One of the most important things on a bike are the brakes, they can literally make it or break it for your bike. For their price, I think think brakes are the wrong place to save money. Since I couldn’t use my Shimano 105 caliper brakes on my ultimate commuter, in order to be ready for larger tyres, and as it turned out later, the frame doesn’t even fit caliper brakes since it’s not a road frame.
So, I had to pick up brakes from the store on the way home, leaving few choices for it. I wanted to go with Tektro CR720 cantilever brakes, but I didn’t manage to find them then (I have a pair now though), so I settled for the next best thing: The Shimano BR-R550 cantilever brakes for the STI-levers found in my 105 groupset.
The aluminum build and the quality of the design is very solid, one of the best I’ve ever seen in cantilever style brakes. All the springs are well-covered, there are no cheap plastic anywhere and even the brake pads are cassette type similar to the more expensive road bike brakes making pad changing a breeze.
So far, I have done a bit over 500 kilometers with the brakes (I think) and after the initial crispness they started to loosen up quite a bit. After some fine-tuning they seemed to get their balance and I had actually set them up a bit too tight in the beginning, being used to mountain bike style brakes. After 400 kilometers the pads started squealing even after cleaning the rim properly, and it hasn’t stopped yet. I think I’ll have to show a bit of sand paper to the pads.
The BR-R550s come standard in many stock cyclocross bikes, and they are not bad brakes. They might not be the best you get for their price of €35 per piece, double that for a pair (many swear on the Tektro CR720s which are about the same price). If you get them from the discount bin like I did mine, they’re well worth the money.
If you’re building a cyclocross bike, the Shimano BR-R550 is a good choice for the budget minded.