Brakes are among the most crucial parts of a bike. This fact applies regardless of the bike type you have and the type of brakes it uses.

Speaking of brake types, one of the most common brakes in entry-level bikes is cantilever brakes. But what are cantilever brakes, and how do they work? Let’s find out.

What is a cantilever brake on a bike
What is a cantilever brake on a bike

Key Takeaways

This article will discuss the following:

●       What are cantilever brakes

●       A cantilever brakes’ anatomy

●       How good are cantilever brakes are

●       Tips to improve the performance of cantilever brakes

Cantilever brakes are dual-pivot brakes, with a “cantilever arm” on each side of the fork. The brake pads are connected to the cantilever arms with a straddle cable connecting the two arms together. The brake cable is connected to the straddle cable via a stirrup. Cantilever brakes have great tire clearance, but require more “adjustment” to work affectively. Modern V-brakes maybe a performance improvement.

This article will tackle the types of cantilever brakes and their parts. We will also provide some tips for improving how these brakes work.

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

What Are Cantilever Brakes?

Modern bikes commonly have V-brakes, disc brakes, and rim brakes. But although cantilever brakes are already an old brake type, some bikes still use them.

Cantilever brakes first became popular in the early 90s. So, you can consider these brakes as the predecessor of other brakes types. But what exactly are cantilever brakes?

Learn more about Pedals, Handlebars and Brakes

Cantilever Brakes: What Exactly Are They?

Cantilever brakes are dual-pivot types of brakes. Each end of the cable attaches to a brake arm and pad on each side of the bike. Pulling the brake lever causes this wire to stretch, which then causes the brake pads to hold the bike’s rim on each side. Once the pads come in contact with the rim, the bike slows down and completely stops.

A brake hanger also holds the middle of this cable up, thus forming a U shape.

These brakes have two types:

  • high-profile cantilevers
  • low-profile cantilevers

High-Profile Cantilevers

This type of cantilever brake protrudes to the side to the point that a cyclist’s heels can hit it. If you like installing a pannier at the front of your bike, high-profile cantilever brakes can make it tricky to do that.

High-profile cantilevers have an angle higher than 90 degrees. According to Benno Belhumeur, they also require brake levers with a high mechanical advantage, as the brakes have a low mechanical advantage.

Low-Profile Cantilevers

Low-profile cantilever brakes also protrude on each side of the bike, but not as much as the high-profile ones. So, they provide cyclists with more clearance, preventing any part of their body from hitting the brakes.

According to American author and bike mechanic Sheldon Brown, low-profile cantilevers have an angle lower than 90 degrees.

You will commonly see low-profile cantilever brakes on mountain bikes as they have smaller headtubes than other bike types. So, they require lower cables, which you cannot get if you install high-profile cantilever brakes on your mountain bike.

Despite more clearance, these brakes offer low braking power if not set up correctly. Therefore, you must ensure they are properly adjusted before you embark on an adventure.

Parts of Cantilever Brakes

Parts of a cantilever brake
Parts of a cantilever brake

Cantilever brakes have different parts, all of which play a significant role in smoothly stopping a bike. It sits at the front of the bike, particularly on the fork blades.

Straddle Wire Holder

Alan Cote, an expert in the cycling industry, patented the invention of the cable holder. According to Cote, bike cable holders were developed for brakes that do not come with a cable stop, such as cantilever brakes. A straddle wire holder or cable holder serves as a connection point between the bike’s main cable and the brakes’ straddle wire.

Brake Arms

The brake arms hold the ends of the straddle wire on each side of the bike. This connection allows the cable to transmit the force you apply when you pull the brake levers to the brake arms and pads.

You can adjust the brake arms in a way that they will apply pressure to the bike’s rim at the same time. This way, there will be no sideways displacement when you pull the brakes.

Brake Pads

The brake pads are the part that comes in contact with the bike’s rim. They are a crucial part of the cantilever brakes, as they create friction that slows down the rotation of the tires and brings the cycle to a stop.

