How to adjust bike brakes rubbing step by step guide (with pictures)

When it comes to cycling having properly functioning brakes is of utmost importance. Over time your bike’s brakes may start rubbing causing performance issues and compromising safety.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the nitty-gritty of how to adjust bike brakes rubbing. We’ll cover everything from identifying the problem to making necessary adjustments to maintain a smooth and safe ride.

Understanding the Problem 

Bike brakes play a pivotal role in ensuring your safety while cycling. They are responsible for slowing down or bringing your bicycle to a complete stop when needed.

However, when your brakes begin to rub against the wheel it can create resistance and diminish your bike’s performance.

To resolve this problem effectively it’s crucial to comprehend the underlying causes. In this article, we will explore three primary factors that can contribute to brake rub.

  • Misaligned Brake Pads
  • Wheel Misalignment
  • Cable Tension

Misaligned Brake Pads

What Are Brake Pads?

Illustration of brake pads, essential components of a bicycle's braking system.
Understanding the key components of your bike’s braking system brake pads. These crucial elements ensure safe and effective braking performance.

Before we dive into the issue of misaligned brake pads let’s understand what they are. Brake pads are essential components of the braking system on your bicycle.

They are typically made of rubber or composite materials and are positioned on either side of the rim of the wheel.

When you squeeze the brake lever the brake pads make contact with the rim creating friction that slows down or stops the bike.

The Role of Brake Pads

Brake pads play a critical role in your bike’s braking mechanism. When functioning correctly they should make consistent and even contact with the rim of the wheel providing smooth and reliable braking performance. However, when they become misaligned problems arise.

Misalignment Causes Rubbing

One of the most common causes of rubbing bike brakes is misaligned brake pads. Misalignment can occur due to various reasons such as wear and tear accidental bumps or improper installation.

When brake pads are not in the correct position they may rub against the wheel causing friction noise and reduced efficiency.

Wheel Misalignment

 A close-up image of a bicycle wheel showing signs of misalignment, with a bent rim and uneven spokes.
Common causes include a bent rim and loose spokes. Proper alignment is crucial for smooth cycling.

The Importance of Proper Wheel Alignment

Your bike’s wheels are not just round objects that keep it moving forward they are complex systems of spokes, hubs, and rims. Proper wheel alignment is essential for smooth and efficient cycling.

When your wheels are aligned correctly they spin freely without any obstructions. However, if there is any deviation from the optimal alignment it can lead to brake rubbing.

Factors Contributing to Wheel Misalignment

Several factors can contribute to wheel misalignment:

  • Bent Rim: A common cause of wheel misalignment is a bent rim. This can occur if you hit a pothole curb or other obstacles while riding. A bent rim can result in an irregular shape causing the brake pads to make uneven contact.
  • Loose Spokes: Loose or damaged spokes can also affect wheel alignment. When spokes are not properly tensioned it can lead to a wobbly wheel which in turn causes brake rub.
  • Axle Issues: Problems with the wheel’s axle such as a bent or damaged axle can disrupt proper wheel alignment.

Detecting Wheel Misalignment

Detecting wheel misalignment can be done visually or through a simple test ride. Visually inspect your wheels to check for any noticeable bends or damage.

Additionally, if you notice wobbling or unusual resistance while riding it could indicate wheel misalignment.

Cable Tension

Close-up of a bicycle brake cable, an essential component for smooth and safe braking.
The bike brake cable is a crucial element for reliable and responsive braking on your bicycle.

The Role of Cable Tension in Braking

Cable tension is a critical factor in your bike’s braking system. The brake cable connects the brake lever on your handlebars to the brake caliper on the wheel.

When you squeeze the brake lever it pulls on the cable which in turn activates the brake caliper causing the brake pads to make contact with the wheel rim.

Balancing Act Cable Tension

Achieving the right balance of cable tension is essential for proper braking performance. If there is inadequate tension the brake pads may not make sufficient contact with the wheel resulting in weak braking.

