How to fix those squeaky bike brakes...Quickly!

You're gliding down a country lane enjoying the view, peace and solitude when you pull on the brakes and a loud squealing sound shatters the tranquillity.

We've all been there – squeaky brakes are near the top of any cyclist's list of annoying bike noises. But it's not just the squeal that's a problem – noisy brakes can also mean decreased braking performance.

What causes squeaky brakes?

Squealing brakes can occur for a number of reasons. Often, contamination can give rise to a nasty noise when you hit the anchors – oil or grease on the wheel rim, brake pad or rotor or a misalignment between the braking surfaces can cause a squeal, or perhaps you have new brake pads which may need to bed in.

Also, poorly set-up brakes can cause vibration and the tell-tale screech.

There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of noisy brakes and we'll run through these below for both rim and disc brakes.

Rim brakes vs Disc brakes: what's the difference?

Rim brakes

As contamination is a leading cause of squeaky brakes, first check that the rims are oil free and that there's no build-up of dirt – if so scrub them thoroughly with degreaser. Then check the brake blocks themselves are clean and free of specks of dirt or grit.

Also ensure that the brake blocks are wearing evenly and are not worn out, if they're not wearing down evenly this could be a sign that the brakes are not set up properly.

After this cleaning regime, check that all bolts securing the caliper to the frame and the brake blocks to the caliper are securely tightened – loose bolts can cause brake noise.

Common problems with rim brakes

Still getting a squeal after all that cleaning and tightening? Then it could be that your brakes are not set up properly. Check this by applying the brake and looking at how the rim and block surfaces come together – loosen the mounting bolts and reposition the blocks to ensure an accurate connection. In addition to the above reasons, a small amount of play in the wheel bearings can also contribute to noisy brakes.

Disc brakes

As with rim brakes, the most common cause of squeaky disc brakes is contamination. This may occur when spray lubricants have been used on a bicycle with disc brakes and some of it gets on the rotors or pads – great care is needed if you do use such products.

Ensuring your rims or rotors are kept clean by using an oil-free degreaser will help reduce the incidence of brake squeal, as will sanding down the pads. You can buy specific disc brake cleaners to keep them clean and contaminant-free and often this will do the trick, but if the disc pads themselves have become contaminated, then you will have to remove them completely from the bike in order to sandpaper them down.

If this doesn't work then you may have to buy new pads.

How do you clean disc brakes?

What's the best way to clean the disc brakes on your bike? / Image: Flynn Tesoriero, Unsplash.

How do you set-up disc brakes on a bike?

Setting up disc brakes is different from rim brakes and poorly set-up disc pads can seriously hamper performance. The best way to bed pads in is to ride along at a good speed and pull firmly on the brakes – do this several times to ensure the discs are well-bedded in.

If none of the above works it could be that the caliper is not perfectly aligned with the rotor. Disc rotors can bend easily but can be straightened with an adjustable spanner and you can adjust the positioning of the caliper and disc rotor by eye.

The steps described above should rid you of that pesky noise but if all else fails, take your bike into your friendly local bike shop and ask them to cure the squeal.