How to Adjust Bike Brakes

You cannot ignore adjusting your brakes. Several reasons will force you to adjust your brakes, some of the reasons include replacing brake pads, to tighten or loosen the brakes, to maintain the brakes, to stop the squeaking sounds, to prevent the brakes from pulling, and to clean all the parts of the bicycle

You see, you will have to adjust the brakes of your bicycle at some point. Therefore, you need to learn this art. The article might be pretty long but worry not; the process is not that complicated.

Let us look at the basis of maintaining, adjusting, and aligning your bike brakes.

Tips for Adjusting Bike Brakes

Tips for Adjusting Bike Brakes

Here are the tips for adjusting bike brakes.


Adjusting Bike Cables

Cable-based brakes, mechanical disk brakes and v brakes have two main points that you will adjust. One part is the barrel adjuster, and the other point is the caliper.

If you have the v brakes, look for a horseshoe-shaped part above your tire and attached to the brake pads; this part is the caliper. If you have a mechanical disk brake, the caliper looks like a claw, and it is located at the center of the wheel. The metal cuff placed at the brake cable on the brake lever is the barrel adjuster.

Should you realize that you need to use a lot of strength to pull the brake lever to slow your speed, or the brake lever squeezes a lot up to the handlebar, it is likely that it is time to adjust your brakes.

Pull the brake lever to judge the condition of your bike

The easiest way to tell whether there is something wrong with your bike is to use the brake lever. This way, you will know whether your brakes are too loose or too tight.

If the lever goes all the way to the handlebars to achieve the speed you want, the cable is too loose. On the other hand, if you barely squeeze and your bike slows down or comes to a stop, the cable is too tight. Either way, both cases will make your riding risky because tight and loose cables can cause an accident.

Usually, the brake lever should move for about 3-4cm before achieving a complete stop and slowing down in between that range.

Loosen or tighten the barrel adjuster

When you are done diagnosing the state of your bike, you can make the needed adjustments by using the barrel adjuster. Make the barrel adjuster tighter or looser by adjusting it towards the clockwise or anticlockwise direction, decreasing or increasing the tension, respectively.

Once you have achieved the appropriate amount of tension by adjusting the barrel, go back and diagnose the state of the bike as you did before. Squeeze the brake lever to see if all is well after the adjustments.

Pro tip: using the barrel adjuster is the fastest and the easiest way to fix your brake issues, so you can easily do it in the middle of nowhere. Although it might not solve the problem completely, it will improve the situation and help you arrive home and have a proper fix.

Loosen the brake caliper bolt to re-adjust

If you find the brake lever to be too tight or too loose after the barrel adjustment, it would be because the cable on the brake caliper is either too tight or too loose.

You will need the Allen key. Take the Allen key and use it to loosen the cable on the caliper. Turn the caliper in an anticlockwise direction to reduce the tension. Ensure that you do not unbolt entirely to avoid re-assembling the brake.

Release or pull the cable at the caliper

When the bolt at the caliper is loose enough, it will become easy to adjust the cable’s tension since it springs back towards the brake lever. From here, you can tighten the brake by pulling it outwards or allow the cable to extend inwards to make the brake looser.

If you are using the v brakes, you should ensure that the brake pads do not touch the rim. The brake pads should be some millimeters away from the rim.

If your bicycle has disc brakes, the cable passed through a lever placed on the caliper, the lever moves when you use the brakes. After tightening the cable, you need to make sure that the lever has enough room to move without hitting the caliper. If the lever reached the caliper when you apply the brakes, the braking would be blocked, and the pads will not reach the rotor.

Re-tighten the caliper bolt

After ensuring that all is okay, the brakes have the proper tension, the brake pads are sitting well over the rim, and the lever has enough space to move, tighten the caliper bolt, then squeeze your brakes once more.

If the brakes are not right yet, you should revisit the barrel adjuster and make some more tweaks to tighten the brakes or loosen them.

Adjusting V Brake Pads

Adjusting V Brake Pads

Adjusting the brakes with the v brakes design means that you need to adjust the brake cable. Be sure that a time will come when you will need to make these adjustments.

When you feel that your brakes are pulling when cycling, making an annoying screech sound when you use the brakes, or the brakes are not even on either side, the time for adjustment might have arrived. Do the following to address the issues.

Check the condition of your brake pads.

One of the most common reasons for poor brake traction and poor brake alignment is brake pad wear. Therefore, it is an excellent place to start by checking the state of your brake pads.

If you notice that the brake pad is worn out beyond the wear line or the wear is uneven, you should consider buying new pads to replace the old ones.

Pro tip: we recommend that you purchase brake pads that are natural-colored or black because the artificial color on the brake pads can cause a honking sound when you pull the brakes.

