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Old 03-29-14, 10:28 AM   #1
Joe Perez
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A "more than just brake pads" thread

First off, hello all. And second, apologies for the fact that this thread is partially redundant- a fair bit of searching has revealed some related discussions in the past, but my dilemma here is slightly different. I'm shopping for a whole bike, not just a set of brake pads.


I've been commuting by bike for about three years now, but most of that has been in SoCal, where weather is not a factor. I recently moved to NYC, and while this is a great bike town, I'm finding my brakes to be woefully inadequate in the rain and snow.

My present daily ride is a cheap Schwinn Admiral, mostly because I don't want to leave a more expensive bike chained up outside overnight in the bicycle-theft capital of North America. And for a Walk-Mart bike, I must admit that I'm hugely impressed. In the past I've been a LBS bigot, but this one has opened my eyes.





After getting tired of the crappy black pads it came with, I tried a set of Grey Matter pads on the advice of a friend, and found them to be far worse than stock. When wet, I had virtually zero braking with them. Right now, I'm running Swissstop green pads, and even these I'm not real happy with. They are very slightly better than the OEM black pads when wet, but not much. Couple that with them being so damn loud that I'm embarrassed every time I hit the brakes, and I'm not real happy. (And yes, I've fiddled with the alignment on them until I can't stand it anymore.)

One thing which occurred to me just recently is that the rims on my bike are painted (came like that stock), and that perhaps stripping them down to bare aluminum might help. I'll be trying that out shortly to see...

But what I need is a braking solution that works just as well when cold and wet as when warm and dry. I've spent the money on good tires which work well in the wet, and I want my brakes to match. If I could find a simple, cheap, non-suspension 700c bike with disc or drum brakes, I'd buy it immediately.

I've found a lot of posts where people gush about the Kool-Stop salmon pads, but then I run into posts like this Kool Stop Salmon vs. Swissstop GHP which claim that the Swissstops are even better. Well heck, I have the Swissstops, and I'm not happy with them already, so...



What it boils down to for me is this: I'm getting ready to buy another bike anyway, as I need one I can leave in Hoboken NJ and one I can use in Manhattan (bikes aren't allowed through the Holland Tunnel.)

If I can find a working rim-brake solution, I'll buy another Admiral. This bike fits me well, comes standard with fenders / rack / chainguard / kickstand, and at $160 is cheap enough that I don't mind replacing them when they get stolen / smashed / stripped. If I can't, and there's just no choice, then I'll spend the $400 on a Schwinn FourOneOne and live with the anxiety of it walking away despite the best lock Kryptonite makes.



So that said, I'd appreciate some real-world input from people who actually commute in snow, ice and rain. Is there any rim pad which is even close to a disc or drum in terms of consistency vs. weather, or do all rim brakes really just suck, with some merely sucking slightly less than others?
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Old 03-29-14, 10:46 AM   #2
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Decent pads with aluminium rims work fine in rain and snow - especially if you don't have many downhills. They have worked for me in the past 30 years, last 3 commuting all year long. Rain, snow, you name it. Brake pads need to be well adjusted though. Mine are standard, cheap, Shimano Acera v-brakes and they stop the bike in place with just using 2 fingers on the levers. Limiting factor for me - both in the dry and wet - has always been the tyre grip on the concrete/snow, noth the braking power. All the brakes: cantilever, v-brake etc have always been good enough to lock the wheels and/or send me flying over the bars.
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Old 03-29-14, 10:52 AM   #3
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I would suspect that the painted wheel (braking surface) is the problem.

I think the best long-term fix would be this wheel for a few reasons:



1. I'd change the front wheel as that does most of the braking.
2. I'd get an unpainted surface as I think this is really the key issue.
3. I'd go dynamo with a new front wheel so that you could attach lights at a later date

about $100, which isn't cheap, but will get moved to all new bikes.
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Old 03-29-14, 11:36 AM   #4
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I don't know for sure, but it seems that a painted brake surface would be a problem. I'm surprised that the paint hasn't worn off. No personal experience at all.

