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V-brakes: Are Ball Bearings Worth It?

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V-brakes: Are Ball Bearings Worth It?

Old 06-30-22, 12:48 PM
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V-brakes: Are Ball Bearings Worth It?

So, I've been running these V-brakes with ball bearings (allegedly) for a few weeks now and they work great - definitely nicer and stiffer than the bendy factory V-brake arms. So now I'm curious as to how the brand-name stuff would feel and perform. I've been looking at LDC, Bullseye, Bombshell, Speedline and the like. But when the ones with ball bearings are twice price of the ones with brass pivots or more, it makes me wonder if having ball bearings for V-brake pivots is really worth it? Keep in mind that this is a folding bike that I ride for fun, exercise and commuting, and not a competition/show BMX. What do you think?
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Old 06-30-22, 01:02 PM
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Ball bearing V brakes?
Sounds like a solution looking for a problem.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
Ball bearing V brakes?
Sounds like a solution looking for a problem.
Yeah, we, believe it or not, they exist. Bombshell, Box, Bullseye, and Speedline make them. Even Litepro and KCNC out of China make their own (knockoffs.)
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Old 06-30-22, 01:11 PM
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These brakes have longer arms. The performance difference that you experience may be more due to that length than bearings. There is a down side to the length in that your levers need to work with the longer cable pull required. You end up with less space for accommodating imperfections, such as slightly uneven rim or wheel sitting.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:13 PM
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My general rule for advising others on upgrades is as follows:
1. If it’s a toy, in budget, and you want it to try out, go buy it without regret. Just don’t complain if that money does nothing other than let you try out something that may or may not have made a difference.
2. If it’s not a toy, or is not clearly in budget, do not buy it unless there is clearly something wrong or unsatisfactory about what you have now which cannot be remedied in a more financially prudent manner.
3. If you have neither now, see if you can try out both. If you can’t tell the difference or don’t care about the difference, get the cheaper one.

All of this assumes we aren’t talking about some junky thing that’s going to fall apart in short order.

Are properly maintained bearing systems smoother in a properly cabled system on a long term basis than an equivalent bushing assembly? Yes. Does that little bit of smoothness bring you enough satisfaction to justify more $ over the safe and functional system you have already implemented? See questions 1 and 2 above.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:19 PM
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Originally Posted by 2_i View Post
These brakes have longer arms. The performance difference that you experience may be more due to that length than bearings. There is a down side to the length in that your levers need to work with the longer cable pull required. You end up with less space for accommodating imperfections, such as slightly uneven rim or wheel sitting.
I already realize the difference between the "V-brakes" (sometimes referred to as "pro") and "mini V-brakes." There was an in-depth discussion about leverage and mechanical advantage. When I replaced the V-brakes of my bike, I replaced like for like (i.e. swapped out regular 108mm brake arms for regular 108mm ones.) Besides being stiffer, the new brake arms came with sealed bearings instead of brass bushings for pivots.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by sjanzeir View Post
I've been running these V-brakes with ball bearings (allegedly) for a few weeks now and they work great
it makes me wonder if having ball bearings for V-brake pivots is really worth it?
Since you have firsthand experience with them, I would think you could answer this question better than anyone.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by sjanzeir View Post
Besides being stiffer, the new brake arms came with sealed bearings instead of brass bushings for pivots.
As we know from practice, brakes get serious sprays from tires in rough weather. I once had a chain tensioner positioned close to the ground, running on ball bearings. After about a year after putting on sealed bearings, they would seize due to rust. After several iterations of the experience, I solved the problem by putting there bearing cartridges with ceramic balls and stainless races. I since went to completely different solution on the particular bike, but my experience may be relevant in the context of those bearing-equipped brake arms.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Rolla View Post
Since you have firsthand experience with them, I would think you could answer this question better than anyone.
Well, the thing is, my original issue with the V-brakes of the bike in question was one of stiffness (or lack thereof) rather than smoothness. While the front brake had adequate (if not great) feel and modulation, the rear brake was just too spongy and vague. The sheer length of the rear brake's spiral outer cable housing had a lot to do with that; replacing that with a compressionless outer helped somewhat, but it was the flex in the brake arms (particularly, the length between the top of the brake block fixing bolt slits and the cable anchor points) that was the real issue. The Litepro brake arms are built somewhat like an I-beam, making them much stiffer (they don't bend nearly as much - of at all - while pressing the blocks onto the rims.) That made a huge difference in feel and modulation.

