Modern Cantilever Brakes for the Cyclocross

Center-pull cantilever brakes were quite popular on mountain bikes before V-brakes appeared. Generally speaking, the stopping power of cantilever brakes is less than that of V-brakes due to its structural machanics which is relatively complicated so as to lose power on frictions. While the recent prevail of cyclocross makes modern cantilever brakes revive. Relatively good stopping power and excellent allowance for muds compared with calipers on regular road bikes, along with great compatibility with road bike levers (while V-brakes incompatible), make them the best choice for cyclocross.

In China domestic e-market, the most popular cantilever brakes are Shimano LX M565 for maintain bikes, which is so cheap that a full bike set costs only 80 yuan (12.7 USD). They can be used on cyclcross bikes with no compatibility problem though manufactured at least 10+ years ago.


Before we move on, it is very important to have the term called Mechanical Advantage in mind. As cantilever brakes are composed by several separated parts and cables, the height of the cable carrier can be crucial to the stopping power. I recommend reading Sheldon Brown’s work for the terminology and Benno Belhumeur’s website for vivid geometry demonstration.

Given a certain fork or frame and a certain pair of cantilever brakes, one can adjust the lengths of the two cables to achieve a better stopping power and a proper alliance for muds. Generally speaking, wide-profile are easy to install and get enough stopping power since its curve tail is quite long and fairly horizontal, while low-profile can generate fine-tuned stopping power based on the OY value (the lower, the stronger).

Mechanical Advantage


However, Mechanical Advantage is only a theoretical term, in real life, a lot more factors matter. During the old mountain bike age, a lot of riders complained about the unpleasant and strong low-frequent vibrations when breaking hard, which still apply to some modern models occasionally by shocking the hands nearly off the bar. This problem always owes to insufficient stiffness of some parts—maybe the arms, the cables, the levers, the low housing stops or even the screws on the pivots. To prevent that you may need to replace the not-stiff-enough parts, and complains on bike forums can somehow help you to determine the weakness.

According to my experience, for the hardware you may need to focus on the arms and the cables; if the vibrations come from the front pair more, you may need to mind the screws and use some screw glue. For the installation, too much mechanical advantage shall cause the same problem; adjust the OA value will help you out; also you shall take care of the screws that may get even looser after several unpleasant vibrations.


Modern cantilever brakes are generally developed from old ones while some improvements are made. Here are the 3 different types of cantilever brakes that you may find nowadays.

Old mountain cantilever brakes

For example: Shimano LX M565, Shimano XTR M900


  1. Arms are casted;
  2. They use mountain cantilever brake shoes, replaceable, or irreplaceable for the cheaper models.
  3. The arms are of vertical style and low-profile;
  4. The parallel condition between the shoe and the rim is vertically adjustable but horizontally not;
  5. The height of the shoes to the ground is barely adjustable and confined by term 3;
  6. Only one arm gets the fine tune screw for the arm power.

Modern general cantilever brakes:

For example: Sram Shorty 4 / 6 / Ultimate, Shimano BR-CX70 / 50, TekTRO Oyrx / 720, Cane SCX-5, Kore Race


  1. Arms are cast;
  2. Some of the past models use mountain brakes, but all of the above use the special CX shoes on their latest models;
  3. The arms are of vertical style and medium / low-profile, except for TekTRO 720;
  4. The parallel condition between the shoe and the rim can be adjusted just like the V-brakes;
  5. The height of the shoes to the ground can be adjusted just like the V-brakes;
  6. Both arms get the fine tune screw for the arm power.

Modern lite cantilever brakes:

For Examples: TRP EuroX Magnesium, Frogglegs, Spooky, 4ZA lite


  1. Arms are rolled aluminum or carbon fiber material nailed with rivets and screws;
  2. Except for EuroX, they use old and irreplaceable mountain bike brake shoes, like Shimano M-55;
  3. The arms are of horizontal style and wide-profile;
  4. The parallel condition between the shoe and the rim is vertically adjustable but horizontally not, except for EuroX;
  5. The height of the shoes to the ground is barely adjustable and confined by term 3;
  6. No arm gets the fine tune screw for the arm power (you need to adjust the distribution point of the cable carrier instead, which is also applicable to any cantilever brakes with cable carriers that can lock the horizontal cable. However the cable carriers for Frogglegs and Spooky cannot lock, you may need to press the springs on each side hard and carefully if the powers happen to be uneven).


In the UCI level cyclocross competition, TRP EuroX Magnesium and Sram Shorty Ultimate are shining in media and no complain about low-frequent vibration of them is online. All the lite cantilever brakes are relatively expensive since when coming to bicycle parts, the light ones are always expensive, though you may find them extremely hard to adjust when you have to take care of both the parallel condition and the rim height.

TekTRO 720, the one I am using now, is quite distinguished from the others due to its wide-profile, full adjustability like other general cantilever brakes and quite affordable price. You may have heard quite a lot of critiques on Sram Shorty 4, though, I doubt if it is really that bad. Considering Shorty 4 is usually the stock issue for entire bikes, its shortcomings are more exposed. However replacement for Shorty 6 or TekTRO 720 can often solve the problem, it is possible that material used on its cast arms is lack in stiffness and unable to handle high stopping power properly.


作者: 冯唐难老

The road is home.