Unresponsive bicycle brakes can be quite dangerous to the rider. This hazard can occur due to something as simple as squeezing the brake levers too hard to engage them, only to get them jammed.
Stuck bike brakes can also result from a more complex problem that might need the attention of a mechanic.
Stuck brakes prevent you from getting your money’s worth from your bicycle. So why does this happen?
Bicycle brakes do not release due to a faulty component within the brake system. This faulty component could be a worn brake pad or overstretched cables, among other likely causes.
What Causes Brakes to Lock Up and Not Release?
Stuck or grimy calipers, weak spring tension, knotty brake cables, stiff brake levers, and worn brake pads cause bike brakes to lock up and not release.
Your bicycle brakes could be unresponsive due to one or multiple causes. To identify the exact problem correctly, check for signs of rust or damage from accidents.
Also, check the brake pads and all other components of the brakes.
#1. Faulty Brake Pads
Your bicycle brakes can not work without brake pads, so old or worn ones will lead to sticking brakes. Brake pads are responsible for slowing down the wheels.
They do this when the calipers clamp both brake pads to squeeze the rotating wheel with their high friction surfaces and stop the bike.
In a well-functional braking system, the brake pads are engaged when the rider pulls the brake lever, which pulls the brake cable and ultimately the brake pads.
However, when the brake levers do not affect the brake pads sitting against the wheel and calipers, there are two explanations for this fault.
One, the bike brake pads are significantly worn down. Any of the brake pads which is less than ¼ inches thick can be described as worn down.
As long as this is the case, your bike brakes will stay locked despite any other changes you might make. The other explanation for faulty brake pads is that your brake pads have a ‘lip’ jutting out.
A lip is commonly found on the part of the pads closest to the central part of the wheel. It is caused by uneven wear on the brake pads.
The ideal solution to worn pads is to get new ones. However, adjusting the brake pads could solve the problem if they are only slightly worn.
If your brake pads are less than ¼ inches in thickness, replace them.
To remove a lip on your brake pads, file or sand it down. Do this with sandpaper to even out a lip jutting out too far, so the wheel and brakes can work smoothly.
Remove the wheel first to make reaching the lip easier, and carefully sand it off. Please do not go overboard with filing it down that it wears off the thickness of the brake pads.
Note that if the areas of the brake pads around the lip are already significantly worn down, sanding the lip off would not help much. If the brakes are still stuck, get a replacement.
When you fix the new brake pads, they should be in a ‘toed-in’ position. It means that the front part of the pads should touch the brake pads rim first when you engage the brake.
The brakes will work smoothly if the new brake pads are fixed properly. Replace the brake pads regularly to avoid brake fade.
#2. Poor Spring Tension
Each brake arm of the bike brakes has a small screw on the bottom. These screws determine how the brake pads engage with the wheel by adjusting the spring tension.
Over time, the spring tension can change. As a result, riding the bicycle and bumps on the path can weaken your brakes’ spring tension and lead to your brakes getting stuck.
In some cases, the spring tension would be weakened only on one side and remain strong on the other.
This uneven spring tension makes the bike brakes unresponsive on one side and is equal to the danger posed by both sides being stuck.
Using a screwdriver, you can adjust the spring tension of the bicycle brake by loosening or tightening the screws.
Screwing towards the inside will suitably increase the space between the brake pad and the wheel, thereby increasing the spring tension. In contrast, screwing outwards will decrease the spring tension.
As you adjust the spring tension on one side, in the case of uneven spring tension, make sure to change that of the other side to keep things uniform and ensure the smooth performance of the brakes.
#3. Stiff Brake Levers
Resistance usually makes the brake levers go stiff. The brake levers are metal levers found on the bicycle handlebars, which the rider presses directly to engage the brakes.
The resistance that makes the bike levers go stiff and unable to spring back to the position is caused by;
- Dirty bike levers
- Twisted cable housing
- Levers that got damaged from an accident
The tension of the cables is what makes the lever spring back to position after the brakes are engaged, but when these cables are twisted and dirty, accumulated dirt causes stiffness.
There could be no release after you squeeze the brake lever, which commonly happens after the bike has been exposed to the outside weather for a long time.
The tension in the cables can also get so weakened that the brake levers are floppy, unable to engage the brakes at all.
Clean the brake levers and cable housing regularly. Check the cables as often as possible to detect if it is worn down.
Also, lubricate the points on the levers where parts of the brakes rotate. Oil the pivot pins on each bike handle using a quality bike lubricant.
Be careful not to use lubricants on rims or brake pads, as this would ruin its high friction surface, ultimately damaging it and making it difficult for your bicycle to stop or slow down.
Instead, to increase the tension in the cables, locate the loosened barrel adjuster and tighten it up. This action adjusts the cables’ lengths and removes the bike levers’ floppiness.
#4. Grimy Caliper Pivots
A large combination of dirt, mud, and grime stuck in the caliper pivots of a braking system causes the brakes to lock up and stop responding.
The calipers play the important role of clamping together when the brake levers are pulled, and as the calipers squeeze down, they push the brake pads to the wheels to slow the bike down.
Should the pivots of the calipers collect a lot of dirt, they jam up and cannot work smoothly. Once the pivots cannot function, the calipers cannot open or close.
There is a relatively simple solution to this particular problem, and that is to clean the caliper pivots out thoroughly.
If the dirt and grime have caused some pivot faults, then replace the calipers entirely.
Keeping your bicycle brakes fully functional only requires effort, as stuck brakes are commonly caused by faults you can easily fix.
If you have not ridden your bike over a considerable period, thoroughly check the brake components before use.
Should you find faults that cannot be easily fixed alone, consult your owner’s manual or visit the mechanic.
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