How To Loosen And Tighten Bike Brakes

Cycling is fun unless your bike brake is too tight or too loose. Brake gives you control over cycling speed. Lack of proper braking mechanism in your bike can pose a great risk to you. That’s why you need to fix the brake from time to time for a risk-free, improved performance. So, do you know how to loosen and tighten bike brakes? Well, it is the main theme of brake fixing.

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Now, you may think fixing brakes require a professional hand. Well, don’t worry if you follow some steps correctly then you can also fix brakes like a pro. Thus, we have designed this article in such a way where you will find it easy, simple, and efficient.

But first, we need to know more details about the brake and its mechanisms.

There are different types of brake designed by individual manufacturers in their cycles. So, the different bike features a different brake. However, they have the same purpose and it is to control your cycling speed. We will have a brief look at the most common brake types:

How to Loosen and Tighten Bike Brakes


7 Hacks On How to Loosen and Tighten Bike Brakes

  1. Linear Pull or V Brake: Linear pull brake is also known as V brake caliper. It consists of two arms that are separated and have two pivots below the rim. However, these arms are attached and pulled together by a cable from the side.


  1. Center Pull: Mostly used in vintage bicycles. You will see, they have separate pivot situated above the rim on both arms. These arms are pulled by a cable from the center of the brake.


  1. Side Pull: You can identify a side pull brake seeing its both arms sharing a single pivot at the center. Besides, the arms are pulled by one cable off the side.


  1. U Brake: It is mostly found in BMX bikes or older mountain bikes. The configuration is pretty similar to the center pull. You can identify it by seeing the mounts situated above the rim and arms are brought together by a cable pull from the side or sometimes cable wire carrier.


  1. Dual Pivot: They have two arms that consist of separate pivots. The pivots are pulled together by a single cable on one side. Plus, there is a similar brake like this one which is known as Dual Symmetric Pivot. But this brake has pivot on its both sides. The process of fixing both the brakes are similar.


  1. Cantilever Threaded Post: This has each arm mounts below the rim where they are pulled at the center by the cable carrier. It has a series of washers and spacers. Plus, the pads are secured with a nut.


  1. Cantilever Smooth Post: It is mostly similar to the previous caliper but it comes with smooth stud brake pads. These smooth studs go through a bolt head and tighten with a nut on the backside of the brake arms.

How to Loosen and Tighten Bike Brakes

You can notice any one of the above-mentioned brakes most of the time in bicycles. So, now we will see the procedure on how to lose or tighten them.

Alright, firstly, how do you know your brake is not in proper shape? To test it, squeeze the front brake lever and see if there are at least 2 finger gaps between the handlebar grip and the brake lever. If you can notice a gap, then your brake is working fine. However, if you notice no gap then the cable is stretched or loosed. Thus, it requires immediate action.

Linear Pull or V Brake Adjustment:

In a linear-pull caliper, when the pads are too tight you will feel stiff upon squeezing the brake lever. Plus, it will get tough to disengage the quick-release mechanism. So, you need to bring the barrel adjuster towards the lever and give it a few turns until it feels slacker. As a result, you will attain good leverage at the hand and plenty of upgrade power. Moreover, you can disengage or re-engage the quick release. Thus, you will get a perfect brake system that is neither too tight nor much loose. You can also set the rear brake in the same way.

Besides, centering the brakes pad accurately offers nice braking. When you notice any of the pad is too far or too adjacent to the rim then turn its screw tight or lose accordingly to have equal strength. Now, from your observation, if you see its balanced then it will work great.

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Center Pull Adjustment:

The brake lever should feel normal when you squeeze and pull it with force in a center-pull braking mechanism. So, when you see both the pads are contacting the rim at the same time with equal positioning. Plus, you have an inch gap between the lever and the handlebar, then assume the brake is fairly well set. However, your brake is too stiff when you can barely pull the lever. Hence you need to slack in the system. So, you have to bring in the barrel adjuster to in reducing the slack.

In contrast, when the brake is too loose then the lever will almost touch the handlebar. Here, one needs to take the slack out to the barrel adjuster. However, if you lack sufficient range in the barrel adjuster then you are required to take up the slack or reduce slack at the pinch bolt and nut. Here you will also need to center the pads to the rim.

For a good braking mechanism, we will definitely want the two pads to contact the rim at the same time in the center pole. But if one pad touches the rim first, it will shove the rim over toward the other pad which will create hindrance in braking. Thus, we need to center both the pads. For this, we need to center them by utilizing the bridge that attaches both arms and pivots. So, you need to fix the bridge and the rear mounting nut at the same time to achieve a centered brake for better performance.

