Originally Posted by billkat
Back in 1974, I bought my first decent road bike with my summer earnings as a teen. I couldn't afford the all-Campy Raleigh, so I chose the next-in-line International. It was nearly all-Campy except for the Weinmann brakes.
I have upgraded/replaced many of the components over the years, including pedals, seats, rims, etc. But one mechanic told me years ago that no other brake had the long reach of the Weinamans 610, so I couldn't swap them out.
I get asked about this a lot...so much that I have a boilerplate response in my Eudora "Stationery" file:
A caliper brake system consists of 4 parts:
•The brake shoes
All of these parts are upgradable. Many people think first of replacing the calipers, but, in fact, this is the least likely part to make any real difference. A caliper is a simple leverage unit, and there's not all that much to one.
In the case of older bikes, it can be difficult to find a new caliper that will even fit.
The other 3 parts are much more likely to yield real improvement.
Older designs had the cables exit up from the front of the brake levers, arching over the
handlebars. The newer style, where the cable exits out the back of the lever and runs under the handlebar tape is referred to as "aero" because it eliminates the wind drag of the exposed cables.
Aero levers are generally a major improvement over the older type. The pivots are located differently, making it possible to get fairly serious braking from the position where the rider's hand is on top of the lever hood. Traditional levers would permit the use of this position for gentle deceleration only.
Additionally, the better aero levers have better internal cable routing, so there's less cable friction. I particularly recommend the Shimano Tiagra units we sell for $39.95, including cables. See: http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/brakes.html#leversdrop
Older cables used metal-to-metal contact as the inner cable slid through the spiral-wound steel housing. Lubricant was by grease, if the mechanic was conscientious.
Modern cable housings have a Teflon or similar lining. The better inner cables are stainless steel, and are "die drawn" to make them smoother. The result is greatly reduced cable friction, so more of your finger strength is transmitted to the caliper, rather than wasted overcoming cable friction.
•The brake shoes
Modern high-performance brake shoes also make a considerable difference. The very best is the ugly salmon-colored material originated by Scott-Mathauser, and now sold under the Kool Stop name. See: http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/brakeshoes.html
All the best,