How to Troubleshoot Motorcycle Brake Problems

Updated November 21, 2016

Troubleshooting your motorcycle's brake system is a straightforward process. The braking system is made up of a few primary components that are all easily located. Whether your brakes are squealing, sticking or unresponsive, the troubleshooting process is the same. Before taking your cruiser out for a ride, perform a cursory inspection of the brakes. Most mechanics recommend a six-month inspection and service if you take the bike out for weekend rides.

Check the brake fluid level. The reservoir has minimum and maximum lines to ensure that the brake fluid is at the proper level. The brake fluid should be clear; if it is yellow, it needs to be changed. Typically, there are two reservoirs, one located at the front on the handlebars and the other behind the foot peg, close to the rear wheel.

Inspect the brake lines for any leaks. Wipe the length of the line with a clean towel, checking the towel as you go for any brake fluid. If there is a leak, this method will help you pinpoint where it is. Check the hydraulic fittings on the brake line. There are two, one attaches to the brake fluid reservoir and the other attaches to the brake itself.

Check the brake pads for excessive wear. Most brake pads have an indicator for when they require changing. The brake pad will have grooves or lines on it to indicate when the pad has thinned out too much to be effective. The pads should be at least 1/8-inch thick.

Inspect the rotors for any scores or scuffs that indicate they may need to be replaced. Look for any dirt or rust that may be preventing the pads from gripping effectively. Check that they are straight and not warped.

Check the cable tension and adjust it accordingly. When the brake lever is pulled, it should have 1/8-inch of give before it engages the front brake. If the lever is loose, tighten the locknut located by the lever until it is tight.

Examine the brake lever and pedal to make sure they are not bent or warped.


Use your motorcycle manual to locate the exact location of all components as each bike is slightly different.

Things You'll Need

  • Shop rag
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About the Author

Anastasia Blackwood has been writing for publication since 2000. Her poetry first appeared in “Sidetracks” magazine in 2000. In 2010, Blackwood was published in "Southern Steel" magazine—a small publication for motorcycle enthusiasts. Blackwood is currently working towards her bachelor's degree in journalism at Central Connecticut State University.