When I went through the "which pad dilemma" I did the same searches. I ended up deciding on KoolStops for sure but still had a question as to which material would be best. I couldn't make up my mind so I ordered a dual compound pair for the front. I'm completely satisfied. I my front brakes are Avid Shorty 6's, the KS pads worked a lot better than the stock on another bike so I swapped them out within a week. My rear brakes are mid line Tektro's with stock pads. Both f&r are the same age (within a week). The KS pads are hardly worn and the Tektro pads need replacing. Strange, the rears wore out first.
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Old 03-29-14, 11:53 AM   #5
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As you and others suggest, the painted rims might be a big part of the problem and I'd start there.

Some folks have replaced their fork for one with disk brake mounts to give them a disk brake up front. But maybe that would raise it's appeal to bicycle thieves.

On an unrelated note, I'd secure those dangling straps shownd in the picuture. If they get tangled in the spokes when you're riding along one windy day, you might suddenly experiene some real stopping power when you aren't expecting it.
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Old 03-29-14, 12:52 PM   #6
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On an unrelated note, I'd secure those dangling straps shownd in the picuture. If they get tangled in the spokes when you're riding along one windy day, you might suddenly experiene some real stopping power when you aren't expecting it.
That was the first thing I noticed in the pic. Need to stop fast? Just lean to the right!
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Old 03-29-14, 01:15 PM   #7
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Thing that improved my braking was getting through the surface finish to the Bare aluminum rim

IDK what effort you want to put out ,


You can take the tire off then use a sandpaper made for Automobile painting 'Wet or Dry' and take the paint off

or just resell the wheels to someone else and get a set with plain aluminum rims..

My Ice on the ground bike on a frame that Lacks anyplace to mount Disc Brakes [your situation]

has Sturmey Archer Drum brakes .. [trouble free for 25 years]

the hubs are on nut fixed solid axles so a bit slower to be stolen than a typical QR type ..
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Old 03-29-14, 03:31 PM   #8
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"Bicycle Brake Modulator"

Spend some time and $$ at the best "lbs" (local bike shop) you can find, have them check your bike to see if it has "BRAKE MODULATORS" installed.
Or you could do a search of the "mechanics" subforum on the subject of poor stopping power/brake modulator.
Brake Modulators are fairly common on bikes at the price point of your Big Box Schwinn/path rider style bike.. They are often the source of poor stopping power in adverse conditions, despite having high performance pads installed.
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Old 03-29-14, 03:47 PM   #9
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I have sidepull caliper brakes, and because of the recommendations on this forum looked into getting kool stop pads... went to the harris cyclery website to help determine what pads I should get, and based on their recommendation I got pads that are usually on v-brakes... seemed pretty good at first but I don't ride in the rain very often so when it did happen, I was surprised at how little braking power I had... I went and bought pads from my lbs for sidepulls. now when these wear down, I will try kool stop again but definitely I will match them for caliper brakes.
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Old 03-30-14, 09:40 AM   #10
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The kool stops are great but the pads you have should be fine if you get the paint off your rims. If you have access to power tools I have had really good luck using a die grinder with the 90deg head and putting a more aggressive scotch brite pad on it. If you don't have access to any tools like that you can always go the sand paper route but that will take some patience, there is also a chemical you can get at auto parts stores called "aircraft paint remover" and it works great but make sure you are wearing good gloves and are outside or in a garage. I would also make sure to tape everything but the rim sidewall off the best I could as I would not want that stuff getting onto the nipples. If you go the chemical route, make sure to clean everything off really well after the fact and a light sanding with fine grit and paper or scotch brite would probably help even more.
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Old 03-30-14, 04:03 PM   #11
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As you and others suggest, the painted rims might be a big part of the problem and I'd start there.
Yeah, it's something I hadn't even thought about until I sat down to write this (despite having spent nearly $100 on brake pads at this point), mostly because that's just how this bike came.

When I get back into town, I'll pull off the rubber and hit 'em with the 80 grit abrasive wheel followed by a wet-sand to see if that markedly improves performance. If not, I'll take it as a sign that I need to abandon the pipe-dream of trying to make rim brakes work as well as discs in the snow.



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Some folks have replaced their fork for one with disk brake mounts to give them a disk brake up front. But maybe that would raise it's appeal to bicycle thieves.
I'd thought about it. But beyond the high cost, there's the fact that I'm not looking to improve this bike so much as figure out whether, for the next one, I can stick with another cheap frame with rim-brakes or if I need to pony up and go back to discs like I'm accustomed to with my e-bikes (the most recent one I built out of a Giant Revel 1, which is a front-suspension MTB with 26" wheels. It's big, heavy, tough as nails, and scary-fast.)



