There are several reasons why your bike brakes don’t work. It could be that they are sticky, too tight, slack, contaminated, over-heated, or just worn out. Luckily, most issues are fixable, and I’m going to share with you tips on how to fix bike brakes that don’t work.
You can fix most bike brakes issues by adjusting the brakes. This simply means to loosen, tighten or realign your brakes. However, you can still fix some problems by cleaning or degreasing your brakes.
The secret is to know how to diagnose the different problems so that you can address them accordingly. I’m going to discuss common bike brake problems and how you can fix them.
But before we can look at the fixes, it’s good to know why your bike brakes are not working.
How To Fix Bike Brakes That Don’t Work By Adjusting.
It might come as a surprise, but most brake problems can be fixed by adjusting the bike brake. That includes spongy brakes and brakes that won’t release.
But before we can look at how to adjust bike brakes, you should know the kind of brakes you have.
Generally, there are three types of bike brakes as follows:
1. Rim Brakes (V-Brakes)
These brakes work by pressing the brake pads on the bike rim. The brakes run mechanically using a cable that is attached to the brake lever.
You’ll find rim brakes on road bikes, city bikes (urban bicycles), and older bicycles.
2. Mechanical Disc Brakes
Mechanical disc brakes work by pressing the brake pads onto a disc that’s attached to the center of your wheel.
These brakes are widespread on high-end city bikes and low-end MTBs. They are generally known to offer more stopping force than rim brakes.
Moreover, the brakes are easier to maintain.
3. Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Unlike mechanical disc brakes, which are cable-dependent, hydraulic disc brakes depend on hydraulic fluid. Their working mechanism is similar to that of car brakes.
So, these brakes are potent and guarantee maximum bike control. You’ll find them on all high-end bicycles.
Now, let’s talk about adjusting disc brakes and v-brakes (rim brakes) as part of bike brakes repair.
Adjusting Disc Brakes
Follow these steps to adjust your bike’s disc brakes:
- Apply firm pressure on the alternate brake lever
- Tighten the bolts on the brake lever
- Spin the wheel to see if there’s contact between the wheel and the disc brake pads
- If that doesn’t work, slightly loosen the bolts as you realign the caliper brakes with your hand
- Concurrently grasp it firmly in position as you tighten the bolt with your other hand
Adjusting V-Brakes (Rim Brakes)
Follow these steps to adjust your bike’s v-brakes:
- First, pull the brake lever to determine if the brake pads are touching the rim
- If they aren’t, tighten up the cable before moving to the next step
- Now realign your bike brakes by first loosening the brake pads
- Check to see if the left and right brake pads are touching the wheel at the same time when pulling the brakes
- If they aren’t, adjust the spring tension screws on the brake’s arms until you strike the right balance
- Lastly, fine-tune your brake lever with pliers
Remember to verify that that the brake pads are responding to the brake lever pull. Once you achieve that, your v-brakes will start working as they should.
Common Brake Problems That You Can Fix (How To Fix Bike Brakes That Don’t Work)
Here are everyday bike brake issues.
1. Brake Rub
This is common with disc brakes. If your disc brakes are rubbing against the wheel, you’ll hear the rubbing sound.
So, you’ve to fix them immediately to prevent damaging the bike wheel. In most cases, the rubbing is due to an incorrect wheel position or a misaligned brake caliper.
Here are the steps on how to adjust bike brakes rubbing:
- Remove the affected brake caliper from the bike frame
- Hold the caliper in your hand and slip in a folded business card
- Push the caliper over the brake discs (rotor) to allow the business card to slip between the brake discs and the caliper
- Now turn the bike wheel to enable the caliper to line up in the frame
- Tighten the bolts that hold the brake caliper before releasing the brake leveler
2. Squealing (or Squeaking) Brakes
If you fail to grease your brakes or if you allow dirt to accumulate, you’ll hear a squeaking sound. The sound is so disturbing to create unnecessary attention when cycling.
The other cause of the squealing sound is worn-out brakes.
Here, you’ve to address the situation according to the reason behind it. If it’s a case of contaminated brake pads, either by grit, grime, grease, or rust, you’ve to clean the brake pads.
I recommend the CRC SL3301 Brake & Caliper Grease for cleaning the brake pads. You can also use it to lubricate the brake pads if they are dry.
But if the problem is because of worn-out brake pads, then you should replace them. Get new high-quality brake pad replacements.
3. Slack or Loose Brakes
Slack brakes are mostly a case of improper brake tension. In such a case, you apply the brakes, but nothing happens, or the impact is negligible.
So, the solution is to adjust the brake tension.
4. Tight Brakes
Tight brakes won’t work just as much as slack ones. So, you’ll need to adjust them properly to ensure the cable tension is not excessive.
Here are the steps on how to loosen bike brakes:
- First, adjust the brake pads as shared above
- Press the brake lever to determine the point at which the brake pads touch the rim
- If the brakes are still tight, loosen the brake pads using an Allen key
- Move the brake pads up and down
If the pads move seamlessly, then it means they are loose. If not, then you’ll have to redo the process.
Once you are sure that the brakes are slack, retighten them using an Allen key.
