How to Tighten Mountain Bike And Road Bike Brakes

A Step-by-Step Guide to Tightening Rim Brakes and Disc Brakes

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When it comes to cycling, you must have brakes that are going to work for your safety and the safety of others on the road. Brakes are not difficult to work on, and it’s a skill that will come in handy for all your cycling years. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about tightening your brakes.

How to Tighten Road Bike Brakes

To start, we’ll speak about how to tighten road bike brakes. Since road bike brakes come in two types disc and rim brakes, we will start with rim brakes and go to disc brakes when we speak about mountain bikes. 

Step 1: Align the Brakes

Have you ever thought that your caliper brakes could be slightly imbalanced? Check whether both brake pads are at an equal distance from the rim.

This will help you determine whether the brake pads rest on the rim simultaneously or whether one brake pad pushes the wheel towards the other. If it does so, you will realize that you need to align the brakes. Loosen the bolt that tightens the brake on the frame or the fork, align your brakes, and tighten the bolt.

Step 2: Brakes Shouldn’t Be Too Close to the Rim

Most cyclists think that when the brake pads are too close to the rim, it will give them tighter braking even in poor conditions. I wouldn’t blame you if you reasoned like that. You may not notice it, but your bike is not as rigid as it seems.

The frame and the wheels flex while you accelerate and hit those climbs. That’s why the rims require enough space, or else they’ll be rubbing against the brake pads, thereby shortening the lifespan of the brake pad and the rims and making you a lot slower.

Step 3: Check Your Brake Pads for Wear and Tear

One of the causes of your brakes being loose is the wear and tear of the brake pads. You may not notice it, but brake pads wear out as you cover more miles. They could be the reason why your brakes are not as effective.

You can check the brake pads from the top of the front wheel and vice versa for the rear wheel. If the rubber is about to reach the hole gaps between the gripping surface, you have no other option but to replace the old brake pads. The good thing is that the brake pads are readily available, affordable, and easy to install.

Step 4: Tighten the Brake Cable

A loose brake cable may happen when you don’t tighten the cable button hard enough after some repairs or adjustments. Tightening the brake cable also brings the brake pads closer.

You can untighten the button bolt, pull the brake cable, and re-tighten. You can now unmount your bike from the stand, turn your Strava on, and hit the road.

How to Tighten Brakes on Mountain Bikes

Almost all modern mountain bikes come with disc brakes. This section will also be helpful to roadies with disk brake road bikes. If your bike stops on disk brakes, gather here, we are about to have some coffee. Start by hanging your bike on the stand or turning it upside down.

Step 1: Inspect the Caliper

The most crucial parts of the disk brake system are the rotor and the brake calipers. If the mechanism in the brake caliper is not working fine, you are in for a rude shock. Pull the brakes and check the behavior of the brake pads on both sides of the rotor.

They should grip the disc and be easy to use. Ensure there’s no leaking of fluid and the pistons on the inside are not damaged. The only issue you can experience is the brake pad failing to return. In that case, you’ll need to service the brake calipers.

Related: Can an MTBs Disc Brakes Overheat?

Step 2: Align the Caliper

Untighten the bolts of the brake calipers. Pull your brake handle, and the caliper will center itself automatically, keep it held on. Tighten the bolts while still holding to the brakes. Ensure the brakes are tight to prevent the caliper from losing alignment again. Tighten it up, and it should be aligned properly.

Step 3: Is the Rotor True?

A wobbling rotor may not affect braking quality, but it may produce some noise or wear out the brake pads if it persists for a long time. So having a wobbly disk isn’t at all an ideal situation.

A wobbling disk brake also means you may not align the caliper well. Use a disc truing tool and straighten the part of the rotor that looks untrue. That’s if you notice a bend. Be careful not to bend it further on the other side.

Step 4: Bleed the Brakes

Are your brakes still not as tight? Do you ever feel like your levers are not hard enough? Bleeding your brakes is the way to go. That clearly indicates that the oil in the hoses has air in it.

Bleeding your brakes is the only solution to this problem. Bleeding involves pumping all the contents out of the caliper to remove air bubbles. After draining it all out at the caliper, tightly close the hole with the screw lid. 

Step 5: Check Whether the Brake Pads Need Replacing

Perhaps your brakes are not tight or sharp like they ought to be because they have received a fair amount of punishment and served their lifetime. You’ll most likely have to change the brake pads if you notice the brakes are not tight enough, and all the problems mentioned above have been ruled out.

