Easy Fixes for Rubbing Bike Brakes

Easy Fixes for Rubbing Bike Brakes

Rubbing brakes can mean big problems for your bike tires. Learn the signs and address the symptoms to ensure easy riding.

The brakes rub on the tire

Adjust the position of the pads

A pad that rubs on a tire is a serious issue. Deal with it urgently or it will soon wear through the tire and cause a blowout.

  • First, make sure that the wheel axle is fully inserted into the dropout — the slot in the bike’s frame or forks — on both sides. Loosen the axle nuts or quick-release levers, push the frame down onto the axle, then retighten the nuts/levers.
  • Adjust the height of the pads. Most are attached to the brake arm by a bolt that passes through a vertical slot in the arm. Simply loosen the bolt on the back of the pad and slide it into a position where it will make contact with the metal wheel rim, not the tire. Tighten the nut.

My brake pad rubs against the wheel rim

Check that the wheel is centred

The left and right brake pads should travel the same distance before they make contact with the wheel rim. If they don’t, or if one pad is actually rubbing against the rim, that may be because the wheel is misaligned in the bicycle frame.

  • Check to see whether the distance between the tire and the frame is equal on both sides. If it is uneven, check that the quick-release levers or axle nuts holding the wheel in place are tight.
  • While looking at the brake pads, try pulling, then releasing the brake lever. Do the pads move away from the wheel rim when you release the lever? If not, the point at which the brake arms pivot may be the problem. Squirt a little lubricant on the caliper pivot and try the brakes again.

My brake pads are still rubbing

Check that the brakes are correctly aligned

If the wheel is correctly centred but the brake still rubs, you need to change the position of the brake pads relative to the wheel.

  • Most modern brakes have an adjustment screw on one or both brake arms that moves the brake pad individually towards or away from the wheel rim. Turn the screw in or out until both pads are the same distance from the wheel.
  • If you have side-pull brakes that lack adjustment screws, you can still centre the pads. Loosen the mounting nut on the centre of the brake unit, and move the whole brake unit until both pads are the same distance from the wheel rim. Tighten the nut.

The brake cables are ruining my bike’s paint job

Use nail polish to touch up your paint

Applying the brake levers pulls the metal brake cable through the plastic cable housing; the housing or the cable itself can rub or snap against the bicycle frame. This friction can wear the paint away, leaving unsightly marks on your bike that — for steel frames — can lead to corrosion.

  • Check the chipped spot for corrosion. Gently sand off any rust using an emery cloth; avoid scuffing up the surrounding area.
  • Fill the scratch with nail polish that is the same colour as your bike’s paint.
  • Leave it to dry, then apply a coat of clear nail polish for extra protection against further rubbing.

When to replace brake pads

Check the parallel grooves

Brake pads have parallel grooves indented in the rubber surface that contacts the wheel rim. These are wear markers — once the rubber has worn so much that the grooves are no longer there, it’s time to fit new brake blocks.


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