Brake pads

Restoring a bicycle is fraught with decisions: I spent a couple of hours looking for and thinking about brake pads for Kyla’s lovely new Raleigh Wisp. The bike is new to her, but it’s 30 years old, built by Raleigh in Nottingham. It’s in great condition with the original paint and stickers in fine condition, but some of the parts that routinely need renewing looking a bit tired.

The chain is a bit rusty, and that’s easy to change, though a bit of oil would help it immediately. The pedals have some rust, too, but that could be removed with a steel-bristled brush and a bit of work. Harder cases are the wires: For the outer cables on this bike, they used a transparent plastic over the coiled wire sheaths. The transparent plastic has yellowed and looks less like a bright water casement than a muddy window. The style, too, has gone out of fashion, so the only true replacement would be NOS, “new old stock,” but that opens the question of whether the plastic has yellowed and clouded from age or light. If it’s age, there’d be no change with NOS, but if it’s light or dirt, old stock would help.


The brake pads, though, forced me to consider the meaning of “restoration.” What do we want with a restoration? Although beautiful and commissioned by a woman, Yvonne Rix, who fought her way up through the Raleigh hierarchy to become Marketing Director for the company, and argued for bikes designed for women, the bike is an example rather than an historic artefact. Kyla plans to ride it. To what extent, then, should present purpose override faithful restoration?

Like most bikes of its age (my 1980’s Rourke, for example), originally the bike had simple blocks as brake pads, and installing those would be the closest to a historical restoration. They turned out to be somewhat more difficult to find than I expected. Wilko, where I’ve bought them in the past didn’t have them in stock, and neither did Chain Reaction nor Evans. However, as I learned by trying some of the brake pads for our other bikes, more modern brake pads would also fit. They might be easier to change, with long-lasting casings holding rubber pads that could be bought and changed specifically for the original steel rims. They might also be safer, though these are the pads I’ve been running on my Rourke for a couple of years now. They would, of course, jar with the rest of the bike.


There’s surprisingly little on the Internet about old-fashioned brake pads, advantages, disadvantages, build quality, stopping power and so on. Although they’re sold, no one wants to promote them, as at less than £3 a pair, there’s no money in them, while modern brake pads can go up to £20 a pair.

I decided to install the simple brake blocks, which I got from Wiggle. Although not fancy, they’ve been stopping bikes for a half century or more, and, correctly fitted, will keep Kyla cycling safely on her lovely Wisp.


3 thoughts on “Brake pads

    1. I agree; I’ve read your blog and you’ve thought through very similar issues–alloy rims on a roadster,for example. It’s one of the difficulties of working with old bikes. The brake system was recalcitrant, and, aside from from the obvious of changing the pads, we thought to change all of this crucial system. Old looks is good, but not an unreliable brake system. Honestly though, we’re still thinking. Have a good holiday!


      1. Would you believe I know have my own Wisp?! It’s a girls model with 24″ wheels, I got it free and don’t know what to do with it really. Restore then sell, or donate to charity maybe. Anyway, I found Jagwire do transparent outer cables very similar to the originals.


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