How to Adjust Brakes on a Mountain Bike

Mountain biking can be fun and exciting but it can also be dangerous if your brakes are not working properly. Brakes that are adjusted improperly can cause you to lose control, crash, and injure yourself or other riders.

Keep on reading to learn more about mountain bike adjustment. 

How to Adjust Mountain Bike Brakes

Tools Needed for Brake Adjustment

Here are some of the tools that you will need for adjusting your brakes: 

  • Adjustable wrench (this will help you tighten nuts)  
  • Cone wrenches (these are going to be useful in adjusting your V-brake calipers) 
  • Brake screwdriver (you will want to adjust the brake screws in your calipers) 
  • Vise Grips (for tight spaces, you can use these) 
  • Adjustable Pliers (this is going to help you adjust your V-brake levers)

Since most modern mountain bikes utilize disc brakes, adjusting them requires a different technique than adjusting breaks on a traditional bike. Here’s how to adjust your mountain bike’s brakes correctly:

Step 1: Identify the type of brakes you have on your mountain bike. 

Most downhill/racing bikes have hydraulic disc brakes, while cross country and all-mountain bikes offer two types of disc brakes: mechanical and hydraulic. Determine which way to adjust the brake levers.

The main difference between a mechanic and hydraulic brakes is the way they adjust. Hydraulic brakes use a push and pull motion to adjust, while mechanic brakes use a twist motion. Check for wear and tear.

Old disc brake pads can create uneven surfaces as they wear down. The metal parts of the brake pad need to be smooth for the breaking mechanism to function properly.

If you notice uneven surfaces, it may be time to replace your bike’s brake pads or rims before you ride again.

Step 2: Adjusting the brakes

The most important part of identifying your brakes is learning how to adjust them. You can adjust disc brakes by moving the levers on the handlebars or by both moving and twisting.

Either way, you want to be sure that your lever is in its highest, closed position so that it does not contact any other part of the brake system while you adjust your brakes.

There are two common ways to adjust disc brakes: “up” and “down. ” 

First, check that the brake levers are in their highest position before adjusting them. If you move or twist your brake lever into its lowest position, it may contact your brake pads and cause the brakes to stop for a moment.

Move the lever to its highest position and adjust it by moving forward or backward until you get the brake power you want.

If it is difficult to reach all sides of the levers, you can place washers behind the end of each lever. This is to increase your lever movement. The washers increase your lever movement, allowing you to increase the amount of braking power as well

The second way to adjust disc brakes is to move them back and forth. Move the lever away from the handlebars until you find the braking force that you desire. Bring the lever back toward the handlebars to reduce brake force. 

Related: How to Tighten Your MTB’s Brakes

Step 3: Altering the rim

If your brakes are not powerful or do not work properly, you might need to alter the angle of your brake pads.

Brake pads have a front and a back, and usually, you will have to adjust them by moving them separately.

First, align your front brake pad perfectly with the front brake rotors so that they touch and move back and forth as one unit.

Forcing the rear of the brake pads against your disc can make it difficult for the brake pads to pivot forward when braking. 

Step 4: Cleaning and adjusting the brake pads

A good brake pad will have a wear indicator. Usually, it’s a perforated paper that helps you see how old the pad is.

It’s up to you to determine when your pads are no longer effective; if your pads show little or no wear, you can use them until there is visible wear on them. However, if your discs are discolored and the pads show a lot of wear, it’s time to change them. 

You have two options when it comes to replacing your bike’s brake pads. First, remove the old brake pads and install new ones.

To do this, place the tip of a flathead screwdriver under the inside edge of the brake pad closest to the wheel. Pry up until you can grab hold of it with your fingers and remove it from your rim. 

This is sometimes difficult because there are small springs that attach to the pad that may fall out along with the pad if they’re not being held by something. Placing your thumbs under the springs and pressing up should help you get them out. 

The pads are held in place by small clamps on a metal bracket that runs along the outside of the rim. Slide back each clamp until it releases the brake pad from its position.

