How to Adjust Brakes on a Bike in 5 Easy Steps

Have you ever lost your bike breaks when you needed them the most? I have, and it is something I wish to anybody. I love mountain biking, and the last time I went on a cycling tour I had a problem with my breaks. At that point, I was clueless on how to solve it. They went bad for apparently no reason in the middle of a road with many ups and downs. When we were down on a small hill, I couldn’t stop, and I almost felt. Luckily I wasn’t going too fast, and I could pull over to check my breaks.

I was scared because we had gone up for about 2 hours and to return; the path would have a long way down. With my bad breaks, that would’ve been too dangerous. Luckily, one of my cycling pals knew how to adjust brakes on a bike, and it all went fine. It seemed so natural that as soon as I got home, I looked for all the information on how to adjust brakes on a bike and then I decided to share it with those bike lovers who are not too versed on mechanics.

The tools to adjust V-Brakes

There are many ways how to adjust brakes on a bike. V-Brakes alone have at least six possible failures. You can use the following tools to adjust all of them, but you might only need to do some tuning on a few depending on the initial assessment of step 1.

Before you start to adjust your V-Breaks, be sure to have:

  • A complete set of pro hex wrenches, metric wrenches, Allen keys, and screwdrivers.
  • Cleaning cloth.
  • Lubricating oil.
  • Air pump.
  • Cable cutter.
  • Useless credit card.

You might also need some replacement parts like:

  • Brake pads. Pick at least those with 6 mm of rubber.
  • A replacement cable. This is uncommon, but if you find the cable is broke, you’ll need to replace it.
  • Replacement nuts, spacers, bolts and washers. These are such small pieces; you might lose them in the process. In some but rare cases, there might also be one of them missing, so it is good to have replacements in advance.

You will know which parts you need after the initial assessment of step 1. Coaster breaks are a different story we might address in another article.

Step 1. Initial Assessment

The initial assessment is necessary to know what kind of adjustment is needed before you start unscrewing things. It might be simple, or it will require changing some parts. Follow these steps to identify what should be fixed.

  1. Look into your wheels. A break cannot work correctly if the wheels are not aligned. Make sure they are fully inflated.
  2. Check the Rims. The most common problem is dirt or oil, and just to clean them would do the magic. Use the cleaning cloth for that.
  3. Verify if the Brake Lever needs adjustment. On the closed position, it should have 1 inch separated from the handle.
  4. Make a visual inspection on the brake pads. If they are too worn (less than 1.5 cm thick), you’ll need to replace them.
  5. Look if the V system is working properly. When you action the brake lever, it should move both brake pads. If it doesn’t, look for obstructions. If there are any, you need to change the cable.
  6. Confirm if the brake alignment is fine. The brake pads should close on to the rim, and they need to be equally spaced when they are open.

You can get a clear explanation on each point in the following video:

In case I went too technical, you will also get visuals on the parts mentioned before, and it’ll make it clear for the following steps.

Step 2. General Maintenance and Cleaning

Only if you’ve found some problem with points 1 and 2 of the initial assessment, proceed with the following:

  1. Realign the wheels.
  2. Inflate the wheels.
  3. Clean any dirt and oil from the rims.

The breaks will not work fine unless all these points are covered. Go to step 1 and check the overall list. You might be done just with this simple step.

Step 3. Adjust the Brake Lever

Only if you found a problem on point number 3, you should make the adjustment of the brake lever. It is very simple in most cases, and you will just need an Allen key. Different breaks will need various sizes, so check which is suitable for your bicycle.

To help you with some more advanced tips on how to adjust brakes on a bike for the brake lever, you can watch this video, with a full explanation of different sorts of levels:

Step 4. Change parts

If you need to change parts, then be sure to have them at hand. It is advisable to have also the extra nuts and bolts, because if you are not skillful, you can lose them quickly. If you have no access to replacements, then be extra careful when you change parts.

Just follow the instructions on this video to change the pads. They’ll advise you to remove the wheel, but it is not necessary.

If you find that you need to replace the brake cable, you can use this video:

Step 5. Break alignment

If you discover on the first step of how to adjust brakes on a bike that your need breaks adjustment, or if you have changed any parts, then go through the break alignment process. You will find many videos online and in some of the previous links, but the following is the one that uses things you will have at home, and so I liked it more:


Was this guide what you were looking for? It is important to know the basics, particularly on step 1 to identify what the problem is with your breaks. It will not only be useful when you are on your own but also to better understand what they are doing at the repair shop if you chose to take your bike to one.

As for coaster breaks, write in the comments section if you are interested in a how-to guide to adjust them. Share this guide with other bikers to get us all safer runs, particularly on the wild.

About the author

    Maureen Sledge

    I’m Maureen, and I’m absolutely in love with cycling blogs. I’m a cyclist at heart but being the mother of one small boys, it’s not always easy to keep up with fancy cycling… so I rely on the support of other blogging cyclists like me to help along the way.