Cantilever brakes and V-brakes are popular for their considerable tire clearance on bikes. These brakes work similarly; brake arms hold the brake pads on each side of the bike. When you squeeze the lever, the brake pads come in contact with the rim, thus causing your speed to slow down or stop. 

Despite the similarities, one of these brakes is better than the other. That said, which is better, cantilever brakes or V-brakes?

Cantilever brakes are beautiful when cleaned up
Cantilever brakes are beautiful when cleaned up

Key Takeaways

This article will discuss the following:

  • Which is a better choice between cantilever brakes and V-brakes
  • A detailed comparison of cantilever brakes and V-brakes
  • The advantages of cantilever brakes over V-brakes and vice versa

V-brakes are a better braking system than cantilever brakes. While cantilever brakes have more tire clearance, V-brakes require less input force to work. V-brakes also offer more braking power.

Knowing the advantages of the brakes you want to install on your bike is essential. So, suppose you are deciding between cantilever brakes and V-brakes. In that case, this article will provide the essential factors you need to know.

Cantilever Brakes Vs. V-Brakes 

Good bike brakes mean better control over your ride. But apart from giving you control over your bike’s speed, a study states that brakes are essential in ensuring a cyclist’s safety. For this reason, your bike’s brakes should allow you to change its speed based on the changes in your riding condition.

There are two most common braking systems seen in bikes right now:

  • cantilever brakes
  • V-brakes

Knowing which is better if you plan to install any of these brakes on your bike is crucial. 

Which Is Better, Cantilever Brakes Or V-Brakes?

Cantilever brakes are popular as they offer more clearance between the tire’s rim and the brake pads. This clearance ensures that mud does not build up on your brakes when you ride in wet conditions. 

On the other hand, V-brakes also offer a good amount of clearance but less than what cantilever brakes can provide. For this reason, V-brakes are more likely to catch mud and dirt, making bikes with such brakes challenging to pedal in some conditions. 

However, cantilever brakes are notoriously difficult to adjust. The reason is that when one of the wires connected to the brake arms becomes loose, you must adjust both brake arms to achieve the proper tension. Finding the right height and angle of cantilever brake pads is also tricky. 

V-brakes offer better adjustability. You can individually adjust the brakes’ straddle wire, allowing you to balance each wire’s tension quickly. V-brake pads are also fixed, so they will not easily lose their angle and height once you set them. Still, you need to adjust your V-brake pads from time to time.

V-Brakes are easier to adjust and are less prone to damage My opinion is they stop better
V-Brakes are easier to adjust and are less prone to damage My opinion is they stop better

Which Is Better?

Considering the comparison above, it is evident that V-brakes are better than cantilever brakes. As V-brakes offer quick adjustments, bikes with such brakes can’t tackle various riding conditions. V-brakes also require less input force to slow down or stop a bike.

True enough, cantilever brakes have more clearance than V-brakes. However, this single benefit cannot outweigh the latter’s ease of use. V-brakes also offer significant clearance, which still works well on muddy trails.

A study published in the ARPN Journal Of Engineering And Applied Sciences states that cantilever brakes are V-brakes’ predecessors. Since developers and manufacturers were able to study the difficulties of using bikes with cantilever brakes, they were able to find a solution to them when developing V-brakes. This development made V-brakes easier to use than its predecessor. 

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A Detailed Comparison Of Cantilever Brakes And V-Brakes

To better understand why V-brakes are better than cantilever brakes, let us take a closer look at their differences:

Mechanical Advantage

You will only fully understand the difference between cantilever brakes and V-brakes; it is first essential to identify the mechanical advantage.

The book Bikes, Forces, And Torques defines mechanical advantage as the amount of boost a tool can contribute to one’s input force. In bikes, the mechanical advantage is the amount of braking force brakes can produce from the cyclist’s effort to squeeze the brake levers.

Cantilever brakes have a lower mechanical advantage than V-brakes. For this reason, they require a greater input force from the cyclist to create friction against the rim and slow the bike down.

Meanwhile, V-brakes have a high mechanical advantage. So, you do not need to feed the brake levers with too much force to initiate braking.

