How to Adjust Bike Brakes | Bike Maintenance

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How to Fix Brakes on a Bike

Six Methods:

There can be many problems and solutions to bicycle brakes. This article will attempt to cover the common problems with caliper type brake systems, and only mention coaster brakes briefly.


Checking Calipers

  1. Check the brake pads.The first thing you will need to know is if the brake pads are too worn to work effectively. There should be at least inch (0.6 cm) of rubber (the brake pad) between the clamp and the tire when the caliper is engaged to brake the bike. If the pads are worn out, you will need to replace them.
  2. Check the cables.Squeeze the brake handles and make sure the cable moves. If it does not, your cable may be stuck in the cable housing, or the clamp in the handle may be loose.
  3. Make sure the caliper moves when the cable pulls on it.Either squeeze the handle and watch the caliper close and open, or have someone else operate it while you watch. If the cable at the brake handle moves, but the end at the caliper does not, the cable may be broken inside the cable housing, and the whole cable assembly will have to be replaced.
  4. Watch the caliper to make sure both sides clamp against the bike wheel.If one side is stuck, you may find that only one pad is engaging the wheel, and this will not give you effective braking. You may need to loosen the bolts that hold the caliper on the bike, and work it in and out to free up the mechanism. Some good light machine oil will help keep these moving parts lubricated.

Changing Brake Pads

  1. Purchase new brake pads.If you have the make and model of your bike, a Bicycle Shop can probably supply you with the correct brake pads for your bike. There are "universal" pads available at discount stores, but these typically only work on inexpensive bikes.
  2. Remove the nut and washers from your old brake pads, and pull the pad free from the caliper arm.On most bikes, this can be done without removing the caliper from the bike frame. If the caliper must be removed to allow space to work on it, remove the nut at the top center of the caliper, slide the assembly out, and replace the nut on the stud without allowing the assembly to come apart. This keeps all washers, spacers, and the caliper arms in the correct position while working on it.
  3. Install the new pads, being careful to keep the pad surface "true", or aligned with the tire.To prevent the pads from squeaking, toe the pads in slightly, so that the trailing edge contacts the wheel first. Make sure the pad height is near the center of the metal rim of you wheel. Pads mounted too low may slide off the rim, causing a dangerous situation, or if they are mounted too high, the pad will rub against the sidewall of the tire, which is also undesirable.

Servicing the Cables

  1. Lubricate the caliper pivot.
  2. Check the adjustment of your brake cables.When the brakes are not applied, they should be about inch (0.6 cm) from the wheel rim, and when the lever is squeezed, they should make full contact at about half the distance the lever will travel.
  3. Lubricate the cables.You may use a lubricant in an aerosol can with a tube to spray oil into the cable housing at the ferrell where the cable enters the housing underneath the brake levers. A light machine oil with a small nozzle similar to "3 in 1" Oil, or a special brake cable oil purchased at a bike shop is recommended. WD-40, and similar products may "wash" the factory lubricant off the cable, and when they evaporate, there will be very little lubricant residue on the cable.
  4. Remove the cable from its casing, only if it is very stiff, or difficult to operate.This is done by removing the clamp at either the caliper or brake lever, and pulling it out the opposite end. If you remove the cable, use an aerosol solvent (or even WD-40) to flush any dirt or debris from the cable tube while the cable is out. Apply a light coat of lithium grease or machine oil to the cable, and reinstall it if it is not damaged.
  5. Thread the loose end of the cable through the clamp at the end you removed previously, and check the "free travel" (the distance the brake lever can be squeezed before the brake contacts the wheel).When the brake pads are about inch (0.6 cm) from the wheel with the lever released, tighten the clamp.
  6. Replace either the cable, or the complete cable assembly if the steps above did not solve the problem of the cable not moving when the brakes are applied.Buy the same diameter cable, factory fitted, in the same length as the original equipment. Making up the ferrells, cutting the cables to the correct length, and threading cables cut with pliers through the clamps is a difficult chore.

Servicing the Brake Levers

  1. Check the cable clamps on the underside of your brake levers to be sure they are secure.
  2. Lubricate the "pivot" pin on the lever handle.

Servicing the Calipers

  1. Make sure the calipers are centered over the wheel.
  2. Make sure the springs are equally tensioned on each caliper arm.When you squeeze the brake handle, each side of the caliper should advance toward the wheel the same. If one side has more movement than the other, you will need to ascertain the arms are moving freely and well lubricated. Tighten the spring on the side which moves the greatest amount by bending it with a pair of pliers, being careful not to nick the spring or break it.

