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Balancing Cantilever Brakes

Old 11-28-23, 07:33 AM
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Balancing Cantilever Brakes

I just finishing working on the rear cantilever brake. In order to balance it, I found it necessary to have the spring on one side in the middle hole and other side on a different hole to provide for more tension. Is there any problem with this? I would switch to V brakes if the not for the fact that I have 8 speed XTR shifters attached to the brake. They function perfectly.
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Old 11-28-23, 07:52 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
I just finishing working on the rear cantilever brake. In order to balance it, I found it necessary to have the spring on one side in the middle hole and other side on a different hole to provide for more tension. Is there any problem with this? I would switch to V brakes if the not for the fact that I have 8 speed XTR shifters attached to the brake. They function perfectly.
Are you using a link wire? A straddle cable hanger would make it easier to balance the brakes. If the brake has an adjuster screw, make sure that it isn’t screwed in all the way. Cantilevers work better if both sides have a spring adjustment but that is often not an option. You may try rotating the brake arm away from the wheel to bend the spring a little as well.

Finally, the 8 speed XTR shifter/lever combo should be a long pull lever for V-brakes. I don’t know that XTR ever came in a short pull, cantilever configuration.
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Old 11-28-23, 07:59 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute
Are you using a link wire? A straddle cable hanger would make it easier to balance the brakes. If the brake has an adjuster screw, make sure that it isn’t screwed in all the way. Cantilevers work better if both sides have a spring adjustment but that is often not an option. You may try rotating the brake arm away from the wheel to bend the spring a little as well.

Finally, the 8 speed XTR shifter/lever combo should be a long pull lever for V-brakes. I don’t know that XTR ever came in a short pull, cantilever configuration.


daniell You should check that your wheel is in dish and centered in the dropouts, and that you pads are at the same extension from their arms. Then check to see if you have a little 2mm allen centering screw on one or both.

If everything else checks out, running two different tensions is sometimes necessary.
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Old 11-28-23, 08:00 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute
Are you using a link wire? A straddle cable hanger would make it easier to balance the brakes. If the brake has an adjuster screw, make sure that it isn’t screwed in all the way. Cantilevers work better if both sides have a spring adjustment but that is often not an option. You may try rotating the brake arm away from the wheel to bend the spring a little as well.

Finally, the 8 speed XTR shifter/lever combo should be a long pull lever for V-brakes. I don’t know that XTR ever came in a short pull, cantilever configuration.
These are definitely for cantilever brakes. I don't think that V brakes were available when these lever came out. The spring action on one side of the brake is very weak.
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Old 11-28-23, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
These are definitely for cantilever brakes. I don't think that V brakes were available when these lever came out. The spring action on one side of the brake is very weak.
I stand corrected. As to the brake caliper, you can try rotation of the spring to bend it out a little. You might also check that you have the proper spring in that arm. Springs come in left and right for cantilevers. You might also look into replacing the springs. The springs aren’t universal but you might be able to find something that has a spring that is close enough. Finally, you could look into a better cantilever if you can’t make these brakes work. Cantilevers with adjustment nuts like the Paul’s below are easier to balance.

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Old 11-28-23, 11:04 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
I have 8 speed XTR shifters attached to the brake. They function perfectly.
Those are great original shifters for whatever bike they already came with, I'd definitely stick with canti brakes on it all.

As much as I love the feel of cantis on my personal bikes, canti shoes are a PITA to align/balance and even when perfect, only work as far as they are designed to.

The arms on canti pads are too thin and simply stick out too much, this causes some flexing on sudden stopping. You can only feel what I am talking about once you do the swap.

This is solved with canti brakes that use common mtb v-brake pads, and road pads.

I have the Avid Shorty on one of my fave bikes, but there are also Tektro Oryx and Origin8 that are very affordable, and cost pretty much the same as the modern shimano ones.
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Old 11-28-23, 11:41 AM
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They are low end Shimano brakes. I once tried a higher end brake and the reach came up short. The bike certainly is not worth spending for Paul brakes. It is a Giant ATX 770. The triple crankset needs to be replaced. I was thinking of making it into a 1 X chainring.
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Old 11-28-23, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
They are low end Shimano brakes. I once tried a higher end brake and the reach came up short. The bike certainly is not worth spending for Paul brakes. It is a Giant ATX 770. The triple crankset needs to be replaced. I was thinking of making it into a 1 X chainring.
Paul’s aren’t the only cantilever that uses a nut tension adjuster. The Avid Shortys are an example. These Suntour XC Pros use a nut tension adjuster and would be more period correct. IRD cantilevers use them. You might have to search around a lot for used ones but there are a bunch of brakes with that kind of adjuster available on Ebay or, if you have a co-op close by, they will have boxes of cantilevers, some of which will have this kind of adjuster.
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Old 11-28-23, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute
Paul’s aren’t the only cantilever that uses a nut tension adjuster. The Avid Shortys are an example. These Suntour XC Pros use a nut tension adjuster and would be more period correct. IRD cantilevers use them. You might have to search around a lot for used ones but there are a bunch of brakes with that kind of adjuster available on Ebay or, if you have a co-op close by, they will have boxes of cantilevers, some of which will have this kind of adjuster.
Keep in mind that I am using a 1.95 tire. I don't know whether those brakes will accommodate that tire.
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Old 11-28-23, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by daniell
Keep in mind that I am using a 1.95 tire. I don't know whether those brakes will accommodate that tire.
All of those brakes were designed for use with 1.95 tires. That was the normal size for MTBs in the '90s.
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Old 11-28-23, 06:39 PM
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Originally Posted by daniell
Keep in mind that I am using a 1.95 tire. I don't know whether those brakes will accommodate that tire.
Cantis should accommodate just about any size tire, unless you’re using low-arm cantis like these vintage MT60’s, and have a very low cable stop; just because they have a big footprint triangle due to the long straddle cable

