Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brakes, Brakes, Swapping a Wheel, and More Brakes!

The Trek gets a brake adjustment and a "new" wheel.

After spending 1.5 hours to replace a brake cable and housing on my Peugeot St. Laurent, (frozen brakes on a frosty morning!) including the painstaking fine-tuning  required to adjust cantilever straddle cable in cramped space between fender and rack, I took advantage of attending a class on brakes, hoping to learn a few tips. I've fiddled with canti-brakes for 30 years, but until a few years ago I had never replaced my own cables so I was hoping experts could shed some light. It turns out, just as I suspected (but of course hoped I was wrong), cantilever brake adjustment requires time and patience, and, according to the mechanic, perhaps a beer. I had to laugh at his last comment because I knew exactly what he meant!

However, I did learn a few things related to brakes:
  • My Peugeot doesn't have barrel adjuster screws like my Trek Antelope. My adjustments have to be spot on, whereas with the Trek I can get things close then make minute adjustments with the screws above the straddle wire and at the brake levers. Often, it's little features like this that make some bikes much easier to work on. 
  • Cantilever straddle wires are set at a 45 degree angle. This optimum setting would've saved me some frustration. Now I know! 
  • You can lightly sand rims to alleviate squealing brakes. I knew about roughing up brake pads, but not rims. The mechanic demonstrated with 80 grit sandpaper, though I would likely use a finer grain. As the mechanic pointed out, you might avoid this technique on a fancy, expensive bike, but any commuter bike should be fine.
  • You can clean rims with alcohol. Hallelujah! I'm pretty fastidious with rims, but as I later learned, rubbing alcohol (and not the kind you ingest, the mechanic joked) does a bang up job at removing grime.
Funny thing is, less than two weeks after I went to the class, I had to swap the rear wheel on my Trek Antelope winter bike. Adding chunky tires to narrower rims was an experiment, and the rear tire started shifting, rubbing on brake pads (I was nervous about potential failure so I called for a car rescue as I discovered the problem after I pedaled to work) so I swapped the rim to a wider Araya version saved from the dismantled Ross. The rear wheel carries all my commuting weight, so better safe than sorry! The front wheel seems to be fine, but I will keep an eye on it.

The downside is gearing isn't optimal, going back to a 28T freewheel, but certainly doable for the approximately 4 months of winter riding. However, the silver lining could be that if I desire, my main commuter bike, the Peugeot, could have super low gears. The narrower wheel should accommodate my favorite commuting 1.75 tires.

Shiny rims! I took advantage of lightly sanding and cleaning the "new" wheel, per the mechanic's suggestion. Who cares if the rear wheel is wider than the front?

Back to the Trek. Swapping wheels meant another session of brake adjusting angst, one which I took my time at to get things pretty perfect this time around. I didn't want the slightest rubbing, which required finesse but I'm quite confident I made the right decision. The Trek is a fun bike, and with wider rubber it rides some where between my Peugeot commuter and a fat bike, so I've been seeking out single track, often short cutting paved bike path to ride on a trail through a frozen, harvested cornfield. If that isn't a testament to adding wide tires, I don't know what is!


  1. Riding through a frozen cornfield.....that's brave!!

    1. I ride on a trail. I've changed the blog post so that's understood.

  2. Thanks for passing along the knowledge, I have also found that replacing Canti's with V brakes make the adjustment easier LOL but it also means different levers in most cases because of cable pull.


Due to increased Spam, I am moderating comments. Thank you for your patience.