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On an unrelated note, I'd secure those dangling straps shownd in the picuture. If they get tangled in the spokes when you're riding along one windy day, you might suddenly experiene some real stopping power when you aren't expecting it.
Haha. Why do you think I stopped at that specific spot? Taking the picture was an afterthought.

I don't normally carry the nylon straps on the bike, I just needed to bring home a vacuum cleaner that day, and it was a sufficiently large and awkward load that I had a hard time properly securing it.
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Old 03-30-14, 04:06 PM   #12
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IDK what effort you want to put out ,




You can take the tire off then use a sandpaper made for Automobile painting 'Wet or Dry' and take the paint off


or just resell the wheels to someone else and get a set with plain aluminum rims..


My Ice on the ground bike on a frame that Lacks anyplace to mount Disc Brakes [your situation]


has Sturmey Archer Drum brakes .. [trouble free for 25 years]


the hubs are on nut fixed solid axles so a bit slower to be stolen than a typical QR type ..

I have no problem doing a bit of work, and I already plan to strip the paint and see if that improves things at all. I'm also going to pick up some salmon Kool-Stops, as I assume that these Swissstops are probably contaminated with embedded paint at this point. (They've also worn quite asymmetrically due to the toe-in.)




Oddly, they work fine when dry, aside from being insanely loud no matter how I align them. But when wet, they are seriously lacking. If you've never ridden in NYC then maybe you can't appreciate this, but having good brakes and tires is literally a life-or-death issue here. This isn't a fair-weather pleasure cruiser, it's my rain-or-shine everyday transportation. If I had a secure place to park it, I'd happily spend $2,000 on something nice. But nice bikes get stripped in broad daylight here.


If I knew where to pick up a set of drum wheels I'd be all over that. But the few complete sets I've seen on eBay seem to fetch "collector" prices.
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Old 03-30-14, 04:09 PM   #13
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Spend some time and $$ at the best "lbs" (local bike shop) you can find, have them check your bike to see if it has "BRAKE MODULATORS" installed.

I guess I should clarify that while I'm new to this forum, I'm not new to cycling. I have been riding for years, have built a large number of e-bikes, do all my own wrenching, and until moving out here to NYC had my own fab shop.


I'm simply unfamiliar with riding cheap frames in foul weather, as I've historically owned much more expensive bikes with disc brakes, and ridden them in the desert. This is my first foray into commuting with a department-store bike in snow and rain, and it's purely because of the theft concern. I've already had a $99 Huffy stolen, though to be fair I was using an equally cheap lock on it.




So, yeah. I know of the sprung, tension-limiting devices of which you speak, and I can assure you that there's nothing between the levers and the calipers but a well-lubricated cable adjusted to the correct length.
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Old 03-30-14, 10:49 PM   #14
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I don't know why this is such a big deal. Change the wheels. Aluminum wheels can be had for less than $80 a f/r pair. Over. Done. Or don't. The braking can't be any worse than the old steel rims of 50 years ago. Wet braking was just about non-existent. Kool Stop Salmon pads will make even steel rims equal to something that you don't necessarily have to get killed using. The only drawback of rim brakes is that they all work best if your rim is as straight as possible. That's it. The best hydraulic disc brake on the market cannot stop you any harder than your tires allow and/or the fact that your center of gravity is 35" above a 38" wheelbase.

H
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Old 03-31-14, 03:14 AM   #15
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I don't know why this is such a big deal. Change the wheels. Aluminum wheels can be had for less than $80 a f/r pair. Over. Done. Or don't. The braking can't be any worse than the old steel rims of 50 years ago. Wet braking was just about non-existent. Kool Stop Salmon pads will make even steel rims equal to something that you don't necessarily have to get killed using. The only drawback of rim brakes is that they all work best if your rim is as straight as possible. That's it. The best hydraulic disc brake on the market cannot stop you any harder than your tires allow and/or the fact that your center of gravity is 35" above a 38" wheelbase.

