How To Adjust Bike Brakes

Brakes are one of the single most important things on your bike, and a crucial part of keeping yourself and others safe when riding a bike.

If your brakes aren’t in good working order, then they need to be seen to and adjusted immediately – or the next hill you ride down could really cause you some trouble at the bottom!

How To Adjust Bike Brakes

As it’s so important to have good working brakes, it’s a good idea to learn a bit about how to adjust them yourself! This article on How To Adjust Bike Brakes will show you what you can do to keep your bike’s brake system in good order.

When Should I Adjust My Brakes?

Before we look at How To Adjust Bike Brakes, we will look at when it is necessary to.

If your brakes aren’t doing their job properly, then it’s of course a clear sign that something is up, and the system needs adjustment!

Brakes are an important safety and control feature of a bike, so if yours aren’t good enough at slowing you down then you should certainly do some maintenance work on them.

Although it’s never a smart idea to fix something that isn’t broken, it’s pretty much always going to be a good idea to keep your brakes well adjusted.

This doesn’t mean obsessing and fiddling, but it does mean that you should make it a part of your regular bike maintenance schedule to check your brake system over and adjust where necessary.

Not only is it safer for you this way, but it also makes the job easier in the long run.

A few minor adjustments every week or two if required will go a long way to keeping your brakes in best condition, and is a whole lot quicker than having to do a longer maintenance job on your brakes after months of not checking them.

And, of course, you can ride with the confidence that your brakes are definitely going to do their job!

Any time you adjust or replace a part of your brake system (for instance, if you change brake pads) you should give the other parts a check over too, to make sure that everything is working as it should.

Of course, as the brakes are such a crucial safety device for your bike – and because you should never, ever ride a bike without brakes in good working order – if you don’t feel confident in your abilities to get this right, then by all means take your bike to a professional tech to get the brakes adjusted.

Adjusting your brakes is something that can be learned at home, but if it’s better for your peace of mind to have a pro do the job for you, then go for it!

Now let’s go into more depth in How To Adjust Bike Brakes!

Brake Pads – Alignment And Wear

First of all, check your pads for wear. Your brake pads will only last for a certain amount of use – it’s inevitable that they’ll eventually need to be replaced.

If they’re worn past the marked wear line, then you’re not going to be able to adjust them to get the grip they need – you’ll have to replace them for safety.

Next, squeeze the brake lever, while looking at the brake pads. The full surface of the brake pads should touch and grip the rim of the wheel, and only the rim.

If your pads aren’t making full contact with the rim, or are rubbing on your tires, then you’ll have to adjust them up or down a little.

This is simple – use a hex wrench to slightly loosen the bolts that are holding the pads in place, while squeezing the lever so you can see where the pads should be moved to.

You don’t need to fully remove the bolts – just loosen them enough so that you can move the pads into position. Simply shift them into the correct position, and retighten the bolts.

Centering And Distance From The Rim

Your pads should also meet the rim of the wheel at the exact same time, so that you can get the stopping power that you expect from them. After all, there’s one on each side for a reason – you need both of them to slow and stop your bike properly!

If one of the pads reaches the wheel later than the other, then your brakes are slightly off center, and will need to be adjusted.

You can do this by slightly loosening the bolt that holds your calipers in place, and moving them from side to side to get them in the correct alignment.

You can also adjust how far your pads are from the wheel rim. The correct distance is one that feels right to you – so getting comfortable with adjusting the brakes on your bike is going to help you understand how it works better, and give you more control over setting things up just how you like them!

Rotor Rub And Rim Rub

Rotor Rub And Rim Rub

No matter what sort of brakes you’re using, whether disc or rim – if they aren’t aligned properly, then the brake pads can rub on the rotor or the rim even when you’re not gripping the brake levers. This is going to be bad for a number of reasons!

First of all, it’s going to mean you’re wasting energy when riding. If the brake pads are touching the rotors or rims, even slightly, then the energy you’re using is getting sapped by them – you’ll be going slower and working harder!

There’ll likely also be a noticeable rubbing noise – which can really be annoying when riding! You might notice a really aggravating squeak, or something similar when you’re riding – a sure sign that something is rubbing up against something else.

And thirdly – a rubbing brake pad costs you time and money! Brakes aren’t meant to be in constant use, or in constant contact with the rim or rotor.

They’ll wear out much quicker this way, meaning you’ll have to spend time, money, and effort replacing them prematurely.

If you’re using rim brakes, then you already know how to adjust them so that they’re not rubbing on the rims when not in use – that is, if you’ve read the rest of this article!

For disc brakes, you’ll notice that there’s a pad adjustment screw on either side of your brake calipers. This screw needs to be turned in small increments to move the pads out of the way of the rotor – but of course, the pads still need to be in a good position to grip the rotor when the lever is squeezed.

Types Of Bike Brake

There are a few different types of brakes in use for bikes. Here’s a quick look at them, and their differences!

Rim Brakes

Rim brakes grip the rim of the wheel when the levers are squeezed. They’re the older type of bake – but are still in common use despite arguably having been superseded by disc brakes.

They’re not usually thought of as being as efficient or as having the same stopping power of disc brakes – but they’re less expensive to make and to buy.

Disc Brakes

Unlike rim brakes, disc brakes don’t make contact with the rim of the wheel to arrest the movement of the bike. Instead, they grip a rotor on the hub of the wheel.

This means that the calipers are of course also moved to this position. They’re commonly coupled with a hydraulic activation system instead of a brake cable.

This can be more efficient and better for the rider, but brings a new set of things to consider when it comes to bike maintenance.


Hopefully you’ll be able to put this advice to good use – and keep the brakes on your bike in the best possible condition, using our guide on How To Adjust Bike Brakes!

Cathy Welks
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