Gear and Brake Maintenance

On this page: Knowing when to change brake pads, barrel adjustment

Disclaimer of Sorts

In case I haven't mentioned it before, this is a site on the very basics of bicycle repair, as well as tips on maintenance and other random, bicycle-related issues. The Web site is designed to inform beginners of everything they should know. I am bringing this point up now because there are more things you can learn about brakes and gears then what I present here, I just think those things go beyond the beginner level. That being said, if there is something missing from this site that you want to know how to do, then just figure it out. Jacob Adams, manager of Spin Cycle Outdoor Center, in Gainesville, Fla., recommends that if there is something broken on your bicycle, and if you have the time, try to fix it. There are not many things that can go wrong on a bicycle, so don't worry too much about breaking anything else. But first, Adams said, do a little research before you begin. There are tons of videos on YouTube and Sheldon Brown is basically an encyclopedia for bicycles. There are tons of other things you can do, so take the opportunity when something breaks and try to fix it.

Safe Brakes

It is extremely important to keep your brakes in tip-top shape at all times. There are more ways to hurt yourself then getting hit by a car—such as hitting a tree or curb. Moral of the story: Pay attention to your brakes.

Did you notice the ridges on the healthy brake pad pictured below? When there are no longer ridges on your brake pad or when there are large cracks, you should really get them replaced.

An example of a good brake padA healthy brake pad; Avid Rim Wrangler Brake Pads
An example of a bad brake padTrash this pad; photo from Flickr

Barrel Adjustment for Brakes and Gears

According Adams, the barrel adjuster is a hollow bolt in which a gear or brake cable runs through the middle of bolt. The adjuster allows minute adjustments of cable tension without the use of tools.

Adjusting the barrel is a little backward and doesn't make much sense, so pay attention. Adams said that if you need to tighten a cable, you move the adjuster out, which lengthens the housing, and as the housing gets longer, tightens the cable. It's a little counter-intuitive since you move it out to tighten it but that's how it works.

When it comes to the wires for the brakes, the barrel adjuster will need tightening as the brakes wear down and the wires loosen up.

With the wires for the gears it is a bit different. If your gears are double shifting, meaning they skip a gear after you shift into a new gear, then the barrel adjuster is too tight, and you need to adjust the barrel in. If your brakes won't shift at all then they are too loose, and you need to adjust the barrel out.

Adjusting the barrel for the gearsAdjusting the barrel for the gears
Adjusting the barrel for the brakesAdjusting the barrel for the brakes