Written by Ed Braley Thursday, 13 September 2007 00:00
Tester: Ed "650B" Braley
Review: The old MAFAC wide profile cantilever is *the* classic cyclocross brake. And for good reason; it was a lightweight design, it cleared the rim by a wide margin, which helped to prevent the buildup of mud on those challenging wet days. And, if you set it up properly, the MAFAC could generate considerable stopping power. It was a simple design, and it lacked an adjustment for pad toe-in, so people learned to tweak the arms with brutal tools of coercion: a big screwdriver and a crescent wrench. And there was no provision for spring tension adjustment in the arms, so you simply bent the springs until the tension was balanced. But once it was set for your bike, that was it, and replacing the pads only meant adjusting for pad reach and height.
In recent years, as the popularity of cyclocross has grown, European and American companies have offered new cantilever brakes based on the original MAFAC design. They have the original wide profile, they provide a lot of mud room, they work with drop bar brake levers, they're lightweight and they have very good stopping power. Now Tektro Racing Products, TRP, has entered the market with their own attractively priced, modern version of this classic design. They call it the EuroX.
The EuroX brake is offered in individual packages for one wheel, each weighing a scant 144 grams. This aluminum brake comes in three finishes; silver, black, and an anodized color that looks like titanium. Each package is a complete brake for one wheel, including all mounting hardware, straddle cable, cable ends and caps, a straddle yoke, and cartridge brake pad holders loaded with inserts for standard rims. There's an optional set of inserts for carbon rims included in each package. The brake pads are directional, so you swap them left-to-right when you install the brake on the front of the bike. The pad holder has a smooth shaft typical of standard cantilever brake designs, however it uses the Dura-Ace style insert, as is used in most Taiwanese road brakes. The cartridge pad system is a big plus, because you can quickly and easily replace or switch pads to suite your rim or weather conditions while preserving brake adjustment. However, like their forbearers, there is no toe-in adjustment, nor spring tension adjustment provided in these EuroX brake arms. More on that, further on...
When I opened the package, the first thing that struck me was the obvious quality of the EuroX brake. The arms are thick, and beautifully finished. The bronze mounting bushing is substantial and snug on the cantilever brake studs. The brake return spring is perfectly formed. The pad mounting hardware is beefy. The TRP EuroX has a 4mm allen wrench fitting at the front of the pad pivot to set the pad placement, and this adjustment is secured with a 13mm wrench. The mounting bolts have captive washers, and a dab of blue thread locker is pre-applied for quick and secure installation. The pad holders are clearly marked for directionality, and they, too, are well finished. The straddle cables are long, and there's a nice set of barrel ends, one is relieved to accept the cable ball, while the other has two 2mm cable binder set screws. And finally, the cable yoke is a relatively wide, lightweight triangular design with set screws to maintain centering on the straddle wire. It's really a little gem of a brake!
Installation is very straight forward and simple, and the instructions are clear. In brief, you clean and grease the cantilever studs on your frame, set the short end of the springs into the middle spring hole, slip the brake over the stud with the return spring in the cutout on the backside of the brake arm, and secure it with the mounting bolt. Make sure the pads are oriented properly for the front or rear of the bike, set the reach and rim contact point and make them secure. Then you install the straddle cable, set the cable length, install the yoke on your brake cable, and then ride to victory! ... Well, it really is almost that simple.
Cantilever brake setup is a topic that has been covered extensively over the years in various hard-copy and Internet articles. Unlike caliper brakes, and V-brake designs, the mechanical properties of cantilever brakes can be varied by changing the relationships between the cabling and pad placement. As you probably know, it is literally a canti *lever* brake system, with the mounting bolt serving as the fulcrum and the other ends variable to a certain extent in both length and angle. Canti setup still requires some amount of trial and error, even after you've setup numerous brake models on hundreds of different bikes. I played with the setup of these EuroX brakes on my bike a bit, and I'll share what I've done with you.
As I mentioned above, wide profile cantilever designs can be setup to move further with a comparable amount of cable pull than the low profile brakes. This is how the extra clearance between the pad and rim can be achieved with drop bar brake levers. However, as a result, they have a little less mechanical advantage. Initially, I had the pads and cabling set for maximal pad/rim clearance, with the pads extended forward on the arms toward the rim. The levers pulled the brake shut on the rim quickly, and the lever felt firm, but I wasn't satisfied with the braking power when I rode the bike. There's a tradeoff between pad/rim clearance and braking power. So I moved the pads into the body of the brake arm, with more of the shaft protruding out the back of the pad pivot, and I kept the straddle yoke were it was, taking up the slack by shorting the straddle cable. This achieved a good balance between power and clearance, and the now bike stopped with authority. And even though there is no angle adjustment inherent in this brake, and there was no toe-in when installed on my particular bike, the brakes did not squeal. A long mountain bike style brake pad would exaggerate any toe angle misalignment, but the shorter road length pads tend to reduce it. So, thankfully, I didn't have to rediscover those old techniques of brutal coercion to introduce toe-in on these lovely caliper arms.
I was satisfied with the braking power provided with this setup, but I got curious about the pad material, and braking surface. The rims on the wheels I'm using do not have machined sidewalls, they're older models with a smooth silver anodized surface. I tried a set of Kool-Stop salmon colored pad inserts to see how they'd work in these brakes, but I found that they squealed badly, probably due to the pad compound. This was further aggravated by a noticeable toe-out pad/rim contact angle caused by the raised leading edge of this pad design, which is intended to clear the rim of debris when the brake is applied. So, back I went to the quiet and effective stock pads. I also tried a different front wheel with a machined sidewall, and the front brake was strong and quiet here, too. I had expected it to be since machined rims are usually better braking surfaces anyway.
Finally, I chose to forgo the use the straddle wire set screws provided in the yoke. I equalized the brake tension in the arms by removing the wheel and gently forcing one arm beyond its rest, causing a change in the spring tension. This balanced the spring tension, and centered the brake at rest, which allows the straddle cable to float in the yoke, pulling the brake evenly.
In summary, I really like these brakes. I think they're simple, effective, and lightweight. I expect they'll be durable in the long term, and simple to maintain - especially with those cartridge pad holders. Combined with the Tektro RX 2.0 interrupter levers on my bike, I have a great cyclocross braking system at a very reasonable cost that would be truly hard to beat.
Ed "650B" Braley
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