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

Related Tools

Categories

Discuss this topic in the Bicycle Repairs and Mechanics Forum

Hello, bike riders! Our community member Gabriel has shared his unpleasant experience with Deore T610 brake levers: "After 2 years of very limited use ... I'm still trying to understand why is there so many holes in such a critical place" Can anyone help by explaining the reasoning for such lever design and what might be the cause of the particular break (material quality, usage, design flaw)? ...

Read more

Hello bike riders! Newbie here, happy to join. Visited fam during the holidays. Found my old Fuji mountain bike in the attic. Took it back home to use for weekend rides and occasional commuting. It has rigid fork. I prefer to swap it for suspension fork. I want it to be a DIY project. My first bike build in other words. Might get overwhelming at start. So where do I begin? Anyone here has done rig...

Read more

I have just acquired a Cervelo Soloist 2006, has the Ultegra 6600 groupset. It was making a clickity grinding sound whenever I'm on the larger 2 or 3 sprockets (doesn't matter which chainring) when I'm pedalling hard and fast. Anyways, took my crank, chain rings, and bottom bracket off to clean, inspect, regrease and retorque. Greased my new pedals and torqued them on. Adjusted my front derailleu...

Read more

New wheels for 1984 Bianchi nuovo

Lastest post 6 days ago

Hi, I posted this on reddit and got the suggestion to come to the experts here instead so here I am I recently had my front wheel of my vintage Bianchi stolen. First I was looking to just replace the front wheel but since the rear wheel is pretty old as well I'm thinking I might just change them both and at the same time size up from 23mm to 25mm for a little extra confort Does anyone have an...

Read more

Hello, My apologies for the simpleness of this question. I have a 1995 Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo that I need to replace the front axle on. How do I find what to buy to replace it? It is missing so I cannot look at the existing part for guidance. Thanks!...

Read more

Rear disc brake is rubbing

Lastest post 2 weeks ago

I have a brand new MTB and the rear disc break is already rubbing/squeaking. What are the easiest fixes? Thanks...

Read more

Shimano hubs

Lastest post 2 weeks ago

Hi, bike riders! Can anyone recognize these Shimano hubs as seen on Schwinn Tune bicycle in NYC? Kudos to whoever gets this right! I'll post the answer by the end of the week.   schwinn-hubs-1.jpg (Size: 125.11 KB / Downloads: 35)   schwinn-hubs-2.jpg (Size: 124.7 KB / Downloads: 33)   schwinn-hubs-3.jpg (Size: 167.41 KB / Downloads: 36) ...

Read more

I ruined my expensive dynamo powered front headlamp. This is the kind that adjusts to motion and knows what time of day it is as well as having a built in ability to charge my phone and other electronics. I was ecstatic when I hooked it all up and went out on my first night ride with it through Forest Park in Portland, OR with four other buddies. I was over the moon in the early morning commutes t...

Read more

Help! 2018 Diamondback Line

Lastest post 2 weeks ago

I have a 2018 diamondback line 27.5” . I rode it a few times and the crankset makes a popping noise as i pedal most likely due to being 230lbs. Any recommendations on what i could replace the old ones with that would work better with my weight and handle my riding better....

Read more

Shimano ultegra shifting issues.

Lastest post 2 weeks ago

Hey everybody, New to world of cycling, recently my bike started to not shift as smoothly as it was before so I thought I would check to see if the cable was frayed. I detached the RD cable and inspected it, found no issues relubed it and re attached the cable. Since I have done this, my shifter will only click 7 times, and I have a 9 speed so it should click 8. I’ll walk you through what I d...

Read more

Weak disc brake

Lastest post 3 weeks ago

Back disc break on my Orbea commuter got much weaker this week. Front break is strong as always. I dont think that smth special happened, like crash, that damaged the brake. Never worked much on disc brakes. I want to fix this myself but I dont know where to look first and dont want to mess smth up. Where should I start? I have Shimano mech disc brakes....

Read more

Triple front derailleur

Lastest post 3 weeks ago

A couple of years ago I bought a new front derailleur from my LBS. He said it will work for a triple chain ring. I didn't install it right away, and in the meanwhile I stopped dealing with him because of numerous botch jobs. When I put the derailleur on the bike, it won't work on a triple chain ring. I can make it work on the small and middle ring, or the middle and large ring. So I'm stuck with ...

Read more

Chain Cleaning

Lastest post 3 weeks ago

Disclaimer: I am not a professional bicycle mechanic! After reading many procedures/methods for chain cleaning, utilizing many solvents/lubricants and/or water; I have only found one method that actually does the job properly and effectively. I am not here to "poo-poo" other means of accomplishing this goal, just providing what I have found has worked for me without fail. First: "wiping off" a...

Read more

REAR DERAILLEURS

Lastest post 4 weeks ago

What (if there is any) is the difference between 9, 10, 11 speed rear derailleurs?...

Read more

LBS said 'eh you don't need it, pull off the one on the other side too'. So I did, but now when reinstalling the new cables/housing, there's no tension on the cables and the brake lever has no resistance. Only thing that's different is the removal of this barrel adjuster.   IMG_0397.jpg (Size: 57.3 KB / Downloads: 49) ...

Read more