Drop Anchor! Brake Clinic 101
Many motorists often complain about bicycles travelling too fast and while they’re not right, there is an element of truth to their testimony: bicycles can achieve fairly rapid speeds. Riding at high speed is fun and exciting but only if your brakes are up to scratch. As your brakes are just important to your bike as the wheels or the pedals, it’s of vital importance that you keep your braking system in good shape.
The brakes on your bike are designed to wear though; bicycles are incredibly well engineered vehicles but the efficiency and speed have to make their demands somewhere on the bike and it’s the brakes that suffer. Over time, cables lose slack or fray, pads wear down and grime and rust find their way into the mechanisms; this means that your braking abilities will be hampered considerably, unless you take a little bit of time out of your schedule for a quick health check up.
You don’t have to spend hours on the job either; if you can spend five minutes of your time before and after each ride going through this little checklist, your brakes will last considerably longer. In an ideal world, there would be a bike mechanic on every street corner but sadly – there isn’t. Luckily, if you follow these pointers, you should be able to cut your visits to the mechanic down by quite a lot 0 but you should still book in with an experienced mechanic at least once every twelve months.
So, we know that you should make room in your schedule for a brake check – but what do you really need to focus on?
Firstly, you levers are susceptible to dirt build ups. If your levers have grit and grime around their moving parts, they can hamper your braking ability. You should also make sure that they’re still in the correct position for your riding style; they’re quite prone to slipping out of position!
Checking your brake levers is a pretty straightforward and easy task that is often forgotten. Straddle your bike and apply your brakes by engaging your levers all of the way. With your levers engaged, you should be able to lean your weight forwards with your weight without the bike moving forward. Although this might feel like a ‘pad’ test rather than a lever test, it’s still important. If your pads are fine but your bike still moves under weight when the levers are fully engaged, something needs adjusting.
While you’re there, make sure you can’t move the levers around on your handlebars; try giving them a gentle nudge up and down – they shouldn’t move. If they do, tighten them up a little bit!
Next, move on to your brake pads; they wear down after a while and if they’re not in proper shape, they can seriously affect your stopping times.
Firstly, take a look at your pads and check for a glazed or cracked surface or serious wear. If you’ve found any significant cracks or uneven wear, you can try sanding them down until they become even, flat surfaces but if the wear is too great, it’s time for replacement. If you’ve got glazed surfaces, give your pads a good clean with a rag and some alcohol. Clear out the grime and any other embedded dirt and your brakes should be good to go again.
The brake assembly unit is also prone to wear and tear and this includes the arms, the shoes and your pads. The entire assembly can be damaged from incorrect installation, crashes and poor maintenance. You should make sure that everything can move freely and that nothing jars or rubs where it shouldn’t.
Your brake assemblies are fairly precise mechanisms and they work at their best when they’re in the correct positions. Start your inspection by making sure that the assemblies are where you need them to be: centered around each wheel, with the pads resting the same distance from the wheel on each side of the rim. Your pads should make full contact with the rim when the brakes are engaged and they shouldn’t touch the tyre or the bottom edge of the rim either. Brake pads also need to positioned at a slight angle too; examine them from above by straddling your bike (as if you were about to ride it), the front of the pads should be slightly closer to the rim than the back.
To keep your brake assembly in good shape, you should give their moving parts and pivoting areas a good clean or at least a wipe over after each ride. You can also apply a tiny amount of lubrication to the pivoting areas too. Be careful when oiling your brakes though; you don’t want to get ANY lube on your brake pads of the rims of the bike – or you may find that stopping distances will increase dramatically…
Your brake cables will eventually rust, weaken and fray after a while and replacing them should be an annual occasion, if not more often. With that in mind, your first move should be to give your cables a serious check for any signs of severe wear, frays and rust. You should also make sure that the can move freely through their housings and through the guide clips that hold them in place. If you notice any unnatural kinks or strange bulges, it might be time for a new set altogether.
If everything looks alright, you should give your cables a good wipe down and apply a small amount of lubrication. Ideally, you should lubricate your cables a few times a year if you want to play it safe. To do this, simply apply a small amount of specific bicycle oil the cable, near the guide clips and cable housings.
For healthy brakes, that’s all there is to it. If you have any serious issues or something needs replacing altogether, make sure that you consult a professional bike mechanic; you don’t want to risk an accident by attempting to do something that you’re not sure about, do you?