by Learning Lead – Kristen Tymoshuk

Hey everyone! Welcome back to my journey to learn how to fix bicycles. When we left off in blog two, we had just finished cleaning the bike, blowing up the tires and replacing the broken pedals. This blog is all about adjusting and fixing the brakes.

As I mentioned in the first blog, I tried to ride my bike a few metres down my street, and realized the brakes do not work. When I squeezed down on the brake levers, the brake pads lightly touched the tires, partly because the mechanisms are not tight enough, and partly because the brake pads themselves are quite worn down. In this blog we will be tuning the braking system and replacing the brake pads.

Brake system background

After some research, I learned I have a single side caliper brake system, a common brake system on older hybrid bikes. The cable is pulling off to the left side, and when you push the brake lever, the brake pads on both sides of the rim squish together to slow the bike down.

There are three types of brake pads; smooth stud, threaded stud, and road. My bike has smooth stud brake pads, meaning the brake pad post extends from the pad and is pinched by a mechanism in the caliper brake arm. There are no threads (helical ridges for screws) on the post. The smooth stud pad is found largely on cantilever brakes. My bike also uses dry brake pads, as opposed to wet brake pads. While dry brake pads work in all weather, wet brake pads work best for people who ride primarily in wet and mud conditions.

Smooth stud pad replacement

To remove each of the four brake pads I followed the same procedure. I started with the back left brake pad. Before removing the old brake pad, the first thing I did was inspect the caliper arm and pad stud to make note of the spacer orientation. Then I used a 10 mm wrench to loosen the outer bolt, and carefully removed the bolts and washers. I laid them on the deck in their correct convex and concave alignment to ensure the new pad is installed with the correct alignment. Then I removed the old brake pad.

To install the new brake pad, I first checked to see if there was a forward arrow on the pad, which would indicate which side to install the new pad.

Since there was not, it was okay to install the new pads on either side of the tire. I slid the new pad through the hole in the caliper arm, aligned it with the tire rim, then carefully replaced the washer system in the correct order, and used the 10 mm wrench to tighten the bolt in place. I repeated the same process with all the brake pads.

Adjusting the tension on the brakes

After installing the new brake pads, I realized they are thicker than the old ones, so they graze the rim even when the brake lever is not engaged. To fix this, I added slack to the brake lines by adjusting the barrel adjuster at each tire.

I twisted it downward to add slack and pull the caliper arms farther away from the rim of the tire. I also adjusted the barrel adjuster near the brake lever by turning it toward the lever. This successfully added more room between the brake pads and the tire rim and created a good amount of space between the handle and the brake lever. The general guideline is to keep two fingers worth of space between the handle and the brake lever when you squeeze the lever.

While this successfully made more room between the brake pads and the tire rim, it also decentered the brakes. To recenter them, I moved the pivot stud at the top of the caliper arms. I put a 10 mm wrench on the outer nut of the double nut and the mounting nut behind the arms, moving them in the same direction.

Time to test the brakes! I rode my bike down the small slope in front of my house, squeezing the newly tuned brakes, and to my delight, they worked!

Thank you so much for reading my blog! I hope this blog makes you aware of how important brakes are to your bike; ensuring your brakes are properly tuned and your brake pads are not worn down is important to your safety while riding your bike. Check your own bike to see if you need to give your brakes some TLC. If you want to see more incredible learning journeys, consider joining the Waterlution community and reading more awesome blogs from the Learning Leads!