There is nothing more frustrating than having bicycle brakes that squeak every time you try to stop. Not only does it sound awful, but it can also affect the quality of your stopping power.
All brakes can begin to squeak over time based on wear or improper installation, so it's good to know how to fix them. In this article, we will look at the two main reasons that squeaky brakes happen, as well as solutions.
Reason 1 - Debris
It is possible that your squeaky brakes are simply occurring because of debris or oil residue on the brake pad or rim.
Thankfully, this is an easy thing to fix. Use a rag with some rubbing alcohol to remove oil from your tire and clean the rim of the wheel. If there is debris on your brake pad, you may need to remove the pad in order to clean it thoroughly. However, if the pad looks too damaged then replacing it is best.
Reason 2 - Improper Rim Alignment
The number one reason for squeaky brakes is due to improper brake pad alignment to the rim. This can be caused by improper installation or from the normal wear of the brake pad.
Fixing improper alignment is fairly easy and the only tool you need is an Allen key.
Step 1: Examine Your Brake Pads for Excessive Wear
Check the brake pad to make sure it's not worn to where it's no longer useable. If it's super worn down, go ahead and visit a bike shop for a replacement. Brake pads are pretty cheap, not to mention necessary for your overall safety.
Pro Tip: Some brake pads come with "wear lines" to help you determine when to replace the pads.
After you have determined your pads are adequate or you have a new set, we can begin the process of aligning the pads to the rim.
Step 2: Align Your Brake Pads
Test your brake pad alignment by squeezing the brake lever to see where your pads are touching the rim. You should see both brake pads hitting the rim at the same time. They should not be touching any part of the rubber of the tire or the spokes of the bike.
If you notice that your brakes are not centered on the rim take your Allen wrench and turn it counter-clockwise to loose the bolts holding the brake pad in place enough so that you can manipulate the placement of the brake pad. Once your brakes are centered, tighten the bolt again so that your brakes are secure.
Test by squeezing the brake lever once more and repeat if necessary.
Step 3: Tightening the Tension of Your Brake Cables
Test the tightness of your brake cables by pulling each brake lever in turn. The brake levers should engage before the brake lever reaches the handlebar and be even in the tension between the two sides. If your brake levers touch or come close to the handlebars when you pull them, you will need to tighten your brake cables.
If your brake cables are only slightly loose, you can loosen your barrel adjusters (located where the cables meet the brake levers) by turning them counter-clockwise. Loosening the barrel adjusted will slightly tighten the brake cable. After making this adjustment squeeze the brake levers and assess the tension.
If you need to increase the tension of the brake cables more you can tighten the caliper brake located near the brake pads. To do this, locate the bolt that is holding the brake cable and use an Allen wrench to turn it counterclockwise just slightly so that you can pull the cable slightly through the bolt. As you pull the cable you will notice that your brake pads are tightening near the rim of your front tire. Once you have found the desired amount of tension secure the bolt that holds the brake cable back into place.
As always, you can take your bike in for an annual tune-up or for a quick service if you're unsure of doing this on your own. But no matter if you're riding a cruiser, mountain, road, or hybrid bike, we think everyone is capable of learning the ins and outs of bike maintenance. Best of luck, and enjoy a squeak-free ride!