How to Adjust Bike Brakes? (Easy Way)

Are your brakes not working as effectively as before? You may need to adjust them to bring them back to their top-notch condition again. 

Here’s how you can adjust bike brakes the easy way:

  1. Align brake pads with the wheel rim, if they’re not adjust the brake caliper.
  2. Check the brake tension, if the lever moves too far, it needs adjustment.
  3. Adjust the brake cable.
  4. Check the brake pads are evenly spaced with the wheel rim.
  5. Test the brakes to make sure they work.

Knowing how to adjust your bike brakes is an important skill that every bike rider must have. However, it may seem a bit tricky and complicated to understand how brakes work. 

This is why this article is here to simplify the process of adjusting your brakes. No matter what type of brake your bike has, read on to learn how to adjust your bike brakes the easy way. 

Why Do I Need to Adjust the Bike Brakes?

Adjusting your bike brakes can help them perform better, and it ensures a safe ride. Bike cables can stretch over time, and brake pads also wear away, which can make the brakes less effective. This is why you should routinely adjust your bike brakes to ensure they are working properly. 

Another reason you need to adjust your bike brakes is to stop them from squeaking and rubbing.

» Read my blog post: Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes in Cycling

5 Steps to Adjust Caliper Brakes

Bicycles mostly have caliper brakes since they are the most common brakes. These brakes have two parts, brake pads, and brake cable, that may need adjustment. Read on to learn how to adjust the caliper brakes. 

Step #1: Test and Inspect Your Brakes

Before anything else, you need to test out your brakes to see where they need adjustment. 

First, test the lever to see how loose or tight your brakes are by pulling the lever. The brakes are too loose if the lever hits the handlebar and they are too tight if the lever is hard to squeeze. 

Now check your brake pads. You have to inspect them while the brake lever is engaged. Rightly aligned brake pads have equal space above as well as below the pads, and they will land on the center of the rim. 

You also need to determine if the brake pads are wearing. Look for a wear line or a groove on the side of the pads. If they are worn down, you’ll have to replace them before adjusting your brakes. 

Step #2: Adjust the Brake Cables

If your cables are too loose or too tight, follow these simple steps. 

  • First, you need to unscrew the nut with the handle.
  • Now squeeze the calipers until the brake pads are making contact with the rim. 
  • Unscrew the adjustment barrel by turning it anti-clockwise. This helps you make the cable housing long and tightens the brake cable system. 
  • After taking the barrel adjustment out, the brake lever will have a vast space from the handlebar when it is engaged. Tighten the lock and secure this position. 

Step #3: Re-clamp the Brake Cable

If your brake cable tension is too loose, then you need to adjust the cable length of your brake cables by using an Allen key. 

  • Find the bolt which has a cable warped around it on the center of the bike’s frame.
  • First, loosen that bolt and then pull more cable through. This increases the cable tension. 
  • After you’re done just tighten the bolt. 

Step #4: Center the Brakes 

If your bike brakes are rubbing, then they are wrongly aligned. Follow these steps to correctly align your brake pads. 

  • Loosen the brake mounting bolt behind the bike forks by using an Allen key. 
  • Line the brake pads, so they are at an equal distance from both sides and then tighten the bolt again. 
  • Now pull the lever to see if both brake pads hit the rim at the same time.

Step #5: Adjust the Brake Pads

Lastly, adjust the brake pads if they aren’t landing at the center of the braking surface. 

  • Pull and hold the lever down so the pads touch the rim. 
  • Loosen the brake pad and realign it into the right position using an Allen key.
  • Tighten the bolt. 

» Maybe this also could be of interest to you: Bike Brakes Squealing

4 Steps to Adjust Cantilever Brakes

Cantilever brakes are mostly found on cyclocross bicycles. These brakes have a greater stopping power than caliper brakes. However, their exposed cables make them prone to damage. 

What You’ll Need: 

  • Allen key
  • Cloth
  • Grease

Step #1: Inspect Your Brakes

Determine if the bike cables are too tight or loose by pulling the lever. Also, check if the brake pads are correctly aligned on the rim and if they are worn down. 

Step #2: Adjust the Straddle Cable

The cantilever brake system has brake cables right above the wheel. You need to lower that cable by loosening the bolt with an Allen key. The lower it is, the more stopping power the brakes have. 

Once you have lowered the cable, find and tighten the two bolts on both sides to increase the tension. Make sure that the cable length is equal on both sides for efficient braking. 

Step #3: Test the Spring Tension

To test the spring tension, follow these simple steps:

  • First, unhook the bike brakes from the cables and move them to determine if there is any friction. If you feel friction then the return spring might not be strong. 
  • Unscrew and remove the cantilever brake by using the Allen key.
  • The metal pieces on both sides which hold the cantilever in place must be smooth. You should clean them of any dirt and grease them. 
  • There are 3 holes where the spring can fit, the middle one is the most suitable for retaining the spring tension. 
  • Screw the bolt back. 

