Do not even think about trying to do a good job of setting up your brake callipers unless you first ensure that the wheel rims are hop and wobble free.  In other words, you can't properly tune your brakes until your wheels are true.  And you can't true a wheel properly unless your hubs are in good condition and adjusted.  This procedure assumes that the wheels to be installed are in good condition and ready to go.  It is also assumed that the brake callipers, levers and cables are all in good condition.

Setting up a set of brake callipers is not all that difficult to do, however; I must admit that it took me a while to get it right.  Though it is easy to install brake callipers and get them working right away with little effort, getting them to work correctly is a bit more complicated.  Complicated?  The brake pads must be installed in-line with the wheel rim and parallel to the centerline of the its rotation.  The front of the brake pads must contact the wheel rim first when the brakes are applied.  Cable adjustment must be set to allow for either an increase or decrease brake pad clearance to the rim.  Spring pressure must return the brake calliper to resting position.  The callipers must be installed tight enough to not chatter, yet loose enough to allow spring pressure to do its job.  And the brake cable must slide freely through the cable casing.

In other words, there are many things to consider and address when setting up the brakes on a vintage road bicycle.  Though there are many tricks to make the task go easier and turn out just right, the entire task itself is not at all tricky to implement.  Let's begin...

Though one might get by with less, the tools required to tune-up brake callipers include: 8mm, 9mm and 10mm Combination wrenches; 4mm, 5mm, 6mm Allen or Hex Head wrenches; 6" Adjustable wrench; 13mm or 14mm Cone wrench; Needle nose pliers; Cable Cutters; Third Hand or small clamp.  It is also wise to have a set of new cables and casing on hand if possible.  And, again if possible, new brake pads would be the way to go.  Finally, a good quality grease will be needed to lubricate the cables before inserting them into their casings.

With the cables unattached and the calliper loosely installed on the frame or fork set, eyeball center the rim between the brake pads.  Tighten the mounting bolt up and ensure that the rim is still centered after doing so.  If the calliper moved during the tightening process, loosen things off and tighten again until you get the desired result.  Tuning the brakes can begin from this starting position regardless of what style brake calliper is used with the exception of Cantilevered Callipers.

Next, squeeze the calliper arms together until the pads are snug against the rim.  Inspect how the pads sit in relationship to the rim.  The perfectly positioned brake pad will be located directly in the middle of the rim's braking surface width.  Ensure that there is no possibility for the brake pad to touch the tire when brakes are applied.  I frequently find old road bikes with grooves worn into a tire where an improperly located brake pad has done its worst.  As often as not, this groove has resulted in major tire failure.  Major tire failure being defined as a blown out hole about an inch and a half long.  When a tire fails that way, it does so with a BANG and very suddenly.  All flat tires are a pain but this kind can also prove dangerous!

Be careful also to not mount the brake pad too close to the rim's inner edge.  Doing so will reduce the amount of brake pad in contact with the rim.  Needless to say, the result will be less effective braking and very uneven wear to the brake pads themselves.

Ensure that the brake pad runs parallel to the rim's centerline of rotation.  Do not allow the pad to tip towards the outer or inner edge of the rim.  With the pads lightly secured in this position, it is time to attach the brake cable(s).

I like to use a small adjustable clamp to hold the properly positioned brake pads against the wheel rim when setting up vintage road bicycle brakes.  With the pads securely clamped to the wheel rim, install the brake cable and loosely snug up the cable clamp fastener.  Ensure that the cable length adjuster is set to allow for both tightening and loosening of the cable.  I usually place the adjusting mechanism in a centered position, allowing for plenty of adjustment either way.  I recommend that you do the same as you are learning how to set up brakes.

With the brake pads clamped in place and the cable loosely secured in the cable clamp, look the system over one more time before you clamp and, I might add, distort the cable.  If all is well (routed properly, cable head in the brake lever properly seated and any necessary cable casing ends in place), then pull the cable as tight as you can through the clamp bolt and then tighten the bolt up.  Loosen off and remove the adjustable clamp used to hold the pads against the rim.  Now, attempt to slowly rotate the wheel.

If the wheel rotates freely and without rubbing against the brake pads, great!  Now, test the system by applying pressure to the brake lever.  Watch carefully for any cable slip through the cable clamp.  Increase pressure to complete the test.  If nothing slipped or snapped into place, check the cable tension in resting position.  Does it seem loose now?  If so, repeat the procedure just described and check the resting cable tension again.  If the cable is still snug, this part of the task is complete.  Now turn your attention to the brake pad to rim relationship.

When the brakes are applied, does each pad fall in the center of the rim face?  Does each pad sit parallel to the rim face?  If yes to these questions, turn your attention to the angle at which the pad meets the surface of the rim.  If the pads are not in-line with and in the middle of the rims, you must adjust until they are so.  I might add that this takes a combination of understanding and skill to implement.  But don't despair, there is plenty of opportunity to practice and get it right before you finally test the results.

The angle that the brake pad meets the wheel rim face is really important to proper vintage road bicycle brake function.  The front of the pad must be toed-in to touch the wheel rim first!  If the front of the pad touches first, the rest of the pad will be pulled into contact with the rim.  If the back of the pad touches the rim first, the rim tries to push the pad away with a resulting squeal or chatter, neither of which is pleasant to hear nor conducive to optimizing braking efficiency.

Some callipers have a built in opportunity to set the "toe-in" for proper brake pad function.  To set these brakes up is a simple matter of understand how to do it for any given manufacturer.  But some vintage brake callipers do not allow for "user-friendly" adjustment of "toe-in".  When you encounter these systems you must physically bend the calliper so that the pad meets rim relationship is proper.  I hate having to do this and I am always afraid that I might break the calliper arms.  However, not one arm has broken so far.  I should also add that the brake arm will not have to be bent very much.  A couple of degrees should do the trick.

And that about all there is to setting up the brakes on a vintage road bicycle.  When it comes time for your test ride, bring the bike up to speed slowly and don't try for much speed at first.  You are checking to make sure that your newly rebuilt, installed and adjusted brakes do not fail and break something.  So, go slow test, pick up a bit of speed and test again.  After a few stop and go actions, get off of the bike and look the brake system over carefully.  Are the cables still tight?  Have the pads shifted position.  Does the calliper return to punning position or does it tend to hang up on one side?  Are the brake levers properly positioned for your comfort?  If you are happy that all is well and working the way it should, tape the handlebars and you are finished with brake installation and tuning for the time being.

Actually, there is one more little job to do and that job is to put the end on the end.  Ensure that you somehow protect the cut cable ends.  Failure to do so will result is a frayed cable.  Not only do frayed cables look awful but they are dangerous in a mild sense.  The frayed cable strands are sharp and often times slightly barbed.  They hurt when they puncture the skin and tend to hurt even more after.  Take the time to seal the cable ends off.  You can use a spare spoke nipple clamped onto the cable end or you can purchase, for a couple of cents, proper cable ends which can be easily installed with a pair of pliers.  The result is a clean neat installation that will not unravel - ever.