man fixing his bike brakes in workshop

Bike Brake Adjustment: How to Fix Caliper, Disc, and v Brakes on Bike?

Are your bike brakes not working properly anymore? Is your bike brake squeaking? Are the brakes too loose that the bike keeps running even when you squeeze the lever all the way to the handle bar? Or are your bike brakes too tight? If you are nodding your head in yes, you—your bike—needs a quick bike brake adjustment before your next ride.

You must be pretty worried about your bike brakes not working properly. After all, bike brakes are imperative for safe cycling.

Your first thought must be to take your bike to a local bike shop and get it fixed by an experienced mechanic. We understand that the bike brake adjustment could be a daunting task, especially if you are a novice mechanic, but fret not—all confident home mechanics were novice at some stage.

Anyway, fixing bike brakes is not as daunting as it may appear—it is a pretty simple task if you have the right tools.

Bike Brake Adjustment

Thinking of fixing bike brakes at home, your mind may start racing—wondering—how do you fix brakes on a bike? How to fix bike brakes cable? How to fix squeaky bike brakes?

If you have been overwhelmed by these questions, keep on reading as we are going to discuss it all about bike brake adjustment. 

Adjusting Bike Brakes

Can you imagine riding a bike down the hill with a broken break?

It will be devastating. Brakes are imperative for a safe ride—be it down the hill or not. Brakes enable us—riders—to slow down or stop right away in a controlled way. Therefore, it is crucial that before hopping on the bike for a ride, we make sure that its brakes are at their ideal state—neither too tight nor too loose.

Read: Bike Chain Keeps Falling Off: How to Tighten a Bike Chain in 6 Easy Steps?

Before we get to fixing bike brakes, we need to check if the wheels are seated correctly. You may want to loosen the quick release on the concerned wheel (if you don’t have quick release wheels, you will have to loosen the axle nuts) and give it a jiggle from side to side. Then firmly tighten the quick release or nuts, when you are confident that the wheel is centered.

A perfectly centered wheel will have the bead line—line molded on each sidewall and responsible for gripping the rim when the tire is inflated—will be right above the rim.

Adjusting Caliper Bike Brakes

Bicycle repair restoration of a very old road racing bike rear vbrake and tire closeup white frame

Caliper brakes are the most common bike brakes—most youth bikes and almost all road bikes feature bike brakes. Probably your bike also has caliper brakes. Don’t worry if your bike has disc or V brakes, we are going to discuss them as well.

These bike brakes are also known as rim brakes as they work by clamping on the metal rim of the wheel.

Ok, let’s get to it.

Let’s discuss how to adjust caliper bike brakes?

Here’s how you can adjust caliper bike brakes at home.

Step 1—centering the brake

Having made sure that the tire is seated perfectly at the center, you need to center the concerned brake. Make sure that pads on both sides are at an equal distance from the rim. It might be a bit hard to see by eye so you can try squeezing the brake and note if both pads are touching the rim at the same time. If both pads are touching the rim at the same time, it means that your brake is centered and there is nothing to be done here. However, if one pad is touching the rim first and pushing it on the pad on the other side, it needs to be centered.

You can easily center bike brakes—all you have to do is locate the bolt at the back of the brake, loosen it, realign the brake, and then tight the bolt firmly.

Step 2—Adjust the distance of pads from the rim

There is no standard about this distance. Some cyclists like their bike brakes firm—stopping at the little squeeze of the lever. Others like their brakes a little less firm—they want the brake levers to travel a little distance towards the handle bar before fully actuating the brake.

Firmly hold the caliper with one hand and with the other start loosening the bolt that is holding the brake cable. When the bolt is loose, release or squeeze the calipers a little and retighten the bolt. Now test if the brake feels good to you. If it is not up to your liking, you should repeat the process and adjust it accordingly. You might have to do it 2 to 3 times to get the desired result.

Step 3—Clearing the Wheel

The liver marked in the image is not there for adjusting the firmness of the brake. Then what’s its purpose?

Well, it is for creating some space for clearing the tire, when you have to remove the tire. When you riding the bike or fixing its brakes, this lever must be facing downwards.

Step 4—Adjusting bike brake pads

Now that we are done adjusting the caliper position and the brake cable tension, let’s move on to aligning the brake pads.

Pads should never be too lower or too high—they should be centered on the braking surface—rim. They should never touch the sidewall of the tire.

To adjust the brake pads, use an Allen wrench to loosen the bolt holding the pads. If the brake pads are high, move them down and if they are low bring them up. Do this until the pads are perfectly centered.

Never loosen the bolts all the way as it would make the brake pads come out of their holder.

Step 5—Tweaking With Barrel Adjuster

Once the brake caliper position, cable tension, and pad positions have been set up, you can move on to fine-tune your brakes with the barrel adjuster. Turning the barrel adjuster clockwise would bring pads away from eth rim and moving it in the opposite direction will bring the pads closer to the rim. With the barrel adjuster, you can make tiny cable stretch adjustments, without having to reset cable tension.

Knowing When to Seek Pro Help!
While it is a good habit to maintain your bike ourselves at home, but sometimes it is beyond our expertise—it can only be done by a seasoned bike mechanic. After having adjusted the caliper bike brakes, if you are still hearing the rubbing squeal as the tire spin, there is probably something wrong with your tire and not the brakes. And it is not something that you want to mess with. Instead, you should take your bike to the local bike mechanic.   