Step #4: Toe the Brake Pads

If your brakes make squealing noise every time you brake, you have to toe the brake pads. 

To do that just loosen the brake pads with the Allen key. Insert a one-millimeter-thick narrow card between the wheel rim and the back end of the brake pad. Now, tighten the brake pad again after you have achieved your preferred position. 

7 Steps to Adjust V-Brakes Brakes

V-brakes are also known as linear-pull or direct-pull brakes. These brakes are much heavier and more powerful than caliper or cantilever brakes. To adjust these brakes, follow this step-by-step guide:

What You’ll Need: 

  • 5mm Allen key
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • A sandpaper

Step #1: Set Up the Brake Levers

If you want a comfortable braking experience, you have to position the brake levers so they are positioned at the same angle as your arms while riding. 

You can adjust them according to your preference by loosening the levers, altering them in your desired position, and then tightening them into place. 

Step #2: Remove the Brake Pads

To remove the V-brake pads, follow the below steps:

  • Tighten the lever’s barrel adjuster.
  • Pull back the protective rubber to fully disconnect the cable’s quick release. 
  • Now you will be able to remove the brake pads. 

Step #3: Re-surface the V-brake pads

If your brake pads are a bit worn down, you can easily re-surface them by using sandpaper. 

Step #4: Adjust the Brake Arm Tension

Similar to the cantilever brakes, you need to adjust the spring tension. For this, follow these simple steps:

  • First, unscrew the bolt on both sides but don’t remove them. 
  • Move the metal piece on top of the three holes if you want to increase the brake tension. 
  • Move the spring into the bottom hole to decrease the brake tension.

Step #5: Re-install and Position Brake Pads

The correct position of V-brakes is when they are flat against the rim. The pads should be an equal distance from the rim. Align the brakes in their right position and then tighten the bolt.

Step #6: Align Brake Arms

Check the distance between the brake arms. If they are too close, move the larger set of washers close to the brake pads. However, if they are too far, then move the smallest set of washers close to the pads. 

Step #7: Adjust The Cable Tension

The final step is to reattach the cable’s quick release by connecting the protective rubber. Also, adjust the brake arms’ cable tension, you can do this by pulling the cable through the bolt and tightening it. 

4 Steps to Adjust Disc and Hydraulic Brakes

If you’re facing problems with your mechanical disc brakes, read below to fix them. 

What You’ll Need: 

  • 5mm hex wrench
  • Torque wrench
  • Torch or any light source
  • Repair stand

Step #1: Inspect Your Brakes 

Put your bike on the bike repair stand so the wheel can spin freely. Use your torch through the bike caliper and inspect the condition of the disc brake pads. Also, determine if there is any scraping of the rotor by the brake pad. 

If the rotor is bent then you can try bending it back into its shape, however, if it’s badly bent then you might have to replace it.

It’s important to check if the wheels are correctly aligned before making any adjustments. If you end up adjusting the rotor when the wheels are misaligned you will end up creating more problems. Ensure that the wheels are in their right position. 

Step #2: Align the Rotor

To align the rotor, follow these steps;

  • Loosen the mounting bolts to give room to the caliper so it can move. 
  • Now center the caliper body over the rotor by squeezing the brake lever
  • Keep the brakes engaged and tighten the bolts
  • Now release the brake lever and spin the wheels to see if it’s spinning freely. If there’s no rubbing, tighten the mounting bolts. 

Step #3: Fine-tune the Brakes 

Make sure you loosen one bolt at a time and then adjust until there is a slight distance on both sides of the rotor. After fixing the scraping, secure and tighten the mounting bolts. 

Step #4: Bleed the Hydraulic Brakes

You should get professional help from a bike mechanic to bleed your hydraulic brakes since this process is more technical and requires an expert. 

» You can also read my post: Mechanical Brakes Vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes


What Tool Do I Need to Adjust Bike Brakes?

The only tool you will need to adjust the bike brakes is the Allen wrench. Other tools are a bike stand, a cloth, or a screwdriver. 

How to Make Bike Brakes More Responsive?

To make your bike brakes more responsive, you need to adjust your brake cable tension and ensure that your brake pads are properly aligned in their right position. Lastly, make sure that your brake pads aren’t rubbing or worn down. 

Final Thoughts

Bike brakes need routine maintenance, which is why it’s important to timely adjust them. Adjusting them constantly ensures their optimum performance as well as your safety. 

You should be able to adjust your bike brakes simply after following this simple and easy guide. Remember to clean and grease your bike brakes to prevent damage to them. Happy cycling!

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