Balance Screws

Brake levers have return springs, which bring the brake pads to rest after you release the brake lever. The balance screw independently connects to the spring, allowing it to equalize the clearance between the rim and brake pads.

Straddle Cable

The straddle cable is the wire that runs across the cable holder to each side of the brake arm. It transfers the brake lever’s input force to the brake arms. The transmitted force causes the brake pads to contract and create friction against the bike’s rim, which stops the bike from propelling forward.

Are Canti Brakes Any Good?

While cantilever brakes are an old brake model, some bikes still use them for several good reasons:

Better Clearance

The more tire clearance brakes offer, the more choices cyclists have over their tires. So, if your bike uses cantilever brakes, you can replace your tires with bigger ones as long as your frame and fork support them.

Less Mud Accumulation

The extra clearance offered by cantilever brakes reduces the chances of mud collecting near your brakes. Mud and dirt can affect how your brakes work, so ensuring that it does not stick to the brake pads are crucial.

Canti Brakes Are Adjustable

Adjustability is both a pro and a con. Suppose you are experienced in working with bike components. In that case, you will be able to adjust your brakes to improve their performance. However, cantilever brakes are difficult to adjust, so you may not quickly get their optimal performance if you are a beginner.

What is a cantilever brake on a bike
What is a cantilever brake on a bike

Tips To Improve Cantilever Brake Performance

Are your cantilever brakes performing poorly? Below are some of the things you can do to improve them:

Replace the brake blocks

Worn-out brake blocks will not produce rough friction to stop your bike from running. As a result, the travel of your brakes increases as less pressure is applied to the rim. Worn-out brake blocks may also cause harsh braking.

For this reason, replacing your brake blocks with high-quality ones is essential.

Set the brake pads close to the rim

Straighten the wheel as best you can. Then check your pad clearances and ensure they are as close to the rims as possible when at rest. This way, they can quickly contact the rim once you pull the brakes.

Adjust your brakes

As mentioned, you can adjust your cantilever brakes to achieve optimal power. So, suppose your cantilever brakes are performing poorly. In that case, you can make minor adjustments to improve their work.

However, cantilever brakes are difficult to adjust, especially if you are unfamiliar with them. If you are not confident adjusting the brakes, ask a professional mechanic for assistance.

Adjust the straddle cable

You can maximize your brakes’ mechanical advantage to improve their performance. Increasing the mechanical advantage allows the brake pads to press hard to the rims once you apply input force on the brake levers. This way, the brakes will work forcefully and fast.

Replace your bike rims

Sometimes your cantilever brakes cannot work well, even when nothing is wrong. In such a case, you must check your bike rims, especially the one in front. 

If your rims consist of slippery materials, your brakes will not work well regardless of all the adjustments you make. Therefore, you need to replace your rims with less slippery ones.

Adjusting cantilever brakes
Adjusting cantilever brakes

Cantilever Brakes: Final Thoughts

Cantilever brakes are old brake types, but they are still pretty common. They offer more clearance, preventing mud from collecting on your fork and brakes.

Do you have questions, comments, or suggestions? If you do, feel free to drop them in the comments section!

Furthermore, cantilever brakes are dual-pivot brakes with a center pull mechanism and brake arms on each side of the bike. When a cyclist pulls the brakes, the brake pads connected to the brake arms squeeze the rim, thus slowing down the bike’s movement.

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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. Glen Norcliffe, Una Brogan, Peter Cox, Boyang Gao, Tony Hadland, Sheila Hanlon, Tim Jones, Nicholas Oddy, Luis Vivanco. Routledge Companion to Cycling. Taylor & Francis, 2022. Accessed February 28, 2023.
  2. Benno Belhumeur. Cantilever Brake Geometry: Setup and Mechanical Advantage. Accessed February 27, 2023.
  3. Sheldon “Euclidean” Brown. “Types of Cantilevers.” The Geometry of Cantilever Brakes (blog). Accessed February 27, 2023.
  4. Alan Cote. Bicycle Brake Hanger. Accessed February 27, 2023.