Braking Power

Cantilever brakes have a transverse cable, a component you will not find in V-brakes. For this reason, the V-brake straddle wire is better positioned when pulling the brake arms. This better pulling angle allows you to apply more pressure on the brake arms and pads at a squeeze of the brake levers.

That said, V-brakes have more braking power than cantilever brakes. They also have less brake travel, as the brake pads will create friction against the rim almost instantaneously.


The brake pads are responsible for decelerating a bike by rubbing against the tire rim. According to a thesis written at the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, brake pads usually consist of rubber due to their ability to create high friction.

Despite using the same material, cantilever brakes have better brake pads. Cantilever brakes have larger brake pads than V-brakes. The larger the brake pads are, the better they feel once they come into contact with the tire’s rim.


As mentioned, adjusting cantilever brakes is tedious as you need to balance the wire tension on the two sides of the bike. The brakes have many parts, which can be overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with them. In addition, cantilever brake pads can move independently, so they go all over the place during adjustment.

Meanwhile, V-brakes are easy to adjust as they only have a single cable. They do not have as many parts as the cantilever brakes. The bolts that hold the brake pads do not easily come loose, so they will not move around like cantilever brake pads.

MTB V-Brakes
MTB V-Brakes

Advantages Of Cantilever Brakes Over V-Brakes

Apart from better tire clearance, the only advantage cantilever brakes have over V-brakes is their compatibility with drop bar brake shifters. While V-brakes may also work on brake shifters, you may need to integrate an adapter to increase the brakes’ cable pull. 

In addition, the V-brakes that work on brake shifters need a different shifting system than the bike already has. So, installing V-brakes on these bikes requires more modification. 

You may also use a smaller type of V-brakes called mini V-brakes. However, cantilever brakes still work better on bikes with brake shifters, as mini V-brakes have poor tire clearance.

DIY MTB Pro Tip: Adjusting V-brakes is pretty easy, check out this article👉 How to Adjust V-Brakes and my video 👉 How to Adjust V-Brakes On a Huffy

Advantages Of V-Brakes Over Cantilever Brakes

Cantilever brakes have a straddle holder right above your bike’s fork. This position exposes unsheathed cables, which are prone to external damage.

V-brakes were able to solve this problem by removing the transverse cable. As a result, there is no exposed brake cable, making your bike look neater.

Moreover, the mechanical advantage of V-brakes comes pre-set. So, they are more user-friendly, as you will only need to adjust a few components to achieve your bike brakes’ optimal power. 

If you are using a bike with a suspension fork, it is unlikely that you will find cantilever brakes that fit it. If you do, the brakes’ performance will be far less than the superior performance of today’s brakes. And while you may use a cable hanger to install cantilever brakes in modern bikes, they cannot convert input force to mechanical force as much as V-brake do.

V-brakes offer more options for bikes with suspension forks. Even better, your options perform a lot better than cantilever brakes. 

Learn more about Pedals, Handlebars and Brakes

Cantilever Brakes Vs. V-Brakes: The Takeaway

Cantilever brakes and V-brakes have almost identical mechanisms. Both use brake pads to squeeze and create friction against the front tire’s rim, decelerating its rotation. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions, our comments section is open to them. 

After comparing cantilever brakes and V-brakes, it is evident that the latter offers much better performance. V-brakes are more user-friendly, as you only need to make minor adjustments to them occasionally. These modern brakes require less input power to decelerate and stop your bike.

Looking for Some More Ways to Help Your Bike Last


David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or making YouTube videos at 👉 DIY Mountain Bike Read more about David HERE.


  1. Lie, David, and Cheng-Kuo Sung. “Synchronous brake analysis for a bicycle.” Mechanism and Machine Theory 45, no. 4 (2010). DOI: Accessed March 2, 2023.
  2. Piancastelli, Luca, Leonardo Frizziero, and Giampiero Donnici. “Study and optimization of an innovative CVT concept for bikes.” Asian Research Publishing Network (ARPN). Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences. ISSN 6608, no. 9 (1819). Accessed March 2. 2023.
  3. Washington University in St. Louis. Bikes, Forces, and Torques. Accessed March 2, 2023.
  4. Collier, Ian M. “Regenerative braking on bicycles to power LED safety flashers.” Ph.D. diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005. Accessed March 2, 2023.