The Suntour XC PROs would be an excellent choice, as would most of the Shimano Deore (LX/XT) of the 1990s, like the M737.

Also echoing the above advice to use a separate straddle/yoke setup, rather than the Shimano link-wire, if possible.

Shimano MT60 on a 2.1” tire for reference
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Old 11-28-23, 08:52 PM
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Originally Posted by daniell
Keep in mind that I am using a 1.95 tire. I don't know whether those brakes will accommodate that tire.
I used cantilevers on 2.125” tires that were prevalent from the introduction of the mountain bike in the early 80s to the mid 90s. They have a bit more clearance than linear brakes. I still have one mountain bike(ish) bike with cantis because those fit around fenders. The winter tires I use are 2.125”. V-brakes won’t work with the wide fender.



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Old 11-28-23, 09:29 PM
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Originally Posted by daniell
I just finishing working on the rear cantilever brake. In order to balance it, I found it necessary to have the spring on one side in the middle hole and other side on a different hole to provide for more tension. Is there any problem with this? I would switch to V brakes if the not for the fact that I have 8 speed XTR shifters attached to the brake. They function perfectly.
I've found I could get the pads equal distance to the rims with cantis just pushing the straddle off-center. I suppose I have caused earlier deaths for a purist or two but never noticed any difference in braking ability. For really challenging cantis I use the straddles with the set screws that clamp onto the straddle wire. (Having the springs in different holes? Absolutely no biggie. As the cantis get older, things get funkier and less symmetrical. But they work just fine nearly forever. I had my Mooney made for cantis because I knew the coming years were going to be intense, that bike was going to be my link to sanity and it probably wasn't going to get a lot of attention. My crazy post-head injury years. The cantis lived up to the task wonderfully.)

Oh, I am assuming a straddle cable, not a link wire. I hate the link wires so much I've banned them from memory and talk like they don't exist. Sorry.
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Old 11-29-23, 12:57 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
They are low end Shimano brakes. I once tried a higher end brake and the reach came up short. The bike certainly is not worth spending for Paul brakes. It is a Giant ATX 770. The triple crankset needs to be replaced. I was thinking of making it into a 1 X chainring.


low end can be ok

STX RC cantilever brakes on an ATX 760 - they work very well

Kool Stop pads replaced the original pads that were hard (and fortunately don’t squeal as some Kool Stop pads will)

shown with 1.75 tires - but as mentioned above the clearance is generous and will accept tires in excess of 2.0

please note - I believe you can use something like a ‘travel agent’ or similar (?) if you desire to pair linear brakes (‘V brakes/whatever) with brake levers that have a pull designed for cantilever brakes

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Old 11-29-23, 06:45 AM
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I ran into a problem adjusting the front brake. These are the Shimano Altus CT91 brake. It has an adjustment on one side. I turned the screw too hard and the screw now turns without grabbing. It goes into a plastic housing. I would gladly replace the brakes with a higher end model. As I previously mentioned, the last one I tried did not work out. The pads would not go low enough to reach the rim.
I ride this bike more often than my road bike. Now that I am old, I feel more secure on the wider tires.
I see this as my choices.
1. Buy a new bike.
2. Change the the drive chain to a 1 X. I am happy with the XTR shifters however.
3. Buy another pair of the CT91 brakes
I would like to begin the process soon so that I can be ready to ride in the Spring.
All suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
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Old 11-29-23, 07:52 AM
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I should have mentioned. I think that the main reason for the difficulty in the brake balancing it that the angle from the hanger to the brake is far from straight.
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Old 11-30-23, 03:53 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
I ran into a problem adjusting the front brake. These are the Shimano Altus CT91 brake. It has an adjustment on one side. I turned the screw too hard and the screw now turns without grabbing. It goes into a plastic housing. ...........
I see this as my choices.
1. Buy a new bike.
2. Change the the drive chain to a 1 X. I am happy with the XTR shifters however.
3. Buy another pair of the CT91 brakes
I would like to begin the process soon so that I can be ready to ride in the Spring.
All suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
Other than the first one, none of those seem like options that will address the brake setup issue you're having (any option #1 just scraps the entire bike) I don't know how 1x will improve it, either.

Don't get another pair of the CT91s. They're junk. Anything Deore, LX or XT is way better. Tektro ORYX is a good brake as well.

