How To Tighten Brakes On Bike

Bicycles are an essential part of your brake, and their proper functioning should be of utmost priority. Overtime, bicycle brakes can become less effective due to cable stretch and wearing off of the brake pads. Both disc and cable brakes require due maintenance and care if you must increase their lifespan and effectiveness.

Adjusting and tightening brakes is also very important. There are mainly two parts of a bike’s brake that need tightening.

The two components that make up the brake system are the brake pad and brake cable. When the brake pad is worn out, it can affect your safety. The same way, when the brake cable is too loose, it makes it harder to brake.

How to Tightening Your Brake Pad

Before tightening your brakes, ensure to check the brake pads first. The brake pads are the pads that clamp down on the front tire of your bike when you pull the brake lever. If the brake pads are worn down below the wear line, you need to replace them. 

In the meanwhile, follow the steps to tighten your brake pad. 

1. Squeeze the brake lever to locate where the pads hit the rim: Normally, the brake pads should contact the rims at the same time. They should meet the center of the rim leaving the same space above and below the pads. When the contact is too high or low, it could affect the tire or spoke of your bike.

Crouch down to get a good look at the brake pads as you’re squeezing the brake lever.

2. Loosen the bolt: Using an allen wrench, turn the bolt counter clockwise to remove it. Be careful not to lose it all the way down, else the bolt will come out of the brake holder.

3. Move the brake pads up or down in the brake pad holder: Now is the time to move the brake up and down in the brake pad holder. It should easily move up and down or loose. 

If the pads are too low on the rim, move them up until they are centered. If they are too low on the rim, move them down until they are centered.

4. Re-tighten the brake pad bolts: Using the allen wrench, turn the bolts again clockwise until they are fully tightened. As you turn, check to ensure the brake pads are centered. Adjust till it hits the right position.  

How to Tighten your Brake Caliper

1. Check the tightness level: First, check the tightness of your brake lever. If the lever hits the handle bar when you pull them, it means the cables are too loose and need tightening.

The brake lever should be about 3.8 cm (1 ½ ) away from the grip of the handlebar.

2. Loosen The Barrel Adjuster: You will find the barriar adjuster in the intersection between the lever and brake cable. Slowly turn the barrier adjuster clockwise to loosen it. This automatically tightens the brake cable.

Loosening the barrier adjuster is a quick go if you want to tighten your brake. But, if  it doesn’t work, here is another way to go about it. 

Check the state of the brake cable by pressing the lever. Take note of how close it gets to the handlebar.

3. Adjust The Caliper Part of the Brakes

Caliper is the part of the brake where the pads are attached. Check their state and find out the bolt that holds the caliper and the brake pad together. Use a wrench to turn the bolt anti-clockwise to loosen it.

Take caution while doing it as you wouldn’t want to overdo it and unscrew the bold in the process. Just two or three rotations will do the magic.

4. Pull The Brake Cable

At this point, you should have successfully loosened the bolt and the caliper. Now is the time to pull the brake cable upwards. It should move easily. 

After pulling out the brake cable, hold it tightly in one place and you will notice the front brake pad tighten on the rim. That’s because the cable is getting tighter too. Ensure  the pads are tight till there is some resistance when you turn the tire, but don’t overdo it.

Over-tightening the pads will result in stiffening, which can lead to more problems. Just keep adjusting it until it gets to the perfect spot.

5. Tighten The Caliper Bolt Again 

If you have been following the above steps correctly, you must have successfully tightened the brake cable. What next is to tighten the calipers bolt again.

Turn the bolt clockwise before, now you turn it clockwise two to three times. Turn it till you’ve exhausted all the bold thread lines. At this point, the bolt is successfully tightened.

6. Tighten The Barrel Adjuster Again

Re-tighten the barrel adjuster by turning it clockwise. At this point, you will notice that the brake pads have  slightly, meaning they are good for use.

The brake cable is set when the barrel adjuster is completely tightened. To test the brake cable tightness, press the lever.

How to Tighten Disc Brake

1. Turn your brake upside down on a flat surface: Spinning the brake rotor is one of the processes to tighten your disc brake. To do that, stand the brake upside down, letting it rest on the handle and saddle.

Alternatively, you can ask a friend to lift your bicycle while you spin the wheels.

2. Check rotor alignment: The rotor sits in a gap in the brake caliper between the two pads. If the rotor is not accurately placed on both sides, the caliper needs adjusting.

Looking at it, it may seem like nothing is wrong. But there are cases where it has led the wheel to be bent or damaged. This is why it’s important to spin the wheel.

The rotor moves with the wheel, and wobbles from side to side when the wheel rotates. In most cases, you just need to get a new rotor.

3. Loosen your disk brake bolts: If the rotor seems closer to one brake pad than the other, you have to align the caliper. To do that, loosen the bolts at the top and bottom of the caliper.

Ensure not to loosen it all the way. Just make sure they are slack enough in their fittings to move slightly without falling off.

4. Squeeze the brake and tighten the bolts: Now, spin the wheel and tighten then tightly pull the brake lever. If rightly done, the brake caliper will grip against the rotor. Thus, bringing both pads in alignment with each other. Still holding the brake, tighten the bolts again.

5. Release the brake lever and test: Once you let go of the brake lever, it should sit in the middle of the two brake pads inside the caliper. 

You should be able to see it, but test this by spinning the wheel to ensure there’s no lateral movement and the caliper stays in place.

If they’re not equally spaced, make smaller adjustments by loosening one bolt at a time and repositioning the caliper until they are.

Brake Tips

  • If the wear lines on your brake pads aren’t labeled, they should be marked by grooves on the side of the pads instead.
  • Ensure your wheel lines up correctly in the dropouts as well, or else it won’t make good contact with your brake.
  • If you want a good look at your brake pads, crush down when squeezing the brake pad lever.
  • If your bike has a quick-release mechanism, ensure it isn’t loose or hasn’t come undone. Otherwise, your brakes won’t squeeze tightly on the wheel.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]

What tool is needed to tighten bike brakes?

The only tool that you would be needing is an Allen wrench, you will need it to adjust the brake’s components.

Are brakes supposed to feel tight?

Under normal conditions, your brakes should be firm throughout your travel. The harder you press, the firmer it should become.

How long does it take to tighten brakes?

Fixing your brakes and your rotors takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

Why are my brakes too loose?

The most common reason for loose brakes is wear and tear of either the brake pads or other braking components.

How do I make my bike brakes more responsive?

There are several techniques that you can use to make your bike brakes more responsive. Try resetting the barrel adjuster, or adjusting the brake arm springs.

Wrap Up!

Having an understanding of how to tighten your brake will not just enhance your safety, but also that of your bike.

If you follow every step we have stated above, you will discover the process is both easy and straightforward. However, if you find it difficult, get a professional to tighten it for you.

John D. Archer