How to Fix Brakes on a Bike
This article was co-authored by Jonas Jackel. Jonas Jackel is the Owner of Huckleberry Bicycles, a bicycle retail store based in San Francisco, California. Jonas has over 20 years of experience managing bicycle retail stores and has operated Huckleberry Bicycles since 2011. Huckleberry Bicycles specializes in servicing, repairing, and custom building road, cross, gravel, touring, folding, and e-bikes. Jonas was also previously sat on the Board of Directors for Bike East Bay, a bicycle-advocacy non-profit organization based in Oakland, California.
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There can be many problems and solutions to bicycle brakes. This article will attempt to cover the common problems with caliper type brake systems, and only mention coaster brakes briefly.
- Remove the nut and washers from your old brake pads, and pull the pad free from the caliper arm. Then, install your new brake pads.
- Service your brake cables by lubricating the caliper pivot with brake oil. Your brake cables should be about 1⁄4 inch (0.6 cm) from the wheel rim.
- Lubricate the “pivot” pin on the lever handle with brake oil to service your brake levers.
Check the brake pads. The first thing you will need to know is if the brake pads are too worn to work effectively. There should be at least 1 ⁄4 inch (0.6 cm) of rubber (the brake pad) between the clamp and the tire when the caliper is engaged to brake the bike. If the pads are worn out, you will need to replace them.  X Research source
Check the cables. Squeeze the brake handles and make sure the cable moves. If it does not, your cable may be stuck in the cable housing, or the clamp in the handle may be loose.
Make sure the caliper moves when the cable pulls on it. Either squeeze the handle and watch the caliper close and open, or have someone else operate it while you watch. If the cable at the brake handle moves, but the end at the caliper does not, the cable may be broken inside the cable housing, and the whole cable assembly will have to be replaced.
Watch the caliper to make sure both sides clamp against the bike wheel. If one side is stuck, you may find that only one pad is engaging the wheel, and this will not give you effective braking. You may need to loosen the bolts that hold the caliper on the bike, and work it in and out to free up the mechanism. Some good light machine oil will help keep these moving parts lubricated.  X Research source
Changing Brake Pads
Purchase new brake pads. If you have the make and model of your bike, a Bicycle Shop can probably supply you with the correct brake pads for your bike. There are universal pads available at discount stores, but these typically only work on inexpensive bikes.
Remove the nut and washers from your old brake pads, and pull the pad free from the caliper arm. On most bikes, this can be done without removing the caliper from the bike frame.  X Research source If the caliper must be removed to allow space to work on it, remove the nut at the top center of the caliper, slide the assembly out, and replace the nut on the stud without allowing the assembly to come apart. This keeps all washers, spacers, and the caliper arms in the correct position while working on it.
Install the new pads, being careful to keep the pad surface true, or aligned with the tire.  X Research source To prevent the pads from squeaking, toe the pads in slightly, so that the trailing edge contacts the wheel first. Make sure the pad height is near the center of the metal rim of you wheel. Pads mounted too low may slide off the rim, causing a dangerous situation, or if they are mounted too high, the pad will rub against the sidewall of the tire, which is also undesirable.
Reattaching the Chain
- After fixing the bike chain, it is a good idea to inspect the cassette, derailleurs, and limit screws to see if they are properly adjusted or to check if they need replacement.
- Bike stands hold the bike right-side-up in the air and are great for maintenance. However, since most chains slip on the road, you will likely not have access to one. Instead, you may set the front of the seat over a large horizontal pole. Keep the bike about 4 feet (1.2 m) off the ground or at least high enough that the rear wheel is not touching the ground.
- The front derailleur, right next to the pedals, looks like a little metal bracket that hovers over the gear the chain should be on.
- The rear derailleur, found by the back wheel, looks like a small mechanical arm. This arm slides back and forth underneath the cassette (collection of gears) to move the chain. It will be underneath the right gear.
