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I found an old bike and I am not experienced with bikes. I am wondering if these brakes need to be changed:

enter image description here

I am not sure if this is in all bikes, but the mechanism of the brakes looks too old to me. You just press the brakes and those cables get stretched and the bike stops. Is that ok/normal and safe?

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If you are asking if that is a valid brake design the answer is yes. Those are cantilever brakes. Not the most common brake but still very common. If the brakes are worn out then yes you would replace them but I would still replace them with cantilever as that is what the frame is set up for. – Paparazzi Jun 9 '14 at 14:24
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It's hard to say for sure from that picture but it appears that the brake pad may be misadjusted and rubbing against the tire. This is a standard adjustment for this type of brake (and no different really from the adjustment made on the most common "V-brake" style of brake). Other than that the brakes are fine, and, in fact, I prefer that style over any other. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 9 '14 at 15:14
    
If the brake pads are touching the tire, then it might be a good idea to replace the tire. – Mike Baranczak Jun 10 '14 at 3:25
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Those are cantilever brakes and as long as the cables are still intact, everything works as it should and the pads still have plenty of material left, they're perfectly fine. From the photo it looks like the pads are still okay, but replacing them can never hurt. A drop of oil on the hinges might not be a bad idea, too.

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You need a new tyre because of the wear, and probably new brake pads if its been sitting around for a couple years.

I can't tell if the main brake wire goes through the bridge and to one side, or if there's a separate yoke. If its a yoke wire between the two brake arms, I'd also suggest a wire catcher poking out of that hole in the crosspiece (where the old fashioned caliper brake would have mounted.)

Here's the wire catcher on my bike. Its really just a bolt with a long spoon-shaped catcher. I've made the same kind of thing from a long thin bolt and three nuts. The idea is if the main wire lets go, the straddle cable/yoke cable gets pulled down by the two springs in the canti arms. This pulls the wire into the tyre where it catches and you do a sudden unexpected deceleration. Admittedly this is more important on the front than the rear.

wire catcher.  Suspension is for pussies.

Yes the observant will see that I have a more modern wire where the yoke is only on one side, and the other side is the main brake cable. However I still don't trust it to release right should things go wrong, and I still need a bolt for my mudguard.

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On the front wheel a broken cable could catch on the knobs of the tyre. On the back it would also go through the seat stays, possibly jamming the yoke between the tyre and the seat stay. So you need a cable catcher on the back just as much (more on smoother tyres, espcially so with little clearance between the seat stay and tyre). The fall may be less serious if the back wheel jams (though not much less when traffic is a significant hazard) but the risk of it actually jamming is higher. – Chris H Dec 23 '15 at 9:54

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