How to Adjust Brakes on an MTB (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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 the bike’s brake adjustment. 

Tools Needed for Brake Adjustment

Here are some of the tools that you will need for brake adjustment are:

  • Allen Keys
  • Lever 
  • Bleed Kit
  • Disc Brake Cleaner
  • Sand Paper

Since most modern MTBs utilize disc brakes, we will discuss how you will need to adjust them. Here’s how to adjust your bike’s brakes correctly:

Bike Brake Adjustment tools You'll Need

How to Adjust Brakes on an MTB

Step 1: Identify the Brake Type 

The first step is to identify the type of brakes your MTB uses. Most downhill/racing bikes have a hydraulic disc braking system, while cross-country and all-mountain bikes offer two types of disc brakes: mechanical and hydraulic. This determines which way to adjust the brakes.

The main difference between mechanic and hydraulic brakes is the way they work. One uses hydraulic fluid to push the pistons together. The other uses the pull of a cable. The more powerful brakes are hydraulic, and they do require much less maintenance.

Step 2: Adjusting the brakes

Spyre Brake Pad

Mechanical

When it comes to adjusting mechanical brakes, you will have an easy time here. You have three ways you can do this. Not all methods work on all bikes, but typically two will work.

Adjust the Cable Tension

Sometimes cables stretch and brakes become looser, and even the pads might have worn down slightly. The easiest fix is to adjust the barrel adjuster on the cable line. Depending on the bike, it will be in a different place. You might find it at the brake levers or the brakes. Use the barrel adjuster bolt to wind out the cable sightly to tighten the brakes.

Tighten the Cable

Say you have fully adjusted the barrel adjuster bolt, and it isn’t tight enough. This means you are going to need to tighten all brake cables. On the brake, you will find an Allen key bolt, normally a 5mm, which holds the brake cable in place. Loosen this and full screw the barrel adjuster in, pull the brake cable tightly, and while holding it, tighten it back up. Then further use the barrel adjuster to fine-tune it.

Screw the pads in

Many mechanical disc brakes have the option to screw the brake pads closer to the disc. Typically it’s a 2-3mm bolt on the side, and this will tighten the brake pad closer to the disc.

Move the Calipers

The last thing you can do to adjust the brakes is to move the calipers. This is a simple process of undoing the bolt that holds them on and pulling the brake, and retightening them, and this centralizes them.

Brake Calipers

Hydraulic

Hydraulic brakes are not like mechanical ones, and you might find them a bit more complex to work with. Hydraulic brakes are self-adjusting, so to adjust them, you just have to ensure they are set up right.

Reset the Pistons

Firstly you are going to want to remove the wheel from the bike and the brake pads you are working on. Then you use a lever to push the pistons back into the brake calipers. Then after you have done this, you will want to pop the brake pads back in and the wheel and pull the brake lever a few times to adjust them.

Centralize the Calipers

First, you are going to want to follow the step above. Then, after you put the wheel in, instead of pulling the brake lever, loosen the brake caliper, then pull the levers, and then while holding the brake, tighten them back up again.

Bleed

If step one or step two hasn’t worked, you are going to want to bleed the system. You will need to use a bleed kit, and we highly recommend following a video or asking your local bike shop to do this for you if you are unsure.

Disc brake Pads By Clarks

Step 3: Cleaning and Replacing the Brake Pads

Sometimes you might just find that although your brakes are well adjusted, they don’t work well. This is a very common issue, and typically it’s because the brake pads are worn and need replacing.

Firstly you are going to want to inspect the brakes. 

You will need to remove the wheel and the brake pads. Inspect the pads to see how much life is left in them. Where the brake pad hugs the disc, it should be gritty, and by looking at them from the side, you will be able to see if they need changing. Anything under about 2mm requires new brake pads. If not, you’re going to need to check their health. 

If the brake pad is smooth or looks reflective, then it is contaminated. You will need to spray these with disc brake cleaner and sand them down until they feel gritty again. Then while they’re drying, spray the disc on the wheels with the disc brake cleaner and clean any contamination off, such as oil or grease. 

Once all is dry and you have new or clean brake pads, you are going to want to put everything back together. If you are using hydraulics, ensure you reset the pistons, as we discussed earlier in this article. Once together, go and ride, and it will take about 5-10 miles for the brakes to bed in. Then after that, they will get better and better.

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

How to Tune-Up The Brake For Power?

Are you not happy with your braking power, or is it not good enough you have options to improve it? Having better brakes will not only stop you faster, but it will be much safer and will improve the resale of your bike. You have three options;

Upgrade to Hydraulic

Hydraulic brakes are so much more powerful than mechanical ones and also much easier to use. They do cost a little more but they are one of the best upgrades you can make on an MTB.

Bigger Brakes

You can also upgrade the size of your brakes by using larger discs. These will provide better stopping and cooling power, but you will need to use different adaptors for the brake caliper, so they fit correctly.

Stronger Brakes

You also have the option to upgrade the brake caliper. You can use calipers with more powerful twin pistons instead of single pistons. These give you a huge amount of power but can be very expensive.

FMFXTR  Disc brakes

Conclusion

Knowing how to adjust the brakes of your mountain or road 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. Fortunately, adjusting the brakes on a bike is not usually difficult to understand and does not require expensive tools to accomplish. 

Adjusting the brake the right way can make them more powerful and reliable for yourself. If you are still having trouble with these adjustments, it is best to take it to a shop so that they can help ensure that your bike is properly adjusted. 

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.

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