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  1. #1
    happy bike wishes Turtle Speed's Avatar
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    Proving my manhood by improving my girlfriend's bike brakes

    So my girlfriend has a crappy Huffy that she got second-hand for $25 a long time ago, and the brakes are working terribly. The pads hit the rims, but the braking action is extremely weak -- you can jam on the brakes hard and it still takes a long way to stop. We wanted to improve it, but she knows nothing about how bikes work, and I'm still a beginner at bike maintenance!

    The bike has some sort of caliper brakes. From what I've been reading, those sometimes have an inherently lower mechanical advantage, so I suspect that's part of the issue. That notwithstanding, here was my beginner's plan to trying to improve them. Does it make sense?...

    1.) Clean the rims. So the pads hopefully grab the rim better. I see some people saying use isopropyl alcohol, others saying to use a degreasing agent. I have some crap called "degreaser concentrate" for washing hands - is that OK to use, or should I use something else? Any recommendations?

    2.) Install new brake pads. Not that hers are worn out, but I'm sure they're crappy nonetheless, surely old and brittle. Her current ones are shaped like these Grey Matter pads, but I'd rather use these Aztec pads if I can. Will it be possible to install the Aztecs on her caliper brakes? I just want to check to make sure there's no incompatibility.

    3.) Adjust the pad position correctly. Goes without saying, but at least one of her current brake pads is hitting the rim at some crazy angle and not getting much surface area contact on the rim.

    Does this plan make sense? Any feedback or other easy tips I can do? Remember, I'm a beginner, so I'm not ready for something like "rip out the brakes and install new V-brakes" yet...

  2. #2
    Senior Member gyozadude's Avatar
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    Before trying to prove your manhood on a potentially self-defeating task, you need to assess the following:

    a) do you have steel or alloy rims? Steel rims on old Huffy bikes might not get good grip at all. All the cleaning in the world may do no good. Also check that the wheels are true. If not, that can prevent moving the pads closer together.

    b) installing new brake pads is also not a guarantee to work. It may not be the pads themselves. It may be the brake surface being steel/chrome and very slippery. It may also be really flexible brake arches or compressive cable housing.

    c) be careful that your brake pad adjust doesn't result in massive brake squeal. That might not be a good proof of manhood.

    V-brakes require cantilever bosses soldered/brazed a priori to the fork and seat stays, or some bolt-on equivalent. Probably not an option unless those bosses are already there. Don't be too disappointed if there is no help for bad huffy brakes.
    Yes, I can roll my own potsticker skins!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    Typical box store Huffy's have horrible brakes. The calipers are too thin and flex way too much when under load.

    The main thing is true the wheels so you can get the pads as close as possible and get maximum lever travel before the handle bottoms out.

    Huffy's were a convincing factor for me to buy a truing stand!

  4. #4
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Turtle Speed View Post
    The bike has some sort of caliper brakes.

    install new V-brakes
    Which is it? caliper brakes or V brakes?

    You can make just about any crappy V brakes work well, but not with a steel rim.

    Caliper brakes (always cheap and nasty ones) or steel rims on something masquerading as a MTB invariably means it's a BSO*.

    If you have a BSO and you develop the slightest interest in cycling, you should turf it and get a real bike.



    *If it's old, it might be a piece of crap yet also a real bike that works... but that market sector doesn't really exist anymore. The TLA means bike-shaped object.

  5. #5
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    First off, I will warn that this is a lost cause
    its a huffy, meaning you have many issues going against you:
    the rims are steel, which have poor braking ability
    the calipers are stamped steel -far too flexible for good power


    However, seeing as how this is a GF/manhood issue, spending money is possibly a good investment in the larger scheme of things.
    two approaches,
    1. go to a real LBS and buy an entry level hybrid for 3-400$ (do, not buy a walmart bike) she will be amazed by the difference
    2. upgrade parts on the huffy

    upgrade path as follows: (ordered to mnimize cost)

    better brake pads
    these are your best bet:
    http://harriscyclery.net/product/koo...-brake-479.htm

    stiffer brakes:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...BT2WMRZ6AN4KQR
    double check the distance from mount bolt to pads on your old ones 79-99mm is the range for these, good odds it will work with the huffy mtb tires....