Side Pull Adjustment:

For a side pull brake, when the pads are too tight you will have a hard time centering them. How will you test it? At the slightest pull in the brake lever, the pads will touch the rim. That means your brake is too tight. Hence, the pads will constantly rub the wheel in motion which will gradually wear them out. To fix this problem, one can add slack to the system by rotating the barrel adjuster downward towards the brake. As a result, it widens the pad to the rim. . Also, you can have the same effect by turning the barrel adjuster into the lever.

To loosen your brake, you can take off the slack by rotating the barrel adjuster in an anti-clockwise direction.

U Brake Adjustment:

I think U brake has the easiest brake adjustments. You need to screw out the barrel adjuster to lengthen the housing which will effectively draw out slack. As a result, it will bring pads closer to the rim. This is a good way to tighten the brake.

On the other hand, to loosen the brake, you have to screw in the barrel adjuster to shorten the housing that will give more slack. Thus, it will offer more clearance to the rim.

Dual Pivot Adjustment:

First of all, you need to check the cable pinch bolt by squeezing the brake lever with force. Then you will settle in the cable system. Your next step should include pad clearance for neat and controlled brake performance. So, what is pad clearance? It is the existing gap between the rim and the pads. You can set it by feeling your lever pull. So, when a brake is too tight, you can barely pull the lever and the pads instantly touch the rim. In such a case, you need to bring the barrel adjuster down towards the brake for having sufficient cable slack. Plus, it will move the pads away from the rim.

Again, if your brake is too loose, the lever nearly touches the handlebar upon pulling. So, here you won’t get adequate stopping power. Let’s be practical, nobody likes that. Thus, you have to rotate the barrel adjuster counter-clockwise to draw out the slack and bringing the pads nearer to the rim. This setting is sufficient, the pad strikes the rim keeping inch of gap between lever and grip. In general, the front and rear brakes are set in such a way to feel the same.

Cantilever Threaded Post Adjustment:

So far you have seen when a brake is too tight, you need to apply more force to squeeze the lever and it doesn’t move much. Also, in case of a loose brake, the lever almost contacts the handlebar when squeezed. These situations are also common for a cantilever threaded post brake.

So, in a tight cantilever threaded post brake, you will have quick pad engagement when even barely touching the lever. Plus, when you attempt to undo the quick release you will fail to get that off. Thus, it means the cable system has insufficient slack. Suppose your bicycle doesn’t feature a barrel adjuster then you can use the pinch mechanism to adjust your pad clearance.

Again, the bicycles with barrel adjuster located at the brake lever can be unscrewed away from the lever. This helps to effectively lengthen the housing takes out slack and ultimately tighten the brake setting. Again, screwing the barrel adjuster inward finely shorten the housing and relaxes the cable. Thus, you can attain more pad clearance.

Whenever you want to loosen a brake in a bicycle without a barrel adjuster, you can the pinch mechanism to fine-tune the pad clearance. Now, you can easily undo the quick release. Lastly, your rear brake will have the same feeling as the front brake upon squeezing the lever.

Cantilever Smooth Post Adjustment:

Alright, the cantilever smooth post brake has the same adjustment as the previous one. So, I am not going to discuss the process again. If you follow the above-mentioned steps perfectly, then you can effortlessly tighten or loosen a cantilever smooth post brake as well.


Finally you got your solution on How to Loosen and Tighten Bike Brakes. I know, fixing a brake for a newbie will be much tough. But it is the best way to get started if you are serious about cycling. Because ahead, you are going to experience these kinds of things a lot. Don’t worry, you are not going to damage your bicycle and practice will make you perfect. Please note one suggestion carefully, if your brake pads wear out, immediately go to the shop to buy a new pair. Don’t just cycle with them as it will get hazardous for you on the road. For better cycling performance, provide good maintenance to your bicycle routinely.

So, this is all for now. We tried to bring up all the possible brakes available in the market. I hope our article will help you in the main field. Let us know, what is your brake type and feel free to comment on any queries. We are all ears.

Thank you!

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Daniel D. Harris

I am Daniel D. Harris, an enthusiastic biker who loves to ride bicycles. I keep on sharing my experience of cycling through this blog. I do keep writing to assist you in finding the city bikes, bike lights, bike pedals, and many more things related to bicycles. You may find my blog useful once you read some posts. Find me on twitter. Have a good day bikers!

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