How To Replace Rim Brake Pads On A Bike In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

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When it comes to cycling, brakes are obviously one of the most vital components.

If your brakes aren’t in order, you’re not going to have an enjoyable – or safe – ride. The majority of beginner and intermediate bikes are still fitted with rim brakes, so it’s essential to learn how to replace rim brake pads.

Many cyclists take their bike to their local bike shop rather than learning to replace brake pads on a bike themselves – but it’s actually a very simple job to do yourself. You don’t need specialist tools and can be done in less than 20 minutes.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • What Are Rim Brake Pads?
  • How Do You Know When To Replace Brake Pads On A Bike?
  • How To Find The Correct Brake Pads For Your Bike
  • How To Replace Rim Brake Pads In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

Let’s dive in!

How To Replace Rim Brake Pads: Title Image

What Are Rim Brake Pads?

Rim brakes are one of the main types of brakes you will find on bikes.

Nowadays, we see them less as disc brakes are becoming the go-to option, especially on high-end bikes. You will mostly see rim brakes on road bikes and many commuting bikes.

Many cyclists still choose to use them because they have some great advantages. They are incredibly lightweight, easy to use, and simple to maintain. On top of all that, they are very cheap to buy. 

They do come with some disadvantages too. They don’t perform well in poor riding conditions, they wear down your rims over time, and they don’t offer the power that a disc brake does. If you’re planning on road cycling then they’re great – but off-road, not so much. 

They work by using a cable system. Pulling the brake lever tightens the calipers, and the pads tighten onto the wheel’s rim. The pads are generally made of a rubber-like compound.

This creates friction that will slow you down quickly and efficiently. 

Close-up of dual-pivot caliper rim brakes on a white hybrid bike.

How Do You Know When To Replace Brake Pads On A Bike?

When it comes to bike brakes, they wear down very slowly.

You might not notice over time your braking performance dropping. Many signs will tell you that your rim brake bike pads need changing.

Here’s what to look for:

#1. Visual Wear

The first and easiest way to check your pads is to inspect them visually.

You’ll notice on most rim brake pads that they have a wear indicator. Once you hit the minimum, you need to change them. If they don’t have an indicator, you can judge wear by looking at the water grooves.

We advise replacing your brake pads well before they wear so low that you can’t see these water grooves. 

#2. Noise

You will notice when your brake pads start to get very worn, they will make a screeching noise, not unlike how they sound when riding them in wet conditions.

If you start hearing this when it’s dry outside and the sun is shining, then it’s time for a change. 

#3. Poor Braking Performance

The most obvious sign that your brake pads need changing will come in the performance.

You may notice the lever has excessive movement, or your stopping time is much slower. If you feel the performance isn’t good enough, change the pads as soon as possible. 

A silver rim brake on a wheel with a red tire.

How To Find The Correct Brake Pads For Your Bike

When it comes to finding the right brake pads for your bike, it can be challenging for the uninitiated.

There are many different types of rim brakes, and the pads are not all universal. You will first want to check the name on the brakes and use that information to get new pads.

If you have unbranded brakes, you will want to buy pads that are identical in size, shape, and color. If you are still struggling after that, head to your local bike shop with the old pads and they can help you out.

You will generally find you have either a brake block or a cartridge.

Brake blocks are a full piece, typically with an attachment to the brakes – like these Shimano Alivo Pads.

A brake cartridge is a small rubber piece you can swap out from the block, like these Shimano RC554 pads.

Understanding Different types of brake pads

You will also find many types of rim brake pads on the market that fit the same brakes.

Some will be made for durability and last thousands of miles. Others are made for performance, and although they will work better, you’ll replace them more often. 

One consideration you have to make is if you are using carbon fiber wheels. These high-performance wheels need particular pads to work properly, as regular brake pads will be ineffective and cause damage to the carbon fiber rim.

Center-pull rim brakes on a green bike.

How To Replace Rim Brake Pads In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

Now for the fun bit – working on your bike!

