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I have plain ol' v-brakes and I have to tighten them all the time, every three or four weeks. I've been given to understand this is not usual. I'm not sure what's wrong though -- am I hitting them too hard? Could the pads be shot already? How would I know? I usually tighten them at the wheel rather than the handlebars, could this shorten their life?

The bike's about a year old and I ride it a couple miles a day in city traffic.

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4 Answers 4

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You need to figure out what's getting loose. There are essentially 3 possibilities:

  1. The brake pads are wearing down.
  2. An adjustment -- either the twist adjustment, the cable clamp, or the pad itself -- is slipping.
  3. The cable is "stretching".

If the pads are wearing that rapidly, it may be poor quality pads, or you may have some roughness on your rims. It's also possible that your brakes are dragging all the time, due to improper setup or slightly "tacoed" wheels.

If an adjustment is slipping, you may just need to tighten a clamp tighter, or you may, eg, have an adjuster where the "bumps" that are supposed to hold it in place have worn down.

If a cable is "stretching" it's usually because the cable is breaking, strand by strand, and is in dire need of replacement.

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The breadth of this answer is helpful; thanks! –  fbo Aug 7 '11 at 17:25
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By "tighten" do you mean adjust due to wear? If the pads are wearing at such a rate, something is wrong; wheel rims worn to the point of abrasiveness, riding in extremely sandy conditions... More likely you are generating slack in the system. The cable may physically be slipping in the clamp on the brake itself; or there may be excessive cable length giving the impression of too much play by reason of flexing...

Consider replacing the entire cable/housing system with higher-quality items and making sure the clamp is not slipping.

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That does sound like an excessive wear rate. To improve the situation you may want to pay attention to how clean your rims are and maybe go for a different brake block compound. You could also adjust your riding style to what car drivers call 'hypermiling'.

Cleaning the wheels is important because dirt that builds up on the braking surface acts like an abrasive, wearing out your brakes and your rims. There are opinions on how best to clean the wheels, however, I ran out of posh bike-specific cleaning stuff a long time ago and moved onto raiding the washing powder soap. A tablet in a bowl of hot water with the brush from an old dustpan and brush is what works for me now. I then rinse off with cold water afterwards.

As for brake blocks, they do wear out and they do need replacing. I prefer to use the blocks with replaceable pads as I then do not lose my setup every time I swap out the pads - the toe-in and angle are what they were when I first set them up and I don't get any surprise squeaks. The replacement pads I use at the moment are dual compound, and, living in the UK I go for the Aztec branded ones. These may not be available where you are, just get the most common brand stocked.

If you over-rely on the back brake then that can wear down quickly. Try to use the front brake more than the back, obviously not always, but it does wear less.

Finally, make sure the brakes are not pointlessly rubbing whilst you are going along. They don't actually wear that much if they are, but check your brake setup, there are tips on that elsewhere on this site.

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I think the other answers cover the main points very well, but I wanted to mention that brakes can wear that quickly--especially in hilly environments and/or if you're carrying loads.

My commuter is typically pretty well loaded, and my job is on top of a big hill. These aspects combine for fast wear, and I normally adjust my brakes about as frequently as you say. I just replaced a set with ~800 miles on them whereas my road bike (which I ride on highways without stop and go traffic, and carries very little aside from myself) hasn't had to have the cable adjusted in several hundred miles.

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I did end up putting on new pads -- I think the culprit is that recently I've been taking a hillier route. –  fbo Aug 11 '11 at 19:01
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