    aluminum rims
    replace the wheels with modern-er ones with aluminum rims; new ones cost more than the bike is worth; so only do this by transplantation from a cheap donor bike
    make sure the number of cogs on the rear wheel matches
    if you can find a dead walmart bike, say a NEXT or a Magna and its new enough to be aluminum wheels, and you only pay 10$ at a garage sale for it; then as bad as it is the wheels would be an upgrade....

    really, just buy her a better bike

  6. #6
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xenologer View Post
    First off, I will warn that this is a lost cause
    its a huffy, meaning you have many issues going against you:
    the rims are steel, which have poor braking ability
    the calipers are stamped steel -far too flexible for good power

    really, just buy her a better bike
    There's your only real hope.

    I'm thinking she probably has some emotional attachment to that Huffy. Anything that you do to that bike is going to affect that. You will have cobbled up the old bike that she loves and it's still not going to work very well. Making a bad situation worse is not going to boost your manhood score.

  7. #7
    Senior Member JonathanGennick's Avatar
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    New pads, properly adjusted, will probably make a noticeable improvement over the stock pads. Kool Stop's Salmon pads are the gold standard. The Salmon-colored compound has great friction. However, I usually buy Jagwire Basics because they cost less and work well-enough.

    When working on Huffys, I usually replace cables and housing at the same time as pads.

    Get a shop to do the work if you want to impress your girlfriend.

    Be prepared to spend more than the bike cost.

  8. #8
    Lover of Old Chrome Moly Myosmith's Avatar
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    Clean rims, new pads and proper adjustment will give you as much braking power as is possible with that bike. If they are steel rims try to find some alloy rims with a machined braking surface that would fit the bike. Go used as there is no way it is worth getting even a low end wheelset for a $25 Huffy. If you hit a bike co-op for the wheels, look for better brakes as well, even something off an old Schwinn road bike is better than the stamped steel on most Huffy's. If you can find a set of calipers off of a brand name bike like a Trek, Giant, Specialized, Raleigh, Cannondale, etc. so much the better.

    Don't overlook cables. The cheap universal cables and poor routing common on department store bikes adds to the mushy feeling of the brakes.

    You have been warned above, but you could very easily get way more into this project than the bike is worth. Instead of putting any real money into this bike, you can prove your manhood by finding her a better used bike. Old chrome-moly MTBs are plentiful and inexpensive. They also come with cantilever or v-brakes which inherently provide much better braking.

    BTW, you can't just switch caliper brakes for v-brakes, it would require extensive modification to the bike including adding mounts to the frame, new brakes, possibly new levers, and rerouting of the cables.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member Spld cyclist's Avatar
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    Lots of good advice has been posted above. Is it possible to attach pictures of the brakes? It might be helpful to see what you have and how it is set up.

  10. #10
    Senior Member IthaDan's Avatar
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    Simple green on the rims and sanding off the glaze on the face of the pads can make a big difference without spending a thing. So can toeing in the brakes, on calipers like these you just bend the stamped steel...

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    Kool Stop claims to have brake pads that will work on any rim material. They have dozens of pad types. There's gotta be one that can work for the newbie.

  12. #12
    happy bike wishes Turtle Speed's Avatar
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    Thank you all for the outstanding responses. The "proving manhood" thing was mostly a joke, and neither she nor I are taking this that seriously. I just wanted to do what I could with it for the short-term.

    Appreciate the warnings about not expecting too much from the final product - it'll help me feel less bad when the final product isn't stopping on a dime. I know you can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap. And I do think it's smarter not to try to invest serious money on this junker. We'll start thinking more seriously about just replacing it. But for now, I'm sorta looking forward to messing with it, for experience and fun if nothing else.


    Quote Originally Posted by Kimmo View Post
    Which is it? caliper brakes or V brakes?
    Sorry I wasn't completely clear -- they're some sort of caliper brakes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Spld cyclist View Post
    Is it possible to attach pictures of the brakes?
    I'll see if I can take a photo of them today.