Adjusting Disc Bike Breaks

Fixing Disc bike brake on a modern mountain bike in the workshop

Over the past several years, disc brakes, on both road bikes and mountain bikes, have been gaining popularity. Given their better braking power—requiring very little pressure to accentuate brakes—and reliability in wet weather, it is no wonder that they are replacing traditional rim brakes.

No doubt, disc brakes are more effective than rim brakes but they are also a bit complex. Therefore, when it comes to disc bike brakes, bike brake adjustment all by yourself may seem like an impossible task. Most novice mechanics would take it to a local bike shop and get it fixed by a professional mechanic.

Were you thinking of taking your bike to the mechanic for the bike brake adjustment? Is the bike disc brake rubbing the problem?

If it is then it’s a good thing that you didn’t take it to the mechanic. Because there is a home-mechanic friendly way of disc bike brake adjustment. Let’s learn how to adjust disc bike brakes on a bike.

Let’s break it down into simple steps.

Before you start messing with the brake, check if the tire is centered. If the concerned tire is centered. Loosening the quick release, jiggle the wheel, and firmly re-tighten the quick release. If the tire is centered and the brake is still rubbing, your disc brake needs fixing.

Step 1—Loosening the rubbing caliper

Using the Allen key, loosen the bolts that are holding the caliper in place. There is no need to undo the bolts all the way out—just so much that there is room for you to work on it. A loosened caliper will move side to side when you jiggle it.

Tip! If you are going to undo bolts all the way out, you should take a picture of it. So that you know which one goes where and in which order. You should know exactly how each part will go back. Otherwise, reinstalling the caliper may become impossible.

Step 2—Adjusting the Calipers

Firmly squeezing the lever of the respective brake, re-tighten the two bolts.

The wheel should now be spinning freely. If it is not and you can still hear the caliper rubbing on the rotor, repeat this process. Just as with centering the tire, calipers may couple of attempts to settle perfectly.

Step 3—Adjusting the Caliper by Eye

Is the caliper still rubbing on the brake rotor? Are you thinking that trying to do it yourself was a mistake?

Well, stop fussing and try adjusting the caliper by eye. For this, you need to focus on the distance on either side of the brake rotor. You will be realigning the caliper by hand after loosening the bolts. Hold the caliper in the perfect position and firmly re-tighten the bolts.

That’s it! The bike brake adjustment is done. You can hop on your bike and take it for a test spin.

We hope there is no rubbing sound anymore.

Lubes not only contaminate but can also ruin the braking system. Therefore, during the bike brake adjustment process, you should make sure that brake pads and rotors do not come in contact with any oil, grease, or lubes, etc. if there is any lube on your hands, you should clean it before touching the brakes. If lube has ruined your brake, then there is no other way but to replace the brake pads and give the brake rotor a good clean.

Adjusting V Brakes on Bike

Close up of fixing V brakes on a bike with white frame

Often labeled as “direct-pull” or “linear-pull,” V brakes revolutionized the braking performance when they came onto the scene. Their enhanced braking performance was a perfect fit for off-road bikes and hybrid bikes. If you have V brakes on your bike and they seem to be out of order, here’s how you can V bike brake adjustment can be done easily.

Step 1—Adjusting the cable tension

Before you being the bike brake adjustment process, you need to check if the wheel is rightly centered and spinning true. Many times, tires are the culprit and not the brakes. If the tire is centered, we can begin the bike brake adjustment process.

  • Squeeze both arms of the brake with one hand, and with the other release the brake cable.
  • Slightly release the pressure on the arms of the brake, until the brake pads are at the optimum distance from the rim.
  • Now reattach and retighten the brake cable by firmly tightening the respective bolt.
  • BY squeezing the lever, check if brake lever travel is the perfect fit for you. If not, repeat the process.

Step 2—Adjusting bike brake Pads

  • To assist with the positioning of pads on the rim, you need to stimulate braking—either by holding and squeezing both arms of the V brake or simply by squeezing the brake lever.
  • Now loosen the pad adjustment bolt and move the pad up or down and align the brake pad so that it is contacting at the center of the rim—neither too high and nor too low.
  • Tighten the pad adjustment bolt, once you are confident that the pad is centered.
  • Repeat the process on the other side.

Step 3—Adjusting the Spring Tension Centering Screw

Many times what happens is that the brake pad is clear on one side but rubbing on the other side. If that’s the case with your brake, worry not. Just locate the little screws—spring tension centering screws on each of the brake arms. By tightening or loosening this screw, you can adjust brake arms individually.

Actually, at the back of each brake arm, a metal spring is attached. And the tension of this spring is controlled by that little screw on the side. To fix braking pad rubbing on one side

  • Wind the screw and increase tension on the respective arm. This will bring the brake arm out.
  • Keep winding until the braking pads are no more rubbing on the rim.
  • Make sure that both pads are contacting the rim evenly.

Now your V brakes are fixed and you can hop on the bike and take it for a test ride around the block.

A Job Well Done!

If your bike brakes are working perfectly after your bike brake adjustment then pat yourself on the back—you are on your way to becoming a confident home mechanic.

Relevant Reads:
Changing Bike Tires: How to Change Tires on a Bike in 4 Easy Steps?
Changing Bike Pedals: How to Take Pedals off a Bike? 3 Easy Ways!
How to Raise Handlebars on Bike in 7 Easy Steps?