I got a new bike but the front brake doesn't work. I tried reading up about the brake system on line and learned quite a bit (they're cantilever brakes). But I am missing something elementary and simple.

(1) Should the brake cable housing (the outer housing that the thin brake cable runs through) be affixed to the brake lever?

(2) If so, how do I attach it? My bike has two brakes -- Shimano STI levers and Tektro safety levers on the front. The cable runs through both, but there is no tension in either, and the housing doesn't attach to the Tektro lever -- it kind of just slips out of where the adjuster is located.

I know this must be a really simple problem, which is why I'm frustrated not to find instructions for what I should try to resolve it.

Thanks for any advice or pointers!

  • 1
    You shouldn't need to secure the housing to the levers or stops. The action of pulling on the levers seats the housing and compresses it, while the springs in your cantis pull out the slack when you release. You said the front brake doesn't work. Does the lever pull cable through the housing? Do your brake calipers move at all?
    – WTHarper
    Jul 17, 2012 at 19:35
  • Hi there, thanks so much for your response. No, the lever does not pull any cable through the housing, and the brake calipers do not move at all. There is a little bit of motion in the cable but it's not like the pull in the rear brake -- I think it's just caused by moving the cable a bit when I move the lever. Jul 17, 2012 at 19:52
  • Sometimes the cable is poorly routed (or poor quality/too stiff cable housings are used) and this forces the cable to not meet the lever opening square (and maybe similar problems on the other end). Jul 17, 2012 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


OK. Thanks for the additional info.

Start by making sure that the brake cable is connected to your drop lever. Check this out: http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help/shift-levers-shifters. The cable itself has a metal tab crimped onto the end that connects it to the lever. (Find the relevant photo. The brake cable is the larger cable. If this doesn't look familiar, you can search for more specific instructions on brake cable replacement for your particular STI model).

If the cable is correctly seated in the lever, make sure the cable hasn't become unclamped at the cable yoke (the metal bit which connects to your straddle cable linking the two sides of your cantilever calipers). You should be able to gently pull down on that yoke and feel the pull of the lever when you depress it. You can read Sheldon Brown's instruction on canti adjustment here: http://sheldonbrown.com/canti-trad.html

Make sure before you make any adjustments that the housing is seated at all of the cable stops. Also make sure that you are relatively confident in your skills here. Your front brake provides MOST of your braking force. If in doubt, definitely bring it back to the shop you purchased it from.

  • Thank you for this detailed information! By cable stops, do you mean places that the cable should run through/mount along the frame? If so, I think you resolved the problem. There was a small stop on the front of the frame below the handlebars that is apparently meant to hold the cable housing. Once I ran it through there, the brakes started to function. They're not perfect (I think now they just need minor adjustments) but they actually work. Thank you for this! Jul 18, 2012 at 7:33

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