Last updated: May 18, 2021 at 14:40 pm
Cycling can be a wonderful activity. It keeps you healthy, gets you out into nature and is even a method of commuting to work. Nothing will ruin an enjoyable bike ride faster, however, than brakes that squeal every time you use them.
In this article:
We’ll explain how to stop squeaky bike brakes, depending if you have disc brakes or rim brakes.
What Causes Squeaky Breaks?
There are a number of causes of squeaky brakes; the first is simply that they are new. New brakes can take a while to bed in, and they may squeak for a time until they do. The second cause is that the brakes have not been set up correctly. Poorly set up brakes cause vibration, which in turn leads to squealing.
The final possibility is some form of contamination. If there is grease or lubricant coating the rim, it can transfer to the brake pads, too. It reduces their traction and contributes in part to that horrible squealing noise.
How to Fix Squeaky Bike Brakes
There are two different types of bike brakes:
- and rim
Although the causes are the same, the fixes may be different. Most bike shops will help customers with any problems they’re having, but it’s usually for a fee.
Nothing described here is complicated, so you should be able to do it yourself. At most you’ll need a cloth, come degreaser and a couple of Allen keys. It all comes under the heading of basic bike maintenance.
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Let’s take a look at each type of brake and its fixes.
When you use the brakes, the blocks will start to wear down. It leaves metal and rubber residue that can easily mix with other dirt and debris from the road. Over time it collects on the blocks leaving the surface of the brakes dirty. The dirt is not only responsible for the squeaking sound but also reduces the effectiveness of braking and increases wear around the rim
To fix this problem, you’ll need to take the wheels off your bike and check for dirt on the brake blocks. You should use either a cloth or a brush to carefully remove as much as you can. Once that’s done, apply some oil-free cleaner to a clean cloth. Clean the brake blocks and both sides of the rims. If the dirt feels greasy, like it may be oil or lubricant, then you should also use a degreaser during the cleaning process. Once the brakes and rims are clean, you should re-attach the wheel and check for squeaking.
The first thing you should check is if the brake pads are correctly centred on the rim. If they are, you can skip this explanation and proceed to the next part. If they’re not, you need to loosen (but not remove!) a nut on the brake pad. Once this is done, you can move the brake pad into the proper position. Once it’s in place, ensure the left part of the brake pad hits the wheel first and tighten the nut back into place.
The second thing to look at is the brake pads’ horizontal alignment. Brakes are easily bumped against when riding. As a result, instead of the side of the brake closest to the back of the bike hitting the rim first, the pads will either hit the rim all at once, or the front part of the brake pad will hit first. Either of these alignments will cause a squeaking noise when you use the brake.
To fix it, you will have to loosen the brake pads as you did before. Then try to realign them so that they’re tilted slightly towards the rear of the bike. If done correctly, the part closer to the back of the bike touches the rim slightly before the rest of the brake pad preventing the squeal
If you’ve had these brakes a while, or you noticed they were looking very worn during your maintenance, you may want to consider replacing them. As explained above, this won’t do anything at first as new brakes are also prone to squeaking. Once they bed in, though, the squeak should vanish, and more importantly, your brakes will function better. Better brakes means more safety when you hit the road.
You Have Glazed Rotors
This is strange expression but it’s a wear and tear issue. Once you’ve done a lot of miles on your bike, a squealing sound could indicate that you’ve glazed your rotors and pads. In other words, repeated braking has worn your brake pads and rotors smooth. It’s not ideal, but it can be fixed!
To do this, you need to restore roughness to the rotors and pads. Get some sandpaper between 100 and 150 grade and lay it on a flat surface. Turn the pads face down and rub them against the sandpaper. Keep going until all the glazing is removed and the surface is rough again.
For the rotors, first clean them with brake cleaner and a clean cloth. Next, sand them gently with the sandpaper. Don’t do this all in one direction; start with small circles, then change to up and down and finally side to side. Doing it this way means they will bed-in properly. It will also unevenly scratch the surface, potentially preventing the same problem from happening again.
Unlike rim brakes, disc brake pads and rotors work much closer than rim brakes do. A benefit of this is that they are less prone to attracting dirt. Long term, however, the pads can still start wear which releases debris. This debris can get caught in the calliper and generate noise.
This fix is slightly different to the one for rim brakes. You need to take the wheel off and also remove the brake pads. Depending on the type of bike and the brand of brakes you have, you may need to use long pliers to be able to grab the brake pad.
Once you’ve got them out, clean the rotors and pads thoroughly with alcohol or a dedicated brake cleaning fluid. Put the pads back and make sure you don’t touch the pad’s surface with your fingers as you do it. Fasten the wheel back into place and check if it’s still squeaking.
If cleaning has not helped, then it’s possible that your brake pads have been contaminated by lubricant or some other greasy substance. Unfortunately, the materials brake pads are made out of makes them prone to absorbing grease, which can reduce their effectiveness and cause the squeak. If your cleaning didn’t help, you could get an oil-free degreaser and try this. If you still have no luck, then replacing them may be your only option.
A Badly Aligned Calliper
To check the alignment of the calliper, loosen the bolts and gently wiggle the calliper free. You should then hold down the brake lever, which will centre the calliper over the rotor with the help of the brake pads. Still holding the brake down, tighten the calliper bolts evenly. Once done, spin the wheel, and if it’s still squeaking, try repeating this step. It may take a couple of goes before the calliper is properly aligned.
If you’ve tried realigning the calliper several times and it’s still noisy, then there’s a good chance your bike rotor is bent. Again, this is an easy fix and nothing to worry about. Spin the wheel while looking down through the calliper. It should be obvious when the brake pad touches the rotor. That is where your rotor is bent.
Once you’ve located where it’s bent, you can gently bend it back into place. There are dedicated tools for this called truing forks. Remember to take your time and be gentle; if you bend the rotor the wrong way or damage it, then you may be looking at replacing the rotor, which is an unnecessary expense.
If you bend it straight and there’s still a squeaking or rubbing noise, then the rotor may just be old and worn. In that case, all you can do is replace the rotor.
There is a range of reasons that can cause squeaky brakes. Some of them, like your brakes being new, aren’t even a problem and will go away once the brakes bed in. The other causes are easily fixable with a bit of simple bike maintenance. Take your time, use the right products and do the repairs described carefully, and you’ll be out enjoying a peaceful bike ride in no time.