Our best-value cantilever for tires up to 45mm—so, on our bikes, that means Sams. It's a revised and much improved version of the ancient Dia-Compe #980 model, more svelte, at least as strong, and with far, far better brake shoes (we requested the best 54mm pads and shoes Dia-Compe offers). The arms are nicely rigid, the pads are grippy, and the spring are snappy and strong.
They are the nicest-looking cantilever brake to surface in the past 10 years, with roundish contours and no unnecessary material anywhere. This is what cold-forging allows: Strength with slenderness.
They look like they were designed on paper by a person, not on a computer screen with a finite element analysis (FEA) telling the computer operator where to add and remove material. There's nothing wrong with FEA, but the most beautiful structures in the world have always been people-designed, and these brakes are a rare good example of that.
When you wear out the pads, they come out of the cartridges and are easily replaced without monkeying with the adjustment.
Compared to the Shimano CX-50? The CX-50 is a less attractive brake, but works great and opens up further to let out a fatter tire easier--which is why we recommend this Dia-Comper for tires up to 45mm only. The Shimano is gray; the Dia-Compe is nicely polished Silver.
Dia-Compe is an old and storied Japanese brake maker, kind of the Minolta camera of brakes. Since they never sponsored pros and don't make a complete group, they don't have the fame of Shimano. But Dia-Compe's strength is even more valuable, at least to us. They aren't as market-driven, which means they're more likely to do needed, good things, needed things, almost without regard to who actually wants them.