Review: Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilever brakes

The red and black front cantilever brake in situ on a pale turquoise bike
Avid’s Shorty Ultimate cantilever brakes – a clever design that’s not without issues
A lightweight cantilever brake with a largely redundant ‘wide-angle’ option, Cycle magazine’s technical editor Richard Hallett reviews the Shorty Ultimate from Avid

Avid’s Shorty Ultimate offers a choice of wide- and low-profile configurations in one cantilever brake. The cable arm and brake block post are separate components clamped together by twin hex bolts via one of the two pairs of holes that provide the alternative setups.

One arm houses a cable adjuster, the other the straddle cable clamp. The brake uses a simple straddle wire with stirrup rather than a Shimano-type link wire. The Ultimate uses replaceable Shimano-pattern road brake blocks in shoes that can be adjusted for toe-in and to match the rim’s brake track angle.

The retracting springs engage with bosses clamped to the spigots. These can be turned using a 15mm spanner, once the fixing bolts have been slackened, to ensure precise centring of the blocks.

Avid claims 20% greater power in the low-profile configuration. My test rides backed this up. In wide mode, the brake has a harder feel at the lever, which is indicative of a lower mechanical advantage and less power.

The cantilever brakes shown on the same bike from the side

The Shorty Ultimate is a clever-looking design but not without issues. It seems designed for a 19mm wide rim. Mounted on spigots at 80mm spacing, the brake’s blocks can be angled to meet a 22mm wide rim correctly, but on a 24mm rim the washer system does not allow enough articulation.

In low-profile mode, the outboard washer fouls the arm when positioned near the bottom of the slot, limiting height adjustment. The washers can’t be swapped to accommodate rim width as the outer one won’t pass over the shoe mounting post.

The adjuster barrel is drilled for the 1.5mm diameter straddle wire provided. A standard 1.6mm brake cable won’t pass through and spares don’t appear to be widely available.

Perhaps the Ultimate’s designer missed a trick. The shoe post section is offset towards the rim from the spigot centreline but by so much that it can’t be reversed to offer more clearance. A little attention here would make the brake the versatile design it aims to be.


Lightweight at 120g per wheel but expensive, complex and supplied with an unusual straddle cable, the Ultimate works well in low-profile mode on a rim of suitable width.

Other options

Tektro CR720 £23 each

Tektro CR720 cantilever brakes

Basic but competent wide-angle cantilever using slim V-brake-style blocks.

Shimano CX50 £33.99 each

Shimano CX50 cantilever brakes

Chunky-looking but highly effective low-profile design with loads of adjustability.

First published in Cycle magazine, October/November 2020 issue. All information correct at time of publishing.

Our test promise

At Cycling UK and Cycle magazine, we are proudly independent. There’s no pressure to please advertisers as we’re funded by our members. Our product reviews aren’t press releases; they’re written by experienced cyclists after thorough testing.

Tech spec

Price: £87 each.
Weight: 115g.
Available from: Wiggle.

Pros & cons

+ Looks good
+ Lightweight
– Rim clearance/compatibility