How To Adjust Bike Brakes- A Step-By-Step Guide

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Anyone who owns and rides a bike, no matter if it’s a hybrid bike or fat tire bike, has experienced loose, tight, and squeaky brakes at one point in time. It can feel like a minor inconvenience, and it’s certainly a safety hazard, especially for those who ride their bikes at high speeds, on uneven terrains, and at high traffic locations.

Here’s the good thing- the solution to how to fix bike brakes is something you can do yourself without the threat of a DIY disaster. If you’re wondering how to adjust bike brakes, read on to the easy to follow seven-step guide we’ve listed down for you!


How To Adjust Bike Brakes

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to adjust your bike brakes. Tightening your bike brakes is important for even bikes from the best bike brands in the world. We have included three different ways to adjust your brakes, listed according to level of difficulty, depending on how much adjustment your brakes need.

Note: The steps on this guide are written with standard caliper brakes (more specifically, the front bicycle brakes) in mind, but the same principles apply for rear brakes and other brake types.

First things first…

Before you adjust your brakes, it’s important to check first whether you need to replace the brake pads. These get worn out after some time (how fast it happens depends on how and how often you use your bike).

Worn out brake pads affect how well your brakes function, which means they need to be replaced if they’re already in poor condition. Otherwise, adjusting bike brakes without changing the brake pads won’t do you much good.

 You can easily find out whether your brake pads need replacement by checking whether the pads have worn out past the indicated wear line.

Option 1: Adjusting The Brakes By Aligning The Brake Pads To The Rim.

Step 1: Check the brake pad alignment. The first step is to make sure that the brake pads are properly aligned to the center of the tire’s rim. This means that the pads should hit dead center on both sides, so they don’t come into contact with either the spokes or the rubber part of the tire. Make sure that you are at eye level with the brake pads when you check, so you can see properly.

Step 2: Loosen the brake pad bolts. If the pads are off-center, use an allen wrench to loosen the bolts holding each pad slightly, move the brake pad up or down until it’s at the middle of the rim, then tighten the bolts fully. Not sure how to use an allen wrench? Check this article.

bike brakes close up

Option 2: Adjusting The Brakes By Loosening The Lock Nut To Tighten The Brake Cable.

After the brake pads are successfully realigned, here’s how to tighten bike brakes cables so the pads can have a better grip and you can pull to a stop quickly, without the brakes interfering with your cycling.

Step 3: Check the brake lever engagement. You’ll know the cables are of the right tightness when the brakes become fully engaged once the brake levers are 1 ½ inch away from the handlebar grip. Anything wider means the cables are too tight, and if the levers meet the handlebar, the cables are too loose.

Step 4: How to loosen bike brakes. If the cables are just slightly loose, an easy fix would be to loosen the lock nut or barrel adjuster, which is located in between the brake levers and cables. Unscrew the lock nut slowly (doing this tightens the cable) while periodically pulling the brake lever until it engages at the right distance from the handlebar. If you’ve loosened the lock nut all the way and the cables are still too loose, proceed with.

Option 3: Adjusting The Brakes By Tightening The Brake Cables Through The Caliper.

Step 5: Unscrew the caliper. Without tightening the lock nut, move down to the caliper and unscrew the bolt holding the brake cable in place, until it’s loose enough for you to pull on the brake cable.

Step 6: Tighten the brake cable. Afterwards, pull the cable outward so that the brake pads grip the rim tightly enough with the tire still being able to move. Try turning the tire as you pull on the cable, and making sure to check whether the brake pads are still centered on the rim.

*The caliper is the frame holding the brake pads in place, and the brake cable is the thin wire extending from the caliper.”

Step 7: Tighten the screws and bolts. You can also test the tightness of the brake cable by engaging the lever- it should fully engage at the aforementioned distance. Once the cable is at the right tightness, tighten the bolt back in place, followed by the lock nut, until both are fully secure.

That’s it! Just follow these steps, and you’ll be riding your bicycle at better speeds and with great braking power in no time.

Types of Bike Brakes

If you’re not sure what type of brakes your bike has and whether these steps are applicable to your bike, here’s a quick guide on the different types of bike brakes and how to adjust them.

Bike Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are quite common even on the best mountain bikes and road bikes. If you’re wondering how to adjust bike disc brakes, don’t worry- these are the easiest to adjust, and the procedure is largely the same for mechanical disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes. Just loosen the bolts mounting the brake, squeeze the brakes to engage the rotor, then retighten the bolts. That’s it!

Now, if the rotor is rubbing, you’ll need to find if there is a gap or a wobble while the wheel is spinning. If you are able to identify a spot, straighten the section that needs truing by using a rotor straightening tool. However, if there are multiple spots or if you can’t find any despite the rubbing, it’s best to let the professionals take over.

Caliper Brakes

What we discussed on this guide are caliper brakes, which are another common brake type for mountain bikes. So, if you were searching for how to adjust mountain bike brakes, you’ve got your answer!

You can easily do it by aligning the brake pads to the rim, loosening the lock nut to tighten the brake cable, or tightening the brake cable by adjusting the caliper. These should bring your brakes to the desired tightness, as well as fix brake rub.

V Brakes

Linear pull or direct pull brakes, more popularly known as the trademark term V-brakes, are similar to caliper brakes except these have longer arms and require a side pull. When it comes to how to adjust bicycle brakes, the process is also quite simple and just requires a few steps.

Similar to caliper brakes, you need to make sure that the brake pads touch the rim, and that they do so in the middle of the rim and at the same time. Afterwards, you’ll have to tighten the cable and balance the springs, and finally, finetune the brake lever to your satisfaction.

Cantilever Brakes

Finally, we have cantilever brakes, which are old school brakes that look deceivingly simple but are the hardest to adjust. You need to be patient in adjusting the wires and brake pads so that the wires are the same length and the pads hit the rim at the same time.

Otherwise, you’ll get brake chatter and jammed brake pads, which are much harder to fix. In any case, make sure to check whether your brake cables are still in good condition. They need to fray over time, at which point they’ll need to be replaced.

Final Advice

Fixing bike brakes is a fairly easy task even for those with rudimentary DIY and mechanic skills, so it goes to say that every biker should have a good idea on how to adjust bike brakes. This is true regardless of the type of brakes on your bike. At the end of the day, what’s important is you take care of your brakes properly, and you know when it’s time to seek help from a professional in bringing your bike back to top notch condition.

  • Category: FAQ