How to Fix Your Squeaky Brakes

Easy tips to help you skip the bike shop

Nothing is worse than letting your brakes squeal out your arrival to everyone within a three-town radius. While not necessarily a dangerous problem, squeaky brakes do the sport of cycling a grave disservice by sucking the fun out of your ride, disturbing area wildlife and flat-out annoying the general populace. So unless you’re comfortable with making responsible citizens cringe every time you pass, you’ll want to fix those pesky brakes, stat.

First, determine the cause of the squeal. This can involve some guesswork, but you can hone in on the problem by taking a look at the usual suspects: improper toe-in, worn brake pads, a too-smooth brake pad surface, dirty rims and/or wet rims.

Open up your V-brakes or use the quick-release on your brake calipers so that you have access to your brake pads. Make sure there is plenty of rubber left on the brake pads to successfully stop your bike—if the pads are worn to the metal, buy a new set. Clean the surface of your brake pads with rubbing alcohol and a rag. Wipe off all the grime off your rims and clean both sides with rubbing alcohol.

Now use sandpaper—or even better, a metal file—to scuff up the surface of your brake pads. If the squealing is caused by the surface of your brake pad being so evenly worn that it’s too smooth to grip the rim, this will help.

Last, there’s the most common cause of brake squeal—improper toe-in (that is, your brakes striking the rim at an ineffective angle). Most brakes are initially set with correct toe-in, but as they wear down, the brake starts to increasingly hit the rim at a straight-on angle instead of how it should hit the rim—with the leading edge of the brake pad hitting first.

Depending on the type of brakes you’re using, there are a number of ways to deal with re-angling or replacing your brakes. One of the easiest ways is to loosen the nuts holding on your brake pads and place something with the thickness of a zip-tie over the rear of the pad. Hold your brake pad down and retighten the nuts so that the pad is slightly angled before pulling the zip-tie out. Make sure the brake pad is only making contact with the rim and not the tire. It might take some adjustment, but the result should be the kind of quiet, clean, toed-in brake pads that you, your friends and neighbors can all enjoy.

If you need more detail, here’s Park Tool’s illustrated guide to V brakes, sidepull brakes and cantilever brakes

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