I own an old road bike from the 80’s I quite like. To this day, all the original parts are still on the bike, except the last mudguard that broke this year. The wear and tear is getting more noticeable lately, especially the wheels and the breaks. Shifting is not as smooth as it used to be, but it’s not a major concern. The wheels are probably the biggest problem since the wheel ring is not totally straight so the brake pads need to be further apart which is reducing the braking performance. Also last month 3 spokes broke. I am thinking of upgrading the bike for some time now, but I don’t know if new parts will fit on the old bike or if it can be achieved without spending too much money.

So I would like to replace the wheels because I don’t think it is worth repairing them. The current size is 27 x 1 1/4. I read a lot they can be replaced with 700c wheels. But when I look at 700c wheels I find a lot of different sizes mostly 29 inches. I don’t wanna buy wrong ones. My current last wheel has 5 gears. So should I look for a wheel with 5 gears as well ? A lot ot rear wheels online do not seem to have any gears.

The breaks are not the best anymore and it’s not easy even to adjust them. I am wondering what kind of brakes can I install on an old bike. Can I install something like Shimano sora brakes? They are quite cheap for around 20€. I included some pictures of the bike and the brakes so you have a better picture of the bike.

Some pictures:

The bike

Front brakes

Front brakes 2

Rear brakes

Rear brakes 2

  • 1
    I would have the wheel properly trued and get new brake pads and new brake cables. The shifting problems are probably just an adjustment issue or the short piece of cable housing at the rear needs replacement.
    – Michael
    Feb 8, 2020 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


Regarding the brakes:

Your current brakes look like long-reach brake calipers to me (older type which has longer lever arms (less leverage). You have to account for the rim getting closer to the frame when you upgrade to larger wheels (I don't think you'll be able to find 27" wheels new, by far the most common size is 28" (700c aka 622mm inside rim diameter). If you are looking at road bike (or more specifically non-mtb wheels) the size 29" should not appear. 29" is often used for mountain bikes with big wheels (3 sizes in mtb wheels, 26", 27.5" (650B) and 29").

29ers or two-niners are mountain bikes and hybrid bikes that are built to use 700c or 622 mm ISO (inside rim diameter) wheels, commonly called 29" wheels.
"The name "29er" comes from a bicycle called the Two Niner, which was offered by the Fisher bike company in 2001, according to 1998 Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee Don Cook."

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/29er_(bicycle)

So 29-er mountain bikes do in fact use 700c or 622mm inside diameter rims. The name is just a bit confusing. Either way as long as you look for "road bike wheels" or "touring bike wheels" or "28 inch wheels" or "700c" or "622c" wheels you should be fine installing them on your bike (assuming there is enough frame clearance to fit the bigger rim/tire. The 28 inch wheels' rims do differ in width , i would suggest going with a similar width to your current rims (the width of the tire should be listed on the sidewall of your old tire and it should give you a good indication of your current rim's width, or you could measure the rim width with a caliper or other measuring tool to get a more exact figure. A wider rim will weight more, be a bit stronger, will allow for wider tires which will result in a cushier ride. If you go too wide the tire might not fit in the frame and it will start rubbing.

To summarize: You need to account for the change in rim size for determining if you can install a certain brake caliper properly, from 27" to 28" this should be approx an inch in diameter so half an inch in radius.

If you would want to use your old brakes you could probably get away with it on the rear brake (it looks like the pads can be adjusted in upwards direction enough to account for the change in rim size), the front cannot be adjusted much more upward from its current position though..).

For installing the Sora (or any other modern short reach brake): Check the minimum distance from the mounting bolt of the new brakes to the center of the pads and see if this distance matches the distance from the hole in your frame for mounting the brake to the center of the rim's braking surface. I'm quite sure it should work (installing SORA) but please check (by measuring or preferably asking your local bike mechanic (which should have the parts so he can easily check compatibility) before buying new brakes.

For more info regarding this please check the part about "Reach" on Sheldon Brown's website: https://www.sheldonbrown.com/calipers.html

You should know older brakes like the ones you have usually use a bolt which protrudes all the way through the mounting hole with a nut on the other end to secure them to the frame, and modern brake calipers of this type use recessed nuts (they recess into the frame). If you want to use the newer style recessed bolts on your old frame you'll most likely have to drill out the holes to accommodate for the size of the recessed nut (the hole will be bigger than the current hole in the frame). On steel frames (which I think you have) this shouldn't be an issue though, just make sure not to drill it too large. For the front brake you could theoretically swap to a different front fork (which is more modern and does accommodate a modern recessed style mounting system (but if you have no other reason to upgrade the fork this might be silly).

enter image description here

Here is a video on how to install recessed style brakes on an old frame:

Regarding the wheels:

Wheels do not come with cassette/freewheel preinstalled in general. You'll have to make sure you get a wheel with the right system (either a freewheel hub if you want to reuse the old freewheel or install another (new) freewheel) or a free-hub body (for installing a cassette (which is the system used on (almost) all modern bikes)).