Pull the brake lever to see the condition of the brake.

When your brakes have a proper alignment, you will find out that both brake pads squeeze evenly against the rim when pulling the brake lever.

Also, the brake pads need to squeeze on the rim’s center, but they should not touch the tire or the area over the rim lip. You should ensure that your brakes have maximum surface contact with the rims of the bike.

If you notice that the brake on one side squeezes more tightly than the other, it overlaps the rim, or only one side can squeeze, and the other side does not squeeze at all, you will be able to know the source of the misalignment.

Loosen the bolts securing the brake pads in place

After identifying the area that needs to be re-adjusted, loosen the bolt of the first brake pad using the Allen key. You need to adjust both sides to be able to adjust one brake. Therefore, you will need to loosen the bolts on the other side as well.

It would be best if you didn’t loosen the bolt too much to prevent the pads from slipping out of the holder. When you loosen the bolts too much, you will also risk the bolt trickling down. Just loosen the bolt enough to achieve the ability to move the brake pad forward and backward and up and down. The brake pads should achieve a movement of about 5mm in all directions.

Pro tip: If you have to get new brake pads, you will have to do away with the old brake pads by fully unwinding the bolt to place the new ones. Ensure that you have mastered the arrangement of the washers and the stem bolts so you can replicate the same structure when installing the new brake pads.

Move the brake pads to the appropriate position.

After unwinding the bolts, you can adjust the position that your brakes will settle on your wheel. If the brakes were too loose, reduce the gap between the rim and the pads by squeezing them closer. If the brakes were tight, add some space between the rim and the brake pads; let them be further apart than they were earlier.

Also, you should ensure that the arc of the wheel and the wheel are on the same alignment; they should not rub with the tire or overlap the inner edges of the rim.

Your pads should rest a few millimeters away from the rim. Remember that the shorter the space between the rim and the brake pads, the more reactive your brakes will become when pulling the lever. Just be sure that the pads are not in contact with the rim before applying any pressure on the lever.

Re-tighten your bolts

After you are satisfied with the position of your pads and the condition of your braking system, tighten the bolts using the Allen key. Ensure that you are careful enough not to tamper with the brakes’ alignment as you tighten the bolt.

Also, try and make sure that you balance the tightness of the bolt to ensure that each brake pad will work evenly and have the same amount of responsiveness.

Adjusting Disk Brake Pads

Adjusting Disk Brake Pads

Disk brakes, like v brakes, have two pads that squeeze on the moving part of the wheel to slow down when pulling the lever. For disk brakes, this part is called the rotor placed at the center of the tire.

Disk brakes can sometimes wear out or become misaligned with the rotor. Worn-out brake pads can pose great danger. It is not easy to diagnose a problem with these disk brake pads as compared to v brakes. Therefore, it advisable that you maintain disk brake pads regularly. Here is how.

Put your bike upside down.

It would help if you spun the wheel while adjusting your brake rotor. Therefore, you will need to rest it on its saddle and handlebars. You can also use the help of a friend who can lift the bike when you need to spin the wheel. Alternatively, you can purchase a bicycle stand.

Check the rotor alignment.

The rotor is located in a space inside the brake caliper sandwiched by two pads. If the rotor and the pads are unevenly spaced on either side, it is time for a readjustment.

After re-adjusting the caliper, everything might seem right. However, sometimes rotors can be damaged and will only give it away when the wheel is in motion. Therefore, spin the wheel.

The rotor moves when the wheel moves, so if there is a bend, the wheel will move from side to side when rotating. When this happens, you may need a new rotor or use a special device to correct the rotor back into shape. You should spin the wheel to make sure whether you have corrected the damage.

Loosen the disk brake bolts

If you realize that one side of the rotor is closer to one pad than the other side, realign the caliper. To achieve this, you should first loosen the top and bottom bolts of the caliper. Do not loosen the bolts entirely.

Pull the brakes and tighten the bolts.

Once you have a loose brake caliper, spin the wheel while pulling the brake lever tightly. The brake caliper will grip on the rotor aligning the brake pads.

Tighten the brakes while still pulling the brakes.

Spin the wheel for tasting

The rotor should sit in the middle of the brake pads once you release the brakes. Although you can see it, you need to spin the wheel and ensure that there is no side-to-side movement and the caliper stays put.

If the brake pads and the caliper do not have an equal distance, make some minor adjustments by loosening one bolt and repositioning the caliper until they achieve similar space.


Having the skills of adjusting your bike brakes will help you to maintain your bike. However, you also need to ensure that you have cycling insurance that will offer more protection for your bike. If you are stuck, you can always use the help of an experienced bike mechanic and watch them while they work so that you can learn one or two brake adjusting skills.