Brake Pads for Steel Rims

Fibrax leather faced brake pads

I’ve been enjoying cruising around on my newly restored 1965 Sears/Puch 3 speed, but was reminded during a recent excursion on a wet and windy day how poorly steel rims perform in the rain.  I needed to stop suddenly but was unable to do so, and it took several revolutions of the brake pads against the rims to clear the water and finally take hold.  By then, it was necessary to swerve!

I’ve known about leather faced brake pads for steel rims, but haven’t tried them until now.  I ordered enough pads for two bikes from an eBay seller.  Even though these pads shipped from the Leicester region of the U.K. and were expected to arrive in 30 days, I actually received them within two weeks (supply chain problems be damned).

These Fibrax pads do not have a directional notation as did the Weinmann’s which they are replacing, but they do have an orientation requirement.  The pads are angled to match the contour of the rim.

The pads need to be positioned as shown above so that they can contact the rims evenly when the brake levers are engaged.

It’s easy to assume that these older single pivot sidepull brake calipers don’t have any kind of quick release, which is true for the calipers themselves.  However, by squeezing the pads against the rim, you can slacken the cable tension and use the quick release available on the brake levers – just pull the ferrule out of its slot and let it go.  It’s best to do this after you’ve screwed the barrel adjuster all the way down, to provide further cable slack.  A slackened cable makes it much easier to get the pads in place.

So, how do these Fibrax leather-faced brake pads perform?  I took the bike out for a spin to try them out.  Today was a warm and glorious day, and the leaf strewn streets were drying out.  So, I found a few giant rain puddles in some shaded areas and splashed through to get some water up on the rims.  Then, I sped up and braked suddenly.  And, voila, they worked beautifully and I was able to stop as expected, without multiple revolutions of the wheel to clear the moisture off the rim.  On my ride today I thought about how 3 speed cycling is something everyone should try. I ended up going on a much longer jaunt than originally planned because this kind of bike with its upright position and simple shifting encourages a relaxed pace allowing for exploration, peace, and wonder – the things I love most about cycling.

13 thoughts on “Brake Pads for Steel Rims

  1. I don’t have any bikes with steel rims but those pads make sense. I wonder if the stippling on some rims helps in wet weather, which we don’t get very often in SoCal. My Stella came with Rigida steel rims but I didn’t ride it much before changing to Wienman alloy 700c. The Rigida had a texture or stipples side braking surface.

    • I have some bikes with alloy rims also stippled. Mostly French from the 40s through 60s. Not sure the pattern does much good except add to braking noise but they may have helped on the steel rims.

  2. Interesting post. I’d not heard of Fibrax pads before. I wonder what daily riders did back in pre-autos-for-everyone Britain where it rains a lot. Were Fibrax pads common upgrades? Or did most riders just adapt to the weather? The apparently stock black rubber pads on my last Raleigh Sport worked very well on steel rims when dry, but of course even a little water made them useless until the squeegee effect took place.

    I recall that leather pads were common replacement parts in India in the 1960s, but those I saw often looked hardened and glazed to ceramic-like appearance.

    I’ve been riding a custom built around a 1950s Sturmey Archer AM hub (direct, 111.5% overdrive, 86.54% underdrive, 72″ 65″ 56″) and it’s wonderful. I hope soon to get wheels built around a 1937 TF hub (wide ratio 2 speed fixed, direct and 75%, 76″ and 57″) and a 1937 TF (medium ratio 2 speed fixed, direct and 86.54%, 76″ and 67″) for another bike.

      • Not for the leather pads I saw in India! These things were the consistency of fired, glazed pottery! (That is a *slight* exaggeration.)

        As for dimpled rims: I’ve owned at least a couple of bikes with dimpled steel rims, and I don’t recall that these worked better in rain with standard pads than smooth rims.

  3. The Fibrax pads with or without the leather insert are available in US from Yellow Jersey. I have found that Kool Stop seems to work just as well, the Fibrax is a nice vintage touch. Either way it is more like some braking is possible in the rain, never feels like strong braking. I have not tested extensively, daily riders have aluminum rims.

    Yes, the Fibrax pads are what the English used on steel rims in the old days. There were other brands of leather too, Fibrax survived. They make lots of automotive products.

  4. Another thought. When bikes were transportation and riding in the rain inevitable the riders would be very conservative. Keep the saddle low enough that auxiliary brakes can be engaged. (Flintstone brakes) Walk down the steep hills, especially when there is an intersection at the bottom.

    Federico Bahamontes, besides being the Eagle of Toledo and winning the 1959 TdF, was known for being afraid of fast descents. He used shoe leather quite a bit for braking. Sounds primitive, sounds like a million years ago. Still much faster than crashing. You will travel very slowly whilst lying on the pavement.

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