Canti pad set up - what tricks do you use?


Gold Trader
I have never, ever liked setting up standard canti brake pads. For me, it is the one bike maintenance task that I really, really do not like and almost dread having to do. I think it's the combination of different adjustment options (up/down, in/out, pad alignment to the rim, toe in, post alignment to the rim...) that all need to be done "together", while holding the pad in the right place and tightening in such a way so that it doesn't move while tightening. If only adjusment needs making, then that's easy but another one will go out of line.... I just find it a constant battle to get the things set correctly, and both sides equal. "bolt" type (as in, road or V brake style), are not a problem.
So, what tips, tricks, advice, help do you have for gettting these set as easily as possible?
Getting some kool stop pads are a great help as I hate standard brake pads. What I do is I roll the barrel adjuster as far as it will go, set up the brake pads so they are nice and inline with the rim, and roll the BA back in. That works for me as a quick set up.

If you want the most power, set the yoke as far low as you can that gives more leverage.
Use the straddle cable to hold the brakes in position (and levers of course) push the barrel out on the levers to give adjustment room, plenty of it.
The Shimano ProSet or newer M-system are great for this and work really well. A/72 B/83 etc..
Tyres off is easiest, but on some the tyres help with tyre rub problems, especially narrow rims and super wide 2.2" tyres.

Stick pads in canti, slight tighten up at a 'guess' position, this gets easier with practice, can be flat against the brake if that's easiest for you.
Fit canti to bike if not already, hook up straddle etc.

Slacken pad holder bolts of a bit. then put the pads flat against the rim, if using pads that need toe in stick something thin, a thin rubber band, few layers of gaffer tape etc as needed.
Tighten and swear when you drop the 10mm spanner (allen key in front if nice m900 brakes).
Same for the other side.
Super low profile need to be quite far out on the brake stud as per design.
Once done and small tweaks as needed (loosening of brake lever to check) in between to check they are even.

Adjust to correct position with the lever barrel. Should be quick the the rim for a short part or where you grab is best, then it's all power from then on. They should not feel solid, if they do you straddle is all wrong.

Adjust spring tension as needed to get them coming in at the same time

tweak as needed.
Something like that, much easier to do than say.
Any particular brakes you are setting up?
Thanks Fluffy, that's more or less what I do. It just seems like such a faff compared to road brakes.... These are suntour XC pro (standard on the front, SE on the rear), with drop bar levers. I have an inline adjuster in the front outer for some adjustment, and the rear cable bridge also has an adjuster. None on the levers of course.
I think part of the problem is my brain finding it hard to get used to the feel of cantis - used to road bikes, which have a much firmer lever feel (I have always liked them with little lever pull for full lock, never had a problem with modulation, it's just the way I like them), when pulling the lever for cantis it just doesn't feel "right". I had a test ride yesterday and the front felt soft, and definitely was lacking in stopping power so not right. Will mess around some more when I can find the motivation to try again...
My favourite cantis -987's- I find a lot easier to set up than others, though I set the blocks etc the same for most.

The pads in the arms I set by tightening slightly the block post, enough so I can still just move the pad in and out and spin it, then push the arm against the rim until the pad is in the right place, hold the pad to stop it spinning and tighten. I then set the other arm the same, visually setting the distance and angle with the other pads post. If the bolt is the right tightness/looseness then I slide the pad in and out by pushing the arm against the rim and placing a finger across the top of the pad to stop it rotating when tightening, though I usually have to angle the pad slightly back and out of line as it turns ever so slightly when you finally pinch it up.

To set cable I move the lever barrel adjuster out one and a half turns, then hold both arms from above, pinching/clamping them against the rim, pull the cable through with pliers, as tight as I can with my other hand, then tighten bolt, still holding the arms tight against the rims, if you pulled the cable through tight the brakes should be locked on now, then I just wind the lever barrel back in and the brakes are set up perfect, very close to the rim and as long as I have no major buckles they spin fine.

Like FC says, a lot easier to show then tell.
Straddle angle is very important with cantilevers. It also depends if they are wide arm or compact.

I hold it all together with a spare toe lip strap....also use it to stop the bars turning on the stand...
Yeah that locking the canti down can really help (remove the spring, spacer in front of the bolt) and all the other stuff I forgot to mention that @mk one says.
Depends on the brakes.

Especially when hands start to fade in strength and patience...
First, I remove the pads.

I adjust the straddle cable, then the brake cable.

Then I cable tie the lever to get the right canti arm angle minus about 1-2mm.

I put the pads loosely in place and snip the thin tip of the cable tie.

The tip of the cable tie goes under the end of the pad to the right toe.

I hold the pad in place and tighten the bolt or nut.
Instead of the third hand tool I have found that mini ratchet bar clamps ( about 100mm )
do the same job and are more versatile

Agree completely that understanding straddle angle is a major factor in canti brake performance
( check out Sheldon Brown )