Conversely, excessive tension can lead to constant brake pad contact causing rubbing and reducing the bike’s efficiency.

Adjusting Cable Tension

Adjusting cable tension is part of routine bike maintenance. To ensure optimal cable tension:

  • Inspect the Cable: Check for any fraying or damage to the brake cable. Replace it if necessary.
  • Fine-tune the Tension: Use an adjustable wrench to make small adjustments to the cable tension until it’s just right. Be cautious not to overtighten as it can lead to rubbing.

Tools and Materials 

Before embarking on the task of adjusting your bike brakes it’s essential to gather the necessary tools and materials to ensure a smooth and efficient process. Here’s a breakdown of the tools and materials you’ll need:

Allen Wrench Set

Close-up of an Allen Wrench set, essential for bike maintenance.
An Allen Wrench set is a must-have tool for fine-tuning your bike’s components.

    • Purpose: An Allen wrench set, also known as a hex key set is a collection of L-shaped tools with hexagonal ends. These wrenches are indispensable for bike maintenance, particularly in adjusting brake calipers and brake pads.
    • Usage: You’ll use the Allen wrench set to loosen and tighten bolts and screws on your bike’s brake components. Specifically, you’ll need them to adjust the brake calipers, which are responsible for controlling the position of the brake pads in relation to the wheel rim.

Adjustable Wrench

An adjustable wrench, also known as a crescent wrench, lies on a workbench, ready for bike maintenance.
An adjustable wrench, a versatile tool for fine-tuning and securing components during bike maintenance.


  • Purpose: An adjustable wrench, often referred to as a crescent wrench is a versatile tool used for various purposes in bike maintenance. It’s beneficial for fine-tuning cable tension and securing various components of your bike’s braking system.
  • Usage: When adjusting your bike’s brakes, the adjustable wrench comes in handy for making precise adjustments to cable tension. Proper cable tension is crucial for ensuring that your brakes engage and release smoothly, providing optimal safety and control while riding.


A close-up image of a lubricant bottle with a clear label. The bottle is placed on a clean, well-lit workbench, ready to be used for bike maintenance.
High-quality lubricant is essential for keeping your bike’s moving parts in optimal condition. A must-have for every cyclist’s toolkit.


  • Purpose: Lubricant is a substance used to reduce friction and ensure smooth movement of mechanical parts. In the context of bike brake adjustment lubricant is essential for maintaining the functionality of brake components.
  • Usage: Apply lubricant to moving parts of your bike’s brake system, such as pivot points on the brake calipers and brake levers. Lubricating these components helps prevent corrosion ensures smooth operation, and prolongs the lifespan of your brakes.

Step-by-Step Brake Adjustment 

Illustration of someone adjusting bike brakes step by step.
Step-by-Step Brake Adjustment: Follow our guide to ensure your bike’s brakes are perfectly tuned for a safe and smooth ride.

Now that you’ve identified potential issues with your bike’s brakes and have your essential tools at the ready let’s walk through the step-by-step process of adjusting your bike brakes to eliminate that frustrating rubbing.

Proper brake adjustment is essential for ensuring optimal braking performance and most importantly your safety.

Safety First

  • Objective: Before diving into the brake adjustment process prioritize safety. Ensuring a secure and stable environment is crucial.

Steps to Follow

      • Place your bike on a stable and level surface to prevent any accidental tipping or wobbling during adjustment.
      • Check and ensure that your bike’s wheels are properly inflated to the recommended pressure. Adequately inflated tires are essential for maintaining stability and ensuring safe brake adjustments.

Loosen the Brake Caliper Mounting Bolt

    • Objective: To prepare for brake pad alignment you’ll need to loosen the brake caliper mounting bolt.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Using an Allen wrench gently loosen the brake caliper mounting bolt. This loosening will allow you to move the brake caliper for subsequent adjustments.

Align the Brake Pads

    • Objective: Properly aligning the brake pads is critical to prevent rubbing and ensure effective braking.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Carefully inspect the brake pads to ensure they are aligned correctly with the rim of the wheel. They should be positioned parallel to the rim without making any contact.

