I was quite young when I first used cantilever brakes. Probably back in the 90s, I used a cantilever brake on my favorite mountain bike to tour a small hilly area. Although the cantilever brakes give very good braking power, I had a lot of trouble controlling this brake, as such brakes require a lot of pressure to control. And yeah, Cantilever brakes were very popular in the 1940s but later became obsolete as better-quality brakes came into the market.

But still, this brake was used in various expensive tandems, mountain bikes, and high-end touring bikes. Cantilever brakes are fine if you can cycle with extra pressure and spend a lot of time setting up the braking system, but control is a big problem for most riders. So, today I will discuss in more detail such as its types, differences with other brakes, its benefits & drawbacks, how good this brake is, the cantilever brake’s universality,  and choosing this braking for which type of bicycle. Now let’s dive into the thorough conversation.

Brief Details About Cantilever Brakes

The cantilever brake is a hierarchical brake where each arm is connected to a separate pivot point on one side of the seat or fork. So all cantilever brakes are dual pivot.

  • Both first and second-class lever designs exist in this type of brake.
  • The second category of the brake is by far the most common.
  • In a class II lever design, the arm pivots below the rim.
  • The brake shoe is mounted on the pivot and pressed against the rim as the two components are drawn together.

In the first-class lever design, the arm pivots on the rim. And, the brake shoe is mounted below the pivot and is pressed against the rim as the two components are separated individually.

Cantilever brakes are often preferred for bicycles that use wider tires, such as MTBs, due to the greater possible distance between the mounts and pads.

  • Since the arms only move in their designed arcs, the brake shoes must be adjusted in several planes.
  • Adjusting cantilever brake shoes in this way is notoriously difficult.
  • As class II cantilever brake shoes wear, they ride down on the rim.

Types of Cantilever Brake: Based On 90-Degree Angles

Conventional cantilever brakes can be divided into three stages by their angle:

Wide Profile Cantilever Brake:

In wide-profile cantilevers, you will find cantilever angles much greater than 90 degrees. The best example of this type of wide-profile cantilever brake is the old Mafac cantilever where the anchor arm of the brake slopes downward from the boss towards some kit installation. The design of this type of brake is very much obsolete nowadays.

  • With wide-profile cantilevers, you’ll enjoy a much less mechanical advantage.
  • This allows you to work very comfortably with various levers with high mechanical advantages.

Medium Profile Cantilever Brake:

Finding a cantilever angle of about 90 degrees on medium-profile cantilever brakes. Around the 1980s, such cantilevers were mostly used.

  • Medium-profile cantilevers tend to be more forgiving.
  • In addition, they have a wide range of set-ups that enable excellent all-around performance.

It is thought that mountain bikes around the late 80s and sometimes early 90s had this type of brake attached.

Low-Profile Cantilever Brake:

With low-profile cantilevers, you’ll find cantilever angles of less than about 90 degrees. You will find special advantages in these types of cantilever brakes. In this case, the brakes do not move too far from the frame or fork of various types of bicycles, which can be very desirable. One of the reasons is that if the arms of this type of cantilever are extended too much, various problems can arise.

  • Especially when there are many problems in the back when a bicycle rider can injure his legs in various ways.
  • Narrow-profile cantilevers are often capable of providing excellent performance.

But in this case, you must ensure that the cantilevers are properly set up.

  • If you carelessly set up narrow-profile cantilevers for some reason, braking power will always be greatly reduced.
  • However, many times it can be seen that it can provide a much better feel on the work stand.

Cantilever Brake Types: Based On Design

There are also some other brake types based on cantilever brake design: cantilever brakes and direct-pull brakes – both class II lever designs – and roller cam brakes and U-brake – both class I lever designs.

Roller Cam Brake:

The “roller cam brake” center-tension cantilever brake is simply a two-sided sliding tension-operated cam.

  • Each arm has a cam follower.
  • This pushes the arms apart as the cam presses against the follower.
  • As the top of each arm moves outward, the brake shoe under the pivot is forced inward against the rim.

Roll cam brakes were first used on mountain bikes in the 1980s and 1990s, with mounted fork blades and seats in standard positions, as well as lower chainrings for improved rigidity as they do not advance to interfere with the crank. Moreover, it is not uncommon for bicycles to have a single roll cam combined with another type. So that they are still used in some BMX and huge bikes.


