Most bike maintenance when you break it down is fairly straight forward. The simple rule is to take your time, and never rush. One of the bits that people are scared about is touching their brakes.
You don’t have to be, once you know how your brakes work, then it all becomes easier. In fact, you could even say you become a safer rider as you’ll know what to do out on a ride.
Dual pivot caliper brake
The dual pivot caliper brake is the brake you’ll find on most rim braked road bikes. The good news is that caliper brakes are very easy to set up. The same as every model of brake we will look at, make sure your wheel is centered before you begin.
1. If you’re fitting new brakes, don’t do up the caliper bolt tight, have it lose. If you’re adjusting your brakes, loosen this bolt a little bit.
2. Move the brake until it is centered, tighten the bolt.
3. If you’re fitting new brake shoes, give the bolt for them a little light grease. Make sure you’re following the mounting direction on the shoe. Squeeze the brake with your hand, and you’ll see where the brake is hitting the wheel rim. On the cable side of the rim, fit the shoe as close to the tire as possible, as the brake wears down the pad will move downwards. On the non-cable side fit the pad as low on the rim as possible.
4. Tighten the brake’s barrel adjuster in, and thread your cable through. Hold the brake towards the rim, about an mm or 2 from touching. Pull the cable through the anchor bolt and tighten it.
5. Test your brake, and it should all be pretty good.
V-brakes are still a very common brake, and many of us will have used V-brakes at some point. Fitting V-brakes to a bike is a little more complicated than fitting dual pivot calipers, but it still just requires a little time.
1. Grease the mount for the brake and put some grease on the V-brake mounting bolt.
2. You’ll see three holes on a tab beside the mount. The top hole gives the most amount of spring tension. You ideally want to put the tail from your V-brakes spring in the middle one. Push down the brake and start to tighten the bolt.
3. Look at your brake pads, and you’ll see a lot of washers. If they are already mounted on the brake arm, loosen a little bit and align the pad with the direction of travel. If you need to fit the pad, split the washers evenly, to begin with, so they sit on each side of the brake arm. The washers are there for you fully dial your brake in.
4. Pull the brake arm in so the pad aligns with the rim. You want to tighten the pad down when you have set it in position. With linear pull brakes (V-brakes and cantilevers), you want to make sure that you set the pad high on the braking track. Ideally just below where it would touch the tire. As your pads wear, they will work their way down the rim.
5. Linear pull brakes make a lovely squeal if your brake pads hit flat. To avoid this, you need to toe your pads. Toeing your pads means that the front of the pad hits your wheel first. Most people, though, will set their pad and go and ride the bike. If it squeals, then you want to begin the toe in the process. The quick and simple way to do this is to loosen the pad, put a thin strip of card or rubber band at the back of the pad, press the brake down and tighten it up again.
6. Setting up the cable is pretty easy. You need to thread it through the noodle, the bent tube of metal, and then line that through the brake quick release, slide the rubber boot on, and then through the anchor bolt.
7. Pull the cable tight, with just enough effort to remove the slack in the brake. Tighten the bolt down. There are special tools you can buy to make this easier, but if you set up one brake a year, it is not worth your investment.
8. To center the pads, you’ll see some tension screws at the bottom of the brake arms. Tightening the screw increases spring tension and loosening the screw loses spring tension. The screws don’t need to be set to the same amount of tension.
Cleaning your brakes
You need to keep your brakes clean if you want them to work. You’ll also need to keep your wheel rim clean as well. It is worth getting into a weekly cleaning pattern to keep everything working. Dirty pads and rim, will wear your rim down quickly which is both dangerous and costly.
Wash your rim with a good bike cleaner and dry it off with a cloth. Check your rim for its wear indicators or for a concave groove. If you have no wear indicators and a concave rim, you need a new rim or wheel.
Occasionally when you clean, remove your pads and give them an inspection for debris trapped in and give them a rub with emery cloth, or a rough wall. Doing this will take the top layer off and keep the pads from killing your wheel rim as quickly.
The best brake caliper
SRAM Force/Force 22
The SRAM Force/Force 22 brakeset is the brake of dreams for a rim braked road bike. It works as well as SRAM Red but costs a lot less, it works well, and is one of the lightest brake calipers you can buy.
One of the ways it keeps weight down is that it has a titanium main pivot bolt and hardware. Not only do you get lower weight, but you also get strong parts that don’t rust. The brake also comes with a progressive spring that brings a lot of brake control and modulation.
The best V-brake
The Shimano Deore V-brake has a lot of power and modulation built into its price. It is one of the easier V-brakes to set up, mainly because it is well made. Cheaper V-brakes tend to be a nightmare to set up.
Shimano has even fitted the brake with a set of nose reducing brake pads; you are then less likely to need to go through the toe in setup for brake pads. It is a reliable and great partner for your bike.
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.