How to Adjust Cantilever Brakes

There are different braking systems in bicycles. Caliper brakes, drum brakes, rim brakes, disc brakes to name a few. Most of the performance bicycles or mountain bicycles have cantilever brakes. The cantilever brakes have the cable and brake shoe attached on the same side of the cantilever or pivot. The cantilever brakes comprise of all braking systems that have separate arms for both the wheels attached individually to the fork. The Cantilever brakes require special fitting known as ‘bosses’ or ’studs’. The concept appears to be very confusing at first and the braking system might also look confusing to you. However, it is quite similar to the normal braking systems. To your surprise, let me tell you the adjustment of cantilever brakes is in fact simpler and easier. In cantilever brakes, it is just one screw that holds the cable and the brakes, and you need to adjust this screw to adjust the brakes of your bicycle.


  • Pliers
  • Allen Key Set

How to adjust cantilever brakes?

  1. First step will be relaxing the brakes by loosening the screw that holds the brake cable. The screw that holds this cable is seen in the caption bordered by two red circles.
  2. There are also green colored arrows marked on it that tell you the direction in which the screw needs to be moved to loosen the screw. Turn the screw in the direction of these arrows.
  3. After the screw is loosened, the cable can be removed and the brake shoe will set at a distance from the rim.
  4. Next step is to hold the brakes tightly and pull the brakes closer near to each other and the cable should be pulled away at the same time from the bicycle. Keep pulling it till the brake pads come close to the rim, but do not touch the rim exactly.
  5. Once the brakes are pulled enough, hold it at that position using the pliers. Using the Allen Key, tight the screw again by rotating it in the opposite direction of the arrows marked to loosen it.
  6. While tightening the screw, do not overdo it. Tighten the screw until the cable is properly fit in this holding screw, and does not slip out. If the cable slips out easily, it will not let you stop your bicycle when you apply brakes.
  7. After adjusting the brakes you need to test it. The throw on the brake handle should not exceed one inch.
  8. If while applying brakes, you need to completely squeeze the brake handle, readjust the brakes following the steps 1-7 given above. The brakes should be in action when you simply apply it, and does not need the handle to be squeezed completely.

Just using a set of pliers and Allen Key set, you can adjust the cantilever brakes easily. You just need to hold the brakes and the cable together, pull it as much as you want to tighten the bicycle brakes and tighten the screw at that position itself without letting the brakes and cable relax. If you find it difficult to hold the cable and brakes, then tighten the screw at the same time to adjust brake tension, ask for help from some one to either hold the brakes and cable for you, or to tighten the screw. Always make a habit of testing the brakes by going for a ride in the parking or your garden area, before taking your bicycle on the roads.

Next time when you have any problems with your cantilever brakes, you can adjust it yourself and no need to rush to a cycle repair shop.

Related Content:

  1. How to Adjust BMX Brakes
  2. How to Adjust Caliper Brakes
  3. How to Adjust Drum Brakes
  4. How to Adjust Disc Brakes
  5. How to Adjust a Derailleur

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