H
As I posted, just change the front wheel (does most of the breaking and throw a dynamo on there as well) for about 100 USD.
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Old 03-31-14, 03:19 AM   #16
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Appreciate the clarification re: your skill level

Upon much closer reading of your op and inspection of the pik of your bike, noticed what appears to be a stripe around both rims that could be where the pads have already worn through the paint?.
Or is it a decorative pinstripe, tough to tell from the picture.

Is the pik of your bike in the op showing the Swiss Stop pads installed, or an older picture? Pre swiss stop?
Could you supply a picture of the upper 30-40% of both rims, face on to the rims and centered on the new brake pads?
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Old 03-31-14, 09:15 AM   #17
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I don't know why this is such a big deal. Change the wheels. Aluminum wheels can be had for less than $80 a f/r pair. Over. Done. Or don't. The braking can't be any worse than the old steel rims of 50 years ago.
I'm not sure what you mean by "a big deal" in this context. Perhaps I've failed adequately to convey my end-goal. I wish for the bike to have better braking performance than a 50 year old cruiser with steel rims. Or, more specifically, I wish for the braking performance to be consistent between wet and dry conditions, just like a vehicle with disc or drum brakes.


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The best hydraulic disc brake on the market cannot stop you any harder than your tires allow and/or the fact that your center of gravity is 35" above a 38" wheelbase.
Yes, I understand this. And having spent some money on nice Michelin Pilot City tires, I have vastly more traction available between the tire and road than I have the braking capacity to utilize. I am perfectly capable of modulating the brakes to accommodate for road-surface conditions- two decades of motorcycle ownership make this a highly intuitive process- if anything, I find it massively counterintuative to have my braking performance drop off dramatically in the wet.

To give you a practical example, right now I don't have a dedicated bike on the Manhattan side of my commute, and I use a Citibike instead:



For those unfamiliar, CitiBike is a bike-sharing system that lets you grab a bike "anywhere" and ride it to "anywhere else." The bikes, while heavy, are well-built and equipped with drum brakes and Kendsa Kwest tires on both wheels. I find this level of traction and braking performance to be entirely adequate, and that is what I want to replicate for myself. If I have to shell out the money for a bike equipped with disc brakes, then I will (Schwinn FourOneOne is the current front-runner), but I'd prefer to stick with a cheaper frame simply to decrease its desirability as a theft target.

Were it not for the fact that the availability of CitiBikes tends to be iffy during rush hour around the major rail hubs in Manhattan, I would simply continue using them indefinitely. I'm just tired of having to search to find one, and with summertime fast approaching, they're going to start becoming scarce again.
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Old 03-31-14, 09:17 AM   #18
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As I posted, just change the front wheel (does most of the breaking and throw a dynamo on there as well) for about 100 USD.

If doing so will dramatically improve braking performance as compared to simply stripping the paint from the rims I have, then I'm willing to give that a shot. It won't be the first thing I do, as I enjoy tinkering and would prefer to fix what I have already as opposed to throwing it away and buying new. Also, just FYI, I consider the dynamo a negative, as I already have a very nice set of super-bright lights with rechargeable batteries, which I detach and take with me when the bike is parked (PlanetBike 1/2 watt Superflash Stealth on the rear, and Blaze 2 Watt on the front.)


If anyone can point me to where I can buy a 700c front wheel equipped with a drum brake for a reasonable cost, I would be hugely appreciative of that.
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Old 03-31-14, 09:17 AM   #19
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Appreciate the clarification re: your skill level

No problem. I moderate a car forum called MiataTurbo.net, so I totally understand the problem of people with all sorts of different skill levels and experience popping into the forum with questions that have been asked before. I sometimes just forget that whenever I enter a new forum, I myself am one of those newbies.



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Upon much closer reading of your op and inspection of the pik of your bike, noticed what appears to be a stripe around both rims that could be where the pads have already worn through the paint?.
Or is it a decorative pinstripe, tough to tell from the picture.

I believe what you are seeing is the black rubber between the reflective stripe on the side of the tires and the rim itself.


There are a few areas where the paint has started to abrade, and I'll deal with that this week by stripping it entirely with the abrasive disc. At present, it's by no means even or consistent. Kind of makes me wonder why Schwinn thought it was a good idea to paint these rims in the first place...






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Is the pik of your bike in the op showing the Swiss Stop pads installed, or an older picture? Pre swiss stop?
Could you supply a picture of the upper 30-40% of both rims, face on to the rims and centered on the new brake pads?

