Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: The 'Wack, BC, Canada
Bikes: Norco (2), Miyata, Canondale, Soma, Redline
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If it's an older bike and the brakes have seen no attention for that time then it is very possible that one part or all the parts of the brake systems need some attention.
First of all there are three parts to a bicycle cable operated brake system. The lever, the cable and housings and the caliper. To tell where the system needs attention you must disconnect the cable from the caliper and pull the cable out or just unhook it from the lever depending on what style of bike this is. You don't mention if it is a road bike or a mountain bike. By doing that all three parts are now separated and you can check to see where the binding is located.
Seldom do any levers bind but it isn't a bad idea to put a very small amount of oil on hte lever pivots. Once oiled they should feel quite snappy and free moving.
Check that the cable moves in the guide housings easily. If it feels rough or seems to stick at some points then the cables are either dirty or the cable has cut a tight groove into the housing's inner plastic guide.
Then check the calipers for freedom of movement and a snappy return. If this isn't happening then you'll want to take your calipers, cantilevers or liner brakes apart to clean and lube the pivots. To see how to deal with each type go to www.parktool.com/repair
and hover your mouse over the brake lever or caliper on the little bicycle picture. When the flag says "Brakes" or "brake calipers" click to go to the next menu. Pick the type of brakes and what you need to do and study the pages. They will show and tell you what to do and how to do it.