Bike Brake Problems and How to Fix Them

Although they might seem pretty self-explanatory, brakes can be challenging to fix if they break, and if you have been cycling for a few years, you will know they might need a little wrench time every so often. 

This article will tell you about common issues you might find with your brakes and how to fix them. 

Tools Required

If you are going to be working on your own brakes, you will benefit from having the correct tools and cleaning fluids. 

We recommend using high-quality tools such as Park Tools as they work better and last much longer than cheaper brands.

  • Allen Key Set
  • Torque Wrench
  • Disc Brake Cleaner
  • Braking Bleeding Kit
  • Piston Resetting Tool
  • Disc Brake Straightening Tool

Squeaky Brakes 

If you have disc brakes and sometimes even rim brakes, you will often find them getting squeaky.

It isn’t very pleasant and can negatively affect the performance of your brakes. Going on a group ride with noisy brakes does make you stand out from the other riders, and not for the best reasons.

How to fix them

A lot of the time, squeaky brakes are down to the discs or brakes being contaminated. The first thing you need to do is remove the pads and check they are ok. 

They are likely contaminated if they are smooth and will need replacing. 

Then you will want to use disc brake cleaner to remove any contamination from the discs by spraying it on and wiping it off with a clean rag, then getting new pads installed and bedding them in by riding.

Brake Rub

The brake rub issue is one of the most testing noises your bike can make and can turn a fun ride into torture. Brakes rub when the pads are hitting the discs or the rim when the brakes are not engaged. It can be very light and might ting every rotation or be stuck on fully.

How to fix them

If you have rim brakes, you will need to check a few things. The first is that your wheel is still straight and true because if it isn’t, you will need to get it straightened to fix the issue. You might even find your wheel isn’t fitted correctly.

The next thing you need to check is if your brakes are mounted straight and tight enough. If not, adjust the whole caliper and ensure you don’t have a misaligned wheel. You can do this by releasing the quick release or thru-axle and resetting the wheel. 

The last thing is if the cable is getting stuck, which is a common problem that will require you to change the inner cable and outer cable housing.

When it comes to discs again, a few things can cause this. The first is if the wheel isn’t fitted correctly. After that, you need to check the disc brake rotor isn’t bent. 

If it is, all you need to do is replace it, or you can use a brake disc straightening tool. You might need to reset the pistons, and you can do this by taking the wheel and pads out and pushing the pistons back in. 

The last thing it can be is your caliper has come loose and needs centering. Start by resetting the pistons, then you will need to undo the bolts slightly, pull the brake and before releasing, tighten it back up, and it should be ok.

The Brake Lever Feels Loose When First Pulled.

This is a very common problem on cable brakes where you will find the brake levers will take a bit of time before it gets full tension onto the cable. It means you have much less leverage and braking performance is typically very bad. This happens because cables stretch over time.

How to fix them

You might get away with just loosening your cable and retightening it. Still, typically you will need to replace your inner and outer cables and ensure that the cable is running correctly through the brake lever and is under tension at its relaxed position. When it comes to brake cables, you want no extra slack in the line.

Loss of Power

Having bad brakes is very dangerous, especially if you’re riding in a group. Cycling involves stopping quickly and efficiently. If you are on a jump bike, the last thing you want is terrible brakes. 

It also makes the work much harder on your hands, and longer rides can be very uncomfortable. Loss of power can come down to a few things, and fixing it can be an effortless job or difficult.

How to fix them

The first thing you want to do on rim brakes is to check your cable inners and outers. Every year or two will need replacing as they can rust inside, and this causes lots of friction, meaning they won’t pull as well. 

You will want to check the brake pads and rim braking surface for wear and contamination, and if anything needs replacing, do it and give the system a good clean.

On disc brakes, you firstly want to check for contamination and if you find any, give them a clean. 

