How to Adjust Bike Brakes

Securing The Stop

Brakes are important features of our bikes because they stop us from hurting ourselves. When it comes to these little friends that slow your tires when danger is in the way, well, sometimes they need a little bit of attention.

If you find that the levers for your brakes are moving too close to the handlebars or the tension seems loose, it may be time for an adjustment. There's no need to hit up the local bike shop if you have enough room and a few tools.

When figuring out how to adjust bike brakes, the first thing is to figure out what type of bike brake you have. Let's go over each type briefly.

Types of Bicycle Brakes

1. Caliper Brakes

This type of brake is the most widely used and found primarily on children's and road bikes. They fasten to the frame above the tire and squeeze on the wheel rim to stop the bike (hence the term "rim brake").

bicycle brake, bike brake, caliper brake
bicycle Cantilever Brake, bike brake, brakes

2. Cantilever Brakes

More powerful than our last type, cantilever brakes are typically used for bikes created for cyclocross racing, which takes a road bike through light off-road terrain. A cantilever brake requires a special fork for road bike brakes since it helps them mount onto the bike. These brakes also apply pressure to the wheel rim, so they’re also a rim brake.

3. V Brakes

Also known as direct or linear-pull brakes, a V brake is exceptionally powerful. Mostly used on mountain and off-road bikes, this brake style works wonderfully when it's wet or muddy. They weigh more than the other types, and they fall into the same category of "rim brakes."

4. Disc Brakes

Our last type comes as either a hydraulic and mechanical disc brake system. Instead of stopping the rim, disc brakes apply pressure to the "rotor." A disc brake can handle the elements better than any other brakes. To put these brakes on, you must have a bike with a compatible hub.

What You Need

Now that we have discussed the different types of brakes, if you don't know what kind you have take a look and compare it to our descriptions. Once you figure out what type of brakes your bike has you can follow along with the instructions. We've broken it down by brake type to make it easier for you to follow along. Remember, removing bike brakes is another thing entirely, and requires more extensive work. Make sure you get the type/model correct before getting into any extensive repairs.

As for what you need, here is a general list. The exceptions are listed. No matter what type of brakes you have on your bike, you will need the following.

For all brake types:

  • A set of Allen wrenches that include 3mm, 4mm, and 5mm wrenches
  • The owners manual for your bike

For caliper brakes you also need:

  • Two 10 mm socket wrenches
  • A Phillips Head screwdriver

For cantilever brakes you also need:

  • Zip tie

How To Adjust Your Bicycle Brakes

Before making any adjustments, make sure you have the right wrench. Your manual may recommend something different than what our list, so go with what the manual suggests.

Caliper Brakes

Directions for both brake pads

  • Make sure your wheel is fully in the drop out by opening and closing the quick release.
  • Take a 5mm Allen wrench and tighten the bolt that fastens the brake to the fork (frame) of the bike. You don't want to make it too tight. Just tight enough so it won't fall off.
  • Take a 4mm Allen wrench and start with the left extension.
  • Loosen the mounting screw and set the bottom edge of the brake pad to the bottom edge of the rim as close as possible. The idea is to not let the brake pad ride up and hit the tire in use. 
  • Also, be sure the brake pad is centered on the rim. You don't want one side to be higher or lower than the other. It should be centered and flat along the rim.

  • When in place, tighten the mounting screw.
  • Do the same thing to the right pad, but place it as high on the rim as you can without hitting the tire.
  • Apply your brakes to see how they are working.
  • Repeat steps for any adjustments.

If one brake pad is farther from the rim than the other

There should be an adjustment screw on the caliper, which moves the caliper and the pads' position.

  • Take a Phillips head screwdriver and loosen or tighten the screw. You should see the pads move around and by watching, adjust that screw until they are evenly placed by the rim.
  • Spin the tire and make sure neither pad is rubbing against the tire.
  • Some types of caliper brakes require adjustment to the mounting bolts to move the caliper. For this, you need two 10mm socket wrenches.
  • Place one socket wrench on the mounting nut on the brake back and the other on the bolt on the front of your frame.
  • Rotate them at the same time to get the pads at an equal distance from the rim.
  • Once again, test your brakes.
  • Repeat for personal adjustments.

