How to Tighten Mountain Bike And Road Bike Brakes

You probably missed hitting a car by inches, or you crashed hard, but the injuries wouldn’t have been as severe if your brakes worked correctly.

Brakes can be a letdown if not adjusted well. You might be looking at how to tighten road bike brakes if you are a roadie.

If you are an offroad rider, you would want to find out how to tighten brakes on mountain bikes. Here are the free tips and true hacks on how to tighten bike brakes.

How to Tighten Road Bike Brakes

Most road bikes use caliper brakes, but more and more road bikes are coming with disk brakes. Some still use the old V-brakes. The caliper brakes are effective in stopping the bike, but not as effective as the disk brakes.

Caliper brakes are also lightweight, no doubt, and they are easier to maintain. Disk brakes are more effective than rim brakes in wet and muddy conditions.

Step 1: Align the Brakes

Have you ever thought that your caliper brakes could be a little bit imbalanced? Check whether both brake pads are at an equal distance from the rim. If this doesn’t help, you have the option of having someone apply the brakes for you.

This will help you determine whether the pads rest on the rim simultaneously or whether one brake pad pushes the wheel towards the other pad.

If it does so, it will be apparent to you 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 or Further to the Rim

Most cyclists think that when the brake rubbers are too close to the rim, it will give them tighter braking even in wet conditions. I wouldn’t blame you if you reasoned like that. It’s just logical.

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 pads, thereby shortening the lifespan of the pads and the rims.

When you align the brakes further, what will happen? Your guess is as good as mine. You’ll hit the red light. The only solution is holding and squeezing or releasing the bolt holding the cable on the right side of the caliper. Continue adjusting the brakes until they feel right.

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 Strava miles. They could be the reason why your brakes are not as effective.

You can check the pads from the top or the front 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 pads are readily available, affordable, and easy to install.

Step 4: Sort Out the Tire Clearance

There are some cases when you’ll want to remove the wheel. Maybe to seal a puncture, or maybe change the tire of your bike because the current one is worn out or want to switch to a larger tire to go gravel riding.

So while you need to tighten the bike’s brakes, leave enough space to allow the removal of wheels without having to remove the brake pads. In fact, your brakes will be as effective as they should while in this position and will not be too tight, thus affecting the quality of your ride.

Step 5: Line Up

Another reason your brakes are not serving you the way they should be is the poor lining up. The amount of braking force adjusted on the wheel is not enough to stop the bike, and the pad will also be eaten up on one side, causing uneven wear out.

I hope it’s not too late to adjust the cartridge and lineup the brake pads against the rim. If it’s, you may need to buy a new pair of pads and line them up. Hold the pad’s cartridge while tightening the pad to prevent it from moving.

Step 6: Tighten the Cable

A loose cable could also be the reason why your brakes are not tight. Worry not. It may happen when you don’t tighten the cable button hard enough.

Tighten the cable also to bring the brake pads closer. You can untighten the button bolt, pull the 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 are coming with disc brakes. The V-brake is something of the past, but we will also advise you on how to tighten those.

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 caliper. If the mechanism in the caliper is not working fine, you are in for a rude shock. Pull the brakes and check the behavior of the pads on both sides of the rotor.

Do they move at the same time? Then they are good. If only one pad moves, you will have to take off the wheel or detach the caliper from the fork or rear to level the caliper. Some calipers only have the outside pad moving when you pull the brakes.

The only issue you can experience is the pad failing to return. In that case, you’ll need to service the entire caliper.

Step 2: Align the Caliper

Let’s assume your pads don’t have an issue. Untighten the bolts of the caliper. Pull your brake handle, and the caliper will center itself automatically. Trying to align the caliper manually will not be as perfect as doing it the genius way.

Tighten the bolts while still holding to the brakes. Make sure the brakes are held tight to prevent the caliper from losing the alignment again. If the caliper uses a one-sided mechanism, move the caliper towards the inside, hold the brakes slightly, and tighten the caliper.

