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I am riding 90s road bike with Shimano 105 dual-pivot brakes and brake levers, and 2x7 downtube shifters. Since braking becomes less and less reliable I want to replace both brakes and levers with something new.

There's a plenty of good opinions on 105 br-r7000 but I am having hard time to find matching levers. I don't think there are any compatible shiftless levers. Can I go with cheaper claris shift levers or do I need to pay for 105?

Bonus question: could I use 11 speed 105 shifters to work with 7/8 rear derailleur if I do STI conversation?

EDIT:

First, thanks for so many great comments. I see I have missed some important information:

  • my goal is to improve braking performance - it feels underpowered and my rear brake lever has a crack already.
  • I have already replaced cables, brakepads (swisstop) and my bike is running brand new wheels (frame was cold-set to 130mm)
  • fit 28mm tires

From what I have found, here are some interesting brake / lever combinations:

  • Shimano BL-R400 ($35, brake levers, no shifter, SuperSLR) + BR-R2000 ($50, NEW SuperSLR)
  • Claris: ST-R2000 ($130, NEW SuperSLR) + BR-R2000 ($50, NEW SuperSLR)
  • Claris+105: ST-R2000 ($130, NEW SuperSLR) + BR-R7000 ($75, SLR-EV)
  • 105: ST-R7000 ($185, SLR-EV) + BR-R7000 ($75, SLR-EV)
  • SRAM S 500 ($75 brake levers) + SRAM Rival 22 brake ($75)
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    Start with checking the brake pads - you probably have cartridge holders and some simple replacement pads will help enormously. – Criggie Mar 23 at 10:12
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    Why not just replace the brake pads? The Shimano dual-pivots are pretty good stuff and should last a lifetime. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 23 at 11:38
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    OK cracks in brake components absolutely means they need replacing. Don't try and fix the crack - its a parts donor and nothing more now. – Criggie Mar 24 at 18:35
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Most likely the problem is not with the actual brakes, but cables and brake pads. Replacing these is very likely to fix your problems.

If you want to replace everything and keep everything in official Shimano spec, it seems that there aren't non-shifter brake levers. The options are to install the expensive and useless shift levers, non-Shimano brakes or use a non Super SLR lever that results in slightly mushier feel.

  • A brake refresh definitely sounds in order. Pads, cables, housings and proper adjustment. – Argenti Apparatus Mar 23 at 13:02
  • @ojs thanks for helping! Cables and breakpads are already replaced- I have added some more information to original post. I am also open to non-shimano brakes/leavers if there are any good options available? Tektro R540 have poor ratings and SRAM break-levers are greatly overpriced. – jareks Mar 23 at 14:37
  • Levers and brakes don't have to be same brand. Campagnolo brakes are pretty good but they don't have quick release so you have to do without or use Campagnolo levers or the Cane Creek copies. And by the way, break and brake are different words with different meanings. – ojs Mar 23 at 14:54
  • There are the non-shifter Shimano Ultegra BL-R600 levers available. Usually supplied with a full set of cable inners and outers... – Lamar Latrell Mar 23 at 20:40
  • Did you notice the "We’re very sorry but we don’t know when this item will be back in stock" part? Seems that nobody has those any more, they aren't listed on Shimano website and the super SLR compatibility is left to guess. – ojs Mar 23 at 22:15
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There's no reason that old brake calipers should become less effective. In the 1990s, we knew plenty enough materials engineering to make good brake calipers and there's no reason for calipers to degrade. In contrast, brake pads wear away and brake cables stretch and fray. It sounds very much like those are the components you should be replacing.

  • Indeed, shimano 105 are very sturdy, but mine after 25 years don't work that great. One lever has a crack on top of hoods and moves a bit sideway when pressing. And calipers itself also wear out slowly. Maybe reconditioning them like shown here would help: youtube.com/watch?v=TqbCR83psAg but I am more intersted in new parts at the moment. – jareks Mar 23 at 14:41
  • @jareks Cracked? That could be bad - can you post a photo into your original question? – Criggie Mar 23 at 20:03
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Answering the bonus question - no. 7 is decades away from 11 speed.

So if your OLD is 130mm you could throw money at the problem and replace

  • Brake levers with STI Brifters
  • New inner/outer cables
  • Remove downtube shifters and fit two barrel bosses
  • New rear 11 speed derailleur
  • New 11 speed cassette
  • New 11 speed chain
  • New 11 speed freehub, which probably means a new 11 speed compatible wheel hub.

About this time add up the costs and see its an affordable number. I doubt its a small number, so unless you have some ebay wins or some spare parts or a complete donor bike, it going to be expensive and therefore a bad spend.

On the plus side, if you do this there's a fair chance the front derailleur and chainrings will work okay in an 11 speed environment. Or you could leave the downtube shifter on the left for the front mech and only use the STI brifter on the right hand. May benefit from squeezing the front mech's cage slighty to account for the narrower chain.

  • Road 7-speed was 126mm. Mixing narrow chain with old double chainrings is a very bad idea, because the chain can jam between the rings. – ojs Mar 23 at 11:09
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    Thanks for your help! Indeed my bike was 126mm at the rear, but I have already cold-set it to 130mm and it is running new pair of wheels. – jareks Mar 23 at 13:49
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Save your money, clean your shifters, replace your cables and housings and replace your brake pads with Koolstops.

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