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Riding a bike is exciting, but the thrill cannot be experienced fully unless your bike is at 100%! While how well your bike performs is important, a reliable braking system is crucial for a smooth and risk-free ride.
However, sometimes our bike brakes fail to work as they should, which can be a stressful situation to be in. But don’t worry; we’ve got your back!
So why are your brakes not gripping or working well? It could be due to worn-out parts, improper contact with the wheel rim or the disc, or improper maintenance of the brakes. It is essential to identify the issue as soon as possible and deal with it to prevent an accident to you or your bike.
In this post, we’ll delve deeper into the common reasons why your bike brakes are not gripping, not stopping well, or not working at all.
Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or just starting, you’ll discover important information on how to maintain your bike brakes in top-notch condition.
Types of Bike Brakes
First, let’s find out about the different types of bike brakes. The three main classes of bike brakes usually found on bikes include disc brakes, drum brakes, and rim brakes.
The popularity of disc brakes has increased a lot among cyclists as they are much more robust when compared to drum or rim brakes. The disc brake system consists of the primary metal disc or rotor on the wheel hub. Adjacent to the rotors is the caliper which houses two brake pads.
Once the lever has been pulled, the brake pads on the caliper enclose the rotor which aids in stopping the bike.
Their versatility and how they can fit on different kinds of bikes also make these brakes a favorite among cyclists. How they are built also helps ensure that outdoor conditions don’t significantly affect the performance of the brakes. Cyclists have a choice between two main types of disc brakes; mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes.
- Mechanical Disc Brakes
Mechanical disc brakes utilize the same cable system as rim brakes which allows for the brakes to stay lightweight, cheap, and in need of less frequent maintenance. The mechanical disc brakes used to be the only system effective in working with drop handlebars.
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
In the hydraulic brake system, the cables are done away with and replaced by a sealed line. A fluid present inside the sealed line moves when the brake is applied. The movement of the fluid due to the pressure causes the brake pads to close around the rotor.
The hydraulic brakes give the user far greater control over the power of the brakes and require very little maintenance.
This type of brake is widespread in commuter or utility bikes, and the system is contingent on a hand-lever-run hub brake. The brake pads are situated next to and pressed on the cylindrical drum. Drum brakes are gradually being replaced by disc brakes. However, cyclists in more damp weather still prefer them.
In the rim brake system, the stopping force is applied directly to the rim of the wheels. The bicycle will slow down or stop due to the friction created between the rim of the wheel and the brake pads.
Rim brakes are used by turning on a lever that is present on the handlebars. Rim brakes are very durable and robust, and they are lightweight and significantly less costly to operate. While it is not a challenging process, this type of brake does require maintenance from time to time. There are many different types of rim brakes used in bikes today.
Single-pivot Caliper Brakes
Both arms of these brakes revolve around a single, centered pivot, allowing the brake to self-center and follow an out-of-true rim more efficiently than a dual-pivot brake. With a single bolt, these brakes were joined to the fork crown and the rear brake bridge.
Single-pivot caliper brakes are no longer standard since they have mostly been replaced with dual-pivot brakes.
Dual-pivot Caliper Brakes
Dual-pivot brakes, like single-pivot brakes, are attached to the fork crown and brake bridge by a single bolt, but they feature a yoke that links to this and splits the pivot points for the two arms of the brake.
This design is more mechanically advantageous than a single-pivot arrangement and is also significantly easier to center. Dual-pivot caliper brakes are best thought of as a hybrid of a center-pull and a side-pull brake. A dual-pivot brake is usually slightly heavier than a single-pivot brake.
Center-pull Caliper Brakes
Center-pull brakes function similarly to dual-pivot caliper brakes but are activated by a straddle cable connected to both arms. Both pads travel in an upward direction. The brakes provide tremendous power, flexibility, and clearance but require additional hardware and often weigh significantly more.
This type of brake uses a cable-attachment system that ensures the brake is appropriately mounted at multiple specific points on a single pivot or fork. There is more distance between the brake pad and the mount in the cantilever brakes, and the more significant space makes it ideal for mountain or gravel bikes with wider tires.
These are the more developed iteration of the cantilever brakes and are also known as linear-pull brakes.
The system operates because the mount has longer arms on the same frame. One arm will be attached to the cable housing, and the other will be attached to the cable itself. The cable is fed through the housing and then pulled, and the two arms are moved together over the wheel’s rim.
As the V-brake system utilizes a single cable to operate, this makes it ideal for use with bikes with a more complicated suspension setup. They are most widely used in mountain bikes.
Since V-brakes have a different cable pull ratio than cantilever brakes, a specific long-pull lever that pulls through about twice as much cable as a standard lever is required. V-brakes can sometimes be prone to rubbing if not adequately maintained, as the two sides may only draw back from the rim symmetrically if correctly set up and kept clean.
