Any good mechanic will check the brakes of a bike as a matter of upmost importance. With this in mind pulling the front brake will not only check the function of possibly the most important safety feature on the bike, but it can also be used to check headset tightness in one fell swoop.
The look and feel of different brake types changes between model and manufacturer as well as within the braking system used. Anticipating and understanding this ‘feel’ is mostly down to experience.
Generally speaking though, a mechanic should always put the braking system of a bike through an initial safety check. An initial general safety check can often also highlight many common problems that can be resolved with some fine tuning or simple servicing tasks.
We recommend undertaking a basic brake test to your bike to ensure that the brakes are operating safely. Obviously, this is important to do on your own bike, but if you are a workshop mechanic, it is even more important to ensure that customers do not walk out the door uninformed of their potential braking problem. The stopping power of the brake can be tested as follows:
As a rough guide when applying the front brake you should be able to lean all of your weight on the bars without the front wheel moving (the brake can hold your weight with the force your fingers can apply). Push forward with your legs and you will be able to get an idea of the amount of force required to overcome the brake. The rear brake can be tested in the same way by applying force to the saddle, you may find the tyre will skid before the brake is overcome.
This test is only an indicator of the brakes effectiveness as riding the bike introduces other factors. You must also take the bike for a test ride and test each brake separately.
To check the front brake while riding it is important to shift your weight back. This will allow you to pull the lever harder without the risk of going over the bars, its surprising how quickly you can stop using only a front brake while performing this weight shift.
To test the rear brake you should sit on the saddle and try to get all your weight on the back wheel. This will stop the rear wheel skidding. This is easier on some bikes than others!
Full Safety Test
The following can be used as a checklist to start trying to ascertain where the braking problem lies. However, it is also good to run through the list anyway when simply checking the brakes over for any potential problems.
- Is the wheel buckled? (Important for rim brakes)
- Are the pads worn?
- Is the cable housing damaged?
- Are the caliper and lever compatable?
- Is the caliper positioned correctly on the frame?
- Is the lever fitted and positioned correctly? (You should not be able to pull the brake lever back to the bar or to the point where the fingers limit the action of the lever. This is dangerous and the brake must be adjusted)
If the bike passes all of the above, it is safe to return to the roads.