3 Reasons Why Your Bike Brakes Not Gripping – How To Fix

Have you ever experienced trouble with your bike’s brakes not gripping? It is common for bike brakes to require adjustments or occasional repairs, but if you are experiencing consistent issues with brake slippage it may be time to replace them.

When you are riding downhill and you need the brakes to work faster, they normally won’t because of gravity. When you press down on the handles and want to stop your bike, gravity will keep slowing it down, and eventually, your wheel’s grip will fail because it cannot withstand all of that weight.

When this happens, stopping power is lost and you could fall over. A mechanism will fail if it cannot withstand the force. Most of the time you’ll hear a squeaking sound when your brakes are not gripping, which is another indication that something might be wrong with your bike.

There are three different reasons bike brakes not gripping, but it usually happens because one of these three things: bike parts are worn down, bike parts need oiling, or it is time to replace your brakes.

3 Possible Reasons & Fixes for Your Bike Brakes

Possible Reasons & Fixes for Your Bike Brakes

One of the most common reasons why a brake fails is because its bicycle wheel is not contacting it correctly. If you squeeze the handles and there’s a delay, then this means that for some reason, your wheel does not have a strong grip on your brake.

If this happens, take a look at the wheel and check to see if there are any cracks or anything on it that would prevent it from gripping onto your brake. Also, make sure that the wheel is seated correctly within its frame because sometimes it will work fine until you go downhill.

The second reason for slipping brakes could be because they are worn down. If you have been riding for a while, the grooves on your brake could start to wear away because of friction.

When this happens you will be able to see it clearly in the form of smudges and marks all along with your brakes. You might also feel that when you apply pressure with your hands, it is slightly weaker than before. If this happens, you will need to either replace your brakes or have them adjusted.

The third reason why your brakes are not gripping is that they need oiling. A good way to test whether you need to oil your brake system is by spraying some WD-40 on it and squeezing the handles. If there’s a delay then it means that they are not oiled enough. If this is the case, you’ll need to apply some oil to your brakes and put them back on.

Overall, you will know whether your brakes are gripping or not by listening to them closely with each squeeze of the levers. Stop whenever there’s a warning sign like squeaking and other strange sounds. This will prevent any accidents from happening and you’ll always be safe when riding your bike.

Main Problems with The Brakes

Main Problems with The Brakes

Problems can occur in the brakes of your bike and it is usually common but the important thing is that you take prompt notice and action of the problem and solve it in time to avoid any unfortunate event that could damage the bike or yourself. We have listed down some of the most common problems that occur with bike brakes below:

Squeaking Brakes – Bad Pads Worn Out

If your brakes are making a squeaking sound while applying brakes or even simple movement then this may be due to worn-out brake pads. Usually, when the leather of the brake pad is worn out they press against the wheel or disc making an unusual squeaking sound when applied. This means that you have to get a new pair of brake pads as your current brake pads are worn out.

Brakes Sticking

Sticking brakes are one of the most common problems which can be very dangerous as well. If you apply your brakes and the brakes won’t release and get stuck, this means that the attached cable is at fault. It is important for the cable to be properly lubricated to move freely in the housing.

Due to rust and corrosion, these cables cannot move freely which results in sticking brakes. The solution to this is to replace the cable or housing. Or you can simply lubricate the cable to have an immediate impact.

Slack Brakes

If the effectiveness of the brakes is compromised this means that you are facing the problem of slack brakes. The main cause of this is due to not much tension and pressure exerted by the cable to the brake pad to stop the wheel. The solution to this is to tighten the bolts of the cable to create increased tension and the brake’s effectiveness will improve.

Brakes Getting Spongy

The brakes might sometimes feel spongy. This means that when the brakes are applied they don’t possess constant pressure on the wheel. This problem can result from a lot of factors. Therefore, it is important that you check the cable, brake pad alignment, bolts, and tension of the cable to solve this issue.

Frozen Caliper

If you feel that the brakes of your bike are constantly applied and it is difficult to ride your bike due to the constant pressure of the caliper, then you are facing the problem of the frozen caliper.

