How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes – All You Need to Know

How To Adjust Bicycle Brakes

For all riders out there, finely tuned breaks make a massive difference when it comes to the operative capacity and safety of their cycles. The two main adjustments you will need to make will be the brake pads and brake cables. S our goal here is to cover how to adjust bicycle brakes, to make your biking safer and more fun.

Over time, brake pads wear down and become a safety concern if left too high or low on the rim. In addition to brake pad wear, if bike brake cables are too loose, it will become much harder to brake.


Adjusting Brake Pads

Make sure your Brake pads are in place

Your bike’s brake pads are located on the front tire of your bike and stop the tire from moving when you pull the brake lever. If the bike pads have faded past the ‘wear line,’ they will need to be replaced before you can adjust your bicycle brakes.

New road bike brake pads can be easily sourced either online or at any bike shop in your area. Ideally, you should source either black or naturally colored brake pads. Brake pads with artificial coloring can create an unpleasant sound whenever you pull your brakes.

Press your brake lever to check where your pad hits the rim

Both of your brake pads should touch your front tire’s rim simultaneously. They should be hitting the rim’s center with the same amount of space above and below the pad. If the pads hit the rim either too high or too low, they will contact the rubber portion of the tire or your bike’s spokes.

Make sure you get a good look at your brake pads as you press your brake lever. If your bike has a quick-release system, make sure it is neither too loose nor comes undone. If they have, your brakes will not press tightly on your wheel, which may inhibit your ability to stop.

Loosen the bolts keeping the brake pads in place with an Allen wrench

You should move your Allen wrench counterclockwise to loosen the bolts. Ensure you do not loosen them completely, or you risk the brake pads coming out of the brake pad holder.

If you do not have an Allen wrench at home, you can easily purchase one online or at your local bike shop. Attached below are links to a couple of reputable brands you can source your wrench from to fix your brake system.

Tekton Ball End High Key Wrench Set

Tekton Ball End High Key Wrench Set

Wera 05073593001 950 Spkl/9 SM N Multicolor L- Key Set

Wera 05073593001 950 Spkl 9 SM N Multicolor L- Key Set

Ensure your brake pads can move up and down the brake pad holder and center them

Once the bolts loosen, they should move up and down the brake pad holder with ease. If the pads were too low or high on the rim, move them until they have centered. After you have properly centered them, you should retighten the brake pad bolts with your Allen wrench.

Adjusting Brake Cables

When it comes to the cable-based bikes most cyclists use, there are two main types of brakes: v-brake and mechanical disc brake. The primary points of adjustment on both these brake systems are the caliper arm and the barrel adjuster.

The caliper looks like a horseshoe on a V-brake system and rests over your tire that connects to your brake pads. The caliper looks like a claw on mechanical disc brakes and is located at the disc in the center of your wheel. With both brake systems, the barrel adjuster is a metal cuff that lies on the brake cable at your brake lever.

Press the brake lever to check your brake’s tightness

brake lever to check brake

An obvious indicator that you have faulty brakes is your bicycle brake lever being either too tight or too loose. If the lever reaches the handlebars, then your brake cable is far too loose, and if you cannot squeeze it at all, then your cable is a bit too tight. You should be able to squeeze your bike lever about 3-4 cm without much resistance.

If the brake cables are a little loose, it may be a good idea to loosen your barrel adjusters. The barrel adjusters are in the area where the brake cables and brake levers meet. First, turn your barrel adjuster connected to your loosened brake cable counterclockwise. If they are too light, do the inverse with your barrel adjusters.

As the barrel adjuster loosens, the brake cable will tighten. After you have loosened your barrel adjuster, you should then pull your brake lever again to see if it has tightened a bit. If the brake cable is still too loose, do not tighten it and leave it be for now.

Loosen the bolts on your brake caliper

bolts on your brake caliper

If tightening or loosening the barrel adjuster did not work, then the cable on the brake caliper may be either too tight or too loose. If your brakes are still loose, you should use an Allen wrench to turn it counterclockwise. Make sure you do not fully unbolt the cable from the caliper, or you may have to assemble the break entirely.

Use the caliper to Pull/Release your brake cable

If your caliper is sufficiently loose, it should kick back away from the wheel and the brake cable. It should be easier to either jerk the cable outward, tighten the brake, or let the cable suspend inwardly and loosen.

If you are working with v-brakes, you should make sure your brake pads cannot touch the rim but are only a few millimeters away from it. If you are working with disc brakes, the cable passes through the lever on the caliper that moves as you press the brakes.

When you tighten the cable, there should still be enough space to move and should not be able to reach so far back that it meets the caliper. If this happens, your brakes will jam, and the pads will not be able to reach your disc rotor.

Now tighten the caliper back up again

Once you locate the area where your brake pads sit snugly over your rim and your cable is tight, you should re-screw the caliper and press your brakes again. If it is still not quite right, you should take another look at your barrel adjuster to maybe loosen or tighten your brakes once again.

Last Updated on May 29, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic

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