How to Adjust Bike Brakes
Everyone deals with maladjusted, tight or squeaky brakes at one point with their bikes. Fortunately, most of the fixes are simple ones that you can handle at home or even when you’re out cycling.
Of course, you need to know how to adjust bike brakes on your own correctly so you don’t end up with even bigger problems. Whether you’ve got caliper, disc or even cantilever brakes, here’s what to know.
Adjusting Caliper Brakes
The most common type of brake found on a bicycle is a caliper brake. These brakes attach near the top of your wheels by a cable. The first thing to try with this style of brake is the barrel adjuster. This is on top of the lever on the cable. Simply try loosening or tightening the adjuster to solve a lot of common issues.
Check the bolt at the point where it connects to the frame if trying the adjuster doesn’t help. Your brake will move as you ride if this bolt is loose. Engage the brakes and tighten the bolt to center it.
When using the adjuster doesn’t work and you have a secured connecting bolt, the next thing to try is tightening the brake cable. Loosen the bolt and nut at the cable’s end using an Allen key. Pull a little more of the cable through and tighten it again.
Should you find that your wheel still rubs in the same spot after you adjusted your brakes, your wheel is possibly the problem and not your brakes. At that point, consider going to a professional bike shop for help.
Adjust Disc Brakes
Don’t be intimidated when you consider how to adjust bike brakes if yours are disc. Like caliper brakes, disc brakes use a cable to attach the brakes on the wheel but at a different point: toward the wheel’s center.
When you’re experiencing brake rub, loosen both bolts which mount the disc brake to your frame. Once loose, squeeze the brakes to engage the rotor. Now that it’s perfectly centered, you can re-tighten the bolts. This fix solves many common disc brake issues.
If you find the rotor is still rubbing slightly after you’ve tightened the bolts, try a rotor-straightening tool. Flip your bike or place it in a stand so your wheel spins freely. Look for a gap in the opening and closing between the pads or a wobble to see if your rotor is out of its perfect shape, known as the “true.”
Work the straightening tool at the section that needs truing. Note that this will only work if the rotor is rubbing in a specific area. You also need to be very careful, as this area of your bike is delicate and easy to damage with force.
Don’t forget to check your brake pads. Take a look at the brake’s back or top to see your pads’ side profile. If you can’t see the pad or the spring keeping the pads together looks too close to the rotor, it’s time to replace them.
Conquering Cantilever Brakes
On an old-school bike, you might sport cantilever brakes. In this system, you apply pressure to wire-connected levers to control two brake pads. While they look simple, they’re often the hardest to adjust. This is because they must be set perfectly to avoid jamming a brake pad into the rim or noisy operation.
Adjust this style of brakes using just an Allen key. Symmetry is key here. The wires controlling the right and left brake pads must be the same length. The brake pads need to sit in the same place on the rim, too. You’ll need patience and trial and error to adjust this brake type correctly.
Since your brakes cables are exposed to the elements and likely to fray as time passes, don’t forget to check them as well. If you’re having trouble pulling the levels or your braking doesn’t feel clean, it might be time to replace your cable.
No matter which type of brakes you need to learn to adjust, there’s a point where you may need professional help. If you’re not certain what is wrong with your brakes after trying the steps above for your brake type, it’s time to call in the professionals so you don’t do even more damage during your attempts at repair.