5. Bike Brakes Won’t Release
Issues like dirt, grime, and dust buildup can prevent your bike from releasing. This problem is common with disc brakes and cantilever brakes.
All it takes is proper cleaning, which you can do using these tips:
- Try removing as much dust, grime, dirt, and mud as you can from the brake pads and wheel
- You can use a toothbrush or any other brush and a piece of cloth to do it
In most cases, just a proper cleaning will release your brakes, and they’ll start working. If that doesn’t work, then proceed with these steps:
- Loosen the screws that hold the brake cable
- Use pliers to pull out the brake cable until you completely disengage the brakes
- Now clean the brake cylinder
- Ensure you don’t add any grease to the brakes as that may make the brake pads stick
- Finally, remount the brakes and adjust the brake cable properly just as everything was
6. Sticky Brakes
More often than not, the brakes stick because of grime, dust, and mud or dirt buildup. So, it’s the same as the brakes not releasing.
But still, an issue like rust can also make the brakes sticky, more so on one side.
Here are the steps on how to fix bike brakes sticking:
- Replace the brake cable and its housing if the stickiness is a result of a faulty brake cable and its housing
- Sand the brakes to get rid of rust if they are rusty
- Remember to lubricate the cable after replacing
How about bike brakes sticking one side? (how to fix bike brakes that don’t work)
If the sticking is not due to dirt, you can try to lubricate the sticky brake pads. Essentially, proper greasing of the affected parts can unstick the sticky part.
7. Bike Brakes Not Gripping
Your bike brakes not gripping could be due to any of these issues:
- A loose brake cable
- Grease contamination
- Worn out brake pads
You can fix bike brakes that won’t grip by tightening the brake cable if it’s loose. If that approach doesn’t work and your brake pads look contaminated with grease, consider degreasing them.
But if it’s an issue of worn-out brake pads, you should consider getting newer ones.
8. Spongy Brakes
If one of your brake calipers works more than the other, you’ll feel the brakes becoming spongy. Simply put, it’ll feel like the brakes are not applying enough pressure when engaged.
This problem could be due to a buckled wheel, which often means less brake pad surface. But still, it could be a case of a misaligned brake pad that needs adjusting.
You must diagnose the issue behind the sponginess. If it’s a buckled wheel, then you’ve to adjust the brake pads as shared above.
In the case of hydraulic brakes, you’ve to bleed out the brakes (get rid of air bubbles) because the problem is with the brake fluid.
How To Fix Brake Handle On Bike
Here are common bike brake handle problems and the quick fixes:
- Stuck brake handles – Remove the brake cable to determine if the brake lever has a problem before fixing it using the tips shared for adjusting the brake lever
- Stiff brake handles – Consider lubricating the brakes. If that doesn’t work, adjust the brake pads.
- Loose brake handles – You’ll need to tighten the brake levers.
- Broken brake handles – If the brake handle is damaged, replace it with new brake handles.
How To Fix Bike Brakes Cable
When it comes to a faulty brake cable, you only need to adjust it, and that’s about it. Overall, you can adjust the brake cables at the barrel adjuster or caliper.
Let’s see how to go about it:
- Adjusting the barrel adjuster – You’ll need to either loosen or tighten the barrel adjuster. Turning it clockwise will increase the cable tension, while doing it counterclockwise will decrease the cable tension.
- Adjusting the caliper – If you’ve been unsuccessful in adjusting the barrel adjuster, consider loosening the caliper using an Allen key. Do it anticlockwise but be careful not to unbolt the brake caliper completely.
How To Change Faulty Brake Pads
If your brake pads are faulty, your brakes won’t work no matter how hard you try. So, you’ll need to replace them.
You’ll need to loosen the washers and nuts of your old brake and then pull out the brake pads. After that, install the new bike brake pads but be sure to align them properly.
How To Fix Brake Levers
If the brake levers are not working, consider fixing them using any of these approaches:
- Brake repositioning – In case of mechanical disc brakes, adjust the dials on the caliper to draw the brake pads close to the discs (rotors). But if the brake pads are badly worn out, you’ll need to replace them.
- Bleed the brakes – This applies to hydraulic disc brakes where you need to purge out air bubbles from the hydraulic system. You’ll need to use a hydraulic hose.
- Clean and grease – Sometimes, all it takes is to clean and grease the brake levers, something you can do with the CRC SL3301 Brake & Caliper Grease.
Tools You’ll Need To Fix Bike Brakes That Don’t Work
Are your bike brakes not working? Then you’ll need these tools:
- Allen Keys
Allen keys come in handy in adjusting the brake fasteners.
If you are looking for a complete set of Allen keys, consider the Amazon Basics Hex Key Allen Wrench Set. The 26-set has all the Allen keys and wrenches you need to adjust your brakes.
Pliers are essential in accomplishing tightening, pulling, and bending duties.
Check out the Craftsman Pliers if you are looking for quality pliers.
- Adjustable Wrench or Ring Spanner
You’ll need an adjustable wrench or ring spanner to adjust the bolts on the brake.
I recommend the Craftsman Adjustable Wrench Set for the best joint tightening experience.
Now you have the guide on how to fix bike brakes that don’t work. As you might have realized, not every problem requires you to go to the mechanic. Most are DIY, and I hope that the guide will help you do them.