An upcoming bike build will need cantilever brakes. The frame is new (more on that later), but vintage cantis would not be inappropriate for the project. As I am not a fan of V-brakes for road bikes, I am exploring the many cantilever options which are available for a frame with canti braze-ons.
Modern cantilever brake options include Paul’s, shown above, as well as other models from Shimano, Dia Compe, Velo-Orange, Avid, and Tektro.. With all these alternatives, it can be hard to determine the best set of cantilevers for a given application.
But before that a primer on cantilever brakes was in order. While there are many factors to consider, one of the important ones involves whether you want your springs integrated into the brake or not. Newer cantilevers, such as the Shimano’s shown in the top photo, have integrated springs that allow for separate spring tension adjustment on each caliper. Older cantis, such as the Dia Compe’s in the lower photo above have external springs. The only way to adjust spring tension on older cantis is to mount the spring into a different hole on the canti brake boss (some bosses have 3 separate holes to allow for this). Or, the spring can be modified with “strong arm” force by changing its shape.
Fortunately, the bike I am working on has 3 hole canti bosses, so I can take the time to evaluate vintage vs. modern caliper options.
If you have a newer bike and you want to change your cantilever bosses, you can unscrew them from the frame and add a different plate or a different length stud. Paragon Machine Works is a good resource for sourcing canti studs and plates.
Meanwhile, one has to wonder about the shape and angle of the caliper arms. It would seem logical to conclude that the arms with the widest angle would have the most mechanical advantage.
But apparently one must think again. Low profile cantilever brakes can have as much mechanical advantage as calipers with a more extreme angle. Why? It all depends on the position of the straddle cable, according to Sheldon Brown.
I experienced this when setting up Tektro canti’s on my 1987 Panasonic commuter bike. I had to position the straddle cable very low, but in doing so I found that the brake performed quite well. The rule of thumb is to not set the yoke below the bottom of the fork crown. While the angle of the straddle cable looks extreme, the brakes work just fine.
The Mafac cantilevers in my collection are the lightest weight calipers among the group. Their springs are external of course, but with the 3 hole option on the frame’s canti bosses, I am leaning toward installing them. We’ll see!