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I have a Dawes Giro Competition with Vuelta Stylus Corsa rims (aluminium I think although I'm not certain), Mavic Aksion 700x25c slick tyres and Tektro R540 brakes. Brake pads are standard Tektro pads with plenty of pad left. All cabling is serviced and fully functional. Braking power is excellent in dry conditions.

When the road is wet, braking power is minimal. I need to improve braking power for the winter for my own safety. I've done some research to come up with some options:

  1. Buy wet weather brake pads (Koolstop Dura 2 or Swissstop Green).
  2. Buy winter tyres with lots of thread to improve grip on road.
  3. Attempt to roughen the surface of the rims with sandpaper.

Option 1 is the cheapest and reviews of these brake pads are very positive. Option 2 is expensive and may not improve braking performance. Option 3 is hit-and-miss and I don't want to damage the rims.

What is my best option to improve my braking power in wet conditions?

Additional information from OP, provided in a comment:
I can apply the brakes quite hard without skidding. I mainly use the back brake. Perhaps new brake pads are my best option.

  • I have Swissstop Green and they're great, although I think they are mainly for allow wheels as opposed to wet conditions. They work pretty well in the wet though, not much better than black compound IMO. – ebrohman Nov 9 '16 at 23:46
  • link to info on green compound: swissstop.com/rimbrakes/fullflashpro/ghp2 – ebrohman Nov 9 '16 at 23:47
  • Related: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/42023/… – Antzi Nov 10 '16 at 9:20
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    Your rims are almost certainly aluminium. Do not rough them up with sandpaper - this is an extremely bad idea. – Qwerky Nov 10 '16 at 10:21
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You have commented

I mainly use the back brake.

I therefore propose option 4: improve your braking technique before spending any money.

If you only use half of your bicycle's brakes, you can't expect to stop quickly. Further, you're using much less than half your available braking force, because the back brake is much less effective than the front one. This is because, as you brake, your weight shifts forwards, pushing your front wheel harder onto the ground and reducing your weight on the back wheel. On a dry road, your front brake can do almost all the work of stopping you, and stop you much faster than your rear brake. On a wet road, you need to make more careful use of both brakes because of the decreased grip of your tyres but, still, you need to be using the front brake much more than you do.

Sheldon Brown, as always, has lots of advice on braking. Many people worry that using the front brake will cause you to go over the handlebars. It is true that if you screw up really badly and front-brake really, very, a lot, much too hard, you might go over the handlebars. I have never come close to doing this. In fifteen years of commuting by bike in two of the UK's biggest cycling cities, I've never seen anybody else do it, either. It's an incredibly rare thing to happen and not something you should be afraid of.

The main difference from rear-wheel braking is that you can essentially pull the rear brake as hard as you like and the worst that can happen is that your rear wheel will skid, which you can stop by letting go of the brakes for a moment. To use the front brake, you do need to learn how hard you can pull it in different situations. As with everything about riding bikes, the way to learn is to practise on a quiet road. I categorically promise to you that, if you brake gently with the front brake, you will not go over the handlebars. You can then experiment by braking a bit harder and moving a bit faster. You'll find that you can brake pretty hard without coming even close to having something bad happen. Brace your arms against the handlebars, too, so you're not lungeing forwards faster than the bike as you stop.

A couple of other things to bear in mind when braking in the wet.

  • Manhole covers and painted lines in the road can be extremely slippery: avoid them where possible. This is particularly important when using the front brake because front-wheel skids are harder to recover from; it's also important while cornering.

  • In general, even in the dry, be wary of using the front brake while cornering since a skid is more likely when you're putting load on the tyre by cornering and braking at the same time.

  • If you see that you might need to brake soon, gently apply the brakes to remove some of the water from the wheel rims. Then, if you do need to brake, your brakes will be more effective.

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    After that, option 5 is disk brakes. Costly conversion, but they do work in the wet. – andy256 Nov 10 '16 at 8:49
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First you need to decide what's limiting your braking.

If it's the tyres on the road skidding -- or you're having to back off the brakes to avoid that -- then changing your tyres might help. But tread might not be what you need on a smooth surface.

If you can apply the brakes quite hard without skidding, and still slow down less than you'd like, look at the pads. I run dual compound kool stop pads in all conditions and I'm happy with them. Double check the rim material before shopping for pads.

It's also possible that you're relying too much on the back brake. Most of the stopping power comes from the front, though you do need to take care in the wet as when a front wheel skids it's much worse than when the back does so. It's also much less likely.

