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Sidepull Brake Installation and Adjustment

Sidepull, or Caliper brakes, are typically found on road bikes. Here is how to install and adjust them:

1. Mount the brake.

To mount the brake, there are two pieces – the brake caliper and the mounting nut. You want to push the mounting bolt (attached to the brake caliper) through the hole in the frame or fork, and then push the mounting nut in from the other side.

Screw the nut down hand tight, (just make sure it is loose enough you can still center the brake.)

2. Connect the cable.

Connect the brake cable to the caliper by threading it through the barrel adjuster and securing it in the pinch bolt.

Be sure to pull the cable taut before tightening. (Needle-nose pliers come in handy for pulling on the cable.)

3. Adjust tension.

You will see a spring behind the caliper arms – that spring keeps tension on the arms, and it needs to be adjusted for proper brake functioning. The caliper arms should be “springy” – not too tight that they don’t move, and not too loose that they rattle against each other.

To adjust this, you will use the nut(s) on the front of the caliper’s mounting bolt. If there is just one nut, that is responsible for the tension. If there are two nuts, the inner nut is responsible for the tension, and the outer nut is to hold the inner nut in place.

If there is just one nut, tighten or loosen it until the brake arms are tight but still move smoothly. If there are two nuts, first loosen the outer nut. Then adjust the inner nut to the proper tension, as stated in the previous sentence. Finally, hold that nut in place while you tighten the outer nut against it to “lock in” the adjustment.

Sometimes this is set correctly from the factory and does not need adjusted.

4. Center brake pads.

Center the brake pads by rotating the brake by hand until it is centered over the wheel. (This is best done when the wheel is true.)

Once centered, hold the brake with one hand while you tighten the mounting nut with the other.

5. Fine tuning.

After the initial adjustment, you may need to do some fine-tuning.

If the brake ever loses its centering, I usually just move the entire brake with my hands until it is centered again. You can also dial in the small adjusting screws if your brake has them.

As your brake pads wear down, you will want to dial out the barrel adjuster to add cable tension on the brake. That will move the pads closer to the rim, to make up for the smaller pad size.


The tools for this repair can be purchased at:

Performance Bike, REI, or eBay.