As for the fact that they have sealed bearings for pivots and whether that made a difference, i can tell you they do pivot a little more smoothly than the ones they replaced which had brass bushings - if you push them by hand. Whether or not that makes any difference at the lever, I can't really tell. That's why I asked the question - a set of perfectly good, American-made LDCs - with brass pivots - is less than 80 bucks; a set of Bullseyes is well over $200.
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Old 06-30-22, 01:48 PM
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Ball "thrust" bearings started to appear in center-pivot side-pull brakes in the 1980s, as I recall. The idea was that as the brake applied pressure to the rim, if thrust bearings weren't there, the friction between the brake's two moving calipers would increase. The thrust bearings were said to alleviate this friction. I imagine the same is true for V brakes.
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Old 06-30-22, 07:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
Ball bearing V brakes?
Sounds like a solution looking for a problem.
Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
Ball "thrust" bearings started to appear in center-pivot side-pull brakes in the 1980s, as I recall. The idea was that as the brake applied pressure to the rim, if thrust bearings weren't there, the friction between the brake's two moving calipers would increase. The thrust bearings were said to alleviate this friction. I imagine the same is true for V brakes.
I have an old set of Shimano XTR V-brakes which have these bearings. Whether they work better than brakes without these bearings is an open question to me, as I have bikes with both kinds of brakes. In the XTR arms, there are two flat bearings sandwiching the brake arm. Each bearing has 18 tiny balls; these minimize "binding" of the arm on its pivot under braking loads. These arms are a bit of a challenge to service, but sort of enjoyable.
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Old 06-30-22, 08:30 PM
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Just FYI they are linear pull brakes, V-brakes are wholly owned Shimano trademark.

I will say my Paul brakes are quite nice and I couldn't really ask for much better but I have heard the XTR brakes are some of the absolute best out there but I don't want to spend that kind of money for vintage.

Personally a good cable set and stiff shoes and good pads are the best upgrade to make.
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Old 06-30-22, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by veganbikes View Post
Just FYI they are linear pull brakes, V-brakes are wholly owned Shimano trademark.

I will say my Paul brakes are quite nice and I couldn't really ask for much better but I have heard the XTR brakes are some of the absolute best out there but I don't want to spend that kind of money for vintage.

Personally a good cable set and stiff shoes and good pads are the best upgrade to make.
Having owned Paul Motolites and the XT version of the linkage V-brakes, I’m say that the Motolites are vastly superior. The linkage V-brakes are too flexible and squeal horribly. So bad that I was told to follow behind everyone on mountain bikes by at least 1/2 mile. Even then they knew where I was on every downhill.
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Old 06-30-22, 11:50 PM
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It may be obvious, but maybe not: "stiffness" of the brake arms and "smoothness" of the caliper arm rotation around its pivot point are unrelated functions. In any case, the degree of rotation needed in a caliper arm is minuscule, not even a 5 degree rotation. Rotation in fact is a generous description of caliper arm motion. Ball bearings excel at providing a smooth rotation for wheels, cranks and motors of all kinds where the rpms vary from dozens to thousands of (full 360 degree) rotations per minute. They are simply gross overkill in any kind of brake pivot application. A sales gimmick.

I DOUBT there are actual (typical) ball bearings anywhere in the brakes in question. Actually, I just followed the link and now I KNOW that there are no actual ball bearings in those calipers. Just marketing hyperbole. Of course I could be wrong, there could be some amazing nanotechnology being produced and given away at consumer level retail level but I DOUBT it. I've used all kinds of V brakes from unbranded OEM offerings on BSO tandems to Shimano LX-V level and beyond and I never really wished that any of them had 'stiffer' brake arms once the $50/pr. price point is reached. I see no real benefit to engineering V-brakes to the sophistication (and price) of hydraulic disc brakes! Sometimes a little knowledge really is a dangerous thing.

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Old 07-01-22, 11:42 AM
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I just picked up a set of XTR 951 V-brakes. They were covered in goo and were sticky inside. So I took the hour per pair and disassembled and serviced these right down to the tiny ball bearings. Felt like watch repair. Now they are smooth as 'butta.

Rarely have I seen a bike part more over-engineered that these. But on a bike they work fantastically, better than any other V-brake or mechanical disc setup I've used.

I think what makes these special are the low-flex forged arms, plus the very low friction due to the ball thrust bearings. But one feature to these is unique: that the arms do not pivot on the frame brake bosses. On most cantis and V's, the arms pivot around the bosses, requiring that these be lubed. Eventually these interfaces wear and the whole system gets sloppy. But on the XTR's, the arms rotate around the thrust bearings. Very cool feature.