- Many bikes will tell you the gear number on the handlebars, but you need to know how to read them to make sense of it:
- The left hand adjusts your front gears: 1 is the gear closest to the bike, or smallest gear.
- The right hand adjusts the back gears: 1 is the gear closest to your bike, which is the biggest gear.  X Research source
Push the rear derailleur arm toward the handlebars to get slack on the chain. This is the small metal arm next to the cog on the bottom of the derailleur. There is usually a little metal square right next to the cog that lets you push the derailleur without getting too greasy. It should fold gently towards the front of the bike so that the chain hangs with a lot of slack.
- You can also use a pencil, pen, or small stick to guide the chain onto the gears if you don’t want to use your fingers.
- Make sure you are pedaling the correct direction.- the back wheel will move as you pedal forward, but not backward.
Taking Care of Your Chain
- Frequent cleaning and maintenance of your drivetrain can add years to your bike’s working lifespan.  X Research source
- You will need to turn the bike upside down or clamp it in a bike rack, in order to work on the drive train.
- Go through 2-3 cycles putting pressure on the top and bottom of the chain, then another few putting pressure on the sides.
- Lightly scrub away any patches of grease or grime with your rag if you still see them.
- Use a screwdriver to scrape off hard to reach areas or precise, small spots. A screwdriver is ideal for getting rid of any grime on the pulleys on the rear derailleur
- Both sides of the idler pulley and jockey pulley wheels, which are the small cogs on the derailleur arm.
- The back side (closest to the bike) of the chainrings.
- The bike frame, joints, and hinges near the chain.
Purchase a chain cleaner for seriously grimy chains. If a rag and a toothbrush don’t cut it, you’ll need a chain cleaning tool. These little boxes clamp over your chain. You add degreaser and hold the tool in place while pedaling the bike backward, allowing it to automatically brush and scrub the chain links for you. They are only 20-30 and frequently come with degreaser and a brush.  X Research source
- Use a clean rag to wipe up any excess lube from the chain when you are done, as extra lube can hold dirt and lead to grime.
- Your goal is to get a light coating of lube on the entire chain.  X Research source
- Anytime you ride in the rain, clean the chain, or hear squeaking, you should apply lube.
- Feel the chain with your fingers.- if it feels dry then you need to apply more lube.
Fixing Frequent Chain Problems
- Shift before you get to a hill. Don’t wait until you can barely pedal to shift. As a general rule of thumb, your feet should always move at the same speed.- you keep shifting to make this possible.
- Use soft pressure when you shift. Right as you shift, ease up on your feet as if letting go of the gas. You don’t want to stop pedaling, you just want less weight on the pedals. Work on timing this with your shift, then resuming normal pedaling.  X Research source
- Turn the H screws clockwise to prevent the chain from moving too far to the right, away from the bike.
- Turn the L screws clockwise to prevent the chain from moving too far to the left and into your wheel in the back or to keep it from falling between the seat tube and chain ring in the front.  X Research source
- If you are in the furthest gear, you will see the derailleur moving as you adjust the screws. Make sure it lines up in the middle of the gear.
- It’s better to replace a chain with bent or sticking links than try to replace individual links. Replacing a single link in a chain means the links won’t have the same amount of wear, which could be dangerous. If you absolutely must replace a link, make sure it is the same brand as your chain and meant for a bike with the same number of speeds.
- If your chain is covered in rust or the links have trouble moving, it is best to purchase a new chain.
- Chains generally wear out faster than cassettes and are much cheaper to replace.  X Research source
- After cleaning the cassette, look at the gears. Do any of them look more visibly worn down than others? If there is a disparity it is likely time to get a new cassette.
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When I stop pedaling, the chain rollers in back move forward to allow the chain to come off. What should I do?
Ikaika Cox is the Shop Director at the Salt Lake City branch Bicycle Collective in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has been a bike mechanic since 2012, beginning as a volunteer with the Provo Bicycle Collective, and growing and honing his skills as a bicycle mechanic and educator in multiple Bicycle Collective locations over the years. He now leads the Salt Lake City branch of the Bicycle Collective.
