How to Adjust Cantilever Brakes
Adjust brake levers, re-surface pads, set cable tension and center cantilever style brakes.
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.
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.
- Park Tool: Cantilever Brake Service
- Sheldon Brown: Adjusting Cantilever Brakes
- Bicycle Torque Specifications
- Hozan 4th Hand Cable Puller
- Park Tool HXS-1.2 Hex Wrench Set
- Park Tool Wrench Combo Set
- Park Tool SD-Set Shop Screwdrivers
- Park Tool SK-3 Starter Mechanic Tool Kit
- Park Tool PK-3 Professional Tool Kit
Discuss this topic in the Bicycle Repairs and Mechanics Forum
All, Just had my brakes replaced and repaired. I noticed that my rear v-brakes were skewed to one side. Not sure how to fix or reconfigure this. Any help is appreciated. The attachment shows the skewed v-brakes leaning to one side. rear-v-brakes.jpg (Size: 57.44 KB / Downloads: 44) Thanks....Read more
Hi, I followed the park tool instruction for the front and rear derailer alignment but the Front Derailer moves to the bigger cog only when I'm not riding the bike. On the stand, it moves to the bigger cog just fine but whenever I ride it doesn't move. It shifts perfectly on the stand but seems to hit the h limit screw when sitting and actually riding (the cables are not being clamped in any way ...Read more
I've watched the Park Tool video on removing and installing a new crank. I've completed the removal/install and torqued to 45Nm (hoping this is correct for a cheap SR Suntour XCT since I can't find manufacturer guidance). I used a tiny bit of grease (but let's not go down that rabbit hole for this question). Here's where I'm starting to find conflicting info. This document on Sheldon's siteexpla...Read more
Hi! I recently got a cheapie old mountain bike. A few minor thing had to be done to it to get it into a good usable condition. The old thing thats still up with it is a slight wobble in the rear freewheel. It makes the rear gears slip a bit. I don't know much about freewheel mechanisms... is there user serviceable bearing in then or is replacing that the only option? i've uploaded a video to sh...Read more
I am having a problem with my chain sagging in the small chainring to small cog combination. I am aware that it is inadvisable to use this or the big chainring to big cog. I have a triple chainset with 46-36-24 and my cassette is an 11-32. I have put a new chain on and checked the length required using a calculator and also manually over big chainring, big cog according to advice on Park tools we...Read more
I bought a new gravel bike last week and noticed that the shifting seemed to jump around in the higher gears. I watched a park tool video on how to adjust the rear derailleur and adjusted the limit screws and indexing it seemed that everything was working normal. Just went on a quick ride on my trainer, didn't notice any problems with the shifting, then when I took the bike off and put the rear wh...Read more
I have a 1983 Raleigh Super Course 12-speed bike. I'd like to replace certain parts and to 'clean up' certain other parts depending on how they have survived the passing of time. From 1983 until this past April, this bike has seen very limited use, so, much of it is in excellent condition. I though I'd start with tires and tubes, but even in that category, I'm a little confused. The tires show 27X...Read more
Hi I hope someone can help. I removed the front wheel on my ebike to fix a puncture which has disc brake. When trying to replace the wheel it was difficult to get in the forks And when I finally got it in the wheel is stiff with no play at all. hope you can help.?...Read more
My new-ish disk bikes brakes squeel like you would not beleive! Any advice on how to deal with this? Thanks!...Read more
Hello there, this is my first post here so i'm sorry in advance if this is in the wrong category. I bought a foldable ebike to repair it, (i don't want to use it as electrical, just normal bike, so i'm about to strip all the electric cables off) but the rear wheel (20x1.75) is missing 6 spokes, they are 130mm in lenght and i can't find anywhere to buy them because of their short lenght. So i was ...Read more
I have an original 2010 Trek District 1st edition. I need the rear cog 22t 9 spline replaced, I've stripped out my original one. I can not find this part anywhere and if I go to trek website or even gates, they say the part does not exist. When I contacted gates they informed me that they do not have any and that I could maybe find it through a 3rd party source. I really do not want to change it ...Read more
Hi, I am new to working on bicycle gears and am hoping to get some help determining if my new shifter has failed or if I just need to make some more adjustments. On the left side shifter, I am able to shift easily from 1st to 2nd, but when I tried to get it to go to 3rd, the chain would go up, but the shifter wouldn't lock into place. It would be great thumb exercise, but I prefer to fix it. I...Read more
So,when i first got my bike i didn't know much about bedding in and all of that so i rode it normally. At first it was great,loved the new bike with mechanical disk brakes until the rear one wasn't breaking evenly. I took it to the shop and he changed my pads. Apparently he changed them into semi metallic pads and they produce a horrible metal on metal sound when braking at low speeds,and they did...Read more
I'm riding an old Specialized Crossroads for fitness. Love this old bike but am having gear slippage problems. The bike always had a crisp, no-lag change of gears. About a month ago, shifting mid-range gears got clunky. When I say clunky, I mean a lag before the gears changed and then clunked into gear. Nothing crisp or positive about it. My local bike shop adjusted things & cleaned/lube...Read more
I have a clicking sound that occurs while pedaling my MTB and it seems to be coming from the BB though I don't feel anything at all when it makes the sound. My bike is pretty dusty from so much riding in dusty conditions. I'm not positive it's coming from the BB but I really doubt it's a cable problem and can't think of other sources. Any ideas?...Read more