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I've done some light maintenance on cheap side caliper systems and I've run into this problem on a few older bikes.

When the the brakes are applied, the pads barely move at all. I've adjusted the brakes so the pads are closer, but they still don't come far enough. They are also rather difficult to push. This only seems to occur on the rear brakes, presumably because they're used the most (at least by these bikers).

Do I need to just get new (better) brake systems or is there some way to fix this?

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The cables may be rusted or worn out, or simply in need of lube. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 19 '13 at 3:32
    
The cables aren't rusted from what I can see (but I can't see the encased portion). They could be worn out. –  American Luke Aug 19 '13 at 11:45

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The inner break spring could also be stucked by rust. In both case, you should remove it, clean it off, then lube it.

In the worst case you'll have to change it.

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I haven't been able to take another look at the bike yet, but I'll let you know when I do and if this worked. Thanks. –  American Luke Aug 19 '13 at 21:48

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