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I have an old Peugeot bike that's pretty awesome but the brakes are bad. In good conditions they are weak, and when wet they stop working entirely. I wasn't sure what the issue was with this, and someone had recommended I buy entirely new rims.

Is there any way to make these brakes work in the rain without buying entirely new wheels? I like this bike, but I'm not looking to spend hundreds of dollars to restore it.

Strange rim

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    Have you put new brake pads on? Do that and clean the rims. – Gary E Jun 1 '18 at 2:42
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    Do they work well when they are dry? – Sam Jun 1 '18 at 3:42
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    When did you last change the brake pads? If they're hardened with age/ozone/UV then your braking experience will suffer. I'd go for koolstop pads, which are available in traditional colours as well as their salmon/orange ones. – Criggie Jun 1 '18 at 3:47
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    The brakes on your bike are Mafac centre pull brakes and the rims are steel, I had a similar Peugeot. New pads for this type of brake are quite hard to find. As @Criggie points out you may find them from koolstop. But in no case throw away the metal holders of the pads as they are almost impossible to come by. You'll have to buy the naked pads, slide the old ones out and the new ones in. Note carefully how the brake-arms and the pads are assembled and the position of the spacers and the spring. – Carel Jun 1 '18 at 8:14
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    Do be aware that, with any rim brake bike, in the rain you will have difficulty for the first couple of seconds of braking. The wheels need to turn 2-3 revolutions against the pads before brakes become effective, and even then effectiveness will be worse than with dry brakes. Replacing the pads will help (the suggested Koolstop pads are a good idea) but pads of this style are hard to find. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 1 '18 at 12:15
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Three initial things to do are:

  • Clean the rims, make sure they are free of anything that is acting as a lubricant. YOu may also consider carefully roughening them slightly with a fine grit sandpaper
  • Get the best replacement brake pads you can
  • Make sure the calipers are adjusted correctly and the pads are properly contacting the rim
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    make sure the bowden cables are freshly oiled and cleaned out – Henry Crun Jun 1 '18 at 5:43
  • With steel rims braking is always problematic. The surface of the pads has to be absolutely parallel to the brake-track on the rim when seen from the front. The brake-shoes also need to be toed-in, i.e. the rear end slightly.closer to the rim when seen from above. This is even more important than on aluminium rims. It is a good idea to start braking early and learn to use both brakes properly. Real emergency braking with steel rims is always a gamble. On long descents keeping the pads close to the rims and applying the brakes slightly from time to time helps. – Carel Jun 1 '18 at 8:29
  • @Carel Ah, I didn't think the bike was old enough to have steel rims - explains why there was a recommendation to change them. – Argenti Apparatus Jun 1 '18 at 11:39
  • @ArgentiApparatus: The low to midrange Peugeot around the 70s had this sort of steel rims with the 'file' pattern. And the Maillard Helicomatic freewheel system borgercompagnie.com/helicomatic/history.html . – Carel Jun 1 '18 at 12:18

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