How To Tighten Bike Brakes

The brakes on your bicycle are one of its most important factors. Without properly functioning brakes, your bike is not safe to ride because you will not be able to slow down or stop as effectively as you might need to. Especially if you’re going at breakneck speed on a hybrid bike during a downhill slope.

How To Check Your Brakes For Tightness

brakesBefore adjusting your brakes, you first want to check and see if they even need to be tightened. Ideally, there should be at least one inch of space between your handlebar and your brake lever when the break is activated. An easy way to test this is to see if you can easily fit two fingers in this space while squeezing the break lever.
If you cannot fit two fingers in this space, you will need to tighten your breaks.

Anatomy Of Disc Brakes

Caliper BrakesIn order to tighten your brakes, you will need to know some basic parts of your bike.

Brake Lever: The brake levers are found on the flat handlebars of bikes such as hybrid bikes and mountain bikes. They are the thin metal devices that activate the brakes when squeezed.

Barrel Adjusters:  The barrel adjusters can either be found on the inner side of the brake lever or, on road bikes, on the brakes. It will look like a small metal or plastic device that can be twisted.

Lockring: The lockring is the small notched ring that closes the barrel adjusters.

Caliper: The caliper arms are the brakes themselves. They are metal and crescent-shaped. Found on either side of the front wheel, their cables connect to the brake levers.

Brake Pad: The brake pads are usually small black pieces of rubber that are attached to the calipers. They are essential to stopping your bike without causing any damage.

Tightening Your Brakes With The Barrel Adjusters

Barrel AdjusterNow that you’ve determined your brakes need tightening, you want to first try tightening the barrel adjusters. This way you can tighten your brakes without any tools.

This method of tightening is especially useful because of how convenient it is. You can tighten the barrel adjusters while riding if you feel like your brakes are just a little too weak.

To tighten the brakes using the barrel adjusters on flat handlebar bikes, turn them counter-clockwise. As you do this, squeeze the break levers to check and see how they’re doing. On road bikes, you want to turn in whichever direction brings the rims and pads together.

If they reach a satisfactory level of pressure and you can now fit two fingers between the handlebar and lever, you can stop with this step.

To close and lock the barrel adjuster, turn the lockring clockwise until it becomes tight. If the brakes are not yet tight enough, leave the lockring open.

Tightening Caliper Arms

You will need an Allen key to tighten your caliper arms.

Before adjusting the caliper, check on your brake pads. Worn down brake pads will also result in a less efficient braking system, and they will need to be replaced. They should still be at least 1/4 of an inch thick.

If your brake pads are still intact, you can get started on adjusting the caliper arms.

  1. Ensure that the barrel adjuster is still open.
  2. Using the Allen key, loosen the caliber arms enough to allow the brake pads to rest on the rims of the front wheel while pulling the brake cable.
  3. Turn the Allen key clockwise to tighten the cable. You can check the brake levers while doing this to assess for tightness.
  4. Tighten the barrel adjuster. The brakes should now have enough tension so that: 1) the brake pads just barely touch the wheel and 2) you can fit two fingers between the brake levers and handlebar.

Confused about the process? The video below contains a helpful demonstration.

Different Types Of Brakes

If you didn’t find this tutorial helpful, it could be that your bike has a different type of brakes. Instead of disc brakes, some bikes have rim brakes or coaster brakes. For more information about the different types of brakes, check out this helpful resource.

More Help With Brakes

You tried tightening your breaks and they’re still not functioning properly? It could mean there’s something else wrong with your brakes, such as worn down brake pads. Check out this article for other tips and tricks for bike brake servicing.

Are your brakes busted beyond repair? Or maybe you need something else for your bike? Rei.com have components that you might find useful. You can also read about the most essential parts of a bike in an article where we review the 12 best hybrid bikes on the market today (scroll towards the end of the article to find the section entitled “Essential Hybrid Bike Features”.

4 Comments

  1. Jay
  2. Eugeneemord
  3. Johnd388

Leave a Reply