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
Hi Guys, I would appreciate some advice on choosing the right chain for a new singlespeed freewheel 16T. I have a Campagnolo crankset that is 1/8" and use Izumi chain of the same width. I'm currently on Sturmey Archer 17T 1/8" freewheel but I'd like to upgrade to 16T. All the quality 16T freewheels I found are made for 3/32" chains for example Box Buzz. Halo Clickster can supposedly accept 3/32 o...Read more
Hello, Ive just had my over 30 year old rockhopper serviced and its as good as new. Almost! Repair shop - where i bought it 6 years ago and have been great servicing it - say the chain is very worn and will be almost impossible to replace. Its a six speed. Would this be true? I'm not grumbling as its been a great bike but at the same time seems a shame to ditch it for want of a chain. Appreciate a...Read more
Hi, newbie here. I have recently obtained an older tricyle rear axel and cage which i would like to replace the bearings and brake parts. 1/ It is a single axel unit with one side free and the other the drive side. 2/ wheels come off easily (nuts on outer thread of axel 3/ Im assuming that you use a slide hammer to draw the axel out of the cage (untightening the freewheel cog mounts and als th...Read more
Hi, I'm Steve. I have this bicycle(non-geared) that I haven't used for a decade. The frame seems intact so I'm thinking of renovating it, I have disassembled it. I don't know anything about these things. Tyres, pedals and saddle I understand(not entirely), but other than that, the handle, brakes, crank bars I don't. I'm hoping someone will help me out to put it together. Thanks. I've attached two...Read more
I have a Specialized Sirrus 6.0 on order. It comes with tubeless tires. I’m thinking of having my dealer pull the tubes during setup and put in the sealant. Other than not worrying about flats, are the tubeless setups lighter and what’s the negatives?...Read more
Hi, I have a mountain bike thr has a 32 tooth chainwheel on the crank i would like to put a bigger 48 on to the crank axke i. Order to cycle the higher road speeds easier, if you install it in the exact place where you take off the old one it will not fit as it will touch the frame, because the crank is mounter in a indent of the spreader if the framer, is thete a such thing as a longer crank axl...Read more
I think I need to tighten the chainring bolts because while pedaling hard uphill today I heard some creaks. Does anybody know how to remove the plastic cover on the front crank? Thank you. IMG_3602.jpeg (Size: 79.36 KB / Downloads: 42) IMG_3603.jpeg (Size: 71.21 KB / Downloads: 43) ...Read more
Fairly dumb question, what are the early signs that disc brakes are wearing out? Are there any obvious visual cues? I don't want to wait until it's metal on metal.....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: 29) ...Read more
Hi, guys, the frame is 2017 Giant TCR ADV SL, can you tell this is a paint crack or a carbon crack? If it is carbon, repairable? Worth to repair? Thanks. 4F2F7C4D-0DD6-4271-A1F8-47D66B037913.jpeg (Size: 293.65 KB / Downloads: 113) 5D9E939D-05B9-4691-8586-8D33F305A7E2.jpeg (Size: 228.73 KB / Downloads: 111) ...Read more
I have a 1970’s Schwinn Varsity where the rear wheel doesn’t engage but gears rotate with chain and change gears? Went for a ride and 3 blocks later this happened....Read more
I usually go with some really nice polarized sunglasses. What do you think, It's really good?...Read more
3CC596A4-6393-4508-85E7-500A2A685C06.jpeg (Size: 69.61 KB / Downloads: 40) F04F1DF7-EF56-4B0E-94EA-1D7D3F48BA4C.jpeg (Size: 64.84 KB / Downloads: 43) Can someone identify this type of bottom bracket and a reference to what tools that I will need to remove it? Thank you....Read more
Hello everyone im looking to upgrade my brakes on a project bike that I'm doing, it currently has traditional lock bolt brake calipers can you upgrade to new style and how to do so? Kris....Read more
I bought a Schwinn Signature Sport Hybrid 21 Speed by mail (first mistake) and it came with the rear wheel off and derailleur off with the chain twisted with 2 loops. The derailleur is inside out and I have tried everything to untwist this thing with no luck. I can't find a "master link" in the chain anywhere. Any ideas or help would be appreciated. Supposed to be a Christmas present. &n...Read more