Déjà Vu, All Over Again

Once again, I’ve decided that cantilever brakes and me are not BFFs.  Last October, I wrote about converting my SOMA Saga’s cantilevers to v-brakes.  This week, I swore off cantilevers for good, and converted my Rawland rSogn to mini v-brakes.

Both my rSogn and Salsa Vaya are equipped with Campagnolo Centaur Ergopower integrated brake/shift levers.  The Campy levers are designed to be used with the company’s dual pivot sidepull brakes, and as such, they don’t pull as much cable as those levers designed specifically for linear pull brakes.  Since I didn’t want to give up my Ergopower levers, I would be limited to shorter, “mini” v-brakes for this conversion.

Because of their compatibility with integrated brake/shift levers, mini v-brakes are popular with cyclo-cross racers, tandem riders, and they can even be found on some touring bikes. Choosing the correct caliper length depends on many variables, but the general rule is that longer brakes offer more mechanical advantage (and vertical clearance), but at the expense of pad-to-rim clearance.  After measuring the Rawland’s tire clearance, I decided on an 85mm brake.

Tektro produces v-brakes that range from 80mm to 110mm in length.  Their RX5 model features 85mm arms, cartridge-style pads, and is available in silver or black finishes.  The company claims a weight of 148g per-brake (one wheel’s worth), but with mounting hardware, cable noodle, and pads, mine weighed 175g each.  With a street price of less than $20/wheel, the difference in weight wasn’t a deal breaker.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder bicycle Rawland rSogn 650B Tektro v-brake SOMA B-Line
Tektro RX5 brake on the author’s Rawland rSogn.

Setting up v-brakes is absurdly easy–especially compared to cantilevers.  Position the pads so that the arms are roughly parallel to the rims with the brakes engaged, cable ’em up, and you’re good to go.  I ended up having to add two short sections of cable housing and in-line adjusters,  but this was expected as I was re-using portions of the previous brakes’ housings.  To eliminate any variations in performance due to different pad compounds, I installed the RX5s with Yokozuna salmon pads.

One ride with the new brakes was all it took to know that I’d made the right choice.  Power and modulation were noticeably better with the linear-pull Tektros.  Braking from the hoods was as good as any dual pivot sidepull, and pleasantly absent were the judder and squeal that were so prevalent with the cantilevers.  While some riders complain that v-brakes sometimes have a touchy, on/off feel, I found that the RX5s provided excellent feedback and control.

Clearance is approximately 10mm between the top of the 650x38B tire and brake cable.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the brake pads are positioned close to the rim (compared to cantilevers).  This is necessary because modern drop-bar levers/shifters have a higher mechanical advantage than flat-bar levers (which pull more cable).  This can potentially be an issue if your wheel goes out of true (or you ride in muddy conditions).  For me, though, the (minor) potential for pad rub is more than offset by the increased braking power and modulation.

Setup Tips

  • Consider using levers with built-in quick releases such as those from Campagnolo or the TRP RRL.  The quick release will provide additional cable slack, and make it easier to open/release the brakes.
  • Use in-line adjusters or noodles with barrel adjusters to fine tune cable tension.
  • Make sure your housing is the correct length, and the ends are finished properly.  Sheldon Brown has an excellent article on cable/housing installation and setup.

6 thoughts on “Déjà Vu, All Over Again

  1. Nice review!

    Question about pads/holder. I have these RX5’s on a bike and they still have the stock pads/holder, which are getting towards swap-out time.

    I have some FSA holders with some nice salmon Kool Stop pads. However, these are the shorter “road style” pads/holders. They were paired with FSA SL-K cantilever brakes.

    Do you know if the shorter holders with the slightly thicker pads will work with these brakes? Or, do you need the longer/slimmer pads/holder? They’re paired with some older Shimano 105 9-speed shifters.

    Thanks for any insight you can provide!! Hope you are getting in plenty of gravel KMs this summer.


    1. You should be able to swap holders if the posts are the same length. Some road-style holders have very short posts, which leaves no room for the concave/convex washers (which are needed to keep the brake arms positioned properly).

  2. Ah, right, that makes sense. It’s post length, not pad/holder length that is crucial. I’ll check out the post lengths. Thank you for taking the time to answer my somewhat dim question. Once again, thanks for the thorough review.

  3. Just got around to the swap on the Tektros. Swapped out the stock pads/holders for some FSA holders with Kool Stop salmon pads. These are road/cross pads/holders, so shorter than the stock ones. They work GREAT! The stopping power is even better.

    Now I can’t believe I rode my commuter cx bike with
    a) cantilevers
    b) stock pads.

    With loaded panniers my stopping power/distance is excellent. A big deal when you are dealing with crazed car commuters.

  4. On a tour in Newfoundland on a lugged 650b tourer I brazed I opted for Shimano bar-end shifters, Tektro RL520 long pull levers w/ Paul Cross Tops, and Avid Single Digit 7’s (full size linear pull, 107mm I believe). Anyhow, this is a very good option too if you’re using a commuter and don’t need STI, SRAM or Ergo levers. The stopping power was tremendous from both the tops and the levers, literally one finger stopping with up to 50 lbs of gear.

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