My other favorite road compatible V-brakes: TRP 8.4 and 9.0s. Great stoppers.
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Old 07-01-22, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post
But on the XTR's, the arms rotate around the thrust bearings. Very cool feature.
Being a road bike guy, I didn't understand what you meant. Looking at some examples on eBay, I see what you're talking about. Cool design.
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Old 07-01-22, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post
But one feature to these is unique: that the arms do not pivot on the frame brake bosses. On most cantis and V's, the arms pivot around the bosses,
And these as well. The pivot point is around the frame boss. There is an additional pivot point that keeps the brake pad perpendicular to the rim (eliminate? pad dive) otherwise the functioning is conventional. I cannot argue as to the bearings themselves, but even a brass bushing functions as a bearing and is called such. Honestly, cyclists are some of the most contrary individuals on planet earth. Hydraulic discs, four puck (piston) hydraulic discs are mature technology and plenty of you are unimpressed with them(!) and here we are waxing rhapsodic about v-brake technology that is what ... 20? 30? Years old? Maybe that is because many of you are still rocking steel frames with 126mm OLD rear dropout spacing and, of course, no disc caliper mounts of any kind.
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Old 07-01-22, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
Being a road bike guy, I didn't understand what you meant. Looking at some examples on eBay, I see what you're talking about. Cool design.
As I said above, it’s cool design but not nearly stiff enough. The thin arms the pads are mounted on can flex and vibrate leading to brake chatter. The more conventional design where the pads travel in an arc are much more solid and less prone to chatter.
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Old 07-01-22, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
And these as well. The pivot point is around the frame boss. There is an additional pivot point that keeps the brake pad perpendicular to the rim (eliminate? pad dive) otherwise the functioning is conventional. I cannot argue as to the bearings themselves, but even a brass bushing functions as a bearing and is called such. Honestly, cyclists are some of the most contrary individuals on planet earth. Hydraulic discs, four puck (piston) hydraulic discs are mature technology and plenty of you are unimpressed with them(!) and here we are waxing rhapsodic about v-brake technology that is what ... 20? 30? Years old? Maybe that is because many of you are still rocking steel frames with 126mm OLD rear dropout spacing and, of course, no disc caliper mounts of any kind.
You forgot 26” wheel mountain bikes…the horror!!!

There’s nothing wrong with riding on old bikes with “no disc caliper mounts of any kind”. Some how those of us riding those kinds of bikes can still stop the bike when and where we want and even enjoy flying down hills at stupid speeds while riding our pre-hydraulic death traps.
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Old 07-01-22, 04:12 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
You forgot 26” wheel mountain bikes…the horror!!!

There’s nothing wrong with riding on old bikes with “no disc caliper mounts of any kind”. Some how those of us riding those kinds of bikes can still stop the bike when and where we want and even enjoy flying down hills at stupid speeds while riding our pre-hydraulic death traps.
I do my fair share of time on older bikes. I just draw a line at trying to bring something from 1984 into the 21st Century. You never quite succeed, and the $$$ you spend trying to are mostly wasted. Bragging rights is about it.
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Old 07-01-22, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
I do my fair share of time on older bikes. I just draw a line at trying to bring something from 1984 into the 21st Century. You never quite succeed, and the $$$ you spend trying to are mostly wasted. Bragging rights is about it.
My early 2000’s Tomac soft tail has disc caliper mounts on the frame, but the hubs are not capable. I could swap the hubs or even wheels, but I only ride in dry weather and the bike already exceeds my limited capabilities.
I also insist on keeping the rim brakes on the back of my tandem as changing to disc (frame and hub capable) would require giving up the oh so useful Arai drum.
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Old 07-01-22, 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
I do my fair share of time on older bikes. I just draw a line at trying to bring something from 1984 into the 21st Century. You never quite succeed, and the $$$ you spend trying to are mostly wasted. Bragging rights is about it.
Nobody is talking about bringing “something from 1984 into the 21st Century”. Linear brakes date to the mid90s and most everything you’ll find from that era is still used as standards today.
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Old 07-01-22, 07:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post
But on the XTR's, the arms rotate around the thrust bearings. Very cool feature.
They don't actually rotate *around* the thrust bearings; they rotate *between* them. I agree that it's a cool feature.
I've had my XTR brakes for over 20 years, and they have never squeaked.
They worked well with the STI shifters I had the bike built with. There were "Travel Agents" in the brake lines to adapt the long-pull brakes to the short-pull levers.
When I recently changed the bike over to trekking bars, I was able to use long-pull levers (Paul "Love Levers"). When I took the bike out for a long shake-down ride, I found that the brakes worked markedly better than previously. They felt like disc brakes. Also they did not squeak!
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Old 07-01-22, 09:34 PM
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Originally Posted by sweeks View Post
They don't actually rotate *around* the thrust bearings; they rotate *between* them. I agree that it's a cool feature.
OK... precise terminology required. On every set of canti and V-brakes I am aware of, the arms have a simple hole in the bottom that is lined with brass or steel. On brake installation, this hole fits over the steel brake bosses on the rear stays or the fork. The problem with this is when dirt/water gets in the hole, then the action gets sticky. And when the arm rotates thousands of times around the brake boss due to normal braking activity, eventually this interface wears and gets sloppy. Squealing and sloppy braking ensues...

But the XTR brakes are different in that the arms rotate between two rows of thrust bearings. There is no movement or play between the boss and the caliper arms; a superior design.

Shimano's contemporaneous XT and LX para-pull caliper arms do not share this feature.
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Old 07-02-22, 02:22 AM
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I liked the parallel push idea (no need to adjust pads as they wear) but it does not have a particularly good reputation. Some of the best seem to be XT BR-M750s which have a different mechanism to most. These give great tyre/mudguard clearance and can be modified to greatly reduce squeal. So far these work great.
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