If my memory serves, that was taken a month or two after I removed the Grey Matter pads and installed the SwissStops. And I only have SwissStop on the front- on the rear I reverted back to the black rubber pads that the bike came with originally.


Here are a couple of clips of the original image cropped from the full-size version:












On the minus side, it seems like I'm coming across more and more threads here on this forum where people ask, essentially "Is it possible for a rim brake to be as good as a disc brake in wet environs?" with the answer almost universally coming back as "No." The trouble I have is that I get a sense that a lot of these answers are being based on "common sense" rather than actual first-hand experience.


I guess we'll find out. I need to remember to cruise down by Zen Bikes on 24th and pick up some KoolStops. I called them just now and they only have the dual-compound version in stock, not the pure Salmons. Wonder if there's a significant upside / downside to this. I hate rim brakes...
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Old 03-31-14, 09:20 AM   #20
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which I detach and take with me when the bike is parked [I](PlanetBike 1/2 watt Superflash Stealth on the rear, and Blaze 2 Watt on the front.)
sorry to hear that.

a little part of me died inside

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Old 03-31-14, 09:23 AM   #21
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sorry to hear that.

a little part of me died inside


Uhm, ok... Sorry if this sounds dumb, but is there something specific you dislike about PlanetBike LED lights? Or am I missing a larger point entirely?
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Old 03-31-14, 09:34 AM   #22
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Uhm, ok... Sorry if this sounds dumb, but is there something specific you dislike about PlanetBike LED lights? Or am I missing a larger point entirely?
Perhaps we employ a differing vernacular for "very nice."
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Old 03-31-14, 09:39 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by acidfast7 View Post
Perhaps we employ a differing vernacular for "very nice."
Haha. Ok, I understand what you mean now. "Very Nice" in my world means "is compact, light-weight and easily detachable so I can stick it in my pocket when I dismount."

Remember that 100% of my riding is in very well-lit areas of a dense urban center. I don't need to put any light onto the surface of the road, I just need bright, flashing beams that project well into traffic and increase my visibility to all of the cars around me.
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Old 03-31-14, 11:36 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Uhm, ok... Sorry if this sounds dumb, but is there something specific you dislike about PlanetBike LED lights? Or am I missing a larger point entirely?
Yea, he doesn't like the battery part. acidfast is a rabid generator hub proponent...with emphasis on the rabid part.

Back to your original question: Yes, you should strip the paint off. The paint is going to act more as a lubricant when wet than as a braking surface. That's assuming that the rims are aluminum in the first place...do a magnet test to be sure.

There are a few other things you can do to improve the bicycle's braking ability in the wet. Some are equipment related and some are operator related. For the equipment, start with the squealing problem. The squeal when dry suggests to me that your brakes may not be sufficiently toed-in. If the pad hits the rim flat, the force of the rim can cause the front of the pad to lift. All the braking in occurring at the back of the pad and the brake pad starts to oscillate as it grabs and lets go which makes it squeal. Toeing in the pads puts more force on the front of the pad which solves the squealing problem and makes the pads more effective when wet (along with a unpainted surface).

You might want to consider replacing the calipers as well. The stock v-brakes on cheap bikes aren't all that good at doing their job. A better brake like an Avid Single Digit or Shimano works better, is stiffer and is easier to adjust. Single Digits 5 cost around $20 per brake and are much better than the generic brakes that bike has.

Now for the rider part. You really need to learn how to use the brakes. Not how to use them physically...that's pretty simple...but how to use them effectively. Compared to a low center of gravity car or motorcycle, bikes have abysmal brakes. You aren't limited to how much friction the tires can develop like you are in a low CG vehicle but you are limited by how much how much deceleration you can develop before you are spun around the handlebars. If you are seated on a bike in a normal manner, the most deceleration you can develop is around 0.5g before the front wheel locks up and throws you over the bars. And that's on dry surfaces. Of course, just like in any vehicle, wet surfaces decreases the amount of deceleration you can develop.