Step 3: Confirm Whether the Rotor is True

A wobbling rotor may not affect braking quality, but it may produce some noise or wear out the pads if it persists for a long time. A cyclist is a perfectionist who wants his/her bike riding in good order. A wobbling disk brake also means you may not align the caliper well.

Grab a clean, adjustable spanner 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? Bleed your brakes. Do you ever feel like your levers are not hard enough? That’s a clear indication that the oil in the hoses is not enough, and actually, you have a lot of air in there.

Bleeding your brakes is the only solution to this problem. Bleeding involves pumping out all the contents out of the caliper. After draining it all out at the caliper, tightly close the hole with the screw lid. Start adding the mineral oil via the filler tank at the lever. You can have this done at the bike shop.

Step 5: Check Whether the Pads Need Replacing

Perhaps the reason why your brakes are not tight or sharp like they ought to be is that they have received a fair amount of punishment and served their lifetime. The rotors also wear out though it’s rare.

It’s most likely that you’ll have to change the pads if you notice the brakes are not tight enough, and all the problems mentioned above have been ruled out.

Related: Can an MTBs Disc Brakes Overheat?

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 to tighten this type of brakes and ensure it’s working well.

All 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 pads are worn out

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

Excessive corrosion kind alters the free movement of the brakes when you pull the lever and impair the brake’s functionality. Also, bent or broken pars mean that the brakes are not able to 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. 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 issue of your brakes not being tight enough could be because of the rim. It could be having a bump, or not true, and touching the brake pads while spinning. Riding with such a wheel is a harder activity because the brakes will slow you down.

What’s even worse, the pads may rub against the tire, and that’s not right. Your rim might have worn out also. There’s always such a possibility for wheels with rim brakes.

Check the wear indicator on the sides of the rims. Is it wearing out? Then it would be best if you got a new rim before tightening your brakes.

Step 4: Remove the 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 not effective.

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 backwards when you release the brakes.

There are also three wholes 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.

Why it’s Important to Tighten Your Brakes

You can never overlook the importance of bike brakes. Not having them is like signing your death sentence. Imagine how it would turn out if you tried negotiating a corner on your road bike and realized that your speed is too much and you have almost no control.

What would happen if you are 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 fatal, and if you survive, your bike will not, or you may have to buy new parts.

Irrespective of the type of brakes your bike comes with, It’s the maintenance and tightness that determine their effectiveness.

A good pair of brakes will not only respond quickly but will 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.

All bikes should have adequate brakes, and without them, I can only think of a few instances of when you would run into trouble. Most riders use their bikes for commuting, and without effective braking, you could be crashing into traffic every while and then.

It’s the responsibility of every ride 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 and not just the brakes. They will check your drivetrain, the forks, and true the wheels.


Q: Why are my bike brakes loose?

A: There’re countless reasons why your brakes are loose. The first one may be because your brake cable is not tightened well. The other reason why your brakes seem loose could be because the brake pads in the caliper, if you are using disks, are worn out, or your rubber pads are worn out if you are running on rim brakes. Another one could be because the sides of the rim are worn out, or the rotor of the disk brake is worn out and with a loose grip.

Q:  How much does it cost to fix bike brakes?

A: full service of your bike may cost you about $90 per hour, which includes the brakes maintenance service. If you are rushing in for a minor service like your disks being tightened or something, 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, including the taxes and shipping.

Q: What are the signs of a bad brake caliper?

A: 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 caliper is misbehaving and your bike mechanic finds it‘s beyond repair, then you’ll have to buy a new one.

Q:  Is a loose caliper dangerous?

A: Yes, and you need to have that fixed. It doesn’t sound normal, and it could be slowing you down, and worst-case scenario, if not attended 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.

Q: 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 fill up the hose and the tanks with organic fluid. Your lever position also matters, so remember to adjust that also. Buying a wider rotor or changing your pads could help too.

Bottom Line

There are two functionalities of your bike you can never overlook; 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 contact us.

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).

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