Cantilever vs V brakes – Which is Better? (Explained)

Whether you’re a cyclist or you’re someone who’s just getting into cycling, you might find yourself confused between cantilever and V brakes.

You might ask yourself – which ones are better? What are the similarities and differences? Is one better than the other?

Let’s take a look.

Key takeaway:

Both brake systems are a kind of caliper brakes and rim brakes, which means both use brake pads pressed against the rims’ side walls, slowing down the bike. However, while cantilever brakes are symmetric, V brakes aren’t which means the former has a center pull mechanism. The wire connection between the two also differs. 

What are the similarities between cantilever and v brakes?

V-brakes are basically side-pull cantilever brakes and share numerous similarities. Let’s take a look. 

Mounting bosses  

Brake mounting bosses or braze-ons designed either for V-brakes or cantilevers allow you to install any of the two brake systems. Yes, you might find a few small differences between the braze-ons designed for two, but they’re mostly completely interchangeable.

Mechanical cable pull

Most v-brakes and cantilevers are cable-actuated. And even though hydraulic rims are also available, they aren’t very famous among bikers.  

Operation

Both cantilever and V-brakes have similar braking mechanisms. Basically, the brake lever pulls a cable that rotates the bike arms. In turn, these grab the rim and the brake pads start to rub against the rim to slow down the bike.  

And once the lever is released, springs take the brake arms back to their original position, thereby freeing the wheel. 

What are the differences between V brakes vs cantilever?

Both brakes have a number of differences between them. Let’s go through them one by one.

Mechanical advantage

By mechanical advantage, I mean the leverage in the brake systems, which is quite similar to the leverage in tools. As a tool amplifies the input force, the leverage becomes more powerful. 

So when it comes to brake systems, you can adjust the cantilever brakes by altering the pulling angle and cable length. You can also increase or decrease the mechanical advantage. 

However, in V-brakes, the mechanical advantage is fixed. But it’s quite high, so it’s more powerful from the start, even if you just squeeze the lever very slightly. 

Brake pads and levers

Both V brakes and cantilever brakes use different brake pads and levers since both brake systems have different mechanical advantages. And since the brake pads are specialized, both brake systems call for different pads.

Cantilever brake pads come with a smooth post that is attached to the brake arms with washers and bolts. Meanwhile, V brake pads come with a whole attachment system including a bolt protruding from the pad as well as oblong washers to modify the angle.

Tire clearance

Tire clearance refers to the amount of space present between the tire and the other parts of the bike like the brakes.

When it comes to cantilever brakes, there’s less tire clearance compared to the clearance in V brakes. This is better since it reduces the amount of debris and mud that can collect there. However, it also means that you’ll only have a handful of options when you want to swap out the tires. 

For example, the tire clearance in road bikes is less than the clearance in a mountain bike so while you can add thinner tires on the latter, you can’t add thicker ones on the former without altering the brake. 

What makes cantilever brakes better than V brakes?

Even though cantilever brakes are an old kind of bicycle brake, they’re quite common. Of course, it’s hard to call one better than the other, but cantilever brakes have a few benefits over V brakes. 

The primary advantage that cantilever brakes have over V brakes is that there’s greater clearance between the tire’s rim and the brakes, which is ideal for muddy conditions. Plus, when it comes to cantilever breaks, the mud tends to go underneath the pads and just fling off.

However, the mud tends to catch on V brakes, making it harder to pedal.

What makes V brakes better than cantilever brakes?

V brakes have a number of advantages over cantilever brakes. Let’s go through them one by one.

Easier to adjust 

There are two wires in the cantilever brakes that connect from the pads to some central point. If one of these wires becomes loose, it’s difficult to adjust. However, in V brakes, you can tighten the wires separately by adjusting a screw on the brake.

There are also multiple directions for the brake pads in cantilever brakes that can be adjusted. Getting it at the right angle and right height can be really frustrating. However, in V brakes, the pads are fixed and not very fiddly. Plus, it’s relatively easy to get them where they should be.

Since they’re easier to adjust, they’re a great option for competitive riding where time is of the essence. And they save quite a lot of time.

Easier to use and squeeze

According to most people, less strength is needed to squeeze V brakes because of the way they’re designed. Both kinds of brakes can lock out the wheels, and when you squeeze hard enough, the tire completely stops. This is a great advantage if you often ride fast or downhill.  

V brakes are also a good option for heavier individuals since you need more force to come to a stop. 

Plus, if you often ride in city-type settings (like commuting to work every day), you’d find the extra stopping power to be much safer. This is because of the unpredictability of the city. For instance, you might not spot a pedestrian or a car may pull out all of a sudden.

This is why you should be able to come to a stop very quickly, making V brakes a better option. 

Are cantilever and V brakes the same?

Rim brakes are of many kinds, but the two most common kinds are cantilever and V brakes. V brakes are also known as linear brakes because the part that is squeezed is straight and flat. And even though both of them are a kind of caliper brakes with some similarities, they are not the same thing. 

The primary difference between the two is that there are two wires on a cantilever brake that connect in an inverted V right at the top. However, V-brakes come with a horizontal connection over the tire. 

It’s very easy to differentiate between the two. Just inspect the brakes on the front tire and see the way the wires connect. If they make an inverted V and converge at a point roughly 3 inches from the tire, you have cantilever brakes.  

On the other hand, V brakes form a V only when you squeeze the brakes. When you squeeze the brake, the top is drawn together. As a result, the part below is pushed outwards, causing the brakes to move away from the rim of the tire. 

But since the brake pads are right in the center of the two arms, the brake pads are pushed into the tire rim when the arms make a V.

Are V brakes a good option?

It’s difficult to name one brake better over the other until and unless you try the different kinds of brakes available. But it is true that V brakes are very popular and commonly used on different kinds of bikes.

V brakes are overall very good. In fact, they’re considered the best kind of rim brakes since they’re very easy to adjust and equally easy to squeeze. Of course, they’re not as good as disk brakes but they still perform well enough.

Where did V brakes get their name from?

As mentioned earlier, the wires in the cantilever brakes make a V where they meet. But if you look closely at V brakes, you might find it difficult to see how they got the name since there’s no V shape at all. 

However, there is most definitely a reason. 

Let me explain.

When V brakes are engaged, they form an inverted V and when they’re not in use, they make an inverted U. But when the brakes are used, the part at the top is drawn together, causing the top of the inverted U to be shortened, resulting in a V shape.

When the lever is squeezed, the wire is tightened. As you might already know, there’s one lever on the handlebar that is responsible for the front brake, while another one on the other handlebar is responsible for the back brake. 

So when you squeeze the lever, it pulls the wire, shortening the part of the brake over the tire.

Frequently asked questions

What differentiates V brakes from cantilever brakes?

V-brakes or linear-pull brakes are basically an enhanced version of cantilever brakes and offer increased power thanks to the higher leverage. 

This is possible because of two things. The first is the brake arms that are not only longer but at a different angle. And second is that it’s designed to pull more cable. 

Can you use V-brake pads on cantilever?

V brakes come with a bolt that you can use to tighten them on the brake arm, but that’s not the case with cantilever brakes. Instead, the latter has bolts on the brake arms that are used to tighten the brake onto the brake arm.  

For this reason, you can’t use cantilever brakes on V brakes or vice versa; otherwise, you may end up damaging them.