If any parts need replacing, such as the pads or discs, be sure to do it after cleaning. Then you will also need to check the cable inner and outer. It might be worth giving them a bleed if you’re running hydraulics. 

Sticky Brakes

Sticky brakes are a common issue, and it means after pulling the brake on, the pads don’t fully return to the center, and you can get brake rub. It can be very annoying, but it’s not a complicated fix and is easy to repair.

How to Fix them

Typically on both disc and rim brakes, it will be your cables. They are the issue 99% of the time because they become rusted or split inside and don’t allow a smooth cable return. Changing the inner cables and brake cable housing should fix this easily. 

If that isn’t the case and you are running hydraulic disc brakes, it will typically be a sticky piston. You will need to remove the pads, clean the inside, and check that the piston can move properly by pulling the brake. 

If removing any dirt and cleaning it up doesn’t fix it, you might need a new caliper.

Brake Pads Hit the Tires

Although this isn’t very common, it does happen. Sometimes your pads can become loose, and it will end up not just hitting the wheel rim surface but also the tire. This is a huge issue and can cause your tire to blow out in the worst-case scenario.

How to fix them

This is going only to be an issue on rim brakes. You will find this to be a straightforward fix. Behind each pad, you will see an Allen key bolt. It would be best to undo this, realign the brake, and tighten it again. 

It shouldn’t take about 10 minutes total, and ensure you tighten it back up so it doesn’t come loose again.

Brakes Grinding

If you have disc brakes, it’s pretty common that in time if you don’t maintain them well, you will hear them grinding like they have sand in them. It will also come with a significant lack of performance and can even happen without the brakes being on. 

How to fix them

When your brakes are grinding, it is typically because of the pads. When the pads get very low, and the braking surface is completely gone, it grinds like metal on metal. 

This is awful for your brakes, and you should always keep it on top of your pads, or it can lead to a damaged wheel or disc. T

o fix this, all you need to do is keep on top of your pads and ensure they have plenty of braking surfaces left. If you have left it too long, check the brake caliper for any damage.

Home Fixing Your Bike

When fixing your bike yourself, it’s vital to get it right and ensure you have the correct tools. Brakes are not challenging to work on, but they can cause you an accident if you do them incorrectly. 

We highly recommend checking out some how-to videos on fixing your brakes while doing it. Safety should always be your number one concern. 

FAQs

How often do brakes need servicing?

It depends on many different factors, such as where you ride, what time of the year it is, the terrain you are riding on, and even how heavy the bike is. We recommend checking them from time to time or every couple of weeks. You might find they need a service every few months or a few years.

How often do I need to change brake discs?

Typically most companies recommend changing your brake discs below 1.5mm. You can measure this with a vernier caliper. Discs generally last a long time, and you will find yourself only changing these rarely.

Organic or Sintered Pads?

Organic pads are made of an organic compound and offer excellent performance but don’t tend to last for very long and will need to be changed regularly. Then you have sintered pads, and these are more of a metal compound that lasts a lot longer. Sintered pads are more expensive and tend to not perform as well as organic pads, alongside being squeakier in the wet.

What are Brake Blocks?

Brake blocks are the rubber pads that hit the rim to slow it down on rim brake bikes.

Are rim brakes or disc brakes easier to work on?

Rim brakes are more straightforward to work on than disc brakes. Disc brakes have much better-stopping power and work in all weather conditions. We recommend disc brakes over rim brakes as it is more effective.

Conclusion

Brakes are vital for cycling, and learning how to repair and diagnose problems will go a long way to keeping you safe and giving you the best braking performance possible.

As we mentioned before, whenever you do any work on your brakes, we highly advise that you get it checked by a professional before going out for a long ride.

Photo of author
Written By Robbie Ferri
My name is Robbie Ferri, I’m an Ultra Endurance cyclist from the UK. I have been lucky enough to have cycled all over the world. With some amazing world record attempts, bikepacking races, and many miles under my belt I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than on my bike.

Leave a Comment