I have a bicycle with cantilever brakes.

Under light rain or dry weather the braking action is not very powerful, but good enough.

However, under heavy rain the braking action gets close to 0. This become especially problematic if I carry luggage or am going downhill (it can take > 100m to stop under theses conditions).

What can I do to improve this?


Note: the pads are a bit worn out and I will replace them soon, this is however not the source of my problem (encountered it while they was new/ well adjusted)


Finally I got a heavy rain and could test out the proposed solutions. I fixed the brake angle on both front and back wheel. I changed only front brakes pas with newer ones (thicker, bigger water drain, but shorter ones).

  1. Yoke angle did yield a noticeable improvement on the braking action, wether wet or dry
  2. Changing the pads yielded the a huge difference in braking action under wet weather only (wear was not a factor here)

Conclusion: Both technique should be used together. Choosing an appropriate pad is VERY important.

  • 3
    It might sound like a silly question, but are the rims Aluminium or Steel? Steel rims are bad for braking, and obsolete.
    – andy256
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 3:35
  • @andy256 Well I'm not sure but it's possibly steel. The bicycle model is a Bruno 700C from 2012 or 2013
    – Antzi
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 3:48
  • 1
    Also, how much "play" is in the brake levers before the brakes begin to engage? If it is too short, then you might not be able to grip sufficient force onto the levers. If it is too long, then you might not be fully engaging the brake before the levers reach their limit of motion.
    – Aron
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 6:19
  • 3
    The symptoms are more likely with steel but that rim looks like alloy (though it's hard to tell). Maybe you should try it with a magnet.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 6:35
  • 2
    I should note that the "wiping" isn't to get the rims perfectly dry, but rather to get mud, sand, and goo off them. When you brake continuously the muck builds up under and around the pads, and so intermittent braking is needed to shed it. Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 17:51

5 Answers 5


The first step is to replace the brake pads with new ones. Even if they're not worn out, old pads harden and brake poorly. I like Kool Stop ones - they're black or a sort of salmon-coloured pad.

You should be able to press a thumbnail into the braking surface and leave a clear mark.

After that, check your alignment, and make sure the pads sit near to the rim with no pressure on the lever. A little lever movement should be all it takes to start braking, and then increased hand pressure increases the pad pressure.

Upshots - your rims need to be true, which means no wobbles as you spin them. I try to true wheels to within 0.5mm of completely flat, but 1mm of wobble is workable.

  • I noticed the problem 100km after changing the pads, so age is hardly an issue. It has been a while since then, so I'll change them and check everything you said.
    – Antzi
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 2:12
  • 1
    Its not impossible the new pads you bought were already old. Check with the thumbnail test.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 2:17
  • 6
    Some low cost brakes pads tend to perform poorly even when new
    – mikes
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 10:21
  • 1
    Greasy rim perform poor with all pads.
    – Crowley
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 19:04

I think your transverse cable has got too great of an angle, and you can adjust it to provide more powerful braking force.

Much of the mechanical advantage of cantilever brakes comes from the "yoke angle", the angle the transverse cable makes from the horizontal. Sheldon Brown explains this in detail on his page about cantilever geometry (it's actually more complicated than Sheldon's explanation, but it's a good approximation)

enter image description here

(based off cantilever brake image from Shimano)

A transverse cable that pulls vertically upwards would have no additional mechanical advantage, so would have a mechanical advantage of "1" while a transverse cable that is completely horizontal would have in infinite mechanical advantage (it's impossible to have a completely horizontal cable since once you apply the brakes, the cable will deviate). The mechanical advantage is 1/sin(yoke angle) and he provides a handy chart:

Yoke Angle
(Degrees) Mechanical
90°   1
80°   1.015
70°   1.063
60°   1.15
50°   1.31
40°   1.55
30°   2
20°   2.92
10°   5.76
5°    11.47
0°    Infinity!

It's hard to tell exactly what your angle is in that picture, but it looks like it's close to 60 degrees, so you're not getting much mechanical advantage from the yoke angle.

If you can decrease this angle either by shortening the tranverse cable, or by widening the cantilever arms by sliding the brake shoes closer to the rim (which would help "flatten" the transverse cable, decreasing the yoke angle), you can gain significantly more mechanical advantage. You don't want just go for the greatest amount of mechanical advantage since you'll run out of available cable travel if it's too high, but you can definitely tune the brakes for greater mechanical advantage.

There are additional cantilever adjustment tips on Shelden Brown's cantilever adjustment page.

  • Generally you don't want the transverse link cable to rest on the safety catch thing. Close to it is fine though.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 7:55
  • I want to accept your answer but so far I've been slipping through the typhoons and have yet to encounter an other heavy rain to test your solution. I tweaked my bicycle according to your post, and have a better braking action. Just need the rain to confirm this is enough.
    – Antzi
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 13:19
  • 2
    Of course, merely talking about the rain was enough to draw one.
    – Antzi
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 1:34

In addition to your other answer, it's well worth checking/changing the cables. Rusty cables (or full of muck) have more friction which means more of the force on the lever goes into bending the cables. This is especially true if the cable routing has significant bends (more common at the back). New cables ran so much better for me that I could reduce the tension in the return springs as well. My bike with cantilevers has plastic brake levers that bend if you pull hard enough, and hit the grips, limiting the maximum force, so the cables have to be just right.

  • I checked that several time, and this is most likely not the cause of the issue.
    – Antzi
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 6:37
  • I thought that too. It was only when I detached both ends that I found I was wrong. But that of course might be how you checked it.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 6:47
  • The cable is a 2 months old, but I'll check again.
    – Antzi
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 6:49
  • If it's actually been changed recently, you're probably fine.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 6:54
  • @chrisH unrelated to OP's question, but bendy brake levers are bad. Do consider buying yourself some decent ones.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 7:56

The stopping ability of the brakes is driven by friction coefficient of your brake-rim-lubrication setup and the force you, able to apply and friction of tire-ground setup. Suppose the third part is not a problem.

You probably lose the braking power by:

  • Old and dirty pads - you can try to grind them sligtly or replace with new ones. (Criggie's answer)
  • Old and greasy rim - try to clean them with ethanol, acetone, MEK or other (aggressive) solvent or replace with new one.
  • Be sure the pads are properly aligned.

If the tribological properties are at their best and you still lack braking power you don't have applied enough force to the pads. This may be caused by:

  • Poor yoke angle - try to set the cantilevers a bit wider. Or replace them with V-brakes. (Johnny's answer)
  • Check and clean both cables and bowdens. Rusty cable and rusty bowden are the places where you lose the braking force. Also check whether the cable or bowdens are not bent or broken. If so, replace them and keep them lubed. Also check whether you don't have "soft" brake levers. (Chris' answer).
  • 1
    I think "yog angle" should be "yoke angle" or maybe Y-angle. I'd start with a less aggressive solvent - methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) works well on rims and doesn't damage tyres or brake pads.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 15:20

Just an idea here, but have you tried to see if you could put V Brakes on to your bike? Even if it's just the front, that would still improve your stopping power. I used to have cantilever brakes on one of my bikes a long time ago and when I went to V Brakes it was so much better. Cantilever brakes aren't all that good at giving you stopping power. Perhaps if you can change over to V brakes I think you will see an improvement. I hope this idea helps.

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