Cantilever To V Brake Conversion – 11 Simple Steps


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V-brakes are one of the most common styles of brakes on the market. Converting your cantilevers to V-brakes can seem daunting at first, but it’s pretty easy once you know what parts you need and how to install them. 

Your cantilever brakes are great, but you’d love them even more if you could get better stopping power with less effort. The solution is to convert your cantilevers to V-brakes, which clamp down on both sides of the wheel, offering much better power, control, and safety.

Here are 11 simple steps to converting your cantilevers to V-brakes. Follow these steps, and you should have yourself a much better braking system than what you started with!

Cantilever to b-brake conversion

Step 1: Remove Old Brake Levers

The first step in this conversion is to remove the cantilever brakes using a 5mm hex wrench. Using the wrench, unscrew the brake bolt and slide the old brake off.

Repeat the process on all sides.

Step 2: Remove the Cable Hanger

The next step is to remove the cable hangers in the front of the bike since you won’t need cables anymore for V brakes.

First, remove the stem and slide it out.

Then use a wrench to loosen the lock nut and slide the cable hanger off.

Now you can replace the hanger with a spacer that has approximately the same thickness as the hanger. 

Place the spacer, then the locknut, and then screw it a little using the hand. Use a cone wrench to hold the top cup from turning, and use an adjustable wrench to tighten the lock nut.

Remount the handlebars back on the stem, position it correctly and lock it down.

Step 3: Mount the V Brakes

Before you start mounting the V brakes, you must first lube up the posts that the brakes will mount onto using marine grease so everything so the brakes transition smoothly once installed.

V brakes have two sides, right and left. The right has a clamp for the cable to be attached, while the left side has a protruding part where the noodle catches on.

On the back of the right brake, disengage the spring from the catch, place the brake onto the post, and line the tiny pin with the hole, re-engaging the spring. 

Repeat the same process for the other side.

Then use a 5mm Allen Wrench to screw the bolts back on the brakes tightly.

Repeat the whole process for the front brake installation.

Step 4: Install Brake Levers on Handlebars

If your bike does not have any brake levers, then you can easily install new ones that are suitable for V brakes.

If you’re converting from Cantilever to V brakes, then you have to remove your previous brake levers, shifters, cables, and handlebars because they cannot work with V brakes.

You can use any of your desired brake levers that are designed for V brakes, like the Shimano EF51, which has shifters integrated within the brake levers and slide them onto the handlebars.

Step 5: Install Grips

If you want to level the levers accurately, install new grips first by coating the inside with isopropyl alcohol.

This makes the grips relatively easy to slide in. Once you’ve adjusted the position of the brake levers accordingly, you can go ahead and tighten the clamp bolts.

Step 6: Cut Cable Housing

To cut the cable housing for the front brake, you have to slide the noodle into the catch and test fit the size of the cable before cutting it.

Once the angle looks perfect, you can measure the cable and cut it using a pair of good-quality cable cutters, so the edges are smooth.

Use a scribe to open up the linings inside the cable.

Step 7: Turn the Barrel Adjuster

The cable is attached to the brake lever by an adjuster, which is a little barrel on the handlebar adjacent to the lever. Both the adjuster and the lever contain thin, straight-lined holes.

Turn the adjuster counterclockwise with your fingers until its slot meets the one in the lever.

The brake cable on a bike with straight handles passes through the movable barrel while the nipple comes in contact with the lever.

Converting cantilever bike brakes to V-brakes
Most hobbyists can attempt to convert their brakes from cantilever to V-brakes by following a simple step-by-step process

Step 8: Slide the Cable through the Lever

Turn the barrel adjuster to line it up with the slot so the cable can easily pass through.

First, pull the brake lever so that the cable can slip through the adjuster and lever’s slots. Take the little end of the cable and simply slide it into the notch in the brake lever.

Once the cable has gone through the barrel adjuster, you can now turn it again to lock the cable in place. (Source)

Step 9: Mount the Cables

Place a ferrule onto the cable housing and pass the cable carefully through the housing.

If your bicycle has a brake for the back wheel and two pieces of casing, you should begin by threading the piece that connects the handlebars.

To use the nipple with a straight set of handlebars, draw the brake lever and insert the rounded end of the nipple into the corresponding gap within the lever. Make sure the slot in the adjuster is lined up with the slot in the lever, and then feed the cable through the openings. 

The other cable end attaches to the braking mechanism at the retention clamp. Use an Allen key to turn the pinch bolt to loosen it.

Now you can easily adjust the brake pads by pinching them so they touch the wheel. Make sure that the brake pads are in line with the rim of the wheel and not the rubber.

Step 10: Check the Tension

Once you’ve finished installing the inner cable and outer casing, test your work by pulling on the brake lever.

Try pulling the lever 5–10 times to find the right level of resistance offered by the brakes to the rim of the wheel.

