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Restoring/Rehabbing old road bike brakes

Old 06-07-21, 01:40 AM
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Restoring/Rehabbing old road bike brakes

Apologies if this has been covered in another thread (did a cursory search and didn't find what I was looking for), but I'm trying to figure out how to get better performance from some vintage Dia Compe 505 brake calipers and 202 levers that were original to an early 80s Schwinn Voyageur.

I attempted modernize the brake system with Tektro R539 calipers and TRP RRL levers, but that hasn't worked out - the tires on the original 27" wheels rub up against the underside of the calipers. However, there was plenty of clearance when I had the original Dia Compe 505 calipers and 202 levers on the bike.

So what I'm looking for help with is getting the old calipers and levers back to a state where they have the snappiest and best performance possible. Right now both feel spongy, slow, and like they would let me down spectacularly in an emergency.

Are there ways to get more snap back into the levers? They return to neutral very slowly and just feel soft when pulled.

Are there any tricks to keeping vintage calipers on center? Both these and another pair of old single pivot brakes I have tend to push one arm up against the rim after the first lever pull.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.
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Old 06-07-21, 04:58 AM
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Been over to Sheldon Brown's yet? https://www.sheldonbrown.com/canti-u.html#adjusting

Sounds like you're after the feel of the brake levers hitting a hard stop when they engage the rim (poor description, I think), then the bike slowing in relation to how much pull you apply (brake modulation).
https://www.sheldonbrown.com/rim-brakes.html#ma
As Sir Sheldon points how, you can have too much advantage or too little. I understand that spoungy feeling, like you kind of don't hit a stop and the bike does not slow as you apply more pull.
You can try to shorten the straddle cable. This should give more mechanical advantage.
I have a new set of Dia Comp 606 (I think...) on an old Schwinn 12.2. I get a nice hard stop, but I don't get a nice response as I apply more pull. Right now the bike slows and stop "good enough" for me.
I had another bike set up with flat bar levers and U-brakes. That was interesting as you could feel the pads engage the rims, and if you gave more pull the bike would stop increasingly quickly! Not sure how I did that, I don't think I was using V-brake levers with the U-brakes.

Two cents worth for you.
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Old 06-07-21, 05:16 AM
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The best performance upgrade for old brakes is new pads. I like the Kool-Stop offerings; their pad material works very well, wet and dry, and they're available in a wide range of configurations to work with almost any caliper.

If the calipers release slowly, that's a result of friction in the cables. Replace the cables and housings with modern plastic-lined housings and die-drawn cables. Trim the housings to eliminate any excessive loops and sharp bends. Dress the ends of the housings flat and eliminate any burrs that might catch on the cable.

Re: centering the calipers. This might help:

https://www.parktool.com/blog/repair...icle-section-7

Last edited by JohnDThompson; 06-07-21 at 05:19 AM.
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Old 06-07-21, 06:08 AM
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Dave Moulton's Blog - Dave Moulton's Bike Blog - Centering side-pull brakes
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Old 06-07-21, 09:47 AM
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These brakes should work fine. If they return slowly it's a lube or cable issue. The spongy feeling is the increased leverage you get with older non aero levers.
​​​​​​New pads and cables and properly set up for your needs is the key to make them work good.
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Old 06-07-21, 04:38 PM
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Appreciate all the replies so far, folks! Curiously, I did set these up with brand new cables, so I'm thinking I can rule out that as the culprit.
@JohnDThompson, I'll give new brake shoes a try as I have a few newer unused sets in the parts bin, If those make any difference I'll definitely pick up some Kool Stops - I've had good luck with those in the past.
@mrv and @dedhed, thanks for the links - I'll look that info over when I get a chance later tonight.
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Old 06-08-21, 12:27 AM
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Originally Posted by j_e_r_e_m_y View Post
Appreciate all the replies so far, folks! Curiously, I did set these up with brand new cables, so I'm thinking I can rule out that as the culprit.
@JohnDThompson, I'll give new brake shoes a try as I have a few newer unused sets in the parts bin, If those make any difference I'll definitely pick up some Kool Stops - I've had good luck with those in the past.
@mrv and @dedhed, thanks for the links - I'll look that info over when I get a chance later tonight.
new cables and housing? lined housing really is much better with the older brakes

i'll have to double check on the model (359, maybe), but i have some tektro quartz calipers on my wife's bike because the 539's sat too close to the front tire. if you're interested, i'll have a look for the model number tomorrow
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Old 06-08-21, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
The best performance upgrade for old brakes is new pads. I like the Kool-Stop offerings; their pad material works very well, wet and dry, and they're available in a wide range of configurations to work with almost any caliper.

