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

On one bike I have either the bottom of the range Shimano rear derailleur, or an imitation copy of the bottom of the range Shimano rear derailleur. The spring tension is weaker than many other rear derailleurs. The chain sags more than it should. With a derailleur like this, the chain rides up on the sprockets more than it does with a derailleur with stronger spring tension. This results in the s...

Read more

New Stator For My Ride1up Core 5

Latest post 3 days ago

Hi Folks, Posted this on another forum as well. Hope to get the assistance here. I'm not a very handy ebike enthusiast. Don‘t really know the inner workings of an ebike, I just like riding them. Anyway, was riding my Core-5 that has around 1200 miles on it, and suddenly it made this strange grinding sound every time I engaged the throttle or PAS. Visited Ride1up’s support page and read...

Read more

Jumps a Gear

Latest post 4 days ago

We have just changed a gear twist grip as previous broke. Have fitted a shimano 7 speed But now it jumps a gear in the middle. 1st fine 2nd fine 3rd fine But when change to 4th it jumps to the fifth sprocket so then twist gear just goes to 6th But is actually 7th on sprocket. It does the same going down gears, If you just turn twist half way through clicks 3rd / 4th it will go onto 4th. But a...

Read more

Lock ring clearance

Latest post 6 days ago

  20220806_113536.jpg (Size: 33.21 KB / Downloads: 14) Hello To Everyone. Need a help! Is this enough clearance between the lock ring and the fork. Some bike shops say Yes some of them No. The Lock ring was tighten to the specs. I would really appreciate your opinions. Thank you...

Read more

Derailleur causing issues

Latest post 1 week ago

Hello there, I had managed to replace my inner tube and outer tyre successfully, however since then I have been trying to re-fit my rear tyre back onto the frame to no avail. Initially I thought the axel was at an angle. I have undone the nuts and bolts many times, rode the bike, then either the tyre starts rubbing with the frame, or the pedals become really stiff to rotate. But today I have r...

Read more

Wheel not turning

Latest post 1 week ago

Recently bought an Amigo scooter, I went to make a turn and the handlebar locked up, the wheel wouldn't turn and I fell off of the bike. I only had it for a day prior to that and felt it lock up a little the first day but brushed it off. do you all know what the cause could be?...

Read more

Amigo Polo Scooter

Latest post 1 week ago

Can anyone help me figure out how my one day old scooter's handle bars locked up while i was making a turn ? It is the Amigo Polo and I literally had it for one day, is there a way to fix this ?...

Read more

I have these Chinese freewheels. On the inside are ridges which are supposed to be there so you can use the tool to remove it. With these freewheels, the ridges are very low. I have a tool, also made in China, and the ridges on the tool are also very low. So when trying to use the tool to remove the freewheel, it does not grip properly, and it can't be used to remove the freewheel. The metal on ...

Read more

]Hello.. First post ! In trouble already.. It's years since I last did bike maintenance and then it all seemed to easy.. I've just bought an old Dawes Shuniah mountain bike (£5) that's been very neglected. The rear hub bearing are dry and I need to repack with grease. Looks like the axle is slightly bent as well. First hurdle is the cassette removal (without special tools ) The lock nut is diff...

Read more

Make a freewheel removal tool

Latest post 4 weeks ago

Make your own strong, inexpensive, freewheel removal tool, using a car wheel nut. The most common bikes with gears, use freewheels. There are other gear systems for bikes, but they are used on less bikes. The tool I will describe is for the most common type of freewheel, as shown in the picture. There are freewheels which require different tools, particularly on older bikes.   free...

Read more

My bikes' front and rear tires are not aligned. By this I mean a straightedge held against the front or rear wheel will show an appromixately 2 inch offset as compared to the other wheel. The dealer says this is "within specification". This is the second bike with the identical situation. So the wheels are in a different track. If this were a car they would call this dogtracking or crabbing. ...

Read more

The most common bikes with gears use a freewheel hub. Some bikes with gears have other types of hubs. Axles may bend and break in freewheel hubs. Heavy riders are more likely to bend and break axles than light riders. People riding on rough tracks are more likely to bend and break axles than people riding on smooth roads. Axles are more likely to bend and break in hard tails, than bikes with r...

Read more

Velowave Ranger

Latest post 1 month ago

I'm getting Error Code 04H-Throttle Not Return, on the Velowave Ranger. Help please. Anyone else have this issue? Only had the bike for a week!...

Read more

Maintenance on a found bike!

Latest post 1 month ago

I found a Giant manufactured (I assume based on what I have read and that it says Taiwan on the handle bar post) Schwinn Woodlands abandoned outside that I would like to fix up and use. This is some good timing as I love taking my kids for bike/walk adventures, and I am very tired of the terrible bicycle I am using now. I am fairly mechanically inclined, with replacing a turbo charger on my old TD...

Read more

Hey guys so I have ~50 years old Cosmos SuperCorsa and the only problem with it is that the rims are bent to the center. I want to replace them but I can't find the exact same brand at a good price. The wheels are from Campagnolo. The bike is 700c with 36 holes. The inner width is 13,5mm and the rim height is 18mm. Are the last 2 measurements not required or it should be exactly as the ones I have...

Read more