I bought an old city bike (and I think I overpaid for it) and after a couple of weeks both front and rear brake cables snapped the same day.

It has side pull brakes. I changed both of the cables, but the brakes don't feel as strong as before, especially the rear brake. Note that I adjusted the rear brake pads before installing the cables.

  • What did I do wrong?
  • Should I also change the tubing? If yes, should I put oil/grease inside the tube?

PS. I am planning to change the brake pads with leather face pads for rainy days anyway.

Here are some photos (ignore the uncut brake cable, click for larger): lever cable cable rear brake front brake


I have changed the brake pads, I have put some oil inside the tube for the rear brake. While I am at it I have also put some oil around the center pivot bolt so both calipers can move with less friction.

For a couple of days it was worse than before. But now I think the new brake pads have worn out a little bit and fit to their position better and they are strong enough. The rear brake still feels a little bit weaker but it is much better.

Here is the old brake pad and the new brake pad. The old one is worn away pretty badly. old and new brake pad

I will also try to install ferrules soon.

  • 2
    It is regular maintenance. Pull the cable out of the caliper. Hold it vertical. Try to run thin oil or chain lube down the inner, while sliding the sheath up and down. Do this until oil comes through the bottom. – Henry Crun Aug 2 '18 at 11:44
  • 2
    But don't get oil on the pads or rims!! – Daniel R Hicks Aug 2 '18 at 11:56
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    Modern outers are teflon-lined so adding oil and lubes are redundant, and will clag it up over time. – Criggie Aug 3 '18 at 1:12
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    They are not modern at all :) – nimcap Aug 3 '18 at 7:56
  • 1
    If there is extra friction in the cables, get modern Teflon lined outer cables instead of oiling them. With ferrules ;) – Swifty Aug 3 '18 at 10:59

It's hard to see what the surface of the brake pads looks like and how it is aligned with the rim, but I would look to see how flat the pad surfaces are and how flush they are with each side of the rim... when the brakes are pulled on.

If the pads have developed a concave profile where they used to fit on the rim, and don't fit there any more, it could explain reduced braking power. Replace the pads if they are no longer flush with the rim.

The black outer cables should have metal ferrules on the ends, in photos 2 & 3 at least. They’ll help, but if they weren’t there before then it doesn’t explain the reduction in power you’ve had. I would also thread in that brake adjuster on the top brake arm, all the way down (back off the locknut first).

  • 1
    Yeah, there should be ferrules, and the adjuster should be threaded about 3/4s of the way in to start with, then unscrewed over time as the pads wear. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 2 '18 at 22:19
  • OP's lack of metal or hard plastic ferrules over the end of every cut means that there's a tiny amount of flex/squish, and its adding up. Ferrules are a very good idea. – Criggie Aug 3 '18 at 1:14
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    @criggie for sure, I’ve reinforced the ferrule aspect. Thanks – Swifty Aug 3 '18 at 11:01
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    I think the concave profile you have mentioned is causing the issue. I can even see the contact surface is smaller than before. I will replace the brake pads as soon as possible. – nimcap Aug 3 '18 at 13:33
  • @nimcap it’s consistent with drop in power hopefully that will help. They’re older style brakes so get the best pads you can find and afford, if there’s even much choice nowadays. Could be a question in itself... what makes a good pad for these style brakes and chromed rims – Swifty Aug 3 '18 at 15:11

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