Adjusting your bike brakes regularly is essential to ensure a safe ride.
Luckily, it’s an easy job done, and we show you exactly how to tighten bike brakes shortly.
Two main parts of the brake require tightening and adjusting; these include the pads and the cables. Worn down pads and loose cables can be serious safety hazards.
So, before you hit the road again, let’s have a quick look at those brakes.
How to Tighten Bike Brakes: Step-by-Step Guide
Step1: Loosen the Barrel Adjuster
The barrel adjuster is located where the cable meets the lever—turn this counterclockwise to loosen. As the barrel adjuster is loosened, the cable will tighten.
Loosening the barrel is often all it takes to fix a slightly loose cable.
Check the cable’s state by pressing the lever to see how close it comes to the handlebar’s grip.
If it’s still loose, leave the barrel adjuster for now, and move on to the next step.
Step 2: Adjust the Caliper
The caliper is the main part of the brakes where the pads are attached.
Start by locating the bolt that holds the cable to the caliper. Use an Allen wrench and turn the bolt counterclockwise until it’s slightly loose.
Avoid unscrewing the bolt all the way—simply turn the Allen wrench two to three times until the bolt is loose.
Step 3: Pull the Cable
With the bolt on the caliper loosened, you should be able to pull the cable outward easily.
Once you’ve pulled the cable taut, hold it in place.
As the cable gets tighter, the front tire brake pads will tighten in on the rim. What you’re going for is tight enough pads to give you some resistance as you turn the tire, but you don’t want it so tight that the tire won’t turn at all.
If the tire won’t turn at all, release it slightly until the resistance is just right.
Remember, this is all about small changes. Adjust it slightly, then test it out until you feel it’s good.
Step 4: Tighten the Bolt
Once the cable is at the right tightness, use the Allen wrench to tighten the caliper’s bolt.
Turn it two to three times clockwise until it’s in place and you can’t turn it anymore.
The cable should be in place now.
Step 5: Tighten the Barrel
Go back to the barrel adjusters on the handlebars and turn them clockwise to tighten fully.
As you tighten the barrel adjusters, the brake pads will loosen slightly and not be clamped onto the tire.
When the barrel adjusters are fully tightened, the brake cables are set.
Test the cable’s tightness by pressing the lever—it should be about 1½ inches from the grip.
How to Adjust Bike Brake Pads
Now that the brake cables are tightened, you might want to adjust the pads to ensure everything is in top-notch shape before you hit the road.
Before you begin to adjust the pads, check their condition.
Most brake pads will have a “wear line” that will tell you if a replacement is necessary. If there’s no line, there should be grooves. You can easily buy new pads from your local shop or online.
However, if they aren’t worn down, check their position by pressing the lever. The pads should hit the rim with the same amount of space below and above them. If they hit the rim too low or high, they might touch the bike’s spokes or the tire’s rubber.
Step 1: Loosen the Bolts
Use an Allen wrench to loosen the bolts that hold the pads in place.
Turn it counterclockwise until the bolts are loose. Don’t overdo it, else the pads will come out of the holder.
Step 2: Adjust the Pads
With the bolts loosened, you should easily reposition the pads—move them up or down until they’re centered on the rim.
Step 3: Re-Tighten the Bolts
Use the Allen wrench to re-tighten the once you’ve centered the pads on the rim.
Turn it clockwise until both bolts are tightened.
Press the lever to check the position of the pads, and adjust if needed.
How to Tighten Disc Brakes
Disc brakes are a little more complicated than a regular bike brake. Nevertheless, you can easily adjust them at home with a few simple tools.
There are two types of disc brakes, with the differentiator being the caliper cable:
- Mechanical: A cable running through the caliper.
- Hydraulic: No cable through the caliper.
If you often hear a rubbing noise when riding your bike, the brake might be too tight and needs to be adjusted.