However, you can play some tricks on the physics of braking a bicycle by shifting the CG back and down. You can't be seated on the saddle anymore but you are pushing back off the back of the saddle and crouching down. This actually increases the amount of deceleration you can develop before you are thrown over the bars. The more you need to decelerate, the more you push back off the saddle and the lower down you try to crouch. In other words, you can brake harder before you are thrown on your head. In the wet...with an unpainted aluminum rim...this movement of CG will help with the deceleration to the point where you are depending on the friction with the road surface rather than the friction you have on the rims.

Steel rims and painted rims don't make for good wet braking surfaces. Ditch the paint.
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Old 03-31-14, 12:13 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Yea, he doesn't like the battery part. acidfast is a rabid generator hub proponent...with emphasis on the rabid part.
Yeah, I'm getting that vibe. Personally, I much prefer having battery-operated lights over dynamo-operated lights. I can carry a single set of lights with me and use them on all of my bikes, I don't have to leave lights attached to my bike while it's locked up overnight in Manhattan where they will undoubtedly be stolen the first night, and I actually use my headlight quite frequently as a conventional torch / flashlight at work- I'm the engineering manager at a TV station here in NYC, so I spend a fair amount of time poking around in dark equipment bays. I get excellent battery life with the PlanetBike lights, too. Only have to charge them once every month or two, and they put out a huge amount of light for their size / weight, with a very attention-getting flashing pattern.

But anyway...



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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Back to your original question: Yes, you should strip the paint off. The paint is going to act more as a lubricant when wet than as a braking surface. That's assuming that the rims are aluminum in the first place...do a magnet test to be sure.
It's a foregone conclusion that I'll be taking care of this. Gotta stop by the hardware store and pick up an abrasive disc and some fine sandpaper on my way home today- I left most of my shop equipment behind when I left California, as I no longer have the huge workspace to which I'm accustomed. (All metal grinding / drilling / etc has to get done in the bathtub these days to contain the shavings, for instance. Aah, city life...)

And, again- my concern here is not so much "fixing" the bike I have now as much as making a decision about which bike I'm going to purchase next. So I'm not going to be spending a lot of money here, as that would defeat the purpose. A $160 bike plug $150 in new parts (wheels, brake calipers, brake pads, etc) means that I'd be better off just spending $320 on a Schwinn FourOneOne instead, which will get me disc brakes and an internally-geared rear hub as standard equipment.


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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
For the equipment, start with the squealing problem. The squeal when dry suggests to me that your brakes may not be sufficiently toed-in. If the pad hits the rim flat, the force of the rim can cause the front of the pad to lift. All the braking in occurring at the back of the pad and the brake pad starts to oscillate as it grabs and lets go which makes it squeal.
When I was seriously experimenting with pad alignment, I had the front pads toed in by roughly 1/16" per side. They still squealed, and also started to wear quite unevenly. Honestly, the noise isn't a huge concern. This is New York, after all. They have lots of sirens, diesel trucks, horns, shouting, etc., to compete with. It's more annoying in Hoboken NJ, which is something of a quaint little town, but even there I can live with it.




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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
You might want to consider replacing the calipers as well. The stock v-brakes on cheap bikes aren't all that good at doing their job. A better brake like an Avid Single Digit or Shimano works better, is stiffer and is easier to adjust. Single Digits 5 cost around $20 per brake and are much better than the generic brakes that bike has.
I appreciate the suggestion, though I'm not going to be replacing parts as a first-line solution for the reasons outlined above. The linear-pull brakes on the bike now seem to be working ok- I have excellent stopping power in the dry, and can lock the rear pretty easily. I don't see a lot of flex in them when I yank on them hard, and with the cable adjusted properly, I can't quite get the lever to bottom-out on the handlebar. I don't think that the calipers themselves are the most significant causal factor right now.



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You aren't limited to how much friction the tires can develop like you are in a low CG vehicle but you are limited by how much how much deceleration you can develop before you are spun around the handlebars.
I would be quite happy if I had to deal with that problem. And I'm quite familiar with the phenomenon you describe, coming from a background of riding electrified MTBs with slick tires and disc brakes at 30+ MPH on extremely hilly roads.

To be clear, when the rims are covered with snow / ice, I can yank on the damn levers with all of my strength (I'm 6'2" and 195 lbs, with gorilla-hands) and the bike makes only the vaguest notion of wanting to slow down slightly. It's really quite terrifying, especially when a taxicab suddenly decides that it wants to be where you are.
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