How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike: Keep Your Stops Smooth!

Adjusting brakes on a bike is not as difficult as it's usually projected. Read on to learn how to do so today.
John Watson
John Watson
John is an experienced cycling enthusiast and a great asset when it comes to writing skills. He's a Bachelor of Arts and a talented journalist. John is in charge of our blog read more
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Jessica Kingston
Jessica Kingston
Expert Consultant
Jessica is our expert consultant on all things connected to biking - gear, technique, you name it. Being a pro cyclist in the past, she knows exactly how things work in and read more
Last updated: January 01, 2023
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knowing how to adjust the brakes on a bike is essential for all cyclists. Maybe you’re a professional cyclist, or you ride a bike for the pleasure it gives, but you cannot escape the need to attend to this mechanical demand.

If you want to maintain your brakes or clean them, you’ll need the knowledge of brake adjustment too. More so, if you’re experiencing rubbing, pulling, squeaking, or there’s a need for replacement, you’ll find this know-how very needful.

To cycle safely and ensure that you’re not prone to injuries and accidents, you need to ensure that your brakes are in good shape. Thankfully, brake adjustment can be quite an easy process.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about adjusting and maintaining the brakes on your bike.

Understanding Bicycle Brake Systems

How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike: Keep Your Stops Smooth!

The V-brake, disc brake, and caliper brake are the three primary brake systems on a bike. If you buy a bike today, your bike will have one of these brake systems. All these brake systems have their uniqueness.

Caliper brakes are recognized to be more common with road bikes. This system requires a cable to be activated. If you purchase one of the best road bikes on the market, you’ll have a fine experience with this brake system.

The V-brake system shares close similarities with caliper brakes. These two are activated with a cable. Nevertheless, this system is more common with mountain bikes, especially the kinds that feature a suspension system. You may take a look at the list of our best full-suspension mountain bikes for under $2000 to catch a better view of this brake system.

When you look at motorcycles and  modern cars Trusted Source Research of New Cars Quality - IOPscience , you’ll find brakes are disc brakes. You can also find them on off-road, touring, and hybrid bikes. Disc brakes can stop a bike or slow it down by squeezing the metal disc with its caliper and rotor.

Brake Adjustment Tools

If you are adjusting the brakes on your bike, you need to be aware of the tools you’ll need for this activity. Allen keys, an adjustable wrench, a ring spanner, and a pair of pliers are essential hand tools to handle this project.

Based on the fastener  specifications of your bike Trusted Source Bicycle weight and commuting time: randomised trial | The BMJ , there’s a possibility that you’ll need some more tools. For some bikes, certain threaded components may be difficult to deal with and demand anti-seize grease.

Step-by-step Guide to Adjust Caliper Brake Pads on Bikes

If you have a road bike, you’ll likely have a caliper brake system. Without breaking more sweat, you can follow these simple steps to adjust the brake pads.

Step 1. Check the brake pads

How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike: Keep Your Stops Smooth!

Before you proceed to adjust your bike brakes, it’s crucial that you assess the brake pads. Check out the tips of the calipers and keenly observe the attached rubber pads.

You’ll need to make replacements immediately if you notice a smooth surface on the brake pads. Note that the rim needs to be gripped by the groves on the surface. If it’s not, it’s risky to keep biking with it like that.

Step 2. Look at the grip on the rim of the brake pads.

You need to look for possible bike front brake rubbing by turning the front wheel after you’ve propped your bike on a stand. Note that the pads aren’t in the center position if you’re yet to apply the brakes, and some of the pads are rubbing against the rim.

As you turn the front wheel, apply the brakes. Note the exact place where the friction is occurring with the rim and the pads. It’s expected that they would be gripped to the bike’s rim center.

Confirm if the brake is rubbing by checking the interaction between a pad, the rim, and the other pad.

Step 3. Center the brake pads

If you eventually discover that there’s rubbing going on, you need to turn the wrench to the left and unfasten the bolt that’s holding the caliper to the brake pads. Have the brake pads adjusted and ensure they’re centered.

Step 4. Check the bike brake cables.

In some cases, a bike’s brake might not be fixed by the adjustment made on the brake pads. As a result of this, assessing the brake cables becomes relevant too. A straightforward process is to test the tightness of the brake cable.

You may need to adjust the cable tension if the handle grip is almost touching the brake lever. However, there’s no brake cable tension to worry about if the top surface of the bike handle grip and the lower edge of the bike handle has at least 1.5 inches of space between them.

Step 5. Adjust the brake cables

How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike: Keep Your Stops Smooth!

If you observe that the brake cable feels too tight or too loose, you’ll need to adjust. You can decrease the tension of the brake cable by turning the barrel adjuster to the left. On the flip side, you can increase the tension by doing otherwise.

Step 6. Check the brake calipers.

Whenever you squeeze the brake lever, there should be a simultaneous movement with the brake calipers. You’ll need to reposition the caliper if it’s just one caliper moving toward the rim.