But, before you begin working on your disc brakes, be mindful of the rotor—it can be sharp and might cut you if your finger is in the wrong spot.
Adjusting Hydraulic and Mechanical Brakes
Step 1: Loosen the Bolts
If you hear a rubbing noise when riding your bike, you need to loosen the brake.
Do this by loosening the two hex bolts on the caliper using an Allen wrench. Twist the wrench half a turn counterclockwise to loosen it slightly—this should stop the rubbing noise.
Step 2: Squeeze the Brake Lever
Pressing the brake lever two to three times should help center the caliper over the rotor.
If you’re only adjusting one wheel, press the corresponding lever only—the left lever is for the front wheel, and the right lever is for the rear wheel.
Keep the pressure on the last squeeze and move onto the next step.
Step 3: Tighten the Bolts
While holding the pressure on the lever, place the Allen wrench on one of the hex bolts and turn it clockwise to tighten the caliper.
Repeat this on the other hex bolt.
Step 4: Test the Wheel
Give the wheels a quick spin to ensure the rubbing noise is gone. For this, both wheels should be entirely off the ground—a bike stand comes in handy here.
If the rubbing noise is gone, you’ve successfully adjusted the disc brakes.
However, if there’s still noise, move onto the last step below.
Optional Step 5: Align the Caliper Visually
If the above steps didn’t align the caliper directly over the rotor, this one should.
Loosen the bolts again, but this time, only with a quarter turn. Position yourself to look at the caliper from above to get a good view and move the caliper slightly to align it with the rotor.
Hold the corresponding lever while fine-tuning the caliper’s position. Once they’re aligned, tighten the hex bolts using a quarter turn.
Give the wheels another spin, and listen closely for any rubbing noise. If the noise persists, re-adjust the caliper’s position.
Adjusting Mechanical Disc Brakes Using the Adjustment Dial
Step 1: Loosen the Set Screw
Locate the small set screw on the caliper’s and loosen it using a Phillips head screwdriver—about one to two full turns counterclockwise.
If your bike doesn’t have a set screw, just skip this step.
Step 2: Twist the Adjustment Dial
Bikes with mechanical brakes will often have an adjustment dial. It looks like a 1-inch-wide plastic dial located on the side of the caliper.
Turn this wheel clockwise to move the pad closer to the rotor, or counterclockwise to move it away from the rotor.
If at this point, you realize your bike doesn’t have an adjustment dial, there should be a hex bolt on the caliper that will do the same when rotated.
Step 3: Center the Caliper
Keep rotating the dial until the caliper is aligned directly above the rotor—it might take some fiddling to line it perfectly over the rotor.
Give the wheel a spin every so often to visually inspect the pad to tell if it rubs on the disc brake.
The rotor might wobble slightly when the wheels spin, which is perfectly normal since the rotor isn’t entirely flat.
Step 4: Test the Brake
Give the corresponding brake lever a firm squeeze to inspect the pads. As the lever is engaged, both pads should tighten onto the rotor. Furthermore, the pads should be in contact with the rotor disc simultaneously.
If one brake pad touches the disc before the other, the caliper isn’t aligned correctly, and you should re-adjust.
If they both touch at the same time, move onto the next step.
Step 5: Tighten the Bolts
Once you’ve aligned the caliper and rotor, it’s time for the finishing touches.
Use an Allen wrench to tighten both hex bolts located on the side of the caliper.
Always check these bolts, even if you didn’t loosen them when adjusting the brakes, to ensure everything is tight and secure.
Use a screwdriver to tighten the set screw that you loosened in step one.
Once all bolts and screws are tightly in place, your bike is ready for the road.
Hitting the Brake
Knowing how to tighten bike brakes is convenient and money-saving.
Getting your brakes tightened by a professional can be quite expensive since most charge per hour and charge you extra for any replacement parts. So, give our steps a whirl first!
Remember to make small adjustments and check your brakes by pressing the lever or spinning the wheels.