    Quote Originally Posted by gyozadude View Post
    do you have steel or alloy rims?
    From the sound of it, they're probably uber crappy steel, but I actually am not completely certain. Is there an easy way to tell? Is it on the rim somewhere? I couldn't find the answer in 15 seconds on Google and I have to run in a sec...

  13. #13
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    If they are "chrome plated"- steel.
    If a refrigerator magnet sticks to them- steel

  14. #14
    Can'tre Member 3alarmer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xenologer View Post

    really, just buy her a better bike
    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch View Post
    There's your only real hope.
    Making a bad situation worse is not going to boost your manhood score.
    +2.....I work on more Huffys than most people (along with
    the other various ___Mart bikes).

    If you really love your girlfriend, unless this is one of the
    old coaster brake "Leave it to Beaver" Huffys, do everyone
    a favor and find her a real bicycle.

    Of course, Mel, one of the other mechs at the bike coop here, says,
    Quote Originally Posted by Mel
    Anyone can work on that high end Campy and Dura Ace crap.
    It takes a real mechanic to tune up a Roadmaster.
    I was gonna make that my sig line, once upon a time.
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  15. #15
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    That's a good call, that quote.

    Tuning BSOs is a PITA, but the biggest problem with it is they tend to start going out of tune again straight away...

    Part of the joy of working on Campy or DA/Ultegra/105 is seeing and feeling in the gear that it'll retain your settings because everything is well-designed and strong enough.

  16. #16
    happy bike wishes Turtle Speed's Avatar
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    Alright... here's what I'm up against! (Photo should hopefully be clickable)

    huffy brakes.jpg

    To my untrained eye, it looks like the brake pad visible in the photo is aligned too low. So if I'm understanding right, that means the bike is losing braking power there, because less surface area of the pad is connecting with the rim. And the lip underneath is not only potentially dangerous but makes proper pad adjustments difficult to impossible without some pad surgery. Am I correct about all this?

    I didn't even notice it at the time, just randomly snapped a photo of the bike and only saw it when examining the photo. The funny thing is that that particular pad is far from the worst of the set. But in a way, it's kind of a good thing, because it makes me feel like there's a lot of obvious room for improvement.

    So I decided to order new high-quality brake pads after all, because I wanted a "clean slate" as a newbie pad adjustor, and their grip ability can't be any worse than the ones she's got on there now. When we replace this bike and get her a nice one, which is just a matter of time at this point, I hope to be able to take the nice new brake pads off and transplant them to a new bike, assuming they're still in decent condition.

    I won't be able to work on this thing for a couple weeks, but for laughs, I'll come back and report on how it goes.

  17. #17
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    1. The back brakes don't matter much. A lot of the time you'll want more braking than it takes to lock up the back wheel anyway. If the bike doesn't have front brakes, OMG.

    2. Those brake calipers are junk; I'd replace them before I bothered with the pads. They're so crap, you might have a hard time tuning them to be good enough to lock up the back wheel; they're woefully inadequate for the front.

    Put one of these on the front.

  18. #18
    happy bike wishes Turtle Speed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kimmo View Post
    If the bike doesn't have front brakes, OMG.
    It does.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kimmo View Post
    Those brake calipers are junk
    How can you tell at a glance? Is it just because single-pivot calipers are especially weak in general?

  19. #19
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    They're the ones made out of bent steel plate. They're brake-shaped objects.

    And the vast majority of single-pivot brakes don't cut it on the front, although they're generally perfect for the back.

  20. #20
    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Turtle Speed View Post
    It does.


    How can you tell at a glance? Is it just because single-pivot calipers are especially weak in general?
    Not really. It's that the thin steel arms are very long and flexible. This causes a lot of the lever-force to get lost AND the long arms reduce leverage. Cantilevers or V-brakes would be a better choice for a bike like this. Not easy to upgrade to that, so dual-pivot calipers would be the only choice. However, that's not needed to get decent braking-performance.

