29. How to Adjust Sidepull Caliper Brakes

Learn how to adjust brake pads, cable tension and centering on road-style caliper brakes.

IMPORTANT: Nuts and bolts on your bike should always be tightened to the manufacturer's specifications.
How to Adjust Sidepull Caliper Brakes
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VIDEO UPDATES

  • 00:13 - Correction: 9 or 10mm open end wrenches.
  • 00:25 - Correction: It's called a 4th Hand Tool.
  • 00:31 - Watch How to Tape Drop Handlebars at about 00:30 for lever alignment tips.
  • 00:52 - Remove the wheels if your pad adjustment is good and you don't want to mess with it. Otherwise you can simply remove the pads for resurfacing.

In this week’s tutorial, we’ll learn how to adjust sidepull caliper brakes, found on most road bikes. For this job, depending on your bike, you’ll need a set of 5 or 6mm allen wrenches, a set of open-end metric wrenches sized 9 or 10mm, a 14mm offset brake wrench for centering, some rough sandpaper for re-surfacing the brake pads, a light lubricant like TriFlow, and an optional 4th hand tool for adjusting the cable tension.

Lever Adjustment

First you’ll want to make sure that your brake levers are properly positioned. Check the handlebar wrapping tutorial for a more detailed procedure. It’s also a good idea to make sure your wheels are properly centered in the frame.

Many road brake systems have a quick release mechanism that loosens the brake enough so that you can remove the wheels. If not you’ll have to loosen the pinch bolt enough to give the cable some slack.

Brake Pads

Now remove your wheel and resurface the pads with your sandpaper to remove road grime. Then reinstall the wheel and check to make sure the pads are lined up with the rim. Some pads have a curved washer that allows you to set the toe-in adjustment. To avoid squealing noises while your ride, try to set the rear of the pad so there is about a 1 or 2mm gap when the front of the pad contacts the rim.

Cable Tension

To set the cable tension, first make sure your barrel adjuster is threaded all the way down. If you have a cable quick release system, make sure it is set to the tightest setting, where the brake arms are closest together. If you don’t have a quick release, you can always back off the barrel adjuster a few turns so that it can be easily loosened later.

Now set the cable tension with the cable pinch bolt. The 4th hand tool makes it easier by pulling the cable for you while you tighten the bolt. This is a personal preference, as it sets how far you’ll have to pull the lever before the brakes contact the rim. Some people prefer very responsive brakes and set them really tight, while others prefer a bit more slack. I like to have the brake contact the rim when I’ve pulled the lever about 1/4 of the way.

Pivot Adjustment

If your brake unit is really stiff or too loose, you’ll have to adjust the main center bolt. Some brakes have two nuts on the front side that turn against each other, while other systems like this one are adjusted by loosening off the back bolt, adjusting the front bolt, and then tightening it against the back bolt. The adjustment is correct when the brakes are tight but function easily.

Centering

Now check the brake centering. Both pads should contact the rim at the same time. If not, you can adjust this by loosening off the main back bolt and placing the centering wrench on the flats of the thick washer on the other side. Center the brakes with the wrench and then tighten the bolt. This sometimes takes a few tries because the brake will move a little bit while you’re tightening.

Once the brake is set up, drop a tiny bit of light oil on the pivot points. Wipe off any excess and be careful not to get any oil on the rim surface or brake pads.

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