How to Tighten V-Brakes for Both Road and Mountain Bikes

Many road bikes and mountain bikes still use the traditional V-Brakes, and as promised, we will also show you how to tighten this type of brake and ensure it works well.

All bike brake types are essential since they help you stop your bike where you intend it to stop. Here’s how to repair and make V-Brakes tighter.

Step 1: Check Out the Condition of the Brakes

Your brakes might not be functioning correctly because:

  • There could be excessive corrosion on the brakes themselves.
  • Bent/broken parts
  • The brake pads are worn out

To determine whether the brake pad has completed its journey, remove the wheel and see how shallow the groves have become. Some brake pads also have lines indicating whether they need replacing.

Excessive corrosion alters the free movement of the brakes when you pull the lever and impair the brake’s functionality. Also, bent or broken parts mean that the brakes cannot function as they should.

Step 2: Align the Levers

Your brake levers are what you put your hands on whenever you need to apply braking force. Most cyclists don’t know that their levers are the reason why their brakes are not tight. Loosen the clamp of the lever and move it towards the outside.

You can also rotate it towards the inside, wherever your hands will be comfortable. You can also adjust the lever of the clamp upwards or downwards, just where your hands will reach easily.

Step 3: Check the Rim Condition

The bike’s wheel rim condition could have a huge impact on the braking performance. A good example is if the rim isn’t true, it will wobble and be very difficult to true to a tight standard without touching the rim. This heavily affects performance and makes the braking awful.

Step 4: Remove the Brake Pads and Adjust the Tension of the Brake Arms

The brake arms should be able to release when you release the lever. If the tension between the arms is not working, your brakes will seem tight but ineffective. The lack of tension could be because of the bolts holding both arms hard. Untighten both bolts slightly, and you’ll see the spring that flexes the arm back when you release the brakes.

There are also three holes near where the screw holds the arms in place. Move the spring to the last hole towards the outside to increase the tension. You can then tighten the brakes, and they will work just fine.

Disc brakes on my Bike

Why it’s Important to Tighten Your Brakes

You can never overlook the importance of bike brakes. Not having them is dangerous. What would happen if you were on a downhill bike without brakes? It would roll faster and faster due to gravity, and at some point, you will have zero control of the bike. Let’s say the results will be awful.

A good pair of brakes will respond quickly and stop the bike immediately. Knowing that once you pull the levers, the brakes will slow down the wheels under you and allow you to cycle with confidence.

It’s the responsibility of every rider to ensure their bike brakes are working perfectly. It’s not the responsibility of the bike manufacturer.  

Regularly maintain your bike brakes. If you don’t know how to go about it, then you should set a date with your bike mechanic at the bike shop. The mech will give your bike a complete tune-up, not just the brakes. They will check your drivetrain, the forks, and true the wheels.


How much does it cost to fix bike brakes?

Full bike service may cost you about $50 per hour, including the brakes maintenance service. If you rush in for a minor service like your brake caliper being aligned, you’ll pay a minimum service of $10. If you include the parts that will require replacing, you may pay from $10 to hundreds of dollars extra, depending on the costs.

What are the signs of a bad brake caliper?

One of the signs of a bad brake caliper is rather obvious. It doesn’t provide adequate braking. It could also be stopping your bike when you don’t need it to because it’s faulty. If your brake caliper misbehaves and your bike mechanic finds it‘s beyond repair, you’ll have to buy a new one.

Why are my bike brakes loose?

Loose bike brakes are one of the most common bike brake problems, and there can be many reasons for it. The first one may be because your brake cable is not tightened well. The other reason your brakes seem loose could be because of the brake pads in the caliper; if you use disks, they could be worn out. 

Is a loose caliper dangerous?

Yes, and you need to have that fixed. It doesn’t sound normal, and it could be slowing you down. In the worst-case scenario, if not attended to ASAP, the bolts might fall, and the next thing is that your caliper will end up in the spokes. At least try to avoid that by all means.

How can I make my disc brakes more responsive?

There are several ways of improving your disk brake response. One is by bleeding your brakes and filling up the hose and the tanks with organic fluid. Your lever position also matters, so remember to adjust that also. Buying a larger rotor or changing your brake pads could help too.

Bottom Line

You can never overlook two functionalities of your bike: the drivetrain and the braking system. Stay safe while cycling by tightening your brakes. You may never know when you need them the most. Life is too unpredictable. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us.

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Written By

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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