Find Out How to Adjust Bike Brakes

As you start your mountain vacation, you walk into a bike rental shop to get a bike for the duration of your stay. After identifying the best fit, the next step is adjusting bike brakes. This is a very important tuning operation, because properly working bikes ensure your safety when you go up and downhill and when you speed on the road. How to adjust bike brakes is, thus, one of the most important things you need to learn as a cyclist.

So, we invite you to keep reading in order to learn the full process of adjusting bike brakes:

  • How to loosen bike brakes
  • How to tighten brakes on bikes
  • How to adjust disc brakes on a bike.

Step-by-Step Guide to Adjusting Bike Brakes

Bike brakes are not an overly complicated mechanism. They are located on the front wheel and rely on a hydraulic mechanism to stop it from moving. Adjusting bike brakes is something everyone can learn easily and does not require specialized tools. In fact, the only tool you need for the entire adjustment task is an Allen wrench.

So, without further introductions, let us show you how to adjust bicycle brakes.

Step 1: Check the Brake Pads

Before adjusting bike brakes, you must check that the brake pads are in good condition and properly positioned. These are the parts that clamp down on the front tire and make it stop. Over time, they will become worn out. 

To help you assess their condition, brake pad producers add wear lines on their products. Thus, if the wear and tear is past the wear line, then the pads are too damaged to use. If this is the case, you need to replace them before you proceed on the next step on how to adjust bike brakes.

Also, check for brake pads rubbing on the rim of the bike wheel. If they rub constantly, most likely the wheel is loose and needs to be tightened. If the brake pads rub on the rim just in a few places, then the rim is probably bent and you need to replace it.

Adjusting bike brakes will become very easy for you after you finish reading our guide
Don’t start cycling without adjusting your bike brakes.

Step 2: Assess the Brake Pads’ Grip on the Rim

After checking for brake pads rubbing on rims, you must check that they actually have a good grip on the wheel. When you squeeze the lever, both the pads should make contact with the front wheel at the same time. There should be an equal distance above and below the pad.

Any kind of misalignment would cause the brake pads coming into contact either with the rubber tire or the spokes of the wheel. Check how the level works when you squeeze it. You should be able to push it close to the handlebar with a little pressure. If it moves too freely, then you have to know how to tighten the brakes on the bike by making an adjustment on the cables (more about this later).

Step 3: Center the Brake Pads

If you noticed any issues in the step above, the next thing you need to do for adjusting the bike brakes is making sure that the pads are centered. This is when you will need the Allen wrench.

Here is what you have to do:

  • Loosen the bolts that hold the brake pads in place by moving the Allen wrench counterclockwise
  • Do not full remove the bolts, because the brake pads will come off
  • Start moving the brake pads up or down, until you notice that they hit the rim, not the spokes or the tire
  • Tighten the bolts by moving the Allen key clockwise

Step 4: Check the Bicycle Brake Cables

Now that you know how to adjust disc brakes on a bike, it’s time to focus on the brake cables. A brake disk is actuated by the hydraulic system of the cables. These cables should transfer your movement on the lever to the brake pads. 


A clear sign of loose cables is when the brake levers actually hit the handlebars. Normally, they should stop at about 3.8 cm from them. In this case, you should loosen the barrel adjusters by turning them counterclockwise. This action will actually tighten the brake cables a bit. Test the levers again. If they still feel too loose, move on to the next step of our guide on how to adjust bike brakes.

Properly working bike brakes allow you to come to a full stop immediately

Step 5: Adjust the Calipers

The final step in adjusting bike brakes is making manual changes to the cables if loosening the barrel did not solve the issue. To do this, use the Allen wrench to loosen the bolt on the brake caliper. Next, pull the brake cable outward to tighten it. Finally, turn the bolt with the Allen wrench clockwise. Now, your brake cables should work properly.

Do You Need Help with Adjusting Bike Brakes? We Can Help!

Carvers Ski & Bike is a family owned and operated ski and bike rental shop, with over 23 years of experience in the Colorado Mountain. We know everything about the equipment we rent, so we can show you how to adjust bicycle brakes or even do it for you.

We are waiting for your visit to our shop in Breckenridge, CO to find the perfect rental bike for your needs. You can also call us for any inquiries: 970-453-0132!

Thank you for a great summer! Carvers will be temporarily closed from 10/2-11/6. We will reopen 11/7 for ski season!

Thank you!