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Home » Cycling » Cycling and Brakes; One of the Easiest Upgrades on a Road Bike There Is.

Cycling and Brakes; One of the Easiest Upgrades on a Road Bike There Is.


August 2019

There aren’t many reasons to upgrade brakes on a bicycle, but there are a few.

  1. You currently own a bike with Axis 1.0 brakes.
  2. You would prefer a freakin’ sweet set of brakes that perfectly match your A bike:

    1. Your older bike’s brakes won’t fit a 25mm tire and 25+mm tires are all the rage nowadays.

I could probably come up with a few more; your bike’s brakes just don’t brake well, etc… but I have personal experience with the top three, so let’s just move on.

Now, the first thing one must ask oneself, does putting new brakes on a classic steed take away from its classic awesomeness?  Well, technically yes.  Then you have to ask yourself, is it enough to matter?  NO!  With the possibility of an F-bomb in there, if necessary.  Especially if you want to get a modern set of wheels on that old badass steed, as was the case for me.  I like the idea of the old frame with modern equipment on it, but that’s just me (I’ve got a friend who had a steel Merckx restored and put SRAM eTap on it).  Take into account, also, that every generation of Shimano parts upgrades the lower levels to the level above for the previous year…  In other words, my old 1999 Ultegra brakes were great by 1999’s standards.  2019 Shimano 105 brakes (something like four or five generations of advances) are better and lighter than the higher grade ’99 calipers.

Moving on, for a modern road bike, if you can find a set of brakes that matches your bike, there’s no question the upgrade is muy bueno, unless said upgrade takes one over the line into gaudy.

Now, on to the good stuff!  Let’s change those bad boys out!…  For the front brake, turn the wheel so the back of the fork faces you.  Don’t bother pulling the wheel off or removing the fork.  That’s entirely unnecessary.  With the wheel turned, you’ll either see a post there, or it’ll be inside the fork a ways (I have one of each style – the Trek, the bolt tightens to the outside of the fork, the Venge, it’s inside).  Either way, it’s the same thing; loosen the bolt after removing the brake cable and popping the cable end cap off.  With the bolt end off, you can simply pull the caliper from its mounting hole.

Guess what’s next?!  You put the new one on!  Tighten that bad boy up (for this part, it’s good to consult manufacturers recommendations so you don’t over-tighten the bolt and wreck your fork).  To get the specs for your bike, simply Google it.  I go with “Trek 5200 Torque Specs” for the Trek, and guess what for the Venge?!  Right!  “Specialized Venge Torque Specs”…  Anyway, you’ll have to watch because the brake cable housings may need to be changed out or cut.  For the Venge, I had to cut housing for the front.  For the Trek, I needed a longer housing so I had to get a 2′ length from the shop and re-run the housing, cutting it to the proper length while making sure the “Bontrager” emblem was centered and unobstructed.   Center the brake arms over the wheel and lightly tighten the bolt.  Install the brake cable into the pinch lock on the caliper.  Make sure you use the spacers provided to shim the caliper back from the fork or chain stays as necessary.  You don’t want you caliper to rub the paint off your fork or chain stays (I had to double-shim the new front caliper on the Venge to get it to clear).  Once you’ve gotten everything where you want it and centered, tighten down the bolts to the recommended torque.

Finally, we have to center the pads on the brake track of the rim.  To illustrate, I’ve got two photos of my main road bikes, head on:

The Trek, on the left, cannot be closer to perfect.  The Venge, on the right, the left pad (right side of the photo) was a little low.  Taking this picture alerted me to the fact that they brake pads weren’t perfectly level as they should be, so I fixed the problem immediately.  To align the brake pads, I install mine square to the rim.  Some say the front of the pad should hit the rim before the rest of the pad, but I think that’s mainly nonsense.  Eventually the tip of the pad will wear so the whole pad hits the wheel flush anyway.  So, loosen the bolt that holds the pad to the caliper arm.  Center it on the brake track and squeeze the brake lever to engage the brake.  This will hold the pad where you want it while you tighten it down.  Once the pad is centered and aligned, tighten the bolt again.  Switch sides.  Then do the rear.  If you want to install the pads so the front hits the rim first, simply fold a business card in half and insert it between the back of the brake pad and the rim and tighten everything down with the card betwixt.  When you let up off the brake lever, the pad will be just a little skewed so the front hits first.

Once that’s done, you’re ready for the test ride to make sure you did everything right.  First, give both brakes a squeeze to make sure you’ve got the cables tight enough.  Then look everything over closely.  Anything missing?  No?  Good, from there, move on to the rolling test.  I’d recommend a slow roll at first, then work up to speed.  Let’s not bomb down a mountain pass on brakes that haven’t been tested.


  1. Glad you finally got some decent brakes! 🙂

    Apparently toeing in the brake pad so the front is 1mm closer gives *slightly* better modulation and brake feel, as the front of the pad contacts the wheel rim first when you feather the brake, then as you squeeze harder more of the pad contacts the rim until eventually (okay, very quickly) the whole brake pad is in contact with the rim for maximum braking effect.

    Whether this very subtle difference can be felt by your average roadie is still up for debate…

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