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What are the advantages of cartridge brake pads compared to non-cartridge ones? Do they offer better braking characteristics?

I'm about to replace brake pads on a 1994 MTB which has Shimano STX brakes (front) and STX-RC brakes (rear), model BR-MC33. Both are 'classic' low-profile cantilever brakes. The STX-RC brake has cartridge brake shoes (type M64/T for aluminium rims), whereas the older STX brake has non-cartridge ones.

Stores still sell Shimano non-cartridge replacement shoes for 'classic' cantilever brakes, but the replacement inserts I need are almost nowhere to find, anymore. I wonder if it's better to replace the brake shoes completely with cartridge ones from some alternative manufacturer, or to just go with easy-to-find non-cartridge replacements.

  • As an observation by LBS carries one type of cartridges and four different complete shoe assemblies. It may be a case of supply and demand where most riders prefer shiny new parts. – mikes Jun 8 '15 at 11:31
  • All the shops around me carry at least cool stop black and salmon inserts and typically Shimano inserts. It's all about what's available and convenient. – Benzo Jun 11 '15 at 14:36
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There's little difference between the two types as far as braking performance is concerned, as you can easily find the same pad compound in both types. I've been able to easily find Salmon Kool Stop brake shoes that fit the vintage Mafac brakes on my Peugeot 12 speed. That being said, the one issue you may run into is the lack of the correct inserts, which might be the case for your brakes. Even if you are able to find them, you may not have much variety.

Overall, you should use the non-cartridge pads. They're easier to find, relatively inexpensive and should offer you a wide selection. As a side note, you don't need to buy Shimano replacement pads. All that matters is how the brake pads fit into the brake arms.

  • Cartridge pads are usually regarded as superior to non-cartridge pads. The metal shoe is more resistant to flex than a rubber block and so offers better stopping power. – mattnz Jun 9 '15 at 3:54
  • The rubber blocks have a metal frame molded in the rubber. – ojs Jun 10 '15 at 15:34
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I generally use the cartridge brakes because I they are easier to replace. Just pull the cotter pin and slide out the old one, slide in the new one, replace the cotter pin and you are done. Don't have to re-setup the brakes. Another plus is the spares take up less space.

You can get various compounds with each type. The non-cartridge type have more material so can last longer. I have found the usually the OEM ones are too hard for my liking.

If you are ok with changing pads more often give them a try.

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    I find I still need to adjust the brakes, typically the tension. However, sometimes I can get away from positioning the pads and setting toe in if it was setup well prior to getting new pads. – Benzo Jun 11 '15 at 14:35
  • @Benzo, yes I agree you always need to adjust tension throughout brake wear. – Cory Roy Jun 11 '15 at 19:14
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    This probably depends on the type of brake, but for "classic" cantilevers, I've never made it all the way through a pad without adjusting position at least once (or else they tend to hit too low on the rim after enough wear), hence have never not needed to adjust when going from "very worn" to new ones anyway. – junkyardsparkle Oct 2 '15 at 20:56

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