If the calipers release slowly, that's a result of friction in the cables. Replace the cables and housings with modern plastic-lined housings and die-drawn cables. Trim the housings to eliminate any excessive loops and sharp bends. Dress the ends of the housings flat and eliminate any burrs that might catch on the cable.

Re: centering the calipers. This might help:

https://www.parktool.com/blog/repair...icle-section-7
Yep. New pads, new cables, new housing, a bit of oil, and it should be just as good as it was new (if not better).
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Old 06-08-21, 09:01 AM
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Many of the old single pivot caliper brakes I had in the past were a pain to center and keep centered. The newer double pivot brakes like the Tektro you tried allow you to adjust the position of one arm. So you just set the position of the fixed arm and move the other to match. Shimano and others do the same with their dual pivot brakes.

Not certain about your issue with the Tektro's rubbing the tire, but that sounds like you just got brakes with the wrong reach (caliper length).

I found dual pivot brakes to be much better at stopping me than the old single pivots. Even wet, though they still make your heart skip a beat sometimes till the wheel rolls a few more turns.
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Old 06-08-21, 11:28 AM
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Let me summarize. Fresh pads, fresh cables and housings, pads adjusted so as to hit the rim squarely, and caliper centered so the pads hit the rim simultaneously. Yes, the newer brakes are better, but there's no reason these can't be made to work well. Also, long-reach dual pivot calipers might be difficult to find these days.
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Old 06-08-21, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by thook View Post
new cables and housing?
Yep, both new cables and housing. Which is why I hadn't really considered those might be the issue and was sure it was a problem with the brakes and levers themselves.

Going to try reinstalling the old dia-compe calipers either tonight after work or tomorrow morning and see if I can't get them working better with new pads and trying the tips on centering from the links above.
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Old 06-08-21, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
Not certain about your issue with the Tektro's rubbing the tire, but that sounds like you just got brakes with the wrong reach (caliper length).

I found dual pivot brakes to be much better at stopping me than the old single pivots. Even wet, though they still make your heart skip a beat sometimes till the wheel rolls a few more turns.
The reach on the new dual pivot Tektros was actually close the same as the old dia-compes - about 47-57mm for each. It seems like there's just more material to the Tektros, especially around the mounting bolt, leaving less clearance room if that makes sense. And agreed, I much prefer the performance of modern dual-pivots, but it looks like I'm stuck with the old single pivots unless I size down from 27" wheels to 700c. Don't really want to do that as I already sprung for new 27" gatorskins the other day.
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Old 06-08-21, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by j_e_r_e_m_y View Post
The reach on the new dual pivot Tektros was actually close the same as the old dia-compes - about 47-57mm for each. It seems like there's just more material to the Tektros, especially around the mounting bolt, leaving less clearance room if that makes sense. And agreed, I much prefer the performance of modern dual-pivots, but it looks like I'm stuck with the old single pivots unless I size down from 27" wheels to 700c. Don't really want to do that as I already sprung for new 27" gatorskins the other day.
you're not stuck with the old single pivots. i'm telling you this because i know what you're dealing with. seriously. let me get the model number on the tektros for my wife's bike. i have the same 539's you've abandoned for use and switched them out, also, for the same reason. these i'm telling you about have "less material", as you say, wherein there's better tire clearance under the brake arches adjacent to the mounting bolt.
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Old 06-08-21, 04:09 PM
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Originally Posted by thook View Post
you're not stuck with the old single pivots. i'm telling you this because i know what you're dealing with. seriously. let me get the model number on the tektros for my wife's bike. i have the same 539's you've abandoned for use and switched them out, also, for the same reason. these i'm telling you about have "less material", as you say, wherein there's better tire clearance under the brake arches adjacent to the mounting bolt.
Ok, cool - appreciate you taking the time to check for the model number.
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Old 06-09-21, 01:32 AM
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Originally Posted by j_e_r_e_m_y View Post
Ok, cool - appreciate you taking the time to check for the model number.
okay. they're the R740's. i got them in silver. they're on ebay, but probably elsewhere, also
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Old 06-09-21, 06:26 AM
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I tried to clean and grease the pivots of Shiman 600 Arabesque single pivot brakes. New shimano stainless road cables and housings, for 600 arabesque levers I did not do anything. I even bought some ultegra cartridge brake pads so I could adjust the brake pad toe-in.

