How to Adjust Bike Brakes in 6 Steps

As you ride your bicycle over different trails and terrains, some of its parts start shifting from their normal position. Bike brakes are among the bicycle parts that may shift into a bad position due to vibrations.

When making adjustments to your bike brakes, the brake cables and brake pads are your major focus. Once the brakes begin to wear, they won’t be able to remain in their right position. The brake pads have a weaker grip on the bike’s rim.

It’s important to make necessary adjustments quickly before there’s a resulting accident. Learning how to adjust bike brakes isn’t a complex process.  

How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike

Knowing how to adjust bicycle brakes yourself pays well. Make sure you check the brakes frequently to know whether they need adjusting or not. Properly fitted brake cables and pads make biking safer.

1. First Test Them

Part of how to adjust brakes on a bicycle is testing them. To do this, stand your bicycle upright and engage the lever for the front brake. Push the bike forward while doing this.

As a result, the wheel behind the bike is raised off the ground while the lever doesn’t make contact with the handlebar. After this, engage the rear brake lever.

This time around, the wheel behind the bike is stiff and won’t rotate when the bicycle is pushed forward. If the bike doesn’t perform these actions, then some adjustment is needed. The adjustment may involve tightening a slack cable or bleeding trapped air from a hydraulic brake system.    

2. Inspect the Brake System

Take some time to visually observe your bike’s brake system. If certain things aren’t locked in position, the brakes would fail to work or start to squeak.

For instance, fast-release mechanisms are featured on V-brakes. This allows you to take the wheels off quickly when the need arises.

The fast-release mechanism includes a noodle that separates from the cradle and places the brake in a non-functioning state. This same concept applies to sidepull brakes. They also have a fast-release mechanism that disengages the brakes when open.   

As time goes by, the bike’s brake pads begin to wear. If the wearing becomes really bad, it significantly reduces the brake’s efficiency. If there’s barely any pad left on the brakes, you need to get some new pads.

3. Adjust the Cable Tension

If you have brakes with cables, you’ll need to adjust the cable’s tension. You can make this adjustment via the barrel adjuster or inline adjuster.

After locating this barrel adjuster, turn it in an anticlockwise direction. You may start with a complete turn at first and then half the next set of turns.

As you make these adjustments, try out the brake tests mentioned earlier. Repeat the process till you get the expected results. Some barrel adjusters have a lock nut that holds them firmly in place.

You’ll need to loosen the locknut before the barrel adjuster can be turned. As you learn how to adjust bike brakes, take into consideration whether your bike’s brakes operate with cable.

4. Reclamp the Cable

There are cases where the problem persists even after the barrel adjuster has been turned.

What you need to do in such a situation is to re-clamp the cable. With the barrel adjuster in its normal position, loosen the bolt that holds the cable and brake together.

The next step is to engage the brakes and let the brake plates grip the rim just a little. While keeping the brake engaged, re-clamp the cable.

Before you free the brakes, you need to draw extra lengths of the cable through the clamp till the cable is tightly-stretched. Now you can tighten the previously loosened bolt and release the brakes.   

After the cable has been re-clamped, check to see if it’s taut enough or if it’s a bit too slack. Any unwanted slack can be eliminated by turning the barrel adjuster.

However, if the cable gets too taut in the process of re-clamping it, you need to carry out the re-clamping process again. Apply just a little pressure when engaging the brakes.  

5. Center the Brakes

This method works well if you want to adjust bike brakes rubbing. In a situation where only one of the pads is rubbing, try centering the brakes.


The spring tension of these brakes can be adjusted via a little screw on the lower end of each brake arm. If the spring tension is increased, the brake pad moves further away from the rim.

This is done by an inward screwing action. Performing this action in the opposite manner will move the pad closer to the rim.

Sidepull Brakes

These ones feature an adjuster screw that’s positioned on the upper end of the caliper. You need to engage this adjuster screw so as to observe the movement of the brake arms.

Some sidepull brakes may not have an adjuster screw. In that case, loosen the bolt that keeps the brake and fork attached to each other. The next step is to adjust the brakes on your folding bicycle under $300 and tighten back the bolt.   

Disc Brakes

The methods on how to adjust bike disc brakes include making changes to Allen bolts.

Regardless of the disc brake being hydraulic or cable, a pair of Allen bolts keeps them anchored to the fork. To adjust the disc caliper, you need to loosen both Allen bolts. After that, engage the brakes.

Simultaneously tighten the caliper’s fork bolts with a matching Allen key. If you’re wondering how to adjust hydraulic disc brakes on a bike, this is the required process.

6. Adjust the Brake Pads

Adjusting your bike’s brake pads can help you get things back in shape.

If the pads of your V-brakes aren’t aligned with the braking area on the rim, there’ll be a problem. The same applies to sidepull brakes. In case the pads are displaced upwards, they could come in contact with the tire and cause frictional damage.

If the pads are displaced downwards, the pad could get pressed onto the rim in an unwanted manner. Pad adjustment is done by loosening the pad bolt, re-aligning the pads, and then tightening the bolt back in place.  

The closest pad to the rim for cable disc brakes isn’t usually free to move about. However, it can still be adjusted to a better and more efficient position.

Get your hands on a matching Allen key, fit it in, and do an anticlockwise or clockwise turn. The direction turned is based on whether you want the pad to move closer or further away from the rotor. 


Bike brakes should never be left unchecked, regardless of how excellent their function could be presently.

This is because the pads start to wear after a while, and the brake cable may shift out of position. Once there’s a shift in certain parts of the brake system, you’ll need to carry out some re-alignments.

Depending on whether your bike uses a V-brake, sidepull brake, or disc brakes, the adjustment process may vary. This is because each of these brakes has its own unique design. To make certain bolt turns, make sure you have a matching Allen key.

Please drop a comment below if you have any question about this topic!

Shailen Vandeyar

A proud Indian origin Kiwi who loves to plant trees and play with my pet bunny when not out cycling through the best routes, reviewing the latest gear, and sharing tips on everything biking.

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