these levers may not provide enough cable movement to engage the V brakes properly. By using adapters or converters, you can change the cable pull ratio of the levers to match the requirements of the V brakes.

But the advantage of V brakes is their compatibility with wider tires and fenders. The longer arms of V brakes provide more clearance between the brake arms and the rim, allowing for the use of wider tires and fenders without rubbing or interference. This is especially beneficial for riders who prefer larger tires for increased traction or who like to use fenders for protection against mud and water.

Unlike V brakes, cantilever brakes have a shorter mechanical advantage and require levers with a shorter cable pull. So one advantage of cantilever brakes is their compatibility with standard levers designed for cantilever brakes or road caliper brakes. There is no need for special adapters or converters, as these levers are already designed to provide the appropriate cable pull for cantilever brakes. This makes it easier to upgrade or switch between different types of brakes without the need for additional components.

However, it’s worth noting that cantilever brakes have shorter arms compared to V brakes. This means they have less clearance between the brake arms and the rim. As a result, they may not be as compatible with wider tires and fenders, as there is a higher chance of rubbing or interference. If you prefer to use wider tires or fenders, you may need to consider alternative brake options such as V brakes.

V Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes: Maintenance

V brakes have a simpler cable system that connects the brake lever to the brake arms, while cantilever brakes have a more complex cable system that involves a pulley and a straddle wire. This makes V brakes easier to set up and adjust than cantilever brakes, as they require less precision,fine-tuning, and alignment than cantilever brakes, as they are less affected by cable stretch or brake pad wear.

V brakes also have a simpler design than cantilever brakes, as they have fewer parts and components. This makes V brakes easier to replace the brake pads and the brake cable than cantilever brakes, as they require less disassembly and reassembly. V brakes also have more available and affordable replacement parts than cantilever brakes, as they are more common and popular among modern bikes.

However, V brakes also have some disadvantages compared to cantilever brakes. V brakes wear out the rim faster than cantilever brakes, due to their higher friction and pressure on the rim. This can reduce the lifespan of the rim and increase the risk of rim failure or puncture. V brakes also need more cleaning and lubrication than cantilever brakes, due to their exposure to mud, dirt, and water. This can affect their performance and durability if not done regularly or properly.

Cantilever brakes have the opposite advantages and disadvantages of V brakes, due to their different design and mechanics. Cantilever brakes have a more complex cable system that connects the brake lever to the brake arms, while V brakes have a simpler cable system that involves a single cable and a noodle. This makes cantilever brakes harder to set up and adjust than V brakes, as they require more precision and fine-tuning.

Cantilever brakes also have shorter arms than V brakes, which gives them less leverage and mechanical advantage. This means that cantilever brakes require more input force from the rider to produce the same braking force as V brakes, but they also need less cable movement to achieve the same amount of brake arm movement as V brakes. Therefore, cantilever brakes need more frequent tuning and alignment than V brakes, as they are more affected by cable stretch or brake pad wear.

Cantilever brakes also have a more complex design than V brakes, as they have more parts and components. This makes cantilever brakes harder to replace the brake pads and the brake cable than V brakes, as they require more disassembly and reassembly. Cantilever brakes also have less available and affordable replacement parts than V brakes, as they are less common and popular among modern bikes.

However, cantilever brakes also have some advantages compared to V brakes. Cantilever brakes wear out the rim slower than V brakes, due to their lower friction and pressure on the rim. This can extend the lifespan of the rim and reduce the risk of rim failure or puncture. Cantilever brakes also need less cleaning and lubrication than V brakes, due to their protection from mud, dirt, and water. This can improve their performance and durability if done regularly or properly.

Are V Brake and Cantilever Interchangeable

In most cases, yes, but they require some part replacements.

One of the main differences between V brakes and cantilever brakes is the type of cable they use. V brakes use a different cable pull ratio than cantilever brakes, which means that if you want to switch from one to the other, you’ll need to replace the cable that is currently installed on your bike.

In addition to replacing the cable, it’s also a good idea to replace the cable hanger and brake pads when switching between V brakes and cantilever brakes. The cable hanger is the part that attaches to the frame and holds the cable in place. Since V brakes and cantilever brakes have different cable pull ratios, it’s important to have a cable hanger that is compatible with the brakes you are switching to.

Brake pads should also be replaced to ensure optimal braking performance. Different types of brakes require different types of brake pads, so make sure to choose the right ones for the brakes you are installing.

If you’re switching from V brakes to cantilever brakes or vice versa, you may also need to get new brake levers that match the cable pull of the brakes you are installing. Brake levers are responsible for activating the brakes, and different types of brakes require different amounts of cable pull to engage properly. Make sure to choose brake levers that are compatible with the brakes you are installing to ensure smooth and efficient braking.

Now that you know the parts that may need to be replaced, let’s go through the steps to interchange between V brakes and cantilever brakes on a bicycle.

Converting from Cantilever to V Brake

  1. Remove the old brake levers, cable hangers, and cantilever brakes using a 5mm hex wrench and a wrench.
  2. Mount the V brakes on the same posts as the cantilever brakes using marine grease and a 5mm hex wrench.
  3. Install new brake levers that are compatible with V brakes on the handlebars.
  4. Run new cables from the levers to the brakes through a noodle and a rubber boot.
  5. Adjust the brake tension and toe-in using a 5mm hex wrench and a screwdriver.

Converting from V Brake to Cantilever

  1. Remove the old brake levers, noodles, rubber boots, and V brakes using a 5mm hex wrench.
  2. Mount the cantilever brakes on the same posts as the V brakes using marine grease and a 5mm hex wrench.
  3. Install new brake levers that are compatible with cantilever brakes on the handlebars.
  4. Run new cables from the levers to the brakes through a straddle wire or link wire and a cable hanger.
  5. Adjust the brake tension and toe-in using a 5mm hex wrench and a screwdriver.

Conclusion

To summarize, V brakes and cantilever brakes are two types of rim brakes that have different design, performance, compatibility, and maintenance features.

V brakes have more braking power and modulation, are easier to set up and adjust, are more compatible with wider tires and fenders, but require levers with a longer cable pull, are more prone to squealing and vibrating, are less aerodynamic and more exposed to damage, wear out the rim faster, and need more cleaning and lubrication than cantilever brakes

Cantilever brakes have less braking power and modulation, are harder to set up and adjust, are less compatible with wider tires and fenders, but require levers with a shorter cable pull, are less prone to squealing and vibrating, are more aerodynamic and less exposed to damage, wear out the rim slower, and need less cleaning and lubrication than V brakes

If you are looking for a brake that offers more control and safety, is easier to install and maintain, and can handle different terrains and weather conditions better, then you should choose V brakes for your bike. However, if you are looking for a brake that works with your existing levers, is less noisy and more sleek, and causes less wear and tear on your rim, then you should choose cantilever brakes for your bike.

Thank you for reading this article. I hope it helped you understand the differences between V brakes and cantilever brakes on a bicycle. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below. Happy cycling!

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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