Cantilever Brakes

  • Make sure your wheel is fully in the drop out by opening and closing the quick release.
  • Release the cable from the brake pad so you can adjust them.
  • Wrap a zip tie around the back of the right brake pad. This creates a toe-in, which can help if you have squealing when applying your brakes.
  • Attach the cable and start to align the right brake pad.
  • Take a 5mm Allen wrench, release the lock nut, and push the pad up against the rim of the tire. Get it as high as you can. Make sure the pad is balanced on either side and flat against the rim.
  • Make the same adjustment to the left brake pad.
  • Release the cable.
  • Remove the zip tie.
  • Attach the cable.
  • Test the brake handle to make sure each brake pad is moving (but not resting the rim).

If one arm is moving faster than the other

  • Get a 3mm Allen wrench
  • Find the little screw at the bottom of the pad that adjusts the spring tension on that arm. 
  • Test the brakes again and adjust until the arms are moving at the same speed and time.

V Brakes

These brakes are simpler to adjust. Follow these steps:

  • Adjust the barrel outward by twisting the small knob on the opposite side of the handle that attaches the cable.
  • The further you move it out, the more resistance you will get when squeezing the handle.
  • This could be all you need, but if the barrel is almost out and the handle lever is still loose, then you need to move on to the actual brakes.
  • Take a number 5 Allen wrench and loosen the cable that attaches both brakes to the rim. Once the bolt is loosened, the cable should slide easily.
  • Use your hand to pinch your brake levers together, hold the cable so the levers are tight, and tighten the bolt with the number 5 Allen wrench. When you spin your tire at this point, the brake levers should be rubbing against the tires tightly.
  • Go back to the barrel adjustment and back it all the way in by twisting it in the opposite direction.
  • Spin the wheel and test the handle.

Disc Brakes

disc bike brake, bicycle brake

You only need a few Allen wrenches for this adjustment. 

It is normal to hear some rubbing when these types of brakes are new. If the sound disappears, that means the brake pads are wearing into the rotors.

  • To adjust them loosen the anchor bolt with the appropriate Allen wrench. This bolt can be found at the front of your brake and is attached to a cable.
  • Grasp the cable.
  • Move the arm up the cable.
  • Retighten the anchor bolt.

  • Next, check the clearance of the brake pads.
    • This is done by looking down the length of the rotor through the pads. This can be difficult to distinguish, but simply putting a sheet of white paper behind the rotor will add definition so you can see the separation.

To adjust the inner pad tolerance, follow these steps:

You want to gain the tightest tolerance possible. To do this, you need to adjust the inner brake pad by twisting the pad adjuster bolt (which is found on the caliper located at the inner portion of the tire). Your owner's manual should help you find these parts.

  • Twist the pad adjustment bolt clockwise.
  • Spin the wheel.
  • If you hear rubbing on the disc rotor, back it off by turning the pad adjustment bolt back a bit.
  • Squeeze the brake lever.
  • If the noise hasn't stopped, adjust the bolt back again, squeeze the lever, and spin.
  • Repeat until the noise has stopped.

Adjusting the outer pad tolerance:

  • Loosen the same anchor bolt that is attached to the cable.
  • Move the brake arm until you hear a little rubbing.
  • Tighten the anchor bolt.
  • Squeeze your brake lever.
  • If your pads are still making noise, loosen the anchor bolt, move the arm slightly down the cable and tighten it again.
  • These steps work for the front and rear brakes.


A working bicycle brake is important for our safety when riding. Knowing how to adjust your own brakes without relying on a shop is self-reliant and easy on the wallet. If you liked this post, please let us know in the comments section or share this article with your friends and fellow bikers.

While you’re at it, you might as well work on cleaning the bike chain! It’s a pretty easy process and only requires a few simple steps.

Is your ride wobbling? Check the rim tires and see if you can adjust them.