21. How to Adjust Cantilever Brakes

Adjust brake levers, re-surface pads, set cable tension and center cantilever style brakes.

IMPORTANT: Nuts and bolts on your bike should always be tightened to the manufacturer's specifications.
How to Adjust Cantilever Brakes
DVD Vol. 1 DVD Volume 1
This video is available on DVD

In today’s tutorial I’ll demonstrate how to adjust cantilever style brakes. I will cover linear pull, or V-brakes in a future tutorial. For this job you’ll usually need a 5mm allen key, a 10mm open-end wrench, a strip of sandpaper, and an optional cable puller.

Adjust Levers

The first step is to set up your brake levers. Start by loosening the clamp and then align the levers so that they match the angle of your arms when you’re riding. Once the angle is set, tighten the clamp.

If you have smaller hands and your levers are hard to reach, you can set them closer by tightening the reach adjustment screw on the inside of most levers.

Check Wheel Center

Before you begin, you should also check to make sure your wheel is properly centered in the frame, as this will affect the position of your brake pads. Make sure the axle is securely fastened all the way up in your dropouts. If the wheel is still off-center you may need to check the dish, which is further explained in the previous wheel truing tutorial.

Set up Brake Pads

Now loosen the tightening bolt on your brake arm and tighten the lever’s barrel adjuster all the way.

Loosen and then remove both brake pads from their mounting posts and inspect both their surfaces to make sure they are not too worn. If you see any metal poking through the pad surface, you’ll need to replace them. If the pads are in good shape, it’s a good idea to resurface them using some sandpaper.

With the pads removed, adjust the brake cable until both brake arms are parallel straight up and down, and then tighten. Using a cable puller makes brake cable adjustments a lot easier.

Now reinstall the brake pads and align them so the pad face is flat against the rim. Then tighten the pad so that it’s snug, but still loose enough to move around.

Take a look from the side to make sure the pad is in line with the rim’s brake surface, and not touching the tire or hanging off the bottom of the rim. If you can’t avoid one or the other happening, your pads may be too wide for your rim, and you’ll have to find some narrower pads.

Cantilever brake pads should be set so that the front of the pad touches the rim before the rear when you pull the brakes. This is called ‘toe-in’, and it prevents squealing when you use them. It’s a bit tricky to set up, so you may have to re-tighten the pads several times before it is correct.

For proper toe-in adjustment, there should be a gap of a few millimeters at the rear of the pad when the front is touching the rim. Park Tools recommends temporarily wrapping a rubber band around the back end of the pad to help set the spacing. Don’t forget to remove it when you’re done adjusting the pads.

Adjust Cable Tension

Some bikes like mine have a link unit that sets the straddle wire position for you. If you’re using a carrier style with a pinch bolt, make sure the carrier is tightened as low as possible, while still providing enough clearance for your crossover cable, tire and fenders.

Now adjust the cable tension on the brake arm by pulling the cable through the pinch bolt and tightening. You’ll have to play with this adjustment until your brakes feel good. I like to have mine set so that the pads hit the rim when my lever is pulled about 1/4 of the way.

Make sure both pads now have equal clearance, and are not rubbing against the rim.

Centering

For minor centering adjustments, there is usually a screw on the left brake arm that sets the spring tension on one side. Tighten this clockwise to pull the pad away from the rim, and counter-clockwise to set the right pad closer to the rim.

Tags

Related Links

Discuss this topic in the Brake Forums

04/20 How to fix old dual lever brakes- plastic spacer broken

Hi there!
I have an old 1980s peugeot road bike with dual lever "suicide brakes".

The little plastic piece that is a spacer between the screw and the suicide lever is cracked, but I can't figure out what it is called to find a new one.

It looks like a washer, but it actually is not, it is a cylinder that slides in with a washer thing on top... think of like a top hat but with a hollow center column.

Do you know what these are called and where I could find a replacement one?

I like my suicide brakes and would like to keep them but i need... Read more >>

04/16 Disk brake

I have just became the owner of a 29" Genesis 2 Twenty N9NE Men's Mountain Bike that had some problems. I have repaired everything but the front disk brake that drags against the outside of the caliper housing and when I pull the hand leaver the arm on the caliper does not return, I have to push it back down. Help... Read more >>

03/19 I disassembled my dual pivot side-pull and can't put it back together!

Any help much appreciated! I disassembled my Shimano Sora BR-3400 dual pivot side pull rear caliper.

For some reason, the bolt that runs through the whole caliper in the centre gets thicker and will only allow the middle bit of the caliper to go onto it. See pictures.

[attachment=4957]

[attachment=4958]

[attachment=4959]

Any suggestions?... Read more >>

03/16 Fixing coaster brakes

Hi All - Trying to fix the coaster brakes on the bike my daughter outgrew so we can give it to the younger daughter of a family friend. However, the coaster brake is no longer working and I obviously don't want to give away something that is useless or unsafe. I'm not handy but decided to give it a try. The problem is that the brakes just would not engage at least not without turning the pedals backwards maybe 1-2 full revolutions. It really occurred after I took the wheel off to put on a new tube/tire. It's been useless ever since that event.

