The Right Way To Adjust Rim Brake Pads

Disc brakes may rule, but rim brakes outnumber them

Is it OK to use the adjustment cam on my brake calipers to space the pads away from the rims? I have screwed the cable adjuster all the way in, but the brake levers engage too far out and the pads are very close.

Alyshia: Farmington, New Mexico

The cam lever found on most brake calipers is not an adjustment. The cam is a quick release device, used to quickly retract the brake pads in order to clear the tire when you need to change or remove your wheels. (Campagnolo’s wheel-release function is a button on the brake levers.) Riding with the cam in an intermediate position should only be a temporary solution for a rim that has gone out of true, or to compensate for a wider rim that was a result of an emergency wheel change. The proper fix would be to loosen the caliper’s cable binding screw slightly, and then gently squeeze the brake lever until you have pulled one or two millimeters of cable through the clamp (don’t overdo this). Retighten the cable clamp and try the brakes. You should have an ample amount of free play at the brake lever, and the brake pads should be about three-millimeters (1/8-inch) away from the rim. Make sure that the cam is closed and then adjust the cable barrel to get the lever throw where you want it.

Tip #1: Most cyclists run their brakes too close to the rim. The frame and wheels flex while you are climbing and accelerating. This lateral movement causes the rims to contact the brake pads with almost every pedal stroke. Unless you want your bike to automatically apply the brakes when you hit the accelerator, set up your calpers so that the pads are as far from the rim as you can get away with, while insuring that you can firmly squeeze the calipers before the brake levers bottom out on the handlebar. I use about three millimeters of space on either side of the rim. Be mindful of new brakes or pads-fresh pads need time to bed into the rim, and thus require almost daily cable adjustments to insure that your levers don’t run out of squeeze before the pads can get a grip on the rims.

Tip #2: When it comes to replacing your brake pads make sure that they are installed in the correct direction. Look for small arrows on the pads to avoid sliding them into cartridge incorrectly.

 

Tip #3: Before  modern road bikes made the move to using disc brakes, there were a few  interim years when running carbon rims with caliper brakes became a safety concern. As opposed to the ubiquitous aluminum rims, carbon rims require special pads to not only increase braking power, but also to help minimize heat build-up which can cause delamination and/or tire blow-outs – so make sure you have the right pads. 

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