V-brakes are still a perfectly viable option for any bicycle, including the mountain bike. There are better options but that doesn’t mean v-brakes aren’t good enough for an average rider. After all, most riders are sold on the fact that v-brakes are easy to maintain. However, there are issues that can become annoying if not dealt with.
Squeaking noises often drive people crazy because they are tricky to get rid of on a v-brake. Simply because there are lots of factors included in the problem. I might be able to use my experience in order to help with understanding the causes and give you some tips on how to resolve this issue.
Change To Dual Compound V-brake Pads
Brake pad rubber, like any other rubber, becomes stiff in time. From my experience, I can tell you that cheap v-brake pads are made of terrible rubber that becomes too stiff even before it’s sold to you. These types of brake pads always have bad braking power and make noise. If you suspect you brake pads are of bad quality or just older than 2 years, the best option might be to change them right away for something better.
There are lots of decent quality v-brake pads but my favorite ones are dual compound ones. Dual compound brake pads are made from two or more different rubber compounds to prevent squeaking and produce linear braking power. The front part is usually softer material to prevent squealing and give you a softer first contact with the rim so you can easily adjust how much brake force you want. The second part is made of stiffer rubber to allow you to stop at high speeds when you squeeze the brake lever a bit harder. Sometimes, there is the third part of the rubber which is especially effective in wet conditions. All the separate parts of the brake pad are also shaped to increase these performances.
When I have a problem like this, my top choice is Tektro High-Performance Dual Compound V-Brake Pads. You would think these would come from a bigger brand like Shimano, but these bigger brands stopped even trying to adapt for these older types of brakes like v-brake is. These brake pads from Tektro, although less known than some other, are the best option from everything I’ve ever tried.
A second and third option, in my opinion, are Kool-Stop Dual Compound V-Brake Pads and Promax 3-Color V-Brake Pads. These both solved issues with noise, however, Tektro’s ones always gave better results in terms of braking power.
Clean The Rim
A braking surface of the rim tends to pick up dirt and oily substances over time, especially when riding on the road. Sometimes people accidentally spray the rim with some form of lubricant while doing their regular bike maintenance.
While lubricant itself won’t cause squealing on the rim brake, unlike the disc brake, it tends to cause unequal friction. If you know how friction works in physics, you will know that the force of friction is the greatest just at the tip before the surfaces start moving. On a bicycle rim that causes violent changes in friction, materials start to flex more than they should, and vibrations become quite noisy.
To prevent squeaking caused by a dirty rim, you should simply clean it with a product that can dissolve any oily or greasy substance. I like to use Industrial rubbing alcohol (preferably 99.9% isopropyl) and a microfiber cleaning cloth. Lately, I tend to avoid brake cleaners as they are highly dangerous for the environment, and isopropyl alcohol will do the job just fine. And is cheaper!
Clean Your Brake Pads
Dirty brake pads can cause noise in a similar way as a rim can. Although, it is much rarer for brake pads to cause squealing by being dirty. They will often spread that grease or oil equally all around the rim and in fact, prevent noise in the long run. However, the braking power will be completely insufficient.
You can clean them with the same rubbing alcohol as you would use on the rim. In fact, in both cases, you should clean both the rim and the brake pads. The important part is to let it all dry and evaporate before using the brakes again.
Don’t Use Any Lubrication
The fact that you shouldn’t use any lubrication on brake pads or the rim is probably a bit too obvious for most people. Though you would be surprised how many people come to my shop with the same story of how they prevented squeaking with oil and now their brakes don’t brake at all.
I’ve even found videos and web pages recommending the use of lubrication on the brakes to prevent noise. Just don’t. Otherwise, you will have to spend hours cleaning it.
Check If Brake Shoes Are At The Wrong Angle
Brake shoes can be set at multiple different angles for a v-brake. Usually, they work with several angles but there is really one angle that is the proper one.
It’s called the toe-in angle. In other words, front of the brake pas should be just a tiny bit closer to the rim’s braking surface. That way brake force is more linear in comparison to how much you squeeze a brake lever.
What happens when your v-brakes start to squeal is often the brake shoe being tightened at the wrong angle. The wrong angle disrupts the brake force and causes vibrations which are actually the exact thing you hear as squealing.
When new brake pads make noise, 99% of the time this is the reason why it’s happening.
Check For Unequal Spacing Between The Rim And Each Brake Pad
Having unequal spacing between the rim and each brake pad can affect both braking power and the sound it makes. This happens because squeezing the brake lever causes one of the brake pads to touch the rim first and bend it towards the other brake pad.
When a rim gets bent like this the angles at which pads hit the rim get disrupted and that sometimes produces squealing.
The other problem is that brake pads are pressed to the rim with unequal force and one of the brake shoes has less grip on the rim which can make noise as well.
I suggest checking this regularly and adjusting the spacing with the side screws on v-brake arms.
