How to Adjust Your Bike Brakes

A quick guide to tightening your brakes and knowing when they are too loose

Functional brakes are the most important element of a safe and enjoyable bicycle ride. You should always be aware of your brakes, that they are tight and functioning correctly before you ride. Braking could just save your life in certain situations, so know that they are properly aligned and working correctly is very important.

Related: How to Check Your Bike Tire Pressure

There are a few issues with brakes that will call for readjustment. The brake pads may be rubbing up on the rim of your tire. This means that they are uneven, and are not going to stop the motion completely. This also is very bad for your brake pads, and will wear them down more quickly. Another issue that is very common, is that the brake is not tight enough. It is easy to tell when the brake is not tight enough, because it adds effort to your natural gripping. Usually as you squeeze at the handlebars it should brake with about two finger lengths between the handlebar and brake. If the brake is reaching the handlebar, then it is far too loose.

If you are out on the road and notice that you need to tighten your brakes, the quick fix is to adjust the barrel adjuster. This is located in different places depending on bikes. On a road bike it is usually where the cable meets the brake pads (an adjustable nut). On a flat handlebar bike (mountain/hybrid) it is usually located next to the brake handle. By unscrewing the barrel the brakes will tighten. This technique should be used when you don’t have your necessary tools, otherwise it should be saved for when you are on the road and need a quick fix.

At home, when you are adjusting loose brakes, you need an allen wrench. One with multiple sizes is best to determine which fits your bike. Below where the barrel adjuster was, you will see the cable’s end. At the end of the cable is a bolt that keeps the cable in place. To tighten those brakes, here’s what you’ll need to do.

1. Loosen the bolt that the cable in place. While you loosen the bolt, squeeze the brakes onto the wheel.

2. Pull the end of the cable down to your desired tension.

3. Tighten the bolt.

4. Manually roll the tire and check brakes for rubbing. This will determine whether the caliper is even.

5. If it is uneven/rubbing, unbolt the entire caliper and move until it is even with both brake pads equidistant to the wheel. Tighten the caliper.

6. As you check the brake again, make sure that that both pads are hitting at the same time. If not you micro adjust, which is a smaller bolt on the top of the caliper. This will slowly move the caliper slightly. Move until even, and when you brake it should make a nice, even tapping noise.

7. Double check the distance between your brake handles and handlebar, and you should be good to ride.

A few things to keep in mind while checking your brakes is to make sure cables don’t have rust, this can be a sure sign for dysfunctional brakes. Also, the brake pads should have definitive lines/grooves in them, if the lines are worn down or disappear, the pads need to be replaced.

You should always check your brakes before each ride and make sure that everything is in working order for the sake of your own safety and those around you.



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