Is this the front or rear brake you're having trouble with? Sometimes rear brakes can have packaging issues that make setup difficult. Pictures would help here.
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Old 11-30-23, 04:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Ironfish653
Is this the front or rear brake you're having trouble with? Sometimes rear brakes can have packaging issues that make setup difficult. Pictures would help here.
Says front
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Old 11-30-23, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by choddo
Says front
i gotta cut down on my beer consumption as i keep reading it as rear.
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Old 11-30-23, 05:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Ironfish653
Other than the first one, none of those seem like options that will address the brake setup issue you're having (any option #1 just scraps the entire bike) I don't know how 1x will improve it, either.

Don't get another pair of the CT91s. They're junk. Anything Deore, LX or XT is way better. Tektro ORYX is a good brake as well.

Is this the front or rear brake you're having trouble with? Sometimes rear brakes can have packaging issues that make setup difficult. Pictures would help here.
Since all 3 chainrings are worn, getting a 1 X would enable me to change the shifter. I can then add new levers and install V brakes. Since the inception of this bike, both brakes were never balanced. I just lived with it. As I previously mentioned I tried higher end brakes. The pads would not go down low enough to reach the rims. I have come to believe that the problem is caused by the cable coming from the hanger at an angle.
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Old 11-30-23, 06:37 AM
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I don’t know what the “other high end brake” you tried that didn’t fit was, but it doesn’t look like the rims are particularly low, based on the current pad orientation.

The cable doesn’t come out of the hanger at an angle, the hanger appears to be centered on the wheel; the problem is the Shimano Link-Wire; the cable runs from the hanger, to the round button, and then to the arm on the right. Under tension, the cable tries to pull itself straight, and adds to the spring tension on that side; as in, it tries to pull on the left arm, even when released, so you have to have more spring tension on the left side arm to get them to open evenly. Those particular CT91s may have had one heavier an on lighter spring for just that reason, you may have them reversed.
Stripping the adjustment screw didn’t help much, the plastic bodies are a known weakness of those Altus brakes.

If you do decide to install another pair of cantis, use one that has a separate straddle cable and yoke. They’re a couple more steps to install, but they work way better once adjusted, since the pull cable is separate from the balance between the two sides.

Another tip for installing/setting up cantis, especially vintage ones with post-mount pads is to dismount the tire and do the setup on the bare rim; you can see both sides at the same time, so you can get your pad angles right, and there’s more room to work, especially on the frame side of the brake arm, without the tire in the way.
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Old 11-30-23, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Ironfish653
I don’t know what the “other high end brake” you tried that didn’t fit was, but it doesn’t look like the rims are particularly low, based on the current pad orientation.

The cable doesn’t come out of the hanger at an angle, the hanger appears to be centered on the wheel; the problem is the Shimano Link-Wire; the cable runs from the hanger, to the round button, and then to the arm on the right. Under tension, the cable tries to pull itself straight, and adds to the spring tension on that side; as in, it tries to pull on the left arm, even when released, so you have to have more spring tension on the left side arm to get them to open evenly. Those particular CT91s may have had one heavier an on lighter spring for just that reason, you may have them reversed.
Stripping the adjustment screw didn’t help much, the plastic bodies are a known weakness of those Altus brakes.

If you do decide to install another pair of cantis, use one that has a separate straddle cable and yoke. They’re a couple more steps to install, but they work way better once adjusted, since the pull cable is separate from the balance between the two sides.

Another tip for installing/setting up cantis, especially vintage ones with post-mount pads is to dismount the tire and do the setup on the bare rim; you can see both sides at the same time, so you can get your pad angles right, and there’s more room to work, especially on the frame side of the brake arm, without the tire in the way.
Thanks for your informative reply.
Even when I bought the bike, one brake block was all the way in and the other side was way out. Otherwise there was not enough clearance for the wheel. I am sorry that I have not made myself clear. Also, if I changed the system and then installed V brakes, would that simply matters?
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Old 11-30-23, 07:48 AM
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Yep it happens and your fix is correct and will work fine.
Not all springs are the same...I know this because I used to test their 'return rate' and they were all a bit different.
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Old 11-30-23, 07:51 AM
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Originally Posted by daniell
Since all 3 chainrings are worn, getting a 1 X would enable me to change the shifter. I can then add new levers and install V brakes. Since the inception of this bike, both brakes were never balanced. I just lived with it. As I previously mentioned I tried higher end brakes. The pads would not go down low enough to reach the rims. I have come to believe that the problem is caused by the cable coming from the hanger at an angle.
The left pad has much more shaft exposed than the right pad. That's why everything is wonky.

And those shafts should be much closer to horizontal, which is probably why you think other brake calipers won't go low enough.

This is roughly how your pads should be oriented:



So all your problems seem to be how you've adjusted the pads at an angle and off center.
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Old 11-30-23, 08:07 AM
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Originally Posted by jadmt
i gotta cut down on my beer consumption as i keep reading it as rear.
Yeah that was the OP. The last one, that was quoted, changed end.
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