There could be a number of factors influencing this symptom. Most likely, this is a result of the pawls in your freewheel or freehub body being dirty or corroded. Disassembling and servicing, or even applying lubricant, can assuage this symptom. If lubrication is not the issue, you will likely need a new freewheel or wheel. Occasionally, an improperly reassembled hub can cause this issue. If you recently serviced the axle bearings in your rear wheel, take it back apart and make sure you reassembled it correctly.
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Every time I fix a disconnected chain on my BMX. almost every 2 minutes. the chain slips again. What should I do to gix this problem?
Retrospec Amok 8-Speed
Great for gravel trails or city streets, the Amok is ready to take you there. Built with a rugged and lightweight 6061 ally frame and oversized oval section threadless fork. Shifting is handled by a Shimano Acera 8-speed derailleur controlled by Shimano Rapid Fire handlebar-mounted shifter. Equipped with 700 x 40c Dual purpose tires on quick-release alloy double wall rims, powerful Tektro mechanical disc brakes, 3-piece alloy crankset with sealed cartridge bottom bracket and low-profile BMX pedals.
It all starts with the frame. Amok’s lightweight 6061 alloy frame lays the foundation for comfort. Its frame, riser handlebars, and urban saddle work to support an upright riding position and keep you comfortable even on your longest rides.
Our specs. A Shimano Acera 8S derailleur gives a wide range of gearing while Rapidfire shifters make those gear changes effortless. Equipped with a threadless steering system for less flex and more precision, trek across road and dirt on thick, dual-purpose tires and stop on a dime with responsive mechanical disc brakes.
Your dream ride if. You want a versatile ride with the sophistication of a commuter bike and agility of a trail bike. You’re looking to get a head start on all terrain, from urban streets to gravel paths.
Subject to change without notice.
Compared To The Strider Classic
A lot of similarities can be drawn to the balance bike brand Strider. Their classic model offers a similar bike that is roughly 20 more expensive with many of the same features.
Adjustable handlebars, seat post, plastic wheels, EVA foam tires, rounded grips with bumpers, and a simplified bike frame aesthetic. Some design elements that separate and elevate the Cub outside of the cost savings is:
- The Cub has an arched down tube on the frame, allowing little riders to step through and over the frame instead of the traditional move of swinging their leg over the rear tire.
- Retrospec has a bigger area for their little feet to rest, which makes it easier to have them put their feet up and sit while you push them around.
- The graphics are much more minimal and timeless on the Cub. Not to mention the color schemes available being much more Instagram worthy.
Compared To Higher End Balance Bikes
The Retrospec Cub is a steal, but what are you missing when compared to higher end balance bikes? A top-notch balance bike, like the Woom 1, comes with metal wheels, pneumatic tires, a hand brake, a steering limiter, lighter weight, and overall nicer components.
The pros of those bikes might be that they’re slightly lighter, faster rolling, and include extra features like brakes, but they are really intended for parents and kids who already love riding. The benefit of the Retrospec Cub is that you can introduce your child to a balance bike without breaking the bank.
If your kiddo ends up loving it, you can always splurge on a nicer bike later on.
If you’re ready for your little rascal to become a rider, this is a great option to introduce them to two wheels. The Retrospec Cub is adjustable and ready to grow with your child. It’s made to last and on the affordable end of the balance bike market.
Our Rascal friends, Warren and Therese, met through their mutual love of riding and have injected their passion for bikes into their family unit. Warren grew up riding dirtbikes at a young age, which expanded into mountain biking and BMX racing. Therese rekindled her love for bike riding when she was introduced to dirtbikes and mountain bikes. They share their joy of riding with their two young boys, “Cuatro and Ez.” You can find them out at Wheelie Ranch, building bike lines and dirt tracks or out at their local tracks, bike parks and trails.