Old 12-20-18, 11:03 PM
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In my view, there could be a pile-up of issues. It could be that a little bit of compliance (flexing and compression) in each component adds up to poor braking performance even if you can't pin it down to any specific component. I can tell you what I've done with entry level bikes, such as what we called "department store" bikes back in the day. Basically give each component its own best chance of working as well as it can by taking everything apart, making sure everything is clean and lubricated, nothing is binding, nothing is loose. Make sure the cable ends are squared off, and that the cables are lined. Grease the cables. And so forth. Convince yourself that each part is doing what it's supposed to.

As you squeeze the lever, watch closely what's happening to each part. Where is it flexing or bending? I advise everybody with a new bike to get down on their hands and knees and actually look at what's happening when they apply the various controls. The levers are moving maybe 20 mm, and the brake pads need to move by maybe a couple mm. Excess motion due to flexing of parts will result in needing more lever travel to achieve sufficient braking force.

What I've found with inexpensive parts is that they sometimes don't have as good of finished threads and machined surfaces, so the transition from frozen to loose can be kind of fussy. So be patient.
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