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Friday, March 26, 2010

Perfectly Tuned Brakes

Just minutes ago I finished adjusting the brakes on my grey hybrid bicycle and took it for a quick spin. And then some amazingly quick braking. Not bad for a bicycle that in my own words "is a piece of shit".

I bought the grey hybrid 2 summers ago for almost nothing off craigslist. It was broken, I fixed it and its been running perfectly fine ever since (with the exception of having to fix the derailleurs when some prick kicked them in and fix the brakes due to similar mischief).

The end result is a sleeper bicycle that nobody would steal because it looks horrible, but when its tuned to perfection the gears glide beautifully and the brakes stop on a dime.

Because I keep the bicycle on street level I expect it to be vandalized occasionally, but its no big deal considering the lock costed more than the bicycle. Still I have taken precautions like writing my name and phone number on the bike with bicycle paint (the kind that can't be scratched off without scratching the regular paint) to prevent thieves...

The ride? It glides, but the real beauty is when you squeeze the brakes and it stops INSTANTLY. Front or back, it doesn't matter.

Having two perfectly working sets of brakes is very important. Having one set of brakes working is inherently dangerous because when those brakes fail you're heading for a crash.

How do you achieve perfectly tuned brakes?
(For the example below we will be using V-brakes.)

Step #1. Tighten up the brake levers and make sure they're in perfect working order. This includes adjusting them to a 45 degree angle, making sure they're not sliding on the handlebars and making sure they aren't squeezing the fingers by accident.

Step #2. Remove the cable attached the brakes.

Step #3. Adjust the brake pads so they are angled lengthwise across the wheel rim without rubbing the side of the tire.

Step #4. Reattach the brake cable and make sure its good and tight, but not so tight that its squeezing the brakes onto the wheel rim. Tuck the remaining cable "tail" behind the hook on the side of the V-brake or bend it so its not sticking straight out. DO NOT CUT IT OFF!

Step #5. Adjust the brake screws if the brake alignment is unbalanced (you can tell if its unbalanced if one side is touching but the other is not). The brake screws effect the tightness of springs hidden in the brake housing, ultimately allowing you to adjust the alignment of the brakes so one or both aren't squeezing the wheel rim when they're not supposed to be.

Step #6. Test it. Take it for a ride and make sure it stops on the dime. Readjust if necessary.

Now... once that you have perfectly tuned brakes you can do several things on your bike you might not otherwise do... like Power Sliding.


Step #1. Find a place to practice where there isn't a lot of people, lots of space to gain speed and practice power sliding. An empty parking lot is ideal.

Step #2. You will need at least 5 MPH (or 8 kmph) of speed to do this. If u are going too slow you won't have the necessary speed to slide.

Step #3. Practice getting comfortable with leaning and braking simultaneously.

Step #4. Practice positioning your weight and putting your right or left foot out but not touching the ground while leaning and braking.

Step #5. Lean very deep and turn really hard (approx. 90 degrees) whilst using either the front brakes or both the front and back brakes and you will go into a power slide if done correctly.

With lots of practice you can power slide beside obstacles or people with little or no danger of crashing into them. (Be warned however I did this once in Chinatown and got some scared looks from people who thought they were about to be crashed into.)

Its recommended you have you brakes perfectly tuned and everything else in perfect working condition before attempting power slides. A helmet is a good idea too.

Note: Power Sliding is different from Drifting. Power Sliding is braking while sliding sideways. Drifting is moving sideways or in a circular motion while still in motion. Less knowledgable people sometimes confuse the terminology.

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About the Author

Charles Moffat is equal parts bicycle mechanic, cyclist, painter, sculptor, fantasy writer, poet, website designer and pun maker. For more details see



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