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Gear Guy

Are there any bike brakes with magical powers?

I have an early-nineties GT mountain bike with a titanium fre. It's still a good-looking, lightweight bike, but its rear U-brake has no real power. Are there any compatible brakes with better grip, or are there any pads with magical powers? Andreas Reno, Nevada

A: It has a U-brake? That's much more of a road-bike brake; they usually don't even fit over the fat tires on mountain bikes. In any event, Shimano's V-brake design now dominates the non-disc brake market for all-terrain bikes. The V-brake allows plenty of leverage, while holding the brake pad firmly against the rim without "diving" off, as earlier cantilever brakes tended to do if not set up exactly right.

So for starters, look into replacing the U-brake with a V-type brake. Cost shouldn't be an issue; Shimano and other V-brake designs are available for about $25 a set. And of course, they should fit right onto the frame on the same pegs used by the U-brake. For additional stopping power, you can add a leverage-enhancing device such as a "brake booster," a wheel-like gadget through which you thread the brake cable. These are usually about $18.

You can also use different pads. Several companies make "extreme use" pads that are softer and apply more friction because they grip better. Shimano calls theirs "severe condition" pads and sells them for $15.

The last choice, if you really like the bike, is to upgrade to new wheels and disc brakes. That can cost about $500 when all is said and done, but disc brakes are great. I have a set of Hayes disc brakes on my Marin mountain bike and really like them. Good control, excellent stopping power in wet or dry conditions, and easy to take on and off.

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