How to replace road bike brake pads

Last week we brought you a guide on replacing pads on cantilever and v-brakes. This week we are providing guidance on the types of rim brakes often found on road bikes.

Many road (racing) bikes make use of cartridge based brake calipers in order to make replacing the brake pads very quick and easy. If your brake pads are worn down to the point where the channels in the pad are gone, or they are making noise due to bits of rock and metal embedded in the pad material rubbing against the wheel, it is time to replace them. Note, never replace only a single brake pad for a given wheel — ALWAYS replace both brake pads.

You’ll need an Allen key, flat head screwdriver and a small, sharp knife.

Out with the old

Quick release lever

Many road brake calipers have a quick release lever used to quickly increase the clearance between the pads and the wheel so that removing the wheel is easier. If your calipers have this quick release mechanism as shown in the image above, rotate or slide it to the open position.

Now locate the small retaining screw on the first pad to be replaced. This retaining screw keeps the pad from sliding out of the caliper.

Retaining screwRemoving the retaining screw

Using the appropriately sized Allen key, loosen the retaining screw. You do not need to remove the screw completely, but rather only loosen it to about 75% of its total travel. If you do remove the screw completely, take care not to lose it as it is quite small.

With the retaining screw backed off, it will now be possible to slide the brake pad out of the caliper. The pad will slide out in the direction opposite the direction the wheel would turn, i.e. toward the back of the bike. Place a flat head screwdriver against the front of the pad, and gently tap the handle of the screwdriver. If you encounter unreasonable resistance, you may not have loosened the retaining screw sufficiently.

Pushing out the old pad

With the brake pad fully removed, you can see on the back the deep grove  that the retaining screw uses to hold the pad in place. You can also see that each brake pad is marked with an R or L (right or left), as well as an arrow indicating which end should face forward.

Retaining groove

Now examine closely the extent of the wear, as well as how much road grit is embedded in the pad material. It may be that you can simply remove (using a small sharp knife) the bits of rock and metal from the pad and continue using it, assuming it is not worn down past the grooves.

In with the new

To replace the pad, insert the end indicated as forward by the arrow on the back of the pad into the caliper, and slide it forward until the front of the pad is fully seated against the front of the caliper. You may need to place the screwdriver against the rear of the pad and gently tap the pad forward to get it fully seated.

Inserting new brake pad

Using your Allen key, tighten the retaining screw. Do not over tighten as you can strip the threads. Just be sure the screw is good and snug and that the brake pad is fully seated in the calliper.


Adjustment nut

Once both brake pads are properly in place, it is time to reattach the wheel and adjust the brakes. Before putting the wheel back on, turn the adjustment nut (shown above) all the way in (toward the brake pad) in order to open the caliper as far as possible. Now reattach the wheel, and close the caliper quick release lever if you opened it.

Now, turn the adjustment nut back out until the desired braking action is achieved. Make sure you don’t turn it so far that the wheel rubs on the brake pads even when the brake lever is not engaged. Generally 1/8″” of space between the pad and the wheel is desirable, although some people prefer a bit more on the front brake to keep it from being too sensitive. If you have had the bike for a while you will know what feels right.

If the brakes still feel a little off or spongy, it might be that your cables also need replacing. Check out our guide to replacing your brake cables if this is the case.

As we said last week, it may take a while before the brake pads reach their full braking potential. Cycle slowly to work them in at first and test the brakes a few times after replacement to be sure they are tightly fastened and working correctly. It is also worth wiping down the rim surface before reinstalling the wheel to be sure they have a good braking surface. You should aim to always have a clean brake pad and rim surface as otherwise both will wear prematurely.

Next week we will bring you a guide to replacing the pads in your disc brakes, be they mechanical or hydraulic. If you can’t wait until then or know that your pads really need replacing for a ride this weekend, head over to our Bike Doctor app to read ahead.

Do you have any handy hints and tips about replacing road bike pads to share?

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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