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I have a Cannondale touring bike from the early 2000s that I use as my daily commuter. With the stock cantilever brakes and original front wheel, I had a lot of front brake squealing. I did the standard maintenance to try and make it stop (toeing, sanding, etc), and it returned persistently. I've even replaced the front wheel (independent reason: got a dynamo) and the brake calipers (Avid Shorty), all to have the squealing come back.

This isn't just any minor squeal, this is "audible from 100 yards, plug your ears, the bike is screaming in pain" kind of embarrassing noise.

Would it be possible that it's the canti mounts on the forks that are causing the squealing? Would replacing the fork be a possibility for fixing this?

I've been thinking that I might try switching to disk brakes, but I don't want to just have a different kind of squealing.

I already have a disk-compatible front hub (Shimano Alfine dynamo hub with CenterLock), but I'd need to get a new fork to get the tabs and calipers. I don't want to throw away $200 (fork + brakes) if I'm just going to be squealing again or subject to a different annoying noise.

Would it make sense to do this in stages? I.e. get a fork with disk and canti tabs and try that, and if the squeal returns try the disk option?

  • So you have the same brakes and pads in the rear and no squeak? Depending on the mount you can get a feedback loop on the play in the headset. Please post a picture. And do you have play on brake mount and/or headset? – paparazzo Mar 11 '15 at 17:23
  • You need to adjust the "toe-in" of the brakes -- the angle of the pad relative to the surface of the rim. A good mechanic can do this by eye, but the use of a "third hand" and some shims makes it easier for the less experienced. (Fronts will squeal worse than rears due to the flex of the fork.) – Daniel R Hicks Mar 11 '15 at 17:53
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    (And keep in mind that the biggest complaint about disk brakes is squealing.) – Daniel R Hicks Mar 11 '15 at 17:55
  • Avid shortys are generally the cause of this problem, not the solution. They are notorious for squealing. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Mar 11 '15 at 20:05
  • I've adjusted toe in a couple of times. Works for about a week. I talked to my mechanic and he suggested a cross toe-in, so I'll give that a try next. I don't notice play in the headset, but there might be on the brake mounts. I am informed that those are replaceable, so that might be attempt two . – Aphoid Mar 12 '15 at 21:04
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I switched from an aluminum fork to carbon and the brakes howled like crazy. I went the usual route of cleaning, adjusting etc. What worked is counterintuitive, but I toed the shoes out. The noise went away immediately. I read somewhere that it can have something to do with the harmonics of the carbon fork. So I have the rears toed in and the front toed out and there is no noise.

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I have a bike with cantilevers and I can understand the frustration. I spent a lot of time last summer getting my brake pads aligned properly so they didn't squeal. In the end I got it to work with the brakes I had, but it took quite a lot of futzing around to get the angle just right.

Some people recommend getting a fork crown mounted cable stop to eliminate squealing. I didn't try this myself, but it would be something relatively inexpensive to try before going the route of disc brakes.

fork crown mounted cable stop

  • I don't think this particular solution will work for me as my dynamo headlight is attached to the hole where this would attach. There just isn't much room there. – Aphoid Mar 12 '15 at 21:02
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I would try something less expensive first. For me, switching to Kool Stop brake pads has worked even better than toeing in when in resolving this type of vibration. I'm not surprised that replacing the front wheel didn't affect the problem since it's not likely to be the cause of the vibration.

  • I've been using Kool Stop for years. Thanks for the suggestion though. – Aphoid Mar 12 '15 at 21:05
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I tried doing a "cross" toe-in/toe-out with my brakes (really just adjusted the right-front to be toe-out and left the left one alone with its "toe-in" ). They have been virtually silent for 3 short rides so far. I'll update if this changes with wear.

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I had a persistent problem with squealing Shimano LX V-brakes years ago. Switching to XT V-brakes and trying 5 different kinds of brake pads didn't help. Toe in, toe out, no toe, mistletoe - nothing made any difference.

Eventually I got a new fork with disk brake mounting tabs and installed an inexpensive mechanical disk brake (Avid) and never had to worry about any part of the brake ever again. It was easy to install and 100% trouble free for over 5 years.

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