To avoid stopping short, ensure the brake pads are making contact with the wheel as you pull. You can also adjust the tension on the brakes by tightening and loosening the screws on either side of the brakes until you get the required tension.

Step 11: Trim the Excess

If you need to cut the cable short to make some tension adjustments, use your wire cutters.

The trimmed end can be protected from further damage by sliding a cable end cap over it and then squeezing it into place with pliers.

Some professional bikers advocate leaving roughly 3 inches to have adequate cable exposed for future modifications. (Source)

A Final Check

Rock the bike back and forth with the brake on as the last inspection.

Before setting out on your ride, ensure your brakes are in good working order.

You can do this by pushing the bike ahead, pulling the brake lever, and gently rocking it to check so the brakes don’t budge.

Squeeze the brake lever and observe closely if the brakes squeeze together and stop the wheel. If your bike fails to do so, then it might be the right time to consult a bike mechanic!

What Advantages Do V-Brakes Have Over Cantilever Brakes?

Cantilever brakes and V brakes are the two most common styles of bicycle braking systems.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both options; choosing the right one for you will depend on your specific circumstances! 

Cantilever brakes are a variation on the v-brake, with two clamping arms instead of one.

They are more effective than V brakes and are recommended for heavier bikes or cycling in the downpour. However, they are not as convenient for cutting tight corners and might be more challenging to set up.

V brakes are a modern design that squeezes the brake pads against the rim with just one lever.

They’re more convenient for mountain biking and navigating tight curves than cantilever brakes, and they’re also easier to set up.

Cantilever brakes are superior in power; however, v brakes may not work under extreme weather conditions. (Source)

Two major advantages of V-brakes over cantilevers are:

Easy to Adjust

Compared to V brakes, cantilever brakes have a steeper learning curve.

If one of the brake wires is excessively loose, changing these brakes is more of a problem than adjusting V brakes.

As I mentioned above, the V-brake mechanism has a set screw for each wire that tightens it separately. The pads are fixed in place on V brakes, making them far less sensitive and requiring fewer modifications to get exactly right.

Comfortable to Use

Most people prefer V brakes because they require less force to squeeze, providing a much more comfortable and effortless ride!

This is because greater pressure can be applied to the brake pads by the V brake arms, which are longer. The increased stopping power of V brakes is partly due to the more significant brake pad surface area.

If you take your bike to commute through a busy road, then having V-brakes gives you a visible advantage because these landscapes require frequent braking.

Why do people still prefer Cantilever Brakes?

Cantilevers are cheaper than v brakes, but they’re more complicated to install and change the pads.

Moreover, they may be used with standard road levers without the need for any additional adapters. Cantilever brakes, unlike V-brakes, are used in combination with shifters.

These brakes excel in sloppy and muddy environments where V brakes struggle and might even collapse. 

Their capability to decrease mud and debris accumulation is one of the main reasons why they are used on touring and cyclocross bikes.

Cantilever brakes come in various profile widths and heights, including broad, medium, low, and direct pull.

Cantilever vs. V Brake – A Comparison

Cantilever BrakesV-Brakes
AdvantagesAdvantages
Has a long lever arm The components are widely available at retail outlets
You won’t need an adapter for thisDue to their small weight, they provide a more comfortable ride
When compared to alternative brake systems, they are quite cost-effectiveIn the event of an emergency, they provide effective braking
You can rely on its stopping capability even on slick or muddy surfacesV-Brakes put no strain on the wheel’s spokes and hub
LimitationsLimitations
Changing and adjusting the brake pads is a complicated processThe braking mechanism will malfunction if exposed to water or mud
When halting, cantilevers are renowned for producing annoying fork vibrations The rim will eventually wear out from using v brakes

Why are V brakes and Cantilevers difficult to interchange?

Both V-brakes and cantilever brakes use specific pads.

When it comes to stopping power, earlier cantilever designs rely on brake pads that have a smooth post and are attached to the brake arms with separate washers and nuts.

V-brake pads, on the other hand, have their mounting hardware. A bolt protrudes from the pad, which is then attached to the braking arms.

This incompatibility can sometimes make the conversion from one braking system to another difficult.

Moreover, since the mounting bosses of cantilever and V-brakes are identical, the two types of brakes might be considered to be functionally equivalent.

However, each system requires a specific pull length and cable management. Due to their distinct mechanical advantages, cantilever brakes and V-brakes need brake levers designed specifically for them.

Final Thoughts

Although they have many similarities, cantilever and V brakes are distinct systems with their advantages and limitations.

For most riders, the V brakes are the superior option since they provide far more braking power than the cantilever brakes.

They don’t need as much space in front of or behind the wheels, are simpler to adjust and maintain, and are easier to clean. V brakes are the way to go if you want maximum efficiency.

If you like to take your bike off-roading on rugged terrain, then cantilevers are your best choice. Whichever brake you choose, converting from one type to another is incredibly easy and can be done within minutes.

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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