Bicycles are an excellent form of transport, and something that makes them unique is that they come in all shapes and sizes and are all equipped with different components giving them unique characteristics.
One of the most important components is your bike’s brakes and what a lot of people don’t know is there are many types, such as drum brakes, disc brakes, caliper brakes, and cantilever brakes.
In this article, we will discuss the difference between caliper and cantilever brakes, as it is a question that we often get asked at bike test reviews. We’re going to break it down for you by telling you about what each brake is, its pros and cons, and the main big differences between them.
What are Caliper Brakes?
Caliper brakes were the most common type of brake on the market for many years. They were used on all types of bikes but had the most popularity on road bikes.
They bolt on through the bike’s forks on the front and through the frame on the rear. They work via a cable that directly inserts into the brake, and when tension is pulled on the cable, it pulls two pads together, which grip onto the bike’s rim, creating friction and causing the bike to slow down.
They are super lightweight and also very aerodynamic. They are very easy to fit and can be worked on easily when it comes to repair and maintenance. Caliper brakes have some limitations in that they are limited to certain size tires, don’t offer a huge amount of power, and are not ideal in poor conditions.
- Lots of types available
- Easy to fit and repair
- The cost to buy is low
- Not great in poor weather conditions
- Not a huge amount of stopping power
- Tight tire clearance
- Longer cable pull
What are Cantilever Brakes?
Cantilever brakes were very popular years ago and were seen on all types of bikes but more so on classic mountain bikes more than anywhere else. They were attached to the bike with two separate bolts on either side of the fork at the front and on the rear of each side of the wheel on the high point of the rear triangle.
They used a cable to operate, which ran across the top like a bridge instead of running directly into the brake itself. When this is pulled, the brake pads compress onto the surface of the rim.
These brakes were fairly lightweight, very easy to fit, and required next to no adjustments or maintenance when set up. They were ideal because they offered clearance for larger tires and worked well in muddy and poor conditions.
Unfortunately, they aren’t the smallest brakes and require the forks to be a bit bulkier. Many people used to say that under heavy load braking, you could get fork rattle, which made riding a bit less comfortable.
- Easy to fit and repair
- Great for tire clearance
- The cost to buy is low
- Great for muddy rides
- Require less cable pull
- Could cause fork rattle
What are the main differences?
Caliper and Cantilever brakes work in the same way, but they are actually very different from each other. Here are the main big differences that you can expect from using each.
There’s no denying that these brakes look completely different. The caliper brakes are small and aerodynamic, and the cantilever brake is larger and much wider.
Although both are attached in a similar place, these brakes are mounted very differently. The caliper brakes are mounted with a single bolt at the top of the fork and directly above the wheel on the frame. The cantilever brakes are mounted with two bolts, one on each fork leg and one on the frame on either side of the rear wheel.
Caliper brakes are limited in the fact you can only fit a certain size of tire in them, because of their design, you will struggle to get anything more than 32c in because there’s very little height room on these brakes. Cantilever brakes have a huge amount of tire clearance, and you will be able to fit anything from small road bike tires to large mountain bike tires in these.
Before disc brakes became popular, if you went to a cyclocross race, all the bikes would typically be equipped with cantilever brakes. This was because, on muddy off-road races, the mud didn’t clog the brakes up and also was much easier to clean off.
When we speak about pull, it’s about the distance the cable travels when pulled by the lever. On most cantilever brakes, the pull is shorter than a caliper brake. This means braking can be made easier on bikes like touring bikes with drop bars, and the pads engage quicker.
Although caliper and cantilever brakes look similar and work the same, they each have advantages and disadvantages. Although both are good to help you stop your bike quickly, we recommend looking into disc brakes too, as they are better than both of these braking systems in nearly every aspect.
Robbie Ferri has spent years working in a bike shop, has worked with industry leading brands on product creation, has been a semi pro athlete, and is a fully qualified strength and conditioning coach. He has broken World Records, bikepacked all over the World and raced ultra distance at a top-level.