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Tech FAQ: To V or Canti, That’s the Question

Dear Lennard,
TechWidgetI’m the original owner of a 1993 S-Works mountain bike. I’ve always had a stopping power issue with the rear brake. It seems like I just don’t quite get the leverage I need with the rear v-brake after all sorts of adjustments, cables, and pads throughout the years. Skipping past the obvious solution of getting a new bike or otherwise converting to disc brakes, would cyclocross brakes like Avid Shorty Ultimates provide greater stopping power than v-brakes? If so, is there a reason not to go with that set up on a 26-inch mountain bike? Come to think of it, prior to v-brakes, didn’t mountain bikes come with cantilever brakes? So then if v-brakes replaced cantilevers, why not v-brakes on cyclocross bikes — wheel diameter?

Dear Kirk,
The short answer is no, replacing your V-brake with a cantilever brake, even a super-good one like the Avid Shorty Ultimate, shouldn’t improve your braking unless your V-brake is set up poorly (which it sounds like it might be…).

V-brake arms are longer, giving a V-brake more leverage, not less, than a cantilever brake. That’s why mountain bikes abandoned cantilevers in favor of V-brakes, which in turn were abandoned in favor of disc brakes.

A V-brake lever is built with lower leverage and higher cable pull by locating the lever pivot further from the cable hook than a cantilever lever. That way less finger pull is required to bring the pads to the rim, and, on the front, it does not brake so powerfully that the uninitiated end up on their noses.

Besides having extra weight (60-120 grams per wheel more than superlight cantilever brakes) and less mud clearance than cantis, V-brakes are rarely used on cyclocross bikes because they are too powerful to use with road levers. I ran a Shimano XT V-brake on the front of one of my cyclocross bikes much of last season, but I used a specific lever meant for V-brakes, namely a Cane Creek Drop V lever; notice how abnormally long the top of the lever is from the pivot point. When using a V-brake with a standard road lever, you first use up much of the lever’s pull just getting the pads to the rim, and then it’s overly grabby once it gets there. Here’s more on that

I don’t understand why your rear V-brake is so weak. I believe that there is some inefficiency in your system somewhere, even though it sounds like you have tried a number of things to improve performance. I’d look at cable routing for tight bends, the posts for binding and the pads for lineup with the rim. In general, V-brakes provide sufficient stopping power on a mountain bike except in wet conditions.

Dear Lennard,
Is it okay to buy a new helmet that has been sitting in inventory for years? Do helmet replacement schedules come into play if it’s never been used?

Response from Giro: It’s a great question, and like almost anything involving helmets, it’s not as simple as it might seem.

Our general recommendation is that helmets be replaced every 3-5 years depending on use and condition. That is based on our observation of how helmets are handled and how they hold up to regular use, etc. It also takes into consideration the performance advantages of product that evolve over time. But sometimes a good deal comes along on older product, or someone is partial to an older model (style, fit, color, etc. — happens all the time!).

In this case, I would say that the helmet should be fine to purchase, provided that it does not show any obvious signs of degradation such as faded or bleached from sunlight (like if it were left in the shop window for a long time); dented or damaged in any way (obviously); missing parts or packaging (pads, owners manual, box etc.).
-Eric Richter
Giro – Sr. Brand Manager

See Specialized’s response to a similar question here…

Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Lennard Zinn.

Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (www.zinncycles.com), a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”

Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

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