I started with these sites:
Read more >>

02/19 Brake pads rubbing

I'm not sure why but the pads on my front v-brake continuously rub against the rim, I've replaced the pads, re-installed a new brake cable, screwed the adjuster screws as far in as they can go, cleaned the calipers and re-greased them. I've even installed new v-brake levers but when I press the brake one of the pads does not retract fully and stays up-tight against the wheel while the other pad retracts a little better.

My wheel wobbles a little bit when I turn the bike upside and spin it freely but it isn't buckled, perhaps it needs truing but I'm not entirely sure. Not sure if ... Read more >>

01/21 Question about brakes

hello, some of you may remember me, i posted a while back about my gears on the forum relevant to that. ive had some problems with my brakes, though, and finally decided to do something about it.

for those who dont remember, ive got an old fuji road bike refitted with hybrid tires.

for a long time, ive felt that my brakes are not all that effective. i mentioned this once when having a repair done, and he told me that theyre not really 'brakes' theyre just to slow you down. (as opposed to stopping you.)

so the first question is, what exactly did he m... Read more >>

01/06 V Brake tension problem

Hi,
I've just joined the forum and am hoping someone can give me some advice and save the remaining hair I have from being pulled out.
I have an old Raleigh mountain bike that I have given to my son, but before I did I attempted to upgrade it a little.
I have fitted new brake levers, cables and V brakes (All Clarks brand), yet I cannot get any tension in the rear brake. I have fitted the v brake and used the location hole (choice of 3) that gives the most springiness, but no joy.
I set it all up and pull the lever, but the lever will not return to its original position ... Read more >>

12/09 Artek brake levers

Trying to find any info how to put backtogether my artek brake lever. it was on my schwinn beach cruiser and had to fix my front brake, took apart the lever off of the brake and now cant find any info how to get it back together?? should be simple but this guy here cant seem to figure it all the wasy out. there is a metal like wire spring looking thing and have no idea where it was inside, someone please help... Read more >>

12/06 Hello guys,new here.need help

Hello guys,my nickname is sky,I'm from malaysia and I need your help.

I recently touched my rear bicycle brakes which lead to the cable come out from the rear brakes.dont really know a lot of bicycle so hope you guys could help me Smile.thanks.i got give you the pictures in the link below.

http://imageshack.us/f/577/jpjr.jpg/

Read more >>

12/02 V-brake spring adjustment issue

I noticed I was missing a screw on one brake arm of my front v brakes, so I took off the screw on the arm that had one to find the dimensions of the screw. Then, after getting another screw, I can no longer screw either screw.
They just don't screw..

Maybe I'm missing something else?
I looked at the part where the spring adjustment screw screws into, and there's a little cavity that it runs along. Maybe a nut goes there or something?... Read more >>

11/04 Cantilever Brakes - Missing Parts

i just bought a mid 90's Giant Yukon and its missing the 'yoke' i believe its called on both front and rear and i believe [based on looking at another giant bike i have] that it also needs some type of roller pulley piece for the rear brake to function properly. as it is now the brakes consist of just the calipers and worn out pads. the front has the cable connected to the lever on handlebar but it ends right where it would connect to the yoke and cable that connects to each side.

so it seems my front brakes could be fixed easily by getting a yoke and cable, but my question ... Read more >>

10/03 What brake levers to buy for dutch bike to replace plastic ones

I have to change my plastic brake levers in this bike.[attachment=4514]
They are not good, brake cable keeps popping out randomly which is dangerous. I would like to get an alloy ones but don’t know what size/ type/model I need and what keyword to use to find them .They are many on ebay and I don’t know what are suitable for this dutch bike. I have low budget for these.Please help me.[attachment=4515][attachment=4516]... Read more >>

09/26 What Brake Pad Should I Buy?

I have this bike.

It says the breaks are, Shimano Alivio M-System brakes

I'm trying to figure out which break pads to buy. This is just a road commuting bike.

I looked on Amazon, I have the free amazon prime month, but there are hundreds of different break pads of different sizes.

Measuring the current pads with a ruler, they are 70mm long. And the breaks are caliper in design.... Read more >>

09/24 Brake lever spring

Hello,

I was trying to put in a new brake wire on a mountain bike Next Px 4.0 24".

Unfortunately I disassembled the brake lever (though it was not required to obviously).

Anyways now that I try to reassemble it, the brake lever spring mechanism is not working. The brake lever is of 'Sun run' brand (Chinese company).

Since I dont have a lot of time on my hand, I am thinking about getting a new brake lever. How do I know if it would fit on the bike's metal handle ?

I am looking to buy a cheap brake lever ? Any suggestions ?
<... Read more >>

09/13 Adjusting brakes and pads

I have a 1996 Roadmaster USA Men's MT Zone 15 Speed bike that uses Vanguard center cantilever brakes and I cannot figure out how to adjust the brake pads. When I ride it there is a point where the wheel rubs on the right pad. I also have a stem problem. There seems to be play in the front. I have noticed a gradual resistance building when I try to turn while riding. But that may be for a different forum.... Read more >>

New Thread
How to Adjust Cantilever Brakes
Repair Guide / Help Forums

Free Email Updates: