Bike brakes can be split into three categories:
Rim – Brakes that apply force on the wheel rim
Disc – Brakes that apply force on a thin disc on the centre of the wheel
Coaster – Internal brakes that are applied by pushing the pedals backwards
Common brakes & their uses:
1. Direct Pull Cantilevers (V-Brakes) – MTB/Hybrid
2. Center Pull Cantilevers – MTB/Hybrid/Tourer
3. Calipers – Racer/Road
4. Disc – MTB/Hybrid
5. Coaster – Single speed/Folding
Adjusting rim brakes
As rim brakes are most common, and very fiddly, I’ll just briefly mention which things can be adjusted on them, why you adjust them and how to adjust them.
ADJUSTMENT: Angle of brake arms
WHY: A wide arm angle will mean good braking but too wide will mean weak braking
HOW: Loosen the brake cable bolt and pull in/let out the cable
WARNING: This adjustment can change the other adjustments so do it first
ADJUSTMENT: Height of brake pad up/down the arm
WHY: Pad must hit the rim fully or they could slip under the rim or rub the tyre
HOW: Adjust the brake pad bolt and move the pad up or down the arm vertically
ADJUSTMENT: Distance of pad to rim
WHY: Pad should be near to the rim but give enough room for any wheel wobble
HOW: Loosen brake pad bolt and move pads closer in/further out
ADJUSTMENT: Pitch angle of pad to rim
WHY: Pads should hit the rim square so they ware evenly
HOW: Loosen brake pad bolt and pivot the pad up or down
ADJUSTMENT: Horizontal angle of pad to rim
WHY: The front edge of the pads should hit the rim first
HOW: Loosen brake pad bolt and pivot/roll the pad in/out very slightly
ADJUSTMENT: Centering of pads to rim
WHY: Pads should be an equal distance from the rim
HOW: Screw in or out the spring tension screw on each arm (if there is one on each arm)
TIP: I tend to put my finger on the lower part of the pad and feel whether it’s square and doesn’t touch below the rim.
* The angle of the lever should be about 45 degrees below the height of the grip for comfort
The amount you pull the lever towards the grip should be to about half way
The adjusting screw on the cable next to the lever is for small adjustments and should be screwed in almost all the way in. If it’s quite far out you need to screw it back in and pull out more cable by loosening the brake cable bolt on the brake arm and pulling the cable.
Brake pads come with different sizes, colours and structure. Newer style brake pads come with different compounds to suit weather types and multi-compound pads reduce brake squeel. These are usually two different colours.
WARNING: All brake pads are not universal
TIP: Check what type of brakes you have before you go buy replacements and ask the advice of the shop mechanic.
RECOMMENDATION: Cool Stop brake pads are very good in wet and dry weather (I use them myself) especially the salmon coloured ones.
Anything I’ve written for this column can be bettered by: http://sheldonbrown.com/brakes/index.html