If your bike is squeaking when you attempt to slow down or stop your bike likely has squeaky brakes. This guide focuses specifically on squeaky cantilever brakes the type found on many types of bikes. You can determine if your bike has cantilever brakes by seeing whether or not there are two pads on either side of the bike tire rim. Both side pull and direct pull cantilever brakes are designed in this way. While effective for braking this design can easily lead to squeaky brakes.  


Besides being an annoyance, squeaking cantilever brakes can be a sign of possible adjustment problems and wear that could cause the brakes to eventually fail.

Shimano Cantilever Brakes on a BikeCredit: By AndrewDressel at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia by SreeBot) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dirt and debris can become trapped on the brake pads, on the rims, and in the cable guides. Use a clean rag to wipe away dirt and debris. For even better cleaning use an oil-free cleaner with the rag to remove even more debris and dirt. Pay special attention to the sides of the rims but avoid getting the oil on the tire itself. Also only use oil-free cleaner as oil based cleaners can leave residue on the brakes and rims making it possible for the brakes to slip when used.


Take out the bike for a spin and listen closely for the bike brakes squeaking. If they continue to squeak you may need to make a brake adjustment. You’ll need a wrench to perform the proper adjustment.


Loosen the cable tension nut located near the end of the cantilever cable just above where the ends split off to the brake pads. The brake pad arms will loosen and the pads won’t touch the rims. However, do not fully remove the nut as this can make readjustment much more difficult. 


Take off the bolts and nuts that hold the pads to the arms with the wrench. Carefully explore the pads for excessive wear or uneven wear on one side of the pads. Replace with new pads if the original pads are severely worn or unevenly worn.


Put the pads on one at a time and position the pad so that the nut and bolt can line up with the back of the pad. Adjust and tighten so that the pad when pushed against the rim touches only the rim and not the tire rubber. It is very important that the pad lines up exactly with the tire rim. 


Fine tune the adjustment by sticking a small piece of cardboard between the brake arm and the back of the pad. Loosen and retighten the brake pad nut so that you get a slight angle on the brake pad with the front of the pad angled slightly inward. This is known as a “toe-in” alignment. Make sure the pad nut is tightened to help stop brake squeaking.


Repeat this method on each additional brake pad. Next you’ll need to tighten up the tension nut above where the cable splits off to each pad. You’ll need to pull downward on the excess tension cable while tightening the cable nut until the pads are just slightly away from the rims. 


When finished pull each brake handle and ensure the brakes firmly grip the rim. Adjust the main cable nut as needed until the brakes are properly adjusted. You will know they are adjusted properly when the brake pads firmly grip the rim and the wheel stops spinning when the brakes are applied. 


You may need to clean and adjust the brakes on a regular basis. Not only will this ensure safe braking and operation but it will also help reduce bicycle squeaky brakes.