Brakes are an aspect of bikes that often get ignored, until they stop working correctly! Bike owners will admire their bike frame, tires and other aspects of the bike. But they will only think about the brakes when there is a problem with their operation.
And these problems can be common, especially on older and poorly maintained bikes. If you noticed that your bikes were not performing sharply during your most recent bike ride, it may be time to fix these brakes.
Sometimes the issue is as simple as squeaky bike brakes. But it can also develop into something more serious, such as brakes that do not stop your bike sufficiently. That can be very dangerous, which is why fixing bike brakes is an important skill for a bike owner to learn.
Here is our helpful guide to fixing bike brakes that are squeaky or otherwise causing you problems.
Dangers of Malfunctioning Bike Brakes
When the brakes on a bicycle are not functioning correctly, the consequences can range from annoying to potentially hazardous. The annoying consequences include brakes that make a squeaking sound each time the bike lever is pressed.
If you are riding with headphones or in a very busy area, you may not even notice the sound. But most riders will notice the sound, which is a good thing. It can be the indicator of a more serious issue developing, which is why it is better to resolve the matter quickly.
Older bikes or ones that are poorly maintained can develop even more issues with the brakes. Say your bike brakes were squeaking for some time, but you never cared enough to fix the issue. You may find that your brake performance declines over time. When you attempt to press on your brake levers, you will notice that it is difficult for the bike to come to a stop.
Why Did My Bike’s Brakes Stop Working?
Why does that happen? It is happening because some aspect of your bike mechanism is not functioning correctly.
And the end result is that you are not creating enough friction between the rubber blocks and your bike wheels. Not enough kinetic energy is created quickly, which means it will take longer for your bike to come to a halt.
If you are riding in an open area, it may not be such an issue. You just have to exercise caution while going at higher speeds.
But if you are using your bike to commute, especially in a busy area, you are putting yourself in great danger by having malfunctioning bike brakes.
Say there is a car coming in your direction as you cross the road. When the brakes are functioning as intended, you can stop immediately with no issues.
But malfunctioning brakes mean you may unintentionally end up in the car’s path. It is why any brake issues, even squeaky bike brakes, should be resolved immediately – lest it become an even bigger issue in the future.
Fixing Squeaky Bike Brakes
Squeaky bike brakes can be very frustrating if you ride often. That horrible sound the brakes make each time you need to stop will get annoying very quickly.
And as we mentioned above, squeaky brakes can eventually turn into brakes that are not functioning properly – or at all!
There are two reasons why your brakes may be squeaking. It could be the result of contamination issues or a misalignment. Here are our guides for fixing the issue based on the cause of the problem.
1. Resolving Oil Contamination
Many riders are not aware of it, but they could be experiencing issues with their bicycle brakes because of oil contamination. If oil residue, or some other contaminant, gets on the rim or disc brakes on your bike, the mechanism could begin to squeak every time it is used.
The squeaking is not so bad at first. It is barely noticeable. But it will get louder over time. Keep in mind that if your bike brakes are squeaking, it means there is inefficiency in how they are performing.
Instead of all the energy being used to stop the bike, some of it is being used up in creating the squeaking noise. So the louder the noise gets, it stands to reason that your bike brakes will perform worse.
Fixing Oil Contamination Isn’t Entirely Difficult
The good news is that fixing the contamination issue is easy. All you need is an old rag and rubbing alcohol. Dampen the cloth with the rubbing alcohol and wipe the entire surface of your bike brake mechanism.
Clean the area thoroughly, on the front, back and all sides. When you are cleaning the mechanism, you should see a black residue forming on your rag. It is the contaminant coming off the brake mechanism.
2. Clear Up Debris
Contamination can also happen because of debris that builds up on the brake pads. The issue is most likely to occur if you are doing a lot of “off-roading” with your bicycle, as it will easily pick up rocks and other debris.
To clear such contamination, remove the wheel from your bike so that you can better access your wheel pads. Removing the wheel is not difficult, as you only need to loosen the wheel nuts to the point where it comes off. Keep the nuts safe and set your wheel aside.
Use a piece of sandpaper and wipe the top layer of your brake pads. Do this a few times until you have built a good amount of debris on the sandpaper. If you are seeing the rubber, you are good to go. You may need a second piece of sandpaper if there is still debris lining the brake pads.
Now you can put your wheel back on and ride your bike!
3. Fixing Improper Alignment
The brakes on your bicycle may be squeaking because the brake pads are not properly aligned to the rim. The two reasons for this happening are improper installation or wear and tear.
Assess your brake pads. Make sure they are good on both sides. If one or both sides are completely worn out, simply replace the pads. They are cheap and the performance upgrade will be huge.
If the pads are fine, loosen the bolt that is holding the brake pad post. Push on the brake rim until the brake pad is touching the rim. The entire surface of your brake pad should be coming into contact with the rim.
When you have achieved that contact, tighten back the bolt. Your brakes should be functioning perfectly, free of any squeaking!
How Bike Brakes Work
The functionality of bicycle brakes is fairly simple. When you want to stop, suddenly or casually, you will squeeze on the brake levers that are located on the handlebars of your bike. The harder you squeeze on those levers, the quicker the brakes will attempt to bring the bike to a halt.
When a bike rider squeezes on their brake levers, the action moves through thin metal cables that are running to both wheels on the bike. These thin cables are on small calipers.
When the bike lever is pressed, there are thick rubber blocks that are forced to press against the bicycle wheels by the brake mechanism.
The friction that exists between the blocks and the wheel rims will produce enough heat to reduce the bike’s kinetic energy, eventually bringing the rider to a stop.
When bike brakes are functioning as intended, a significant press on the bike lever should bring the bike to a complete stop from a reasonable speed.
Our Final Take
Squeaking bike brakes are annoying from the onset. But they can quickly develop into a more serious issue: malfunctioning bike brakes. If you notice your brakes are squeaking, it is time for a few checks.
Assess the brake pads to ensure proper alignment. If that does not fix the issue, follow the guides to remove any contaminants.
When oil, debris and other contaminants are cleared away from your brake pads and brake mechanism, you should be rid of the issue!