A frozen caliper means that the piston of the hydraulic pump is exerting pressure on the when and is frozen at that state. To solve the issue, you might need to check the hydraulic pump, detach the caliper and apply the brake to unfreeze the piston of the hydraulic pump and get to its actual position.

Warped Rotor

Disc Rotor

If the wheel of your bike is making an unusual sound while moving and the brakes are not that effective this may be a sign of a warped rotor. The rotor of the bike is smooth and if they get damaged they will result in less brake efficiency and squeaking sounds. To solve this, issue the rotor must be changed to scraped to smooth the surface.

Bike brakes are not gripping can be a big issue because it could lead to an injury or accident if the brake fails entirely while riding downhill. Follow this guide to find out how to fix this problem, so that you can ride safely again.

How To Fix Bike Brake That Doesn’t Work?

How To Fix Bike Brake That Doesn’t Work

Now, if you want to make your brakes work properly, we have discussed some of the steps that you can use to fix the brakes of your bike and get them working properly.

Apply Test Brakes

The first thing that you have to do is to check both the rear and front brakes of your bike. For this simply press each of the brakes at a time and see if they are working properly. If both of them are working properly you are good to go.

However, if any one or both of them are facing problems in stopping the wheel from moving, you have to check the cable attachment and make sure the tension is increased to make the brakes effective.

View the Brake Function on A Standing Bike

The one thing you can do is to have a thorough check of the rear and front brakes of your bike visually. Stand next to your bike and critically analyze each cable, bolt, and brake pad to make sure that the brakes are in good shape.

Cable Tension Adjustment

If the brakes are getting applied but are not effective, you have to adjust the cable tension. For this reach out to the cable and there you will find a tension screw tighten it up and the brake lever will become hard. Adjust the tension and test the brake to have desired braking effectiveness.

Re-Clamp the Cable

Sometimes the cable might not be fixed properly which can cause brake problems. For this, you should properly unclamp the cable from the brakes. Lubricate the cable, check the brake pads and then re-clamp the cable to fix the problem.

Center the Brake

If the brakes are not effective and are feeling spongy only one of the brake pads might be pressing against the wheel. Check the brake pads and center both of them to have higher effectiveness and fix the problem.

Also read: Are bike seats universal?

Adjust the Brake Pads

Both of the brake pads should be aligned together to work in harmony and provide exceptional grip to the rider. If they are facing a problem, the fix for that is to adjust the brake pads and make sure that they are properly aligned at their positions to provide maximum effectiveness.

Different Types of Bicycle Brakes

There are different types of brake and to truly understand the problem and fix it, the first thing is to understand the type of brake that your bike has. The types of brakes are listed below:

1. V-Brakes


The most popular and common bike brakes are V-brake. They are also sometimes referred to as rim brakes. They function by pressing and pushing the brake pads against the outer side of the wheel’s rim. However, they have now been obsolete as they are not that much effective for high speeds.

2. Mechanical Disc Brakes

Mechanical Disc Brake

As the name suggests these brakes work by pressing the disc that is fitted in the center of the wheel with brake pads. They are attached to a cable that is used to apply them. They are more effective as compared to V-brakes and are commonly used in modern bikes.

3. Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Hydraulic Disc Brake

The most modern and advanced disc brake type of the bunch. The hydraulic disc brakes use a hydraulic pump instead of a cable to be applied. The pump exerts pressure and presses the disc to stop its rotation which is highly effective.

Explore the distinctions between hydraulic and mechanical braking systems, highlighting their notable differences that impact braking performance.

Bonus Reasons Why Your Brakes Are Not Gripping

Contaminated Brake Pads or Rotors

Sometimes your brake pads or rotors may become contaminated with oil, grease, or even water. When this happens, the grip that the brake pads have on the rotor diminishes significantly.

This is a fairly common issue that can happen if your bike is stored improperly, undergoes a botched repair, or if you ride through a puddle of oily water. Cleaning the pads and rotor with a brake cleaner or isopropyl alcohol can sometimes fix the issue, but more severe cases may require replacing the contaminated components.

Inadequate Brake Fluid in Hydraulic Systems

If your bike uses hydraulic brakes and you’re facing issues with gripping, it may be because there isn’t enough brake fluid in the system, or the existing fluid has aged and lost its effectiveness.

This can make your brakes feel spongy or unresponsive. If you suspect this is the issue, it’s best to bleed the brake system and refill it with fresh, manufacturer-recommended brake fluid.

Incorrect Brake Pad Material

contaminated disc brakes

Brake pads come in different materials like organic, semi-metallic, and sintered. Each type has its own characteristics in terms of grip, heat dissipation, and durability.

Using the wrong type for your riding conditions or style could result in suboptimal brake performance. Make sure you are using the right kind of brake pads for your specific needs.

Poorly Maintained Spoke Tension

Tension Spoke

A less obvious reason could be the spoke tension on your bike’s wheels. If the spokes are unevenly or inadequately tensioned, it can lead to a wobbly wheel, which makes consistent braking difficult.

To solve this, you might need to adjust the spoke tension or visit a professional for wheel truing.

Temperature Fluctuations

Extreme cold or hot weather can also affect the grip of your bike brakes. Materials expand and contract with temperature, and this can sometimes be enough to make your brakes less effective.

If you frequently ride in extreme conditions, consider brake pads and rotors designed to handle such temperatures.

Aging Bike Parts

Like any machine, the components of a bike degrade over time, even if they aren’t actively being worn down by use. Rubber seals, springs, and other small parts within the brake assembly can lose their effectiveness purely due to age, leading to decreased braking power.

If your bike is old and the brakes are original, consider an overall brake system inspection and possible overhaul.

Air in the Brake Lines

For hydraulic braking systems, having air in the brake lines can reduce braking effectiveness significantly.

Air bubbles in the system compromise the hydraulic pressure that’s crucial for optimal braking. In such cases, a brake bleed is necessary to remove the trapped air.

Uneven Brake Pad Wear

If your brake pads are not evenly worn, they may not make proper contact with the rotor, resulting in reduced gripping power.

Ensure that both pads are wearing evenly; if not, inspect the caliper alignment and pad adjustment.


What is “brake fade” and how can I prevent it?

Brake fade is a condition where your brake’s effectiveness reduces due to excessive heat, usually from prolonged or intense braking, such as when descending a long hill.

To prevent brake fade, you can intermittently apply the brakes instead of continuously holding them down. This gives your brakes a chance to cool. High-quality brake pads and rotors are also less susceptible to fade.

Is it normal for new brake pads to squeak initially?

Some squeaking is normal when brake pads are brand-new and haven’t yet been “broken in.”

This squeaking should diminish after a few rides as the brake pads wear into the shape of the rotors or rims. If the squeaking persists, it may indicate an issue that needs attention, such as misalignment or contamination.

How often should I change the brake fluid in hydraulic disc brakes?

The frequency for changing brake fluid in hydraulic systems varies depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations and riding conditions.

However, a general guideline is to replace the fluid once a year or if you notice a decline in brake performance. Always refer to your owner’s manual for specific guidance.

How can I tell if my brake rotors are worn out?

Brake rotors usually have a minimum thickness specified by the manufacturer. If the rotor is worn down to this minimum level or if you notice visible grooves, warping, or discoloration, it’s time to replace the rotor. Some people use a micrometer to measure rotor thickness accurately.

Can I mix and match different brands of brake pads and rotors?

While it’s technically possible to mix and match, it’s generally not recommended. Different brands have different friction coefficients and heat tolerances, and using mismatched components could result in compromised brake performance or increased wear.

What is “bedding-in” a brake and why is it important?

Bedding-in is the process of breaking in new brake pads to ensure optimal performance and reduce squeaking. The procedure usually involves several hard stops from a moderate speed to generate heat in the pads and rotors.

This process lays down a thin layer of pad material onto the rotor surface, allowing for better friction and improved stopping power. Always refer to your brake manufacturer’s guidelines for the specific bedding-in procedure.

Summing It All Up!

Bike Brakes

In the end, we can conclude that brakes play a vital role in the safety of the passenger, thus, they should be maintained and fixed promptly as they can cause other parts of the bike to be damaged as well. We hope that with our article you would be able to diagnose the problem and solve the issue quickly and effectively.

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