How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

Biking is humankind's most efficient form of transportation—very little energy is lost to friction (as in a car), and unlike running, you can coast sometimes. In part, that's why more than 110 million bikes are produced every year compared to about half that number of cars. To keep bike transportation at maximum efficiency, adjust your brakes so you're not pushing against them as you pedal. Properly adjusting your brakes will also keep them from squealing and shuddering like a tortured animal every time you come to a stop. Here's how to look at and tweak the braking apparatus on your two-wheeled machine.

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

TOOLS:

• Screwdriver

• Needle-nose pliers

MATERIALS:

• Scrub pad and dish soap (or a degreaser such as WD-40)

1 Evaluate the brakes. With one tire off the ground, spin it and look at the position of the brakes. In most bikes with cable-pull brakes (as opposed to hydraulic disc brakes), there should be a brake pad on either side of the wheel rims. The pads should be positioned so, when closed, they grip the rim without contacting the tire rubber or touching each other. (Rubbing against the tire can cause a catastrophic flat, and exposed pads will accumulate dirt and gunk.) Most brakes are made of two levers connected by wire—the levers should be centered so they sit at the same angle relative to the wheel and the pads are a uniform distance from the rim—you don't want one pad in contact with the rim while the other pad sits far away. Finally, brake pads should sit so that they are slightly "pigeon-toed" in front; with the brake applied lightly, the front of the pad should contact the rim slightly before the back. When you squeeze tighter, the pad should flatten against the rim. This keeps the brakes from squeaking.

2 Center the brakes. If your brakes aren't centered, one pad may rub against the rim even when the brake is released, while the other pad sits too far away to reach the rim even when the brake is applied. First, check to see if the position of the wheel might be the problem—if the wheel is slightly tilted it will push closer to one caliper than the other. If it's not the wheel, it's the brakes. First try twisting the calipers back to the center to see if the brake pads stay appropriately centered. If that doesn't work, unhook the cable and test each arm independently to see if one side pulls more strongly than the other. Rust or grime may be restricting or affecting the movement of the levers—if so, clean them using a scrub pad and a little soapy water (or a degreaser such as WD-40). Then reassemble the brake arms and, with them centered, tighten down the pivot bolt to hold them in place. If you remove and reinstall brakes and they still grab your tire, it's time for a trip to the bike shop.

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

3 Adjust the cables. Lackluster braking may not be due to the pads—it could be improper cable adjustment. A cable adjustment barrel may be located at either end of the brake cable, most likely where the cable enters the handbrake. Using pliers if necessary, turn the adjustment barrel to gently adjust the length of the brake cable. If both brake calipers are contacting the wheel rim even when you're not squeezing the brake, the cable is overall too tight—after ensuring that the cable is running along its proper path without obstruction (and without the handlebars facing straight ahead), use a screwdriver to turn the brake adjustment barrel to loosen the cable. If the brake calipers sit so far away from the rim that engaging the brake fails to make the pads grab the rim, turn the adjustment barrel in the opposite direction to shorten the cable. Note that there are also adjustment barrels for shifting cables—don't adjust the wrong ones!

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

4 Adjust the brake handles. There might be a screw in the brake handle used to adjust the position of the handle itself. If you have especially large or small hands, turn this screw to adjust the openness of the brake handle to suit your grip, and then use the cable adjustment barrel to properly position the brake cable accordingly.

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

SIDE-PULL VERSUS CENTER-PULL BRAKES

There are a couple of configurations of cable-pull brakes. Most common are center-pull, in which one cable reaches straight in between two calipers, at which point the cable splits into a triangle in order to pull both calipers. You may also find side-pull brakes, in which one cable extends down the side of a horseshoe-shaped piece opposite a straight arm. Neither is necessarily better than the other and both work by essentially the same mechanism, but depending on your brake type, you may have to slightly adjust the instructions in this section.

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

IF THE BRAKES STILL SQUEAL . . .

While there are many things that can cause squealing brakes, the mechanics that create the squeal are the same in all cases: The brake pad grabs the rim, bending the caliper slightly forward, at which point the caliper pulls against the pad and jumps backward to continue the cycle—enough of this minor vibration at high speeds creates the sound you know and don't love. To eliminate the noise, start by cleaning the rims with rubbing alcohol or a citrus solvent. If that doesn't stop the noise, try using pliers (or your hands) to very slightly bend your brake calipers so the pads point slightly in toward the front (pigeon-toed). This keeps the brakes from contacting the rims along the length of the pad with a light squeeze, but allows them to flatten against the rims with a stronger pull. You may also be able to adjust how easily your brakes pivot open to release from the rim. Try playing with the strength of this pivot by adjusting the tightness of the nut that holds on the pivot, tightening or loosening to see if it affects the squeal. Finally, try replacing the brake pads. New pads, or even another model, may play better with your rims.

How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE