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Noisy Brakes? Break That Habit!

Noisy Brakes? Break That Habit!

There’s nothing worse than throwing down the anchors only to hear the sound of screeching and squealing, the sort of sound that you’d usually associate with nails and a black board or cutlery on a china plate. It’s a sound that annoys a lot of people but little is usually done about, save for a squirt of WD-40 on the offending area; which isn’t a smart move when your brakes are the target.

Luckily, sorting out the squeak and screech is relatively and can be done in a small amount of time, providing you can analyse what’s causing the problem and take the appropriate action. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the main causes for your aural discomfort and provided a few handy hints to get your brakes back into shape; in no time at all, you’ll be able to grab those levers without clenching your teeth, closing your ears and apologizing to everyone nearby.

Stop The Squeak

First things first, if your bike is producing that annoying screech, it could be something to do with your rims. If your rims are dirty and have accumulated a nice and thick layer of dirt, grime, gunk and debris then that’s probably to blame for the unpleasant sound. Even if it eventually turns out that this isn’t the cause, cleaning your rims is something you should do regularly anyway and giving them a decent wash won’t be a complete waste of time.

Begin by giving the rims a good hose down and use a standard kitchen cloth to give each rim a thorough wipe down. This alone may stop the squeak but while you’re down there, apply a solvent based cleaner, such as Acetone and give the surfaces a decent wipe over. The solvent will clean the grease and grime away without hindering your braking abilities. It’s worth mentioning that using regular soap based products isn’t a good idea; the soap can end up coating your rims and pads, increasing your overall braking distances by more than you’d want. Play it safe and stick to solvent based cleaners.

Cleaning your rims provides you with a great opportunity to really take a closer look at the health of your wheels. When you’re down there, take a close look for any signs of damage; this could mean small burrs on the braking surface, warped rims or even buckled wheels. If there are any sever problems, like the last two, it’s time to replace those rims and wheels; otherwise a squeaking brake will be the least of your worries!

What If It’s Not The Rims?

If it’s not the rims, then it’s going to be something to do with your brake pads. In the majority of cases, it’s going to be a simple matter of re-positioning the pads; in some cases though, the pads may need replacing altogether.

Okay, let’s start with the positioning of the brake pads. In a recent article, we mentioned that properly aligned bicycle brakes angle in ever so slightly; this is for maximum braking ability without putting the rider in danger. This position is often referred to as the ‘toe in’ angle.

This angle positions the front of the brake pad closer to the rim than the rear, so that the brake pads engage gradually, easing the rider into the braking, rather than thrusting them into a dangerous wheel lock. If you’re getting a squeak, it’s possibly because your brakes aren’t set up correctly and as the pads wear away, metal touches metal when the brakes are engaged. If your pads are completely worn away, then that’s definitely the cause of your squeak – get thee to a bike shop and buy some new ones, then we’ll tell you how to ‘toe’ them ‘in’ to stop it from happening again in future!

Modern bicycle brake pads are designed with the ‘toe in’ in mind and they are equipped with a graduating pad, that’s thicker at the front than the rear. When you’ve got your new set, put them on in the usual way; this could be as sliding a mechanism or removing a few bolts – or it can be as complicated as removing the entire assembly; check your manual for the correct method for your bike. Getting them on and in is the easy part, setting them up can be difficult. Or rather…it used to be difficult until someone stumbled across this genius idea: the plastic credit card.

That’s right – the membership card, the loyalty card, the E111 and many, many more. These cards are durable and strong and (as luck would have it) thin enough to make the tiniest adjustments to your brake assembly. Forget ‘hi-tech’ and try this instead.

Okay, now you’ve got your brakes on, pull your brake lever in gently and squeeze your credit card device between the rear of the brake pad and the rim. Make sure that you only slide the card in at the rear few millimeters. Once in, squeeze your brake lever all the way whilst loosening off the bolt that holds the brake pad in position. You’ll notice that as you loosen that bolt, the brake pad will naturally fall into the correct position. Tighten that bolt up to hold the pad in place and repeat for the rest of your pads.

You should find that this keeps your brakes quiet (or at least quieter) for your next ride. It’s a simple trick but it’s one worth remembering!

If you’re still struggling with brake issues, be it noise or something worse, don’t hesitate to take your bike to your nearest shop and have a professional take a look at it. Your brakes should always be in the best working order possible, so don’t wait too long before sorting out your troubles!


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