Brake Pads Replaced (8th June 2008)

The sorry state of my bicycle’s brakes has been a source of embarrassment and danger for some time.

Let me say now that cheap old mountain bikes are a sorry piece of engineering. They use:

You need a range of tools to get at many of these things:

They are quite remarkable for the money, though. It’s all metric sizes, too.

Front Brake

Yesterday I had a go at realigning the brake pads on the front. Now, I had seen my dad do this years ago. Think I’ve had one or two attempts before now. Never really sat down in earnest to try and get it just right.

You have to undo nearly everything to do with the brakes before you can adjust the pads. This means everything is flopping around whilst you try and set the various angles necessary for effective braking. Think suspension geometery in motorsports. It’s like that but with wire cables, cheap steel pressings and 10mm nuts.

Each time I tried to get the nut really tight, my grip on the pad would slip. This ruined the angle. Eventually I was able to predict how much slip would occur and it ended up in the right place. With this under my belt, I did the other side much more quickly. It was still a fiddly and frustrating exercise but the result is an improvement.

Rear Brake

Today dad did the rear brake for me. The aggro was somewhat lessened by the brute force my dad can apply to the pads whilst tightening them. Also his experience of working with these bikes before helped.

After a few attempts and test runs around the garden, the braking was no better. Indeed, it actually felt a bit worse and the lever was soft. Think “long brake pedal” in motorsports and you’re there.

He looked for some new pads and, surprisingly to me, we had some. The old pads had aluminium embedded into their surface as they were so old. IIRC, they used to be my front brakes before I switched them to the back.

Dad fitted the new pads, with a little assistance from me. A couple more test runs and small adjustments and they seemed good as new.

Test Ride

After watching the Canadian Grand Prix I headed out. Going down the steep hill to the T-junction near my house was a bit worrisome with the old brakes. Squeezing both levers as hard as I could maybe 20 metres before the junction would stop the bike there. If I went down the hill slowly.

This time, I gave them a slight squeeze to check I’d have something when I got to the bottom. That slight squeeze gave as much stopping power as the maximum possible from the old setup! When I got to the bottom I left myself about 5 metres and easily stopped in that distance.

Rode around the nearby woods for a while. The front brake has a wonderful bite to it in normal riding. At very slow speeds it can be a bit harsh. I soon leart to use a single finger on the lever when turning around at very low speed.

The rear brake is now strong enough to lock the rear wheel on loose surfaces. This was impossible before. It’s concrete proof that the new pads are much more effective than the old ones. Will need to be careful of this on muddy terrain and when descending root-covered trails.

I’m dead chuffed to have this sorted out. Especially since the front brake improvements were all my own work.