Coaster Brakes

  1. Rotate the pedals backward on your bike if it is equipped with coaster brakes.The pedals should only travel 1/4 turn and the brakes should engage. This all occurs inside the rear axle housing, and servicing is not recommended for a novice.
  2. Check the brake arm.On "Bendix" type coaster brakes, the brake arm is a flat, steel "arm" attached to the rear axle opposite from the chain, which is clamped to the lower frame. Look to see if the clamp has become loose, allowing the arm to rotate with the axle. If it has become detached, reclamp the brake arm facing the front of the bike.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    I disabled my brakes on my bike but when I've put them back on, they aren't functioning at all. What do I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Lubricate them properly and clean them using alcohol. The cable wire may be rusted, check that too.
  • Question
    How do I stop my wheels from getting stuck by the brake?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Try lubricating your braking system first. You could have dirt build-up preventing your brakes from properly releasing. Also, check for rust during this process. (Hopefully there is no rust and you do not need new brake cables.) Second, adjust the brakes using the adjustments near the brake levers. The brakes should loosen up enough if you have a clean and lubricated brake cable, levers, and clamps. Double check that they are not strung too tightly; you may need to manually loosen them. Third, check to make sure your rims are true. You will probably need to bring your wheel to a shop to do this. They can adjust and true your rims if they are not too badly warped.
  • Question
    Why don't my rear brake pads reach the wheel?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    The brake pads are either too worn down or the brake cable isn't tight enough. Try loosening the rear nut that holds the cable and pulling the cable tighter.
  • Question
    I have a road bike that I need to fix up; do you have any information on those brakes?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Road bikes may have either disc brakes or rim brakes. Try cleaning them or replacing them. Use alcohol or water, and if all else fails, take it to your local bike shop.
  • Question
    The brakes become very loose when I turn the handlebars to the left, when I turn the handlebars to the right, the brakes become very tight. What should I do?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If you mean when you take a left turn or a right and the brakes don't work as well, check the brakes themselves, it is probably that your breaks aren't evenly spaced to the wheel. The break might be rubbing the wheel on one side and far from the wheel on the other.
  • Question
    What should I do if my brakes fail?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If you are riding and they fail, try using the front wheel, your feet or grassy terrain to slow yourself to a stop.
  • Question
    If my rear wheel shakes from side to side while stopped, is there a problem with loose hub bolts?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Your rear hub could be loose. I had this problem and thought I had stripped a bearing. This is a typical issue for a newly bought bike after your first 100 km or so. Try tightening your hub. If you are getting more lateral movement than 1 cm on either side, I would bring the wheel in to be serviced.
  • Question
    How do I fix uneven brake pads?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Try rotating the back of the pads so they contact the rim first, but only slightly, like this: \I/ , except at less of an angle, maybe at a 7 degree angle. Also, if your pads are really worn down, consider buying new ones.
Unanswered Questions
  • When I pull the back brake lever, the brakes aren't making contact with the wheel. Any suggestions?
  • Bought a Huffy that has one brake handle that works the front and rear brakes. The rear brakes work fine but the front calipers do not move at all. Adjusted caliper tension but nothing?
  • I just bought a bike and the front brake is not working?
  • Is it okay that only one side of the disk brake pads moves?
  • The brake pads are not releasing (opening from the wheel rim) when the handbar brakes are applied and then released. What should I do?
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Quick Summary

If your bike’s brake pads are worn to less than ¼ of an inch, you’ll have to replace the pads. To do so, remove the nuts and washers from your old pads and pull the pads free from the calipers, which squeeze the pads to the tires to make the bike stop. Then, put the new pads in, align them with the tires, and replace the nuts and washers. If you need to adjust your brake’s calipers, tighten the spring on the side that’s moving too much by bending it with pliers. For brake cables that are really stiff or hard to work, remove them completely and lubricate them.

Did this summary help you?
  • A wheel that's mounted incorrectly will often make the brakes rub. You may not have a brake problem at all!
  • Don't buy a smaller brake pad
  • Donotget any oil of any sort on your new brake pads; it will cause them to lose their braking ability. If this happens, new pads are in your near future.
  • If all else fails or if you don't know what you're doing, take it to a bicycle mechanic.
  • If you are not sure how to mount or unmount your brake pads, don't do it. Get help from someone who does.
  • Read the owners manual


  • Ride slowly to test the brakes first!
  • Secure the brake pad firmly so that your newly installed pads work efficiently

Things You'll Need

  • New brake pads
  • Right type of replacement parts.
  • Basic hand tools.
  • Lubricating oil.

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