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.


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.


Related Links

Discuss this topic in the Brake Forums

10/31 Squeaky sound coming from brakes

Hi, there, first time poster here!

I am a little desperate in my naive attempts to fix what is going on with my bike for years and it looks like I'm totally hitting the wall. Hope that someone might chime in and hint me on some way to fix the issue...

So, I bought a KENT SHOGUN T1000 HYBRID - MENS Model # 22798 bike (http://www.kent.bike/22798/shogun-t1000-hybrid-mens) around 3 years ago from my LBS. It has been making quite weird sounds when braking from the very beginning, but the LBS o... Read more >>

10/20 Tektro brake leak

I recently bought a used gt a avalanche with auriga comp brakes. I managed to bleed the none working back brake, but it is squealing badly. Maybe the pads got contaminated or just need replacing. It struggles to brake as well... But that's not the problem. My front lever got dislodged and the washer that sits behind the reach pin ball is now located outside the 'catch washer', if I could call it that. Mineral oil also started leaking from the cylinder/piston. Is there a way I can fix this leak? And how do I remove the catch washer to get the push rod back so the lever doesn't swing around?... Read more >>

08/03 Shimano Disc Brakes Inefective

For a while my rear brake has been ineffective. I originally thought it was contaminated either the pads or the discs.

Basically the lever has the be pulled all the way back to the bars to make anything work. But at the start of a ride they squeal a lot. Usually by the end of a long downhill if I have had the brake on all the way down it will start working effectively but then when I start my next ride its back to being ineffective and squeals.

I have replaced pads, rotors and bled the system twice. I have even cleaned both the pads and discs with brake cleaner and sa... Read more >>

07/26 Weird noise on Coaster Breaks Cruiser Bike

When I pedal, there's no noise, when I brake there's no noise, but when I stop pedaling, there's this noise:

I opened up the back hub and sprayed it with WD-40 and it already had a bunch of grease on it too.... Read more >>

07/22 Brake cable loose from barrel adjuster

Is there a simple way to fix this, or will I have to get new parts?

[Image: couKXsP.jpg]...

07/11 Fixing Stetched Brake Cable

when I was biking today, I stopped for a break, when I started up again, I didn't realize that my lock was caught on my back break cable. The brake is now really loose and won't engage. The cable still appeared to be attached in the same place, but is really loose. I tried tightening it by pulling more of the cable through, but this pulls through a few inches of cable and, when I turn the wheel, the rest of the brake cable becomes too taught and causes the brakes to engage. Any ideas?... Read more >>

07/07 Throaty Whine or Low Pitch Whistle

I need advice on a maintenance issue.

Ok, I am not a novice rider, but not a hard core rider either.  Normally I have had someone nearby that could or would help with minor maintenance over the years, so I know nothing.

The bike is essentially new.  Due to military obligations it was ridden a couple of times after purchase and then packed, stored, shipped, stored again and then packed and shipped again (purchased in '11).  I am now in Saudi Arabia and want to ride it around the compound to and from work/store.  

I had the tubes replaced since the ones... Read more >>

06/29 Help with brake pads

Just bought a 2nd hand bike and was told it needed new brake pads but am unsure what ones I need
[Image: 1435565775747_223489554.jpg]

[Image: 1435565916576867229932.jpg]...

04/29 Side pull caliper brakes malfunctioning?

I am attempting to replace the brakes on my bicycle, and I have a set of side-pull caliper brakes. When I took them apart, they worked just fine. But putting them back together, I cannot get them to function properly...the arms are both pulling up, and pulling the entire brake assembly to one side, instead of squeezing together as they should. What in the world is going on? I put it back together exactly the same way as I took it apart...it doesn't make sense!... Read more >>

04/27 Shifters, v-brake, disc brakes.. confused..

OK.. I been trying to fix up a bike we got but we have to replace the brakes, and shifters and front and back derailers.

Question is.. The front brake is disc back is v-brake. Can I use basic brake levers for both? Its will be a mechanical disc brake on front.

[Image: 20150426_194818.jpg]...

04/19 Kid's bike brakes

Hello gurus,

My daughter has trouble activating hand brakes on her bike. She has small hands and she can hardly reach the handles, and the handles are too hard to pull. I saw the post on the adjustment but I was wondering if instead it would be possible to replace these terrible brakes with something better? I went to a store today and they told me that nothing better would fit the bike because it is a "price point bike". Well, I know it is a cheap bike but I have hard time believing that nothing can be done.

Th...

03/27 Crosstop /Interrupter Lever Adjustment

Hi Guys,

I am having trouble adjusting some cross top / interrupter brakes on my cross bike. The brakes are Avid BB 7's. The trouble I am having is when the cross top lever is tensioned how I like it the main lever is soft. When I tighten the main lever to how I like it the cross top is way to tight. Is this due to different pull ratios of the lever styles or am I missing something? Ideally I would have both levers at even tension. Any suggestions appreciated!

Thanks...

03/23 What adapter will i need?

so I ordered a set of m615 brakes, I think, and i'm gonna go 180m on the front. I think I need an adapter but don't know which. anybody help out there? pictures are nice. thanks.... Read more >>

03/16 Shimano hangar and straddle wire brake assembly instruction video?

Today I replaced a shimano hangar and straddle wire brake assembly cable and sheath and was successful. What I would like to see now is a video on adjusting these type of brakes, my favorite brakes btw, to see if I missed any short cuts. I googled for a video but couldn't find one. Anyone have URL for a video on this repair?... Read more >>

03/15 Tektro gemi rear brake noise help

H i wonder if someone could help me find out what this noise from my back brake is
a bubble type water liquid sound only under hard breaking its quite annoying front brake is fine
here is the same sound on youtube  from someone else  but no answer to the  problem my brakes are
Tektro Gemi i no they are  entry level  should not make this sound   any help thanks
youtube brake noise  clip  link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F8Ugg-i4-s...

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

Free Email Updates: