important: Nuts and bolts on your bike should always be tightened to the manufacturer's specifications.

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.

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.

Related Links

Recommended Tools

Categories

Discuss this topic in the Bicycle Repairs and Mechanics Forum

My 1997 Trek 720 Multitrack was diagnosed at the local bike shop that the crankset, cassette, and chain need to be replaced.  I think the front derailer also needs replacement.  I ride for fitness so I do not care that much about the weight penalty using this older & heaver bike.  I checked my online cycling log that tracks my workouts and it was says there is over 5,000 miles over the last...

Read more

Schwinn 3rd Avenue 700C hybrid

Lastest post 4 days ago

The bike, new, was $199 from an Amazon dealer, and it came with a load of great reviews and very few negative ones. That should be a warning to anyone looking for a new bike; the shills are out there. If anyone buys one with the idea of putting it together and going for a ride, they would be disappointed. Walmart bikes are better. Seriously! I knew that it would need some work because you do...

Read more

New to forum, just signed-up, after reading an entry about constantly loosening crank-arm fixing BOLTS. In my case, my original BB, uses crank-arm fixing NUTS (original equipment, not jury-rigged), instead of BOLTS. I’m “dating” myself, but I’ve had this bike since new. I’m constantly re-tightening the nuts, every other ride, or worse, at times after a long ride. I have had difficult...

Read more

Anyone know how to remove the plastic cover at the base of the seat stem housing on a Trek Madone 9.2? The housing piece for the seat stem wobbles a little and I'd iike to tighten it. Assuming there's a screw underneath the covers.   IMG_2660.jpg (Size: 51.17 KB / Downloads: 109)   IMG_2659.jpg (Size: 44.51 KB / Downloads: 109) Thanks! Bill...

Read more

  varsity.jpg (Size: 152.97 KB / Downloads: 202)   varsity2.jpg (Size: 77.64 KB / Downloads: 203) Hi. This is my first post. I have a 1962 Varsity that I've enjoyed riding since I was 10. I'm in my 60's now and just want to putz around the neighborhood. In order to make the bike more comfortable I put a super big seat on it and 12" high handlebars. It's my Lazy-Boy on w...

Read more

I need to know what bottom bracket I have but I can fin a number or code on it to read it. Any experts in here, this is my first post.   006BA1F3-FE4D-4D22-85F0-095E72284B3D.jpeg (Size: 46.12 KB / Downloads: 59) ...

Read more

Custom Frame Headtube and Fork

Lastest post 2 weeks ago

G’day, I have a couple of questions. I want to install Fox 40 29” on a new custom made frame. Frame not made yet. The headtube will be straight headtube 44mm round 120mm or 135mm in length. What length would be best? I’m looking at zs44/28.6 zs44/30 headset. Would this be the right headset for the tube and fork? Also any tips on how to installing the fork and headset? Does the uppe...

Read more

I have what I take to be an adjustable quill stem, after some research. I had a bit of an incident in which a wheel temporarily became slightly loose, and I think the angle of the stem somehow moved closer to 180. The handlebars aren't at the right angle. Anyway, I've unscrewed the angle adjusting bolt, but I can't get this thing to budge. What do I do?...

Read more

Refitting a sturney archer wheel

Lastest post 2 weeks ago

I am having difficulty refitting a sturney archer 3 speed wheel. The chain on the indicator bar is coming out at the wrong angle by about 90 degrees. I have clearly reassembled incorrectly but I cannot see a way of assembling with the axial rotated by 90 degrees. Suggestions gratefully received. [attachment=1236]   71DD7E3C-8E11-4410-8239-13AB8963A4D3.jpeg (Size: 71.18 KB / Down...

Read more

Hi everyone. First post, posting from a phone while on a week-long bike tour. I forgot to pack a spare mountain bike tube [/w presta valve] and there are not many bike shops around, but we managed to pass by one in a remote area. Surprisingly, they only got Dunlop and Auto valve, no sign of Presta inthe necessary size. Was it a gamble to take Dunlop? Does it usually fit with the same rims as Prest...

Read more

Brake wire

Lastest post 4 weeks ago

Took my bike out after a couple of years only to remember that my left brake broke off while using it last and there is an unusual cable hanging from my bike that gets in the way sometimes, is it okay for me to cut it off? Will it affect the right brake?...

Read more

NordicTrack U300 Knocking

Lastest post 4 weeks ago

I'm hoping someone can help me figure out what is causing the knocking sound on my NordicTrack U300 stationary bike. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Here is a video of the knocking sound: https://1drv.ms/v/s!AnBkAt1Ty5oGiGDlEifMjPDihGr7?e=08qsm9...

Read more

Horrendous noises when pedalling

Lastest post 4 weeks ago

I have just started hearing horrendous noises when pedalling my 7 week old Trek Powerfly 4 ebike. The sound is worse than clicking and clunking and I can’t tell exactly where it is coming from. So have uploaded a video here: https://youtu.be/G3X2tLHk4Bk. Has anyone had similar or know what if could be? I’ve not heard these types of noises before....

Read more

Gear shift is stuck!

Lastest post 4 weeks ago

On both my bike handles, the gear shifts are stuck and I can’t move them. They’re currently stuck on gear 5 now (the highest). How do I fix it without needing a new gear shift?...

Read more

I bought a can of mineral oil from motorex and it came in 250ml aluminium can with big cap, and I need to fill my brake lever with that oil but I don't have syringe or bleed kit. How could I fill it up without syringe or bleed kit and tips? Anything similar to syringe that would work?   54e2f371.jpg (Size: 152.52 KB / Downloads: 54) ...

Read more