How to Adjust Rear Cantilever Brakes on a Bike

Written by matthew ferguson
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A type of brake generally found on older mountain bikes, the cantilever brake features two separate arms linked by a transverse cable. When the brake is pulled, the cable causes the arms to move in toward the wheel. A pad, attached to each arm, then rubs the wheel, forcing the bike to slow. A rear cantilever brake is located directly above the rear wheel. Adjusting the rear brake periodically ensures proper operation.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • 5mm hex wrench
  • 10mm open-end wrench (as needed)
  • Phillips screwdriver (as needed)

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  1. 1

    Loosen the bolt that secures the cable to one of the cantilever brake arms. The bolt requires a 5mm hex wrench to loosen.

  2. 2

    Relocate from the brake to the brake lever. The brake lever includes an adjuster barrel for adjusting cable tension. The adjuster barrel is found where the cable meets the lever. Rotate the adjuster barrel clockwise all the way in to the lever.

  3. 3

    Return to the brake. Pull the end of the cable until both cantilever brake arms are standing straight up, at a roughly ninety-degree angle. Re-tighten the bolt onto the cable with the 5mm hex wrench.

  4. 4

    Inspect each cantilever brake pad to see whether it is even with the side of the rim. The rim is the hoop portion of the wheel. During braking, each brake pad rubs the side of the rim. The pads must meet the rim evenly.

  5. 5

    Adjust by attaching the 5mm hex wrench to the bolt holding the pad in place. Use a 10mm open-end wrench to hold the nut at the back of the bolt. Turn the bolt counterclockwise to loosen. Raise or lower the pad as required. Re-tighten the bolt once the adjustment is complete.

  6. 6

    Check that each pad has equal clearance from the side of the rim. If one pad is closer than the other, use a Phillips screwdriver and turn the adjusting screw on the left brake arm. Turn the screw clockwise to force the pad away from the rim. Turn the screw counterclockwise to force the pad closer to the rim.

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