    Go here and learn to adjust the brake optimally: Park Tool - Sidepull Brake Service

    That said, I have gotten quite good performance out of bikes like that. Easiest and cheapest route is teflon-lined cables and pads made for chrome-plated rims. Then teach your girlfriend how to brake quickly (straighten arms, push back all the way with butt hanging off the back of seat, belly on the seat). Due to the physics involved, the faster you want to brake, the more and more weight is transfered to the front-wheel. Meaning very little weight remains on the rear for traction. Maximum-braking occurs at about 0.83-0.88g with the rear-wheel skimming the surface or slightly off teh ground with 100% of traction & braking coming from the front-tyre. I saw this 12-year old girl at Sears Point and she was out-braking everyone!!!


  21. #21
    happy bike wishes Turtle Speed's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies and links, very helpful.

    I'm having mixed results so far. The back brakes seem to be somewhat improved. They feel decently responsive now, and I can actually get the wheel to lock if I brake hard enough.

    The front brakes are another story. I try to make sure I'm getting good, solid pad contact, but they just feel weak, even weaker than the back brakes. That surprised me, because I thought the front brakes were supposed to have more stopping power when properly set up. Am I doing something wrong with my adjustments? Shouldn't I expect to be able to get the front brakes stronger than the back ones if I've properly set this up, even with my crummy equipment?

    Random other issue, I'm having trouble getting the brake pads tightened into place where I want them. My method is to start with them somewhat snug but slightly movable, close the brakes, wiggle them into position, and then tighten the pad. Problem is, when I go to tighten and the torque resistance starts ramping up, turning my allen wrench tends to make the whole pad tilt. So it's hard to get the pad to stick perfectly in place while I'm tightening with the allen wrench AND one hand is already tied down in clamping down on the brake as hard as I can. Any tips would be super appreciated.

  22. #22
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Once you have it snug, hold the pad with a shifting spanner to tighten it.

    And your front brakes may well be slowing you down more effectively than the rear, but still be miles off being able to lock the wheel... at a rough guess I'd say it takes something like 1/10th the force to lock the rear.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Turtle Speed View Post
    Thanks for the replies and links, very helpful.

    I'm having mixed results so far. The back brakes seem to be somewhat improved. They feel decently responsive now, and I can actually get the wheel to lock if I brake hard enough.

    The front brakes are another story. I try to make sure I'm getting good, solid pad contact, but they just feel weak, even weaker than the back brakes. That surprised me, because I thought the front brakes were supposed to have more stopping power when properly set up. Am I doing something wrong with my adjustments? Shouldn't I expect to be able to get the front brakes stronger than the back ones if I've properly set this up, even with my crummy equipment?

    Random other issue, I'm having trouble getting the brake pads tightened into place where I want them. My method is to start with them somewhat snug but slightly movable, close the brakes, wiggle them into position, and then tighten the pad. Problem is, when I go to tighten and the torque resistance starts ramping up, turning my allen wrench tends to make the whole pad tilt. So it's hard to get the pad to stick perfectly in place while I'm tightening with the allen wrench AND one hand is already tied down in clamping down on the brake as hard as I can. Any tips would be super appreciated.
    Start with loose pads
    squeeze brake lever so you can position pads
    hand tighten bolts so pads stay in place
    release brake lever to free up 2 hands
    use allen key/wrench to tighten pads


    yes, front brakes should be stronger given identical brakes
    maybe this is a cable pull issue? do both brake levers move the same amount before pads touch rims?

  24. #24
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    You are doing great and getting some experience. Everyone has given you some good advise so I will give you some bad advise. Rub some bacon on it.

  25. #25
    Senior Member miamijim's Avatar
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    My neighbor has Huffy like that with horrible brake and he had me look at it.

    i installed new Jagwire pads and threw on some high ratio MTB levers I had lying around. It stops.
    WWW.CYCLESPEUGEOT.COM 2005 Pinarello Dogma; 1991 Paramount PDG 70 Mtb; 1976? AD Vent Noir; 1989 LeMond Maillot Juane F&F; 1993? Basso GAP F&F; 1989 Terry Symmetry; 2003 Trek 4700 Mtb; 1983 Vitus 979

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