How to Adjust Bike Brakes From Rubbing

Few people look forward to fixing their bikes after the realization that something is going on. One of the most unpleasant sensations that can ruin an otherwise enjoyable ride is the dreadful feeling of sporadic jolting slowing you down.

There are a few possibilities as to what could be going on, but if no other information is given you can reasonably assume that your brake pads are to blame. Not only is it frustrating when your ride seems to fight you more than it accommodates you, but faulty brakes are also the epitome of an accident waiting to happen.

So, whether you're a thrill-seeker who never intends to stop or a reasonably concerned cyclist, you probably have some gripes with your brakes when they act up. Understandably. you'd like to know how to adjust bike brakes rubbing.

Fortunately, there is hope for those plagued by this common issue. The process is more straightforward than you might think, and with a basic set of tools and a little bit of patience, you should be able to fix this problem without pulling your hair out.

Chances are, you already know how to adjust bike brakes rubbing if you know how to adjust your seat and reposition your derailleur - it's simply a matter of some component of your bike moving out of place after repeated usage. So why does this happen and what can you do?

 

Common Causes of Brakes Rubbing

The unavoidable truth is that your bike takes a beating every time you ride it. Of course, any competent manufacturer will strive to make a bike as resilient to daily wear-and-tear as possible with a given price point, but even the most expensive carbon fiber racing bikes aren't immune to the wrath of the equation: physics + time.

Certainly, carelessness and riding rough roads can exacerbate the rate at which deterioration happens, and preventative measures like proper storage and regular tune-ups can hinder it; but the most important factor is arguably how often you ride.

Repeatedly activating the brake cables, hitting bumps, and shifting weight distribution all factor into the process of causing screws and spokes to gradually come loose. The result? Anything from a loose brake caliper screw to out-of-whack spokes desperately in need of truing. The former issue can be resolved within seconds by anyone who has an Allen wrench, while the latter requires more intermediate maintenance skills and the help of a truing stand which you may or may not have at your disposal.

 

Troubleshooting

Before you waste time and willpower trying to adjust bike brakes, you'll want to make sure you accurately identify the culprit. In some cases, the brake system and brake pads are absolutely fine, but your wheel is misaligned. If the latter turns out to be the case, then the next course of action would be either taking your bike to a mechanic or truing the wheel yourself rather than adjusting the brakes. It may also be as simple as having debris caught up in your brakes.

How do you know that the brake adjustment will fix the problem?

Place your bike upright and take a look. If it's a V-brake, you'll want to assess where the brake pad sits in relation to the wheel rim - the bottom and top of the pad should be flush with the rim. Then, you'll want to slowly turn your wheel while keeping an eye on the space between the pad and rim. If one side is making consistent contact, then you've identified the issue and may proceed with the steps below. If you notice that space tends to shift as you turn and makes occasional contact, you're dealing with an inappropriately warped wheel and should focus on truing rather than fixing the brake system.

Disc brakes, on the other hand, are a tad bit trickier. The premise is the same but adjusting a disc brake caliper generally requires turning more screws and some additional trial and error. If your bike features disc brakes, prop it upright as usual but look at the rotor instead of the rim of the wheel for contact. Again, consistent contact is generally resolvable with a screwdriver and/or Allen wrench, while inconsistent contact generally means something is warped - in the case of disc brakes, that could either be the wheel or the rotor.

So, you've confirmed that your brakes need adjustment. What do you do?

 

Gather the Tools You'll Need

Brake adjustment is surprisingly minimal in terms of tool requirements. You will need:

  • 3, 4, or 5mm Allen wrench (depending on bike)
  • Torque wrench + 3, 4, or 5mm Allen bit
  • Bike tire lever
  • Bike stand (optional)

Yep. In the majority of cases, this is all you need. If you don't have a bike stand, you can always flip the bike upside down and stand it on its seat and handlebars.

 

Begin the Process

V-Brakes

  1. Place your bike on a work stand or position upright so that your wheels may spin freely.
  2. While keeping an eye on the brake arm, squeeze the brake lever. Ensure that the arm responds upon pressing while springing back upon release. You are likely to notice that at least one side is largely stationary when you pull and release the lever. Check this side.
  3. Inspect the brake pad and make sure it is not worn down (you should see any metal, if you do then they need to be replaced).
  4. Confirm that the brake pads are vertically in line with the rim. If you notice that the brake pad is making contact with either the tire the space beneath the rim, grab your Allen wrench and loosen the bolt holding it in place by turning it counterclockwise. Move it up or down so that sits perfectly with the rim and tighten the bolt.
  5. Once again, squeeze the brake lever. If it whacks the handlebar, your brakes are loose. Turn the barrel adjuster counterclockwise until the brake lever is no longer loose. No luck? See the next step.
  6. Unscrew the caliper bolt. You should then be able to reposition the arm in relation to the cable. Adjust it to leave a small amount of space between each brake pad and the rim. Tighten the bolt and give the wheel a spin. The rubbing should be gone.
  7. Make sure that the wheel stops when you apply an appropriate amount of pressure to the brake lever. If it doesn't simply jump back to the previous step and move the pads a little bit closer.
  8. Go ride!

    What About Mechanical Disc Brakes?

    The general mechanics of disc brakes are the same, except the brake arm touches a rotor to stop the bike rather than the wheel rim.

    • If you have a bike with disc brakes, consider these points: If the rotor is bouncing back and forth between the brake pads, this means that your rotor needs truing - adjusting the brakes will not fix this.
    • Most disc brake calipers have a single arm with one moving brake pad (usually the outer one), while others have two moving pads that close in on the rotor. Based on your system, there may one or more caliper adjusters.
    • To align the brake pads, completely tighten them so that they make contact with the rotor on both sides. Then loosen by one-quarter to one-half of a turn, so that wheel spins freely and quietly.

     

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How do I know when my brake pads need changing?

    Eventually, brake pads are beyond usable, and adjusting them simply won't ensure a safe or pleasant ride - this is the inevitability of mileage. In many cases, you can simply feel that they need changes when you need to pull as far back on the lever as it will go before you start to slow down. A quick visual inspection will tell you that, if you can no longer see a pattern on the face of the brake pad, it's about time for a change.

     

    What about electric bikes?

    One of the great things about an electric bike is surprisingly low added maintenance as today's motors don't usually interfere with other components. Electric bikes generally have the same mechanical set-up as conventional bicycles, so in most cases adjusting bike brakes is just as straightforward. Just make sure that you fix the issue as soon as you hear anything, as it's easier to wear down the pad with a motor than it is with your legs since you might not feel it.

     

    Why do you need to replace brake pads in pairs?

    In most cases, both brake pads are getting the same amount of wear over time. When one goes bad, it typically means that the other is probably not far behind it. By replacing pads in pairs, you ensure that you have two pads of even thickness so that you can properly align them. Also, a fresh set of brake pads means that you have more time to enjoy a safe and smooth riding experience before you need to make yet another purchase.

     

    Getting Back on the Road!

    It's such a relief to say goodbye to that annoying sound and cumbersome drag. You've got a while until you encounter this issue again if you take a preventative approach, and when it does happen again you are equipped to handle it.

    Consider getting more frequent tune-ups for your bike, either by enlisting a professional or investing in the education and equipment to do these sorts of things yourself.

    Making frequent adjustments to your brake system before it gets to the point of rubbing can allow you to significantly extend the lifespan of your brake pads, and overall TLC can significantly extend the lifespan of all your bike's components.

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