Check For And Prevent Unequally Worn-out Pads
Pads being unequally worn-out is just the extension of the already explained problem above. Even if it doesn’t create any noise at first, soon after it definitely will.
However, when we look at a single brake pad, it can get unequally worn-out as well. If it’s put at the wrong angle at the beginning, the brake force won’t be equally distributed in front and back end of the brake shoe. This unequal wear will force you to change your brake pads sooner than you normally should, and in time might cause squealing.
I always double-check v-brake pad angles, especially when adjusting or changing pads for customers at my bike shop. This mistake happens a lot, especially from smaller bike shops, simply because they tend to prioritize quickness over the quality of service. I suggest checking this yourself even if you do bike maintenance at a bike shop. It will definitely save you money.
Properly Tighten V-brake Arm Bolts
Brake squeaking, in my experience, can sometimes be caused by improperly attached v-brake arms or even loose bolts that hold them into place. If v-brake arms are improperly set up they can bend at some bad angle during braking or simply create more vibration than they should if they are a bit loose.
What I usually do if I suspect this to be a cause is take the whole v-brake off the bike and set it up again properly. You can do this by detaching the cable housing from that quick release cable bridge, then proceed to unscrew v-brake arm bolts and pulling the arms off the bike. Sometimes they can be a bit stuck on the v-brake mounts if there is very little or no grease. Just use a bit of force at the closest point to the bolts so you don’t bend them. I suggest cleaning the mounts and checking for any damage, then greasing them and putting everything back on. If your v-brake arms have those tension springs that you have to place into those tiny holes on the frame next to mounts, just make sure you put them in the same hole they were before.
Arm bolts should be tightened pretty hard since they don’t sit on the arm itself but on the mounts. No matter how tight they are they won’t affect v-brake arm movement if it’s properly placed. They will only make sure to hold it in its place without any unwanted movement.
If your v-brakes were properly adjusted before removing the arms, you shouldn’t have to touch anything adjusting wise after this process.
Replace Cable Housing
This might sound like it has nothing to do with this problem and I’m just rambling things to fill this post. You would be surprised how much of an impact bad cable housing has on braking power and squeaking.
Brake cable housing is made to withstand a lot of force but it is able to compress a bit. Which is technically not a good thing but it’s a trade-off that works great if the housing is of decent quality.
If the housing is too compressible you actually lose braking power which is lost inside the cable housing when it compresses. What happens then is brake shoes not squeezing the rim properly and those pesky vibrations start to appear once again and cause squeaking.
From all the cables and housings I’ve ever tried using, Jagwire’s is simply the best in my opinion. Jagwire Hyper DIY Brake Cable Kit is a good kit to solve all your brake cable and housing problems. However, I usually use Shimano’s cables and housing since I can get them for a spare change at my shop and I’m more than satisfied by their quality and performance. Shimano Universal Standard Brake Cable Set will rid you of any trouble.
Check If Your Fork Has Loose Lower Ends
People in my area still ride some very old mountain bikes. Some get attached to them, some don’t want to spend money on new ones and so on. However, what I usually see on these bikes is loose forks. Casual riders don’t really like servicing their suspension forks for some reason.
Since those old mountain bikes have v-brakes, I see this squealing problem quite often. It’s again, the vibrations that happen from forks being loose that cause noise on v-brakes.
I like to leave this one for the end since with older forks you often have no choice but to replace the whole fork.
Check The Bolts On V-Brake Shoes
If you haven’t checked or touched your brake pads yet, the chances are a brake shoe fixing bolt might have got loose. Although that quite rare, aluminum v-brake arms tend to get softer in time and bolts might get a bit loose. The fact it that happens all over the bike with aluminum parts, that’s why manufacturers recommend constant checking if the bolts are properly tightened.
Secondly, if you have v-brake shoes with interchangeable brake pads, the pads themselves might get a bit loose. You may need to change pads or the whole brake shoe in that case.
True Your Wheels
Sometimes if the wheel is untrue, it can disrupt the brake force by pushing brake pads in one or the other direction. As the rim moves in relation to brake pads so the angles change as well. All of this can be a cause of squealing when you brake.
In this case, you might consider giving it to someone who is really skilled in truing wheels, or in case they can’t be true anymore, change them altogether.
Try Adding A V-brake Booster
Bicycle brake boosters were invented to increase braking power. They don’t really improve much on that anymore, not sure if they ever did at all.
However, they are good at one thing for sure and that’s to reduce flexing of the frame itself. On slimmer frames when you squeeze any type of rim brake it tends to push the frame fork apart, especially on the back brakes. Brake booster prevents or minimalizes this and it showed me in the past that it can prevent squeaking on some bikes.
It’s a cheap option to add and it won’t hurt to have it anyway. Ttnight Bike Brake Booster is the one I ordered for customers several times before, but any similar one would be just as good I’m sure of it.