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V Brakes vs. Cantilever Brakes: Head To Head Comparison

V Brakes vs. Cantilever Brakes

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You have plenty of choices when it comes to braking systems on bikes. On many older bikes, the frame and forks were equipped with braze-on mounts meaning they often gave you the option of two types of brake systems, V brakes, and Cantilever brakes. 

Many riders have the choice between these two braking systems but don’t know which route to go down. In this article, we will tell you all about these two braking systems and then compare them against each other in every way you need to know. We will be discussing:

  • What Are V Brakes?
  • What Are Cantilever Brakes?
  • V Brakes Vs Cantilever Brakes Comparison?
  • Which Is For You, V Brake Or Cantilevers?
  • Frequently Asked Questions

V Brakes

What Are V Brakes?

V brakes, also known by many cyclists as linear-pull brakes, are a type of rim brake. This means when the lever is pulled, the cables tighten up, and the pads move closer, creating friction at the rim’s side to slow you down. They are typically situated at the top of the seat tube and on the front forks. 

V brakes are commonly seen on budget bikes and older bikes. In modern times we typically opt for caliper rim brakes or disc brakes as they are more efficient and have more braking power. V brakes are very cheap to buy and require very little maintenance. 

V Brakes are made up of several parts. Firstly you have the brake arms, which are in a V or U shape. Then we have the pivots, which connect the brake to the bike. The pads create the friction, and finally, the cable inner and outer, noodle, brake cable anchor bolt, and lever. 

What Are Cantilever Brakes?

Cantilever brakes are often known as center-pull brakes. They are a type of rim brake which uses brake pads to create friction on the rim’s surface. They are often used on off-road bikes because they work excellently regardless of the conditions and can be fine-tuned for different terrains. 

Around a decade ago, they were some of the most popular brakes and were seen on many bikes, from mountain bikes to cyclocross bikes and even on touring bikes. In modern times cantilever brakes are not very popular as disc brakes have a lot more advantages compared to them. 

Cantilever brakes comprise brake arms, pivots, pads, a straddle cable, a lever, and the cable’s inner and outer. They are quite different from V brakes and have a unique design using multiple cables to ensure powerful braking. 

Cantilever Brakes

V Brakes vs. Cantilever Brakes Comparison?

Now for the fun bit, let’s break down these brakes and tell you how they differ. So you know which are going to be the right brakes for you. 


Firstly let’s speak about cost, and there’s a clear difference between the price of V brakes and Cantilever brakes. V brakes are much cheaper, and you are going to find these for as little as $8 to $30 on websites such as Amazon.

Cantilever brakes are a little more expensive, and you’re looking at around $25 to $100 for a set, depending on the level of quality. If you are making a budget build, you might want to use V brakes over Cantilever brakes if possible. 


Then we have availability. Generally, V brakes are much easier to get hold of. More bikes generally get made with V brakes in modern times, so many companies are still producing them for bike manufacturers, and more spares are available.

Cantilever brakes are harder to get hold of in modern times. Few manufacturers produce bikes with Cantilever brakes, so fewer are required. This also affects finding spares and parts in case you need any general maintenance or repairs.  


When it comes to compatibility, there’s a lot to be said for V brakes. Providing you have the braze-on mounts, then V brakes will pretty much work on anything. Cantilever brakes require a central point for the cable to run through, and if you don’t have it already, that’s another adapter you might need to buy.


V brakes are a very easy installation, and you can literally attach the brakes, run a cable down from the brake lever, then make the adjustments to the pads, and you’re pretty much up and running. A good bike mechanic could do this in less than 15 minutes if they were experienced enough. 

Cantilever brakes are also not so bad. Again attach the brakes to the bike, run some cables to the brakes, and make adjustments. Typically people do find Cantilever brakes a little more challenging to work with, especially when it comes to positioning Cantilever brake pads. This is going to take an experienced mechanic around 30 minutes, in our opinion. 

Between V brakes and Cantilever brakes, it is obvious to us that the V brakes are much easier to install. Cantilevers are ok, but they have a few more components involved, and when it comes to adjustment, they can be a little more technical.