Free-hub bodies differ in length so you'll have to check if the one that comes with the wheel-set you buy is compatible with the cassette (amount of gears) you'd like to install. This info (compatible cassette speeds) should be listed with the specs/description of the wheel(set).

If you want to keep 5 speeds in the rear you will have to use a cassette (up to 7 gears you usually see freewheels and from 8 and upwards cassettes are used).

If you decide to upgrade to more gears in the back you will need a more narrow chain (which matches the amount of gears in the back (for example a 10 speed chain for 10 speed cassette). You will also have to replace your shifter (the one that operates the rear derailleur), assuming you don't have an index-less aka friction shifter (these can be used for all speeds as long as their range is sufficient (maximum cable movement that can be achieved with the shifter when moving it from max to min (or reverse direction) position).

Many people will say you'll also have to replace your rear derailleur but I've had much success using the same derailleur on many different gear setups. You do have to make sure the derailleur cage is long enough to handle the change in chain length when going from the smallest to biggest gear in the back (some mtb cassettes have a really big range meaning a small smallest gear and really big largest gear).

In summary: (regarding wheels)

  • You can replace the wheel with a wheel which accommodates either a cassette or freewheel, new wheels will almost always have cassette interface (aka free-hub body).

  • Usually cassettes start at 8 speed, going all the way up to 12 speed (but up to 11 is much cheaper, 12 is very rare).

  • When installing a new cassette or freewheel a new chain is recommended (since using old chain on new cassette/freewheel can/will cause faster wear or chain skipping teeth and such issues). Make sure the new chain matches the amount of gears on the cassette/freewheel.

  • Also upgrade rear derailleur if it can't handle the range (doesn't have enough capacity (measured in number of teeth difference) to accommodate the new freewheel/cassette (if it has a significantly broader range than the original freewheel). Sometimes a derailleur's limit screws won't allow for enough adjustment to get the same derailleur properly adjusted on a different cassette/freewheel but you can oftentimes simply install longer adjustment bolts to fix this issue (remove old ones, find longer versions with same thread and install).

  • If you have or would like to use indexed shifters and you change to a different number of gears in the back you'll have to upgrade your shifter to an indexed variant with the correct number of gears (/clicks), you could alternatively install a non-indexed friction type shifter (which should in my experience work with any speed as long as the cable movement range is sufficient (as a fore mentioned))

  • if you would like to keep using a freewheel (you could for example buy a second hand wheel-set with a freewheel hub) you could upgrade to 7 gears in the back if you would like, this should be as simple as removing the (if installed) old freewheel and screwing on the new (7 speed for example) freewheel. You will need sufficient

  • 2
    Something you missed is that older frames had narrower rear dropout spacing, 120 or 126mm. Modern rim road frames have 130mm, disc frames 135mm spacing. If the frame had the older spacing higher number of gears will not be possible; unless the rear triangle is expanded. Feb 9, 2020 at 2:09
  • 2
    Also, a 700c (622mm ETRTO) wheel is ~4mm smaller than a 27" or 28" traditional road bike wheel, which has an ETRTO measurement of 630mm. So the brake calipers have to reach 4mm further, and will have just that much less effectiveness.
    – Criggie
    Feb 9, 2020 at 6:36
  • Wow, that answer is more than I was hoping for. Thanks to Maarten and all the others for all the information provided. I have actually found a bike shop that sells the same dimension wheels that are currently installed 27 x1 1/4, but as you said, the rear wheel is without speeds. So I have to check if my current speeds can be installed on to the new one or I have to buy a new freewheel, but in this case, if I understand right I won’t be able to get it with 5 speeds but at least 7, and therefore will have to expand the rear triangle of the bike.
    – jerry_K7
    Feb 9, 2020 at 9:17
  • At least I won’t have to worry about the shifter since it is a non-indexed one. Regarding the brakes, I will measure the distances to see if new brakes would fit. When it comes to bicycles I believe, there are always some special features you need to be careful about when replacing parts, especially when upgrading old bikes. It is never straightforward. Thanks again!
    – jerry_K7
    Feb 9, 2020 at 9:18
  • @criggie thanks for pointing out those details! I did not actually know, interesting info indeed! Feb 9, 2020 at 11:56

You can use 700cs on it, will probably need longer reach brake calipers. I did the same thing with my 85 schwinn prelude. You will NOT find new 5speed free wheels, you can find new 27" wheelsets. Wiemann still makes them and there are about 8 different tire options.

29ers are 700c, it just sounds cooler to the mtb crowd and laymen understand 29er better, like they understand 26(559cm).

Steel is forgiving, you can force a newer 7speed wheel on a steel frame, like I've done several times, or lay it down, step on one end and pull the other a few inches. Non indexed shifters will work with up to 8 speeds I believe.

That thing has cottered cranks on it, could be a 70s bike. The bike can be upgraded, it is common to upgrade vintage roadbikes with newer parts. You may want to upgrade the rear derailure, if you do. It may not reach past six speeds. I used Origin8 calipers when I upgraded mine... and they're dual pivot.

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