I've got an old Raleigh Winner (1980s 10 speed racer) which is perfect in almost every single way for what I need it for (I got given it free, it's very speedy and also looks cool).

However, the brakes are dodgy to say the least. I had to take the rear brake off entirely the other week as the bit that holds the cable in the brake lever fell off (mildly alarming as I was trying to stop at the time!). I haven't replaced it yet as it was basically useless before, should I bother?

In the dry, the front brake is incredibly squeaky but very effective (I adjusted the toe the other week?) In the wet though, it just won't stop and it's bloody frightening! I think the brakes might be cantilevers (they've got two wire spring things on pivoting arms) but they're so useless in the wet! Admittedly, I think the brake blocks are probably as old as the bike, but why are they so bad in the wet compared to the dry? Freewheeling to a stop is nearly as effective (and when/if the brakes do eventually bite, they whole bike vibrates and judders, it's very odd)! The tyres seem to be fine as well.

Would some new brake blocks and/or cables solve the problem (the rims are steel, which apparently makes a difference)? I'm a student so I'm hardly drowning in the dolla and also a bike n00b so I'm not great on the technicalities. What should I do?


  • bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/6419/… has some good information on brake pads for steel rims.
    – keithmo
    Nov 6, 2015 at 23:32
  • What is the bit that holds the cable that fell off? Can you describe this? Is it the tensioner or the quick release lever? Without knowing what model brakes you have it's hard for me to know. I think you probably have single-pivot sidepull brakes, not cantilever unless the ones installed are after-market. Can you post a photo?
    – BEVR1337
    Nov 7, 2015 at 1:16
  • It is normal for rim brakes to be quite less effective when wet. It's worse, of course, if the blocks are old, worn, and hardened. You should fix the rear brakes -- it's very dangerous to only have one set of brakes. Nov 7, 2015 at 2:51
  • 1
    The Wikipedia article on bike brakes has images of the different types of brakes. As others have indicated, you likely have "single-pivot side-pull caliper brakes". If you lost the fitting that connects the brake cable to one arm of the caliper brake, that's a fairly standard item and a bike shop should be able to dig up a replacement. Nov 7, 2015 at 2:56
  • You should likely replace both brake cables and all four brake blocks. Nov 7, 2015 at 2:57

4 Answers 4


There are a lot of things that could be wrong and a picture of the bike might help confirm this, so I'll just make a list of some things to check and what they need (this is by no means comprehensive):

1) Brake pads -- if they're old, they've likely dried out. Replace them. Needs a hex key. Make sure they're also hitting the rim and not rubbing anywhere. Also, clean the rims with rubbing alcohol (or if you're a student, vodka).

2) Brake cables -- these can rust or the lining of the cables can be worn out making them not work properly. You need a housing cutter/dremel + awl + file to do this.

3) Adjust the brakes. They look like single pivot sidepull brakes from google images, and you can find directions to adjust them here. You need probably a hex key and maybe a screwdriver. Also, make sure the caliper is secured to the frame.

4) The judder could be lots of things -- theres a certain amount of judder on all bikes. Could be a loose headset (is the fork moving when you hold the front brake and try to move the bike?). Or it might go away if you fix 1-3.

My suggestion is that if you don't know much about bikes or don't have someone to help you is to take the bike to a bike shop to get it checked out and see what needs repair, since you may not have all the tools you need to fix it or the expertise. You need both brakes in case one fails.

  • I’ve never understood what people hope to achieve by cleaning the rims. It will only slightly improve performance for a very short time. I agree that proper brake pads and cables will certainly help and probably solve the problem.
    – Michael
    Nov 7, 2015 at 9:00
  • I clean the rims when installing new pads or if I suspect road (oil, asphalt sealer, paint etc. ) contamination. I have seen old pads leave streaks of rubber residue on the rims ,especially on old steel rims. In these cases it does make a difference.
    – mikes
    Nov 7, 2015 at 15:49
  • @Michael you clean the rims for improved braking but also so you aren't grinding sharp road and bike debris into your rims. It'll wear them out quicker and less evenly if you leave them dirty all the time.
    – BEVR1337
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:55
  • Has anyone got any suggestions for some decent (but cheap) brake blocks and cables? My brakes are the single pivot sidepull type (here's what the back one looks like: dropbox.com/s/m0mbg3rifvygs5p/…).
    – Dan Grove
    Nov 7, 2015 at 23:38
  • @BEVR1337 Depends on your rim surface. Carbon is so bad it needs special pads to reduce wear. Aluminium wears away over some number of years, and Steel doesn't really care until the chrome has worn through or it gets a dent in the rim's braking surface. Given its an 80s bike its going to most likely be steel rims or perhaps 5% chance of aluminium.
    – Criggie
    Nov 8, 2015 at 2:32

Along with changing your brake pads/cables, you might want to eventually explore switching out what is undoubtedly steel rims on your bike with new aluminum alloy rims. The steel rims are notoriously 'slippery' to brakes -- especially when wet. The judder you're experiencing could also be a bent rim and a new rim would fix that (so would retruing your current wheel).

You can either rebuild them using the old hubs or buy new built wheels. Because of the hand labor of rebuilding if you use a bike shop, it's often cheaper to just get new machine built rims with new hubs.

Your bike likely has 27" wheels. You can swap them out with 700c contemporary wheels if you have enough reach on your brakes. Most brakes do. I did the same thing with my 1975 Peugeot UO-18 and the braking is now stellar with alloy rims.

  • 2
    27" aluminum rims made in the early 80s are common and would be a cheaper and easier replacement. Brakes would be correct reach and the hub would be for a freewheel cassette so there wouldn't be compatibility issues. Also its better style points ;)
    – BEVR1337
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:58

I fixed up a bike of similar age and spec recently. Just fit four brand new rubber brake pads. You'll need to take an old one in to a LBS to get the right thing.

The juddering will be stressing the front forks - don't do that. Also check the forks for alignment... any "odd" feelings when you hit a small bump could be related to frame mis-alignment.

You'll never get great braking from these old things - if they were any good, noone would have moved to more modern designs. However it should get better when tuned right.


I can't really improve on the comments already made by others. But, new pads will help & yes you need 2 brakes. Truing the wheels and setting the pads close to the rim will also help. As someone else commented, steel rims are slippery. Rim brake performance will suffer in wet conditions, but steel rims do make this much worse.

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