Tiagra brakes

Quick Shifter

Jul 6, 2016
Has anyone managed to improve the power of Tiagra brakes? My winter bike has a 4600 groupset and the brakes are awful. What I can't understand is why Shimano put such strong return springs on, the spring pressure is really something to be overcome and makes the brakes very heavy.

I can't believe that the company that makes Dura Ace does not know how to design brakes.
I can't believe that the company that makes Dura Ace does not know how to design brakes.

Their brakes are designed perfectly.................to make you purchase Dura Ace! :D

Have you tried checking and adjusting over tightened bolts or lubing pivot points?

For about $100, you can upgrade to 105 calipers (I'm looking at ebay).

I'm thinking too, you are talking brake calipers ?! Not brake levers?
Yes, calipers. I have tried all the usual stuff - lubing cables and pivots and aligning the blocks, but the brakes were useless when the bike was new, so I can't see what I can do to improve them.

My other bikes have Campy brakes, Veloce and Centaur, which are feather-light and stop brilliantly, but the Tiagra brakes have such strong return springs that a lot of the braking force is lost just overcoming the spring pressure. One comparison intrigues me - the Campag calipers are very wide compared to the Tiagra, could this be a clue? Could the narrowness of the Tiagra calipers cause a reduction in leverage? I may try to put a spacer behind the brake blocks and see if that makes any difference.
While that comment about making you want to buy DA is funny...well it's not true! LOL!!! All you have to do is switch to 105 and you will get about 98% of the feel and the same stopping power of the DA, while the 105 will weigh a bit more but not a lot more than DA, I think it's around 120 grams difference, which is around 4 ounces. I was able to actually improve the feel, ever so slightly, with my 105 brakes by simply changing the original Shimano standard cables to DA9000 cables, with that change I can't tell the difference at all between my 105's and a friend's DA's, and neither could he. So I think the reason people say that DA is smoother is that bikes that come with DA components come with the better DA9000 cables!

I test rode a lot of bikes back in 2012 and 2013 due to wanting to buy a new bike, and I can tell you that there is very little difference in the feel of 105 vs Ultegra or DA; my wife had Tiagra brakes on her bike and there is a real perceivable difference in feel I get immediately when riding her bike to test something that needs adjusting. But how much worse is that feel? it's probably around 80% of what the others are, so maybe a 15% difference, not that much really.

Now pay attention, most people don't understand what I'm about to say. Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, and DA ALL have the same stopping power! Why is that you scream? because the stopping ability is all about the tire's adhesion to the pavement, once you reached the limits of tire adhesion it doesn't matter what type of brakes you have EVEN DISK brakes you will stop the same with aluminum wheels as rim brake if there is no rain present! What you are feeling in the Tiagra is the more actuation and hand strength it takes to get the brakes to work to that point.

Having said all of that, without test riding your bike I don't know if your Tiagra brakes are any different than my wife's bike, if yours are harder to operate it's probably not because of the spring. The issue is probably either the cables need to be replaced and or you need to put a drop of oil on the pivot points on the brake calipers and levers. I doubt the calipers are out of adjustment since you said it affects both brakes, it's highly doubtful both would go out at the same time. What kind of lube should you use? I would use Tri-Flow or something like that, I would not use a wax-based, or a dry lube you might be using on your chain.

If the oiling doesn't work, like I said it could be the cables, but if the cables don't do the job either than the brakes need to be rebuilt...but at that point I would just spend the money and get 105 brake calipers if you want to keep the bike for a long time, the swap will only cost around $130 plus labor, and just keep the Tiagra levers since not much can go wrong with those.

You could try doing this if you're mechanically inclined before dropping the coin for new calipers:
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPJRddS_sRo

You could try a set of DA cables, but I don't see the point of it with Tiagra, but it could help, but only maybe a 2 to 3% better actuation. I would first oil all the pivots as I mentioned earlier making sure you work the brakes a bunch of times to get the oil to work its way inside the pivots, this is cheap to do and you can do at home, ride the bike and see if there is any improvement, if so, you may not need cables, but you probably will need cables.
Hi, thanks for the reply.... The brakes were useless the first time that I rode the bike when it was brand-new, but I thought that they would improve once run-in, but they have not! In the intervening years I have lubed the cables, re-routed the cables, lubed the pivots, carefully aligned the pads, but nothing made the slightest bit of difference. The brakes are acceptable when my hands are in the drop position, but with my hands up on top of the hoods, they are bad to the point of dangerous. Apart from anything else, the stiffness of the levers is really tiring and combined with all the force needed to slow down, kills my hands.

Before I give up and buy 105 calipers I have carried out the very technical modification of bending the springs, by placing the straight end in the vice and bending the spring until it is a right angle; with the springs refitted and the calipers back on the bike I have a lovely light pull now, but whether it will make any difference will have to wait for a test ride.

There appears to be no reason why the brakes should not work acceptably; with the calipers off the bike and the springs off, they move freely and seem well made. As you say, the cables may be contributing to the poor performance as they are not very smooth in operation and are not nylon lined.
That's weird that they operated like that brand new, I would have been hounding the bike shop like crazy to get it fixed while it was under warranty! Like I said my wife's Tiagra brakes are just fine, but her bike was bought in 2014, not sure if Shimano would have changed Tiagra that dramatically that would make them worse to operate, if anything, knowing Shimano, they use trickle-down technology, and the newer ones should be better then the set my wife has...or at least I would think so.

I think I would try better cables, worse case would be that if the cables don't work they'll work if you decide on newer brakes. Like I said before, there's no need to go beyond 105 if you decide to replace them. Sometimes bike shops will have a set of decent used brakes from someone who decided to go full hog and upgrade to DA, leaving the bike shop with used 105 or some other model.
While that comment about making you want to buy DA is funny...well it's not true! LOL!!!

Of course it ain't true. The humor in it is that some shops might tell you so to make a sale. This is what happened to my buddy with the rear ULTEGRA derailleur. They built up his DeRosa frame that he bought there (Richard's in Orange County). Ultegra group set. He took it back maybe twice for a rear derailleur adjustment after it was built, 2 times in 2 weeks. I think it was a break in period myself. But after the second time, he asked why it kept going out of adjustment. Their response was just that, 'THAT'S WHY THEY MAKE DURA ACE!".

I ended up adjusting it on the roadside for him during a ride because it was rattling like crazy. After that adjustment, he never had a problem with it again.

Moral is, don't always trust the shop guys. As mentioned, I would have been all over the bike shop at time of purchase.

OP mentioned rerouting cables. I wonder if he tried swapping cables? I have never had problems with less expensive cables but sometimes, cheap is too cheap. Like guitar strings. :D
I'm waiting for the weather to give me an opportunity to try out my reduced spring pressure mod, but better cables is the next step. It is probably a combination of high-friction cables, high spring pressure and cheap calipers, with cheap pads.
Right, I have managed to get out for a run and the brakes are much improved, and probably acceptable now. I think that the problem is not down to any one thing, but a combination of high return spring pressure, friction in the cables and poor pad material - there is a load of info on the Net about how poor the Tiagra pads are, and mine seem excessively hard, making a lot of noise when the brakes are applied, which my Campy brakes do not do. There are apparently much better pads available, but they are very pricey and it would not cost much more to buy 105 calipers, although I do not think that there is anything wrong with the Tiagra calipers.
Personally, I don't like any Shimano pads, the ones that came with my 105's felt mushy, or the rubber compound they used didn't have enough adhesion, anyway, I had to switch them out with Kool Stops Salmon pads, and no more mushy feeling.