The brakes were terrible compared to my Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. The hydralic brakes stop the bike with 1 finger and easily lock the wheels too if you need to stop. While with the antique arabesque set I had to press the levers like a madman. The bike stops yes, the brakes didn't squeal or anything, it was just so slow compared to hydralic disc brakes.

I bought a pair of BR-6600 Ultegra dual pivot brakes and Tektro RL340 aero levers. Tektro because they have large hoods, I don't like small & skinny hoods. Hopefully these will stop the bike better when I get them. But in my experience if you want good brakes get something modern, from 2000's at least. Preferrably hydraulic disc brakes or at least dual pivot brakes...the old flexy single pivot brakes just don't apply enough pressure and most of the effort goes to flexing the flimsy brake arms.
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Old 06-09-21, 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by thook View Post
okay. they're the R740's. i got them in silver. they're on ebay, but probably elsewhere, also
I see what you mean - those do look to have more tire clearance room just by their design. Unfortunately, they only appear to come in a recessed nut version and I need nutted calipers for this frame.

However, I think for the time being I've got things working satisfactorily using a combination of the tips everyone gave. Bought new cables and housing (I think the other new cable and housing I mentioned was just low quality), dug some new unused pads out of the parts bin, and gave up on the old non-aero levers and used some TRP RRLs (again from the parts bin) instead.

Clearance is still a bit tight even using the old-school single pivot Dia Compe calipers, which seems to be partly because the 27x1-1/4 Gatorskins are oddly tall tires. I'll probably switch to 700c wheels in the future so I can use the Tektro R539s, but for now I'm just happy I can put some miles on this bike.


Thanks again to everyone who chimed in with tips and advice, I really appreciate all the help!
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Old 06-09-21, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by j_e_r_e_m_y View Post
I see what you mean - those do look to have more tire clearance room just by their design. Unfortunately, they only appear to come in a recessed nut version and I need nutted calipers for this frame.
i'll take a close look, but i'm pretty sure you could swap out mounting bolts...say, if you got the quartz and swapped bolts with the 539's. it's just a consideration for you. if it would work, then you could keep your 27 inch wheels. it'd certainly cost you less...lol
anyway, i'll have a look at the brakes....unless someone chimes in on that, first
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Old 06-09-21, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by thook View Post
i'll take a close look, but i'm pretty sure you could swap out mounting bolts...say, if you got the quartz and swapped bolts with the 539's. it's just a consideration for you. if it would work, then you could keep your 27 inch wheels. it'd certainly cost you less...lol
anyway, i'll have a look at the brakes....unless someone chimes in on that, first
You know, I hadn't considered I could just swap out the mounting bolts... I tend to miss obvious stuff like that. That opens up a few more possibilities for me, though - I have some Tektro R580s and Promax dual-pivot calipers in the parts bin, all with recessed bolts. A quick look at the Promaxes makes me think they might have as much clearance as the R740s. Gonna have to have a closer look at that after work and if so, I'll see if I can swap the nutted bolts over to them.
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Old 06-09-21, 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by j_e_r_e_m_y View Post
You know, I hadn't considered I could just swap out the mounting bolts... I tend to miss obvious stuff like that. That opens up a few more possibilities for me, though - I have some Tektro R580s and Promax dual-pivot calipers in the parts bin, all with recessed bolts. A quick look at the Promaxes makes me think they might have as much clearance as the R740s. Gonna have to have a closer look at that after work and if so, I'll see if I can swap the nutted bolts over to them.
have you checked to see if the R580's would have the clearance you need? they'd probably be the better brake over the promax, if so
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Old 06-09-21, 09:05 PM
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Originally Posted by thook View Post
have you checked to see if the R580's would have the clearance you need? they'd probably be the better brake over the promax, if so
So far I've just had time to check the Promaxes, as they were already out of the bin and easily accessible - they'll be fine if the bolt swap works. You're right about the R580s being better quality, so I'll wait until I can test those before moving any hardware around. Even if they don't work, the Promaxes should still be a considerable upgrade over the old-school single pivots.
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