Step 7. Adjust the calipers

To adjust the calipers, you’ll need a suitable turning tool like the Allen wrench. You can use this to loosen the caliper bolt. Wiggle the bolt in its place, don’t remove the bolt. Removing the bolt will make it difficult for you to achieve the appropriate cable tension easily.

Step 8. Test the bike brake system.

You’ve made a couple of adjustments to your bike’s brake. To seal everything, you need to test the brake system. To properly observe the caliper action, the cable, and the brake pad on the brake calipers, you may need a helping hand.

Stay at the front of the brake calipers and see for yourself while the other person spins the pedal and tests the brakes. In the process, you may discover that you need some lubrication to perfect everything. A lubricant like the Permatex 20353 Ultra Disc Brake Caliper Lube will come in handy.

Step-by-step Guide to Adjust Disc Brake Pads on Bikes

Adjusting a caliper brake system is slightly different from that of bikes with disc brakes. If you need to make any adjustment to the disc brake bike system, here are simple steps you can follow;

Step 1. Assess the wheel.

Keep your bike upright by using the stand. You need to confirm if the wheel is properly aligned. It’s best advised that you do this with an assistant so that you can be more attentive to the placement.

Step 2. Have the quick-release skewer repositioned. 

You’ll need to have the quick-release skewer repositioned if you observe that the wheel is not perfectly aligned with the dropouts. If you’re experiencing brake rubbing, this process can take care of it.

Step 3. Loosen and adjust the disc brake calipers.

How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike: Keep Your Stops Smooth!

Calipers can also be found on bikes that feature a disc brake system. Check out the dedicated disc brake adaptor, the frame post, or the bike’s fork, and you’ll find them. Finding the location of the calipers can be a bit challenging. You may need to refer to the manual of your bike. Once you’ve been able to locate it, turn the bolt on it to the left to loosen it. Make sure you don’t remove it completely.

Step 4: Proceed to Adjust  

Wriggle the caliper as you press on the brake lever. More so, ensure that you squeeze the lever firmly as you adjust the bolt of the caliper. Achieving the perfect caliper position may not come instantly. But you’ll surely get there in a couple of attempts.

You may also need a lubricant like the AGS SIL-Glyde Silicone Disc Brake Lubricant, specially made for disc brakes to make things easier.

Step-by-step Guide to Adjust V-brake Pads on Bikes 

V-brakes are known to be more common with mountain bikes. You may be riding one of the best mountain bikes under $600 or a more expensive model; more important is knowing the appropriate steps to keep the brakes in perfect condition. Here are the steps to follow to adjust the brakes;

Step 1: Check and adjust 

The first thing you need to observe is how well your wheel is spinning. You should also confirm that it’s centered. After that, you may need to adjust the cable tension.

Step 2: Keep it optimal 

Ensure optimum braking by keeping the rim roughly distanced from the brake pads. You can achieve this as you slowly reduce the pressure of your hands on the arms of the brake. Check if the brake lever travel is exactly how you want it to be. Just squeeze the lever. You may need to fasten the bolt again after you’ve secured the brake cable.

Step 3: Adjust pads placement 

How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike: Keep Your Stops Smooth!

You can proceed to adjust your pad placement after you’ve put the cable tension in the appropriate shape. Make sure the pad isn’t rubbing on the tire. It shouldn’t also be too low. If you’re having persistent rubbing difficulties with one side, you may need to check the little screws on your brakes.

These screws control the tension of the metal spring that runs behind the brake arms. You can ensure even contact and prevent the pads from rubbing on the rim by modifying and balancing the tension on the springs.


Here are some frequently asked questions about brake adjustments on a bike.

1. How do I know if my bike’s brakes are not working correctly? 

There are a couple of signs that can indicate something is wrong with your bicycle’s brakes. Firstly, you may notice that the brake arms aren’t moving equally.

Secondly, if the handlebar grips are touching the brake levers, know something isn’t right.

Thirdly, you should be concerned if there’s too much closeness between the rim and the brake pads.

2. When should I start working on my brakes when I notice the sign?

You should start working on your brakes immediately if you notice anything unusual. However, make sure that you consider the brands, models, and the kind of brake you have before proceeding to adjust the brakes.

3. Why do my brakes keep rubbing? 

Poor alignment is likely to be why your brakes won’t stop rubbing. You need to have the caliper alignment adjusted so that the brake pads won’t wear out prematurely.

Final Thoughts

It’s not a new thing to experience a bike brake system failure. But what makes this very dangerous is the likelihood of causing serious harm. In the most extreme situation, it may even lead to death.

Know that different bikes come with unique brake systems, and these common brake systems have already been broadly discussed. If you have a bike, ensure that you’re aware of the brake system it features.

More so, be aware of the likely brake errors that might occur. Ideally, knowing how to adjust the brakes on a bike will make you feel safer. And you can enjoy all of the  benefits of cycling Trusted Source Cycling - health benefits - Better Health Channel without having to worry too much.


Research of New Cars Quality - IOPscience
Bicycle weight and commuting time: randomised trial | The BMJ
Cycling - health benefits - Better Health Channel
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