We’ve been writing loads about disc brakes recently, but what about the V brakes that most of us use? They might not be as powerful or pimpy as good disc brakes, but they’re a lot simpler and lighter and they’re still standard issue on most bikes.
We’ve already covered installation in our Scoop’s Scooter build up feature. However there are other tricks worth knowing to keep them in perfect working order increasing their power and effectiveness and getting them to feel exactly how you like them.Maintenance
Brakes rapidly go downhill from new, but why and how do you stop it?
Cables are the main cause of problems in V brake systems, as only a small amount of dirt or rust can create a big amount of friction. The answer is to either invest in a sealed (Gore Tex) or semi sealed (Avid Flak Jackets, Shimano XTR) cable system or to strip and relube your cable regularly – especially after wet or muddy rides.
If you’re re-lubing use the slotted cable mounts to help you slide the outer cable sections along to reach every part of the inner wire. Make sure you clean filth out of the rubber ‘gaiters’, the V brake noodle and the cable stops themselves too or it’ll just ‘re-infect’the cable run straightaway. In terms of actual lube we normally use something light that dries out without getting sticky, but Shimano use dollops of grease pre pumped into the ends so just see what works best with your local riding conditions and maintenance schedule.
Pad wear can be very, very quick in certain gritty areas or wet trail conditions and if you wear them down to the metal you’ll lose stopping power and destroy your wheels at the same time. Make sure you always check how much pad you’ve got left before you set out and if in doubt take spare pads with you.
Don’t forget to check the pads for grit or other hard bits stuck into the pads, which can gouge big chunks out of rims very quickly. A hissing scraping sound when braking is often an indicator that you’re scratching as well as stopping.
Obviously pad wear isn’t the only thing happening in abrasive conditions but rim wear often gets forgotten about. Some rims have recessed marker spots that will start to wear when the rim is so thin it needs replacing, but on most wheels you’ll just have to guess how knackered they are by how convex the rim walls are compared to brand new examples of the same rim.
Power can also be increased through various tweaks and upgrades.
Most rims are too shallow to allow you to move pads vertically much, but position the brake pad as low (near to the brake pivot) as possible to maximise leverage. If the lever has an adjustable cable cradle then again, move it nearer to the pivot to increase the leverage and power of the pull. Be warned though that both these moves can produce a softer squishier lever feel and need more cable pull.
If you find your hands are getting tired and aching then reducing the lever reach can help you get a more comfortable, confident and stronger grip on things.
For specialist applications such as trials you can also get soft compound pads for maximum stopping power and static hold, but they’ll just melt in normal use.
Ceramic rims use titanium and aluminium oxides plasma coated onto the rim wall to increase wear life, heat absorption and braking performance. They are double the price of normal rims though which means they only make sense if you normally wear your hoops out rather than bending them first.Feel
As well as the lever adjustment mentioned above (further from lever pivot is sharper but less powerful, nearer more powerful but spongier) the routing of your cables can also make a big difference to how smoothly they pull. Avoid big curved loops of cable outer if a straighter line can be achieved as they’ll only wobble and flex when you pull the lever, but conversely watch out for sections that are too short and squash or kink when you turn the bars or move the suspension.Next week
Blimey, haven’t thought about that yet. If you got any ideas, mail them in.