In this article, we’ll be working on a hybrid bike with dual-pivot caliper brakes – one of the most common types you’ll come across.

There’s a good chance your brakes will be the same type, especially if you’re using a road bike, but even if you have a different style of rim brake, the process will be the same.

We are changing out a full brake block in this guide, but will also explain what to do with a cartridge. 

Step #1. Preparation

A white hybrid bike sits in a bike stand.

The first step is to get yourself a good working space – somewhere where you can work safely and have lots of room for the bike and tools.

Here are the tools and parts you’re going to need:

  • Bike Stand (Optional)
  • Allen Keys or Spanners
  • Replacement Brake Pads

Now it’s time to get the bike in the stand. If you have the brakes around chest height, this will make them really easy to work on.

Step #2. Remove the wheel

Removing the front wheel from the bike.

It’s time to remove the wheel from the bike.

Many modern bike brakes have a small switch to open the caliper up more. If so, use this now. On classic bikes, you might need to remove the noodle at the top to release the brakes. 

Now the wheels and tires are free to come out. You will need to release the quick-release skewer or undo the bolts on the fork. Slowly bring the wheel out and put it somewhere safe where it won’t get damaged. 

Step #3. Remove the pads

Removing the rim brake pad from the caliper.

It’s time to start removing the pads.

Some brake blocks will come with multiple washers, which must be in a certain order. We recommend taking a picture or remembering the order before you take them out. 

You will now need to take the appropriate Allen key or spanner and undo the bolt on the back of the brake pad. They should fall out after the bolt is removed. 

If you’re changing cartridge pads, don’t remove the block. Undo the screw on the back, and the brake pads will slide out of the block freely. This is going to save you time later when it comes to adjustments. 

Step #4. Insert the new pads

Fixing the new brake pad into the caliper.

With the brakes now looking a bit useless, it’s time to get some new pads in.

Before inserting the new pads, check them against the old ones to ensure they are the same and will work and fit properly. Bear in mind that the old one may look thinner due to wear.

When you are ready, install the pads. If you have multiple washers, check the order from the picture you took earlier and follow it exactly. We recommend tightening the brake pads just lightly to hold them in place before making adjustments. 

If you have cartridge pads, then slip the new pads into the block and tighten them up fully. Make sure that you have right and left correct if they are directional. 

Step #5. Insert the wheel

Fastening the quick-release to reattach the wheel to the bike.

Now we have the new pads in, it’s time to get the wheel back in.

A good trick is getting the wheel in and lightly fastened with the bike still in the stand, then taking the bike out of the stand onto the floor before tightening the wheel fully. This helps ensure it’s positioned correctly and sitting in the right place. 

With the wheel in, head to the brakes and close the small lever that opens up the caliper. Don’t worry if the brakes are not lined up, as we’ll be adjusting them next.

Step #6. make height and level adjustments

Adjusting the brake with the new pad installed.

We need to adjust the brakes to ensure they work properly and effectively. If you are using cartridge pads, you can skip this step.

To ensure they work, we need the pads to connect with the rim fully and not the tire at any point. Using one hand on the lever, slightly pull so the pads so they sit lightly on the rim but can be shuffled around by hand.

Adjust both pads, so they connect with the rim properly. Then pull the lever with a strong force and tighten up the bolts fully, ensuring they don’t twist. Give the brake a few pulls to ensure they stay in the right place.

Step #7. Cable Tension Adjustment

Making adjustments to the brake cable tension.

Finally, it’s time for the cable adjustment.

With your pads having more compound on, there’s a strong possibility that they will rub on the rim. For brakes to work properly, you need good leverage, not too much or too little on the brake lever.

You can either slightly loosen the cable off at the stop and adjust it there, or on some brakes you can use the barrel adjuster to create or release tension. Some dual-pivot brakes have a screw to move them inward and outward. 

Once you have it correct, ride the bike slowly somewhere away from traffic to give them a test. If you’re happy, then job done! If not, make further adjustments.

Found this “How To Change Brake Pads” Guide Helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, challenging world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie is not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog.

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