Another thought: adjustment. On all rim breaks you have to squeeze the lever harder for wet rims. With good pads/rims the difference is minimal. With bad pads it's significant. With a good mechanism the harder squeeze won't result in much more movement of the lever. With poor components or even sloppy cable routing the travel can increase. It's then possible for your levers to bottom out, especially if you've got a big gap between the rim and the brake at rest. That's what the barrel adjuster is for, though the wheel needs to be in good shape to if you want to minimise the gap. This is harder to get right if you've got small hands and have adjusted the lever rest position.

  • Opinion here so not part of my answer. The tektro brakes I've seen have all been disappointing, as have their pads. It wouldn't surprise me if your brakes were better but the pads were still poor. – Chris H Nov 9 '16 at 19:39
  • I can apply the brakes quite hard without skidding. I mainly use the back brake. Perhaps new brake pads are my best option. – Mowing Bar Nov 9 '16 at 20:04
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    With new pads at worst you've replaced a consumable early, so that's what I'd do first. The back wheel gets a lot of dirty water thrown up at it so the pads have to clean the rim before they're very effective. Better pads are shaped to help this. – Chris H Nov 9 '16 at 20:35
  • I have to agree with the choice of brake pad. The Kool Stop pads (salmon color) have really worked well for me. You might also consider having your brakes adjusted by a pro. I can never get mine dialed in quite as well as a seasoned mechanic can. I also agree that you should spend more time using your front brake. – Drew Smith Nov 9 '16 at 22:02
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See also (or see especially) other answers about using the front brake, tires, road, body position.

This answer is in addition: I guess you won't want to do this since it may involve a new bike, but for next time, my understanding is that disk brakes work better than rim brakes.

In a comment, you wrote,

I can apply the brakes quite hard without skidding. I mainly use the back brake. Perhaps new brake pads are my best option.

Rim brakes are OK on "road bikes" a.k.a. "racing bikes", which are meant for going rather than for stopping; when I bought a bike for commuting though I got one with disk brakes, because I'm cycling in vehicular traffic and in the rain (or snow).

I understand that disk brakes are also used on mountain bikes, which need to stop when going downhill and when wet and muddy.

Apparently disk brakes are inherently better gripped, because they don't get as wet and dirty (and/or they're smaller than a rim so they wipe dry more easily when you apply the brake), and they're stronger so you can squeeze them harder (because the disk is a solid whereas a wheel rim isn't).

With these brakes, if I squeezed the brake hard and fast I could reliably skid the back wheel even on dry road. I've never dared to squeeze the front brake too hard: because I suspect they'd stop the wheel though not the bike.

  • One of my bikes has pretty poor brakes. If the road is dry so are the rims and sliding the back wheel is trivial. So that's not really a test of braking strength. And good rim brakes (or good pads) are on a par with cheap disc brakes. – Chris H Nov 10 '16 at 12:53
  • I recently tried a BSO whose poor brakes slow the wheel without stopping it, bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/20566/… notwithstanding. I don't know what the OP means by "I can apply the brakes quite hard without skidding" but in my experience rim brakes get worse (slippery and/or slower to take effect) when wet, but disk brakes are reliable. – ChrisW Nov 10 '16 at 23:24
  • I think the difference between decent rim brakes and rubbish ones is that the grip of decent rim brakes doesn't decrease more than the grip between the tyres and the road. Chrome rims are of course an issue but even on my old bike with chrome rims my stopping distance is limited more by the need to avoid skidding than by the grip on the rims now I've upgraded the pads. – Chris H Nov 11 '16 at 6:57
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Your braking technique is important, as addressed earlier. The front brake has much more stopping power since when you brake your weight is thrown onto the front wheel and with less weight on the rear wheel it is much more prone to skidding- not braking. 1)use the front brake in conjunction with the rear- apply rear just before front 2) when it is wet, as much as possible brake earlier to squegee water off braking surface.

Try cleaning the rim braking surface with soap and water using the rough side of an old kitchen sponge (sponge on one side, plastic scrubby stuff on other side). Do the same with the pads.
This can make a big difference if there is crud/brake resude etc. in the braking surfaces. If no improvement, try new pads such as the koolstops recommended earlier.

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David Richerby's correct in suggesting that you may be able to improve your braking technique by using more of the front brake, particularly if you're experiencing skidding. And Chris H is also correct in suggesting that if you're braking hard and you're wheels aren't skidding, and you're not stopping short enough you need better friction between your brake pads and the rims.

Winter tires may give a better grip on the road, but if they're not skidding, you won't be gaining anything by upgrading.

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    This seems to be mostly a comment on the existing answers, and the point about changing tyres not making a difference if they're not the limiting factor has already been made. – David Richerby Nov 10 '16 at 10:27

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