Reasons Brakes Are Not Gripping and How to Fix Them
1. Brake Pads Worn-out
Improper functioning of the brake system can often be attributed to worn-out pads. No matter what kind of brake setup is used, some form of the pad will be pushed against the wheel rim or disc, which will slow down or stop the bike.
All brake systems use friction to slow down the bike, and the consistent application of friction can cause the wear down of the pads. Over time, the brake pads can lose all of their rubber and will not be able to create friction to slow the bike sufficiently. Squeaking noises are audible due to the metal parts of the pads rubbing against the tires.
Proper lubrication can help to resolve the issue. You can test the system again after applying lube but if the problem persists, you may need to replace the brake pads. The brake pads must fit properly when they are being replaced. The pads need to be of the correct size otherwise even new pads won’t work in the right way.
2. Wheel Alignment and Spongy Brakes
If the wheels are not aligned properly then the brakes won’t work. The brake might be spongy, which can indicate a misaligned wheel. Calipers or cable misalignment can also cause brakes to feel spongy.
In hydraulic brakes, the spongy sensation might be present due to issues with the brake fluid. The most common problem is air bubbles in the liquid. The air bubbles cause a decrease in the air pressure, which does not let the brakes grip properly.
You will have to assess the alignment by checking if there are any gaps present or fit issues. Misaligned wheels can be fixed using a hydraulic press, or they might need to be replaced. It is important to get replacement wheels that correctly fit the bike frame and braking system.
3. Cable Problems
The cable is responsible for activating the brake system and also helps in the modulation of the power of the brakes. If a problem with the cables is present, the brakes might not respond when the lever is pulled or become sticky.
Visibly frayed cables are very easily identifiable, but issues with cable tension are much more challenging to figure out. While making adjustments, it is crucial to find the ideal amount because too much stress will make operating the brakes more difficult. A local mechanic can make more accurate adjustments.
If the cable tension on the brake is too low, you may adjust it with a simple screwdriver. Release the cable-holding screw and then pull the cable outward until it gets the proper tension. Next, tighten the screw that keeps the calipers in place.
4. Lubrication Issues
Even after proper maintenance, issues with brake gripping can come forward due to the application of too much lubricant. Too much lube makes it difficult for the brake pads to grip the rotor or the rim adequately, so not enough friction is produced to slow down or stop the bike.
You can very quickly fix this issue yourself. You can leave the bike out to dry to reduce the lubricant, or you can wash and remove all the lube with water or a degreaser and then reapply the necessary amount.
5. Debris Getting Stuck
This issue is rarely seen in the disc brake system but can cause trouble in other brake mechanisms. While attributed more to off-road bikes, it can also be found in city bikes. The solution can be as simple as a thorough cleaning.
There could also be a deeper issue.
The stuck debris can cause the pads to slip and prevent them from fitting correctly. You can clean the debris by running pressurized air through the entire system. For more challenging and robust debris, you might have to use a power hose to push the gunk out.
It is essential to properly dry the bike after washing and before use to prevent rust and wear down in the future.
6. Caliper Gets Stuck
If the caliper gets stuck or frozen, it will feel like the brakes are constantly being applied and you are riding with a lot of resistance. The rigid caliper indicates that there is constant pressure from the hydraulic pump.
If the pump gets stuck at a single point, the best solution is to unlock the hydraulic pump. This can be done by checking the pump, separating the caliper, and then applying the brake again while the caliper is detached to unfreeze the pump. This will shift the pump back to its original position.
7. Damaged Rotor
If your bike’s wheel makes an odd noise when riding and your brakes are ineffective, it might indicate a warped rotor. The bike’s rotors are smooth, and if damaged, they will result in poorer braking effectiveness and squeaky sounds. To fix this, you need to replace or scrape the rotor to smooth the surface.
8. Displaced Brake Pads
Brake pads might get displaced and stop gripping the rim or rotor. This issue may arise if your bike is involved in a collision or gets struck. Moreover, it might occur when the screws are excessively loose.
You need to adjust the location of the rim brake pads. Loosen the calipers and change the pads to the desired position using a small wrench. Disc brakes might require complete replacement of the ineffective pads.
First, you need to take out the holder pin. This is followed by using a Needle Nose Plier to remove the spring and pads. Insert the fresh pads into the caliper and tighten the spring. Finally, replace the holding pin, and you’re done.
To simplify, here is an infographic with all the reasons (with fixes):
You’ll also find this video really useful in addressing common issues with rim brakes:
Riding a bike with low-grip brakes is dangerous for the rider and the people in the surroundings. Poor grip is a typical issue with bike brakes that occurs often. As a result, you must inspect and repair your brakes regularly.
The procedure is basic and straightforward and there are no specific tools or equipment required. You can do it yourself if you learn how to mend or repair it.