“U-brakes”  are essentially the same design as center-pull caliper brakes.

  • The difference is that the two arm pivots are attached directly to the frame or fork while center-pull caliper brakes are attached to an integral bridge frame that is mounted by a single bolt to the frame or fork.
  • Like the roller cam brake, this is a caliper design with the pivot located above the rim. So U-brakes are often interchangeable and have the same maintenance issues as roller cam brakes.

In the early 1990s U-brakes were used on mountain bikes, especially under the chainstays, a rear brake mounting location that was popular at the time. Unfortunately, it’s very vulnerable to getting stuck in the mud, which means U-brakes are quickly dropped in favor of cross-country bikes.

U-brakes are the current standard for freestyle BMX frames and forks.

  • The main advantage of U-brakes over cantilever and linear-pull brakes in this application is that the lateral extension of the brake and cable system is minimal, and exposed parts are smooth.
  • Thus it is especially valuable on freestyle BMX bikes where any stretch parts are susceptible to damage and may interfere with the rider’s body or clothing.

Advantages & Disadvantages Of The Cantilevers Brakes

Convenience Inconvenience
Proper Tyre Clearance Complicated adjustment
Decent “Mud Clearance” Absence of braking strength unless flawlessly determined
Compatibility with The Brake Shifters Probably Fork Shuddering
Space For Bicycle’s Fenders Squeaky

Differences Between Cantilever Brakes And V Brakes

Brake Pads:

  • The pads of the V-brake are bolted on both sides and are also attached to both brake arms.
  • On the other hand, cantilever brakes do not have bolts for attachment, but the brake arms are bolted.

Braking Power:

In terms of braking power, both brakes are capable of turning off tire spin in a short amount of time. But in the case of v brakes, you have to give less effort, while in terms of cantilever brakes you have to use a bit more effort and power. So you can say that the braking power of V brakes is much better than cantilever brakes.

Brake Feeling:

Cantilever bikes have better brake modulation than V brakes.


The V-brake cables can be easily set up by screwing them in tightly. However, cantilever brakes are a little more challenging to set up because they require a lot of different parts.


In terms of comparison, V-brakes are easier to maintain than cantilever brakes.


You can buy both types of brakes online through different channels. Apart from that, you will also find it in various shops around. But V brakes are more popular than cantilevers, so they are more available in the market.


  • V brakes range in price from about $30 to $50.
  • On the other hand, Cantilever brakes are much cheaper, ranging from $10 to $50.

But the price of these brakes mainly depends and varies a lot on the size, brand, and quality.

Perfect Bike Types For Using Cantilever Brakes

Originally, cantilever brakes had nearly horizontal arms and were designed for maximum clearance on touring bikes, cyclo-cross bicycles, and tandem bikes. As mountain bikes became popular, cantilever brakes were adopted for these as well.

But smaller MTB frames meant that riders often fouled the rear brake arms with their heels.

  • “Low profile” cantilevers were designed to overcome this, with the associates being close to 45 degrees from the horizontal.
  • This type of cantilever brake requires more attention to geometry than traditional cantilevers but is now the most common type.

Furthermore, traditional cantilever brakes are difficult to adapt to bicycle suspensions and extend slightly from the frame. Accordingly, cantilevers are usually found only on bicycles without suspension.

Well Then, Are Cantilever Brakes Good And Universal?

Cantilever brakes offer a much stronger and more reliable braking system. This is why this type of braking system is widely used in tandems. However, getting the correct braking power requires a much more careful setup, which is quite difficult. Cantilever brakes are not bad, but they are far behind compared to many other types of brakes available today.

Due to the extra difficult setup and hard braking system, this brake is used by very few riders, so it is not very good. During the 1990s, this type of brake was used in various types of bikes including touring bikes, mountain bikes, cyclo-cross bicycles, and tandem bikes. But it is constantly getting worse as more and better brakes are coming to the market introduce.

In a word, this type of brake has different types, sizes, brands, etc. So it cannot be called universal.

Wrapping Up My Sayings About Cantilever Brakes- Good Or Bad

Hope you understand all the details about Cantilever Brakes by reading today’s article. Nowadays, cantilever brakes have become less popular due to the advent of many other high-quality & easy processing brakes. In the 1980s and 1990s, these types of brakes were quite hyped, but even now they are used in some bikes. And, That’s all for now my dear cycle-loving friend.

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