Once they swing forward, slide off the wheel and remove them. Place new brake pads on your rim and replace the clamps around it.

An alternative to changing your pads is to adjust the angle of the brake pads. In this case, you need a small Phillips head screwdriver.

You’ll know which screws are because one of these two screws is completely vertical while the other one is an adjustable screw.

This type of brake pad adjustment will have a noticeable effect on your braking powers. A wider angle will make your braking more effective, but it can also make it difficult for you to steer your bike because you have less control over the handlebars.

How Do Mountain Bike Brakes Work?

Before moving forward, it’s important to understand how brakes work. 

If you are using disc brakes, two systems can be utilized namely mechanical or hydraulic. 

Different types of brakes have different mechanisms for stopping but they all rely on simple principles of physics. For a disc brake such as a mountain bike brake, the front wheel diameter will determine the size of the caliper and rotor.  

Mechanical disc brakes are attached to an axle that is connected to the frame by spokes in the hub.

A disc brake caliper sits on top of the rotor and clamps onto the disc, which rotates with a set speed. The braking action occurs when the disc and rotor rotate at different speeds. 

When this happens, friction is created between the two components and this friction is what stops the wheel. When using disc brakes, a certain amount of brake pressure needs to be applied for the brakes to work correctly.

But if you are using rim brakes, two systems can be utilized: mechanical or hydraulic. With a hydraulic rim brake system, a caliper piston creates friction on the wheel when you apply pressure.

The amount of pressure applied can vary dependent on the brake force of the rider and how the brakes are adjusted. If too much pressure is applied or if you have not brought your brakes to a certain point, they will not work. 

When everything works correctly, there should be very little to no movement between your brake pads and rims.

There should only be a small amount of space between the pads and the rim. A major part of adjusting brakes is to bring the two components together to create friction.

Also Read: Know Whether Disc Brakes Can Overheat Or Not?

How to Tune-Up The Brake For Power?

Traveling somewhere with steeper tracks? Perhaps, you didn’t expect that you’ll bike around under muddy conditions? 

If you are facing the problem that your brakes are not powerful enough and you want to increase their stopping power, then there are two ways. 

You can adjust the angle of the brake pads using a small screwdriver. 

The other way is to adjust the tension of the brake spring. It’s located between the brake pedal and the drum brake that has an arm attached, running almost vertically to its shaft. There is a cable connected to that arm.

Take away a cable from the brake that runs to the right handlebar. 

The brake cable is attached to the arm on the drum. As you pull it firmly toward yourself and put it into a hook of a spring tensioner. It’s located right above the rear fender [a triangular piece of metal that covers and protects the chain case]. 

Now, press down on this pedal with your foot about 5 times. Then you should feel the spring tensioner is loosening its grip on the sprockets.

Now comes the tricky part — take out your slotted screwdriver [or another tool] and put it in between the sprocket and that triangular piece of metal. 

Then, turn your wrist to pull it off. Do NOT pull hard or you may bend the drum! This is why we said it’s tricky to remove it. But once it’s off, you can test out your brake power.


Knowing how to adjust the brakes of your mountain bike can be a very important skill. This is important because good brakes will make you a better rider, and poor brakes can result in a costly accident, work injury, or death.

Fortunately, adjusting the brakes on a mountain bike is not usually difficult to understand and does not require expensive tools to accomplish.

If you can understand how your brakes work and know how to adjust them, you can make them more powerful and reliable for yourself.

Hopefully, this article has helped you discover how to adjust the brakes on a mountain bike and how to or what tools you will need to do so.

If you are still having trouble with these adjustments, it is best to take it into a shop so that they can help ensure that your bike is properly adjusted. 

Photo of author
Written By Robert Gibbons
From riding to school since the age of 13, attending BMX races and events with his dad to himself conquering 50+ trails across the globe. For Rob, his Giant Stance 29 2 2020 is the friend that makes everything better. He is also a proud member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

Leave a Comment