I tend to brake almost exclusively with my right hand. This usually means that the V-brakes for my left hand (rear) build up grime over time. Then when I come to use the brakes when I do need to stop more abruptly, it works fine, but it doesn't release properly afterwards, and I'll need to reach behind me and adjust the brakes again to get them out of their jammed or half jammed position. Getting them unjammed is sometimes more easily achieved by buying a whole new brake rather than working them into a 'released' state. This does not happen on the front so I can only assume it's due to the relative disuse of my rear brake.

What strategies can I use to prevent this from happening? I know it's not an issue with the brakes being balanced, and it's happened on more than one bike.

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    You should check they are working and adjusted properly by applying them a few times at the start of each ride, this should be enough to stop them sticking from lack of use. Otherwise its down to normal maintenance - cable replacement (or lube) and brake adjustment etc. – mattnz Aug 1 '16 at 1:02
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    Welcome to Bicycles @yochannah. – andy256 Aug 1 '16 at 5:36
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    @njzk2: Apparently it varies depending on country, and Sheldon Brown thinks it's to do with which hand is safer to signal with depending on the side of road you're driving on: sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html#whichside – StackExchange What The Heck Aug 1 '16 at 15:25
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    @njzk2 The rear brake is on the left in most of the countries with left of the road traffic. – Carel Aug 1 '16 at 15:26
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    I'm in Canada, and my front brake is on the right. First thing I do with any bike I swap the cables, if necessary, to make it that way. I'm right handed; my dominant hand should control the dominant brake. Moreover, we signal using the left arm in this country. How can I indicate a turn, while braking to slow down, if the same hand is used for signaling and braking? So it is idiotic for the left to be front, on ... two fronts. – Kaz Aug 3 '16 at 3:42

Adding to the first part of mattnz's comment

You should check they are working and adjusted properly by applying them a few times at the start of each ride, this should be enough to stop them sticking from lack of use.

That, of course, applies to both brakes.

I would recommend using your rear brake more, since it's adequate for most braking tasks. I generally use both brakes in most situations. This gives me a good feel for how each is working, so when I really need them I have a good idea for what will happen. In emergency situations, though, remember that your front brake is 50% more powerful than the rear brake.

Another reason for ambidextrous braking is so that you can signal with either hand while braking. It has to be said that for most people this is a higher level skill, but you can begin to do it by braking gently.

But for completeness, I should mention that some people say the rear brake is almost useless. You can form your own opinion after reading what Sheldon Brown says here.

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    Especially if you park your bike in public bike racks it's worth trying the brakes every time you move off, before you get up to speed. Vandalism happens but is rare; careless handling i scommon and can also misalign brakes meaning they touch the rubber not the rim and don't work properly. This shoudl be enough to exercise your brakes – Chris H Aug 1 '16 at 9:41
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    @chrish Good point, and check that any QRs are closed as well. – Criggie Aug 1 '16 at 10:43
  • @Criggie. I hadn't thought of that with pinhead on one bike and nuts on the other. Good point. – Chris H Aug 1 '16 at 11:02
  • Regardless of which brake gets used most, sounds like OP's brakes need a good cleaning and re-lube--maybe the lever as well. If it still binds up, may need to replace the cable. Also check that the return springs are stiff enough (after the cleaning) to open the pads. – david1024 Aug 1 '16 at 13:12

Have you checked your cables for friction and resistance?

If the inner wire is corroded then movement thought the outer requires more force, and eventually the return spring on the brake is not strong enough.

The inner wire should ideally be shiny like this: enter image description here

You can get a set of inner wire and outers for relatively low cost example

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    Yeah, the problem sounds like a sticky cable to me. It's probably not necessary to replace it, but it likely needs lubing. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 1 '16 at 22:22
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    OP says it's happened on more than one bike, and the front brake is fine. Seems to be the difference is which brake is used. Yes, without frequent use the brakes and cables can get stiffer. That's why I think the solution is just use the rear more. – andy256 Aug 1 '16 at 23:03
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    @andy256 - The rear brake cable is longer, and, except on bikes with the spin-around fork scheme, will generally be the first to stick. (The cheap spin-around scheme usually involves a front cable in a U, like it was designed to capture rainwater.) Of course, how long a cable will last without attention depends a lot on how much it's exposed to the weather, as well as a few details on routing. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 2 '16 at 11:54

What riding conditions are usual for you? Do you have mudguards or anything else to stop muck being thrown into the rear brake mechanism?

Bits of a bike near the back wheel can get dirtier than near the front, and dirt in the pivots can also degrade the performance of v-brakes. So if you ride off-road or on dirty/wet roads, a regular good clean and occasional oil of the rear brake pivots might also be needed, on top of cleaning the cables.

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    Nice answer over on Photography :-) – andy256 Aug 4 '16 at 0:50
  • Thanks @andy256. I was lucky to be the first to figure it out. – Chris H Aug 4 '16 at 5:45

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