Check Cable Tension

    • Objective: Cable tension plays a crucial role in brake function. This step involves checking the cable tension to ensure it’s at an appropriate level for reliable braking.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Examine the cable tension by visually inspecting the cable. It should be tight enough to engage the brakes when you squeeze the brake lever on your handlebars.

Fine-Tune Cable Tension

    • Objective: The right balance in cable tension is vital for precise braking control.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Using an adjustable wrench, make minor and incremental adjustments to the cable tension. The goal is to fine-tune it until it reaches the perfect level for responsive braking. Take care not to overtighten as this can lead to brake rubbing.

Test the Brakes

    • Objective: The final step is to test your brakes to ensure that the rubbing issue has been resolved.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Squeeze the brake lever on your handlebars several times to engage the brakes. Pay close attention to any signs of rubbing or unusual resistance. If the rubbing persists you may need to repeat the alignment and tension adjustments until the problem is resolved.

Maintenance Tips 

To ensure that your bike’s brakes operate smoothly and efficiently while avoiding the frustrating issue of brake rubbing it’s crucial to follow these maintenance tips.

By incorporating these practices into your bike care routine you can extend the life of your brakes and enjoy a safer more enjoyable cycling experience.

Regular Inspections

    • Objective: Regular inspections are the foundation of effective bike maintenance. By routinely checking your bike’s brakes and wheels you can identify and address potential issues before they escalate.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Perform visual inspections of your bike’s brakes and wheels on a regular basis ideally every few weeks, especially if you ride frequently.
      • Look for misalignment wear or damage in components such as brake pads rims and spokes.
      • Pay attention to unusual noises, vibrations, or changes in braking performance during your rides as these can indicate emerging problems.

Clean Your Bike

    • Objective: Maintaining a clean bike is not just about aesthetics it’s also crucial for the proper functioning of your brakes. Dirt and debris can contribute to brake issues so keeping your bike clean is essential.
    • Steps to Follow:
      • Regularly clean your bike, especially after rides in muddy or dusty conditions. Use a soft brush a bucket of soapy water and a hose to remove dirt and grime.
      • Pay special attention to cleaning the braking surfaces including the rims and brake pads. Use a mild detergent to remove any buildup of dirt or brake residue.
      • Dry your bike thoroughly to prevent corrosion which can affect braking performance and overall bike longevity.

Professional Help

    • Objective: While enthusiasts can handle many bike maintenance tasks there may be situations where seeking assistance from a professional bike mechanic is the best course of action.
    • Indications for Professional Assistance:
      • If you’re unsure about making adjustments to your bike’s brakes or encounter complex issues that require specialized knowledge and tools.
      • When you notice persistent brake problems that you can’t resolve through basic adjustments or maintenance.
      • If you want to ensure that your bike receives a thorough inspection and tune-up, especially before embarking on long rides or bike tours.


Adjusting bike brakes that are rubbing doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By following the steps outlined in this guide and keeping up with regular maintenance you can ensure that your brakes perform optimally allowing for a safer and more enjoyable riding experience.


Q. How often should I check my bike’s brakes for rubbing?

Ans: It’s a good practice to check your bike’s brakes every few weeks especially if you ride frequently.

Q. Can I use any lubricant for bike brake maintenance?

Ans: No, it’s recommended to use a specific bike brake lubricant to ensure proper functionality and avoid damage.

Q. What should I do if my bike’s wheels are bent?

Ans: If your bike’s wheels are bent it’s best to take it to a professional bike shop for assessment and repair.

Q. Why is it essential to maintain proper cable tension?

Ans: Proper cable tension ensures that your brakes engage and release smoothly enhancing safety and control.

Q. Can I ride my bike with rubbing brakes if I can’t adjust them immediately?

Ans: While it’s not ideal that you can ride with rubbing brakes for short distances it’s safer to address the issue as soon as possible to avoid further damage and ensure safety.

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