Also Read: How To Adjust Bike Brakes

Tire Clearance

When it comes to tire clearance, the cantilever brakes offer much more compared to the V brakes. They can fit much larger tires in them and still have a lot of space to stop mud and rocks from getting stuck inside. 

V brakes have limitations, and there’s a clear reason why off-road bikes come with Cantilever because it works much better because there’s so much more clearance. 


For performance, it’s important to understand that both V brakes and Cantilever brakes are excellent. They are just suited to different conditions. A common misconception is that V brakes are more powerful when that’s not always true. 

If you are looking for performance on the road, then you will get great service from V Brakes. They are designed to be closer to the rim and feel much sharper when they are being used in generally good conditions.

Cantilever brakes are much better compared to V brakes when it comes to off-road cycling. They have much better modulation, can be adjusted for bigger clearance between the rim, and are designed to be much more efficient in wet and muddy conditions. 

It’s worth mentioning there are some hydraulic rim brakes on the market which are very powerful and great if you want to replace cantilever brakes.


Another big difference to speak about is modulation. This is how much leverage you have on the brakes to control the wheels to stop them from locking up. V brakes are pretty sharp, and you don’t get a huge amount of modulation, but you can still feather the brake levers very well. 

A Cantilever brake not only do you tend to get more modulation, but you can also adjust it better. There are many cyclocross racers that would adjust their brakes for different responsiveness depending on the courses they were racing. 


Brakes need a little bit of attention every so often, and it’s important to keep them in tip-top condition. V brakes are easier to adjust compared to Cantilever brakes, but once you get used to either system, it’s easy to stay on top of. Regarding parts, it’s fairly easy to get pads for each, and cables are a general item found in every bike shop.

Also Read: Presta vs. Schrader – Everything You Need To Know

Which Is For You, V Brake Or Cantilevers?

When it comes to picking between V Brakes or Cantilevers, there are a few things to take into account before making your decision.  

Will It Fit?

Firstly is your bike capable of using the system you might want? Although the bike might have braze-on mounts, with cantilevers, you need a cable guide above. When V brakes, you have more options on cable run. 

You might also want to check what your wheels are set up for. Some wheels are designed for V brakes and other Cantilever. Although they generally work with both, using the wrong wheel can affect performance. 

Also Read: Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Riding Style

Next, it’s worth considering what kind of riding you like to do. For off-road riding, cantilevers offer a lot more value. They work much better in muddier conditions, offer more tire clearance, and you can set up much better modulation with adjustment.

If you’re mainly road riding, then the V brakes are the better option. They are much more powerful and feel much sharper when it comes to higher speeds, although they lack as much modulation as the cantilever brakes. 

General Maintenance

When it comes to maintenance, there’s little in it. They both require adjusting every so often, and replacing cables makes a big difference to the way they feel to use. Cantilevers can be tougher to adjust, but it’s nothing that can’t be learned in 30 minutes. 

Also Read: Bike Pedal Removal

What’s Your Budget?

When it comes to cost, the difference is quite a bit. V brakes are incredibly cheap, and you can spend as little as $8 on one if it ever needed replacing, that’s even including pads. Cantilevers, you’re looking at $30 for a set, or some high-end can be $70 for one.  

A Final Note

If you have the option to choose between Cantilever and V brake, then I personally think it comes down to if you are riding on or off-road. On the road, I’d go with V brakes. Off-road, I’d prefer Cantilever brakes. It comes down to what your bike can use and what you prefer. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I switch from Cantilever brakes to V-Brakes or vice versa on my bike?

Providing you have the correct cable guides and braze-on mounts, then there’s no reason why you can’t switch between them. Generally, what the bike is equipped with as standard is generally the best route to go down. 

Which brake system provides better stopping power, Cantilever brakes or V-Brakes?

As far as power goes, both braking systems have the ability to lock the wheels if they are set up correctly. In our opinion, we find V brakes generally are stronger, and this is because they sit closer to the pads and engage much quicker. 

Are Cantilever brakes or V-Brakes more suitable for touring or bikepacking?

Many touring bikes often use Cantilever brakes, and even some bikepacking bikes do too. Both will be ok, but realistically, the best brakes in modern times are disc brakes by far. 

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