This is the final installment of our upgrading components series. If you’ve successfully completed the previous 8 steps, your upgraded 11-speed thoroughbred is almost ready to rule the road. All that’s left is fine-tuning the brakes and derailleurs, checking your work, a test ride to ensure your adjustments are spot-on and any final tweaks. Let’s get started.
When we installed the stoppers, we aligned the brake shoes with the rims and we centered the brakes. So, it’s possible that the brakes work fine already. Check your work by making sure the bolts that hold the pads are tight. Also, check that the brake attaching nuts are tight.
Adjust the brakes to your hand size and braking preference
Riders with different hand sizes require different lever travel before the brakes are full-on. Make sure your brakes work optimally for your hands and preference. If they’re too loose, you’ve already stretched the cables and removed the slack. So, use the brake adjustment barrels to tighten the brake adjustment.
If the brakes are too tight, you’ll need to loosen the brake anchor bolts and let the cables slip through a very small amount and retighten the anchor bolts. Don’t worry. If you make them too loose, simply use the adjustment barrels to set them back as tight as you like.
Center the brakes
Double check the brake centering now. The pads should be equidistant from the rim on both sides. If not, most brakes have a centering screw that makes it easy to perfectly center the brake. It’s satisfying when you get it just right and feel the pads touch at exactly the same time.
Toe-in the brake pads if needed
The last adjustment you might need to make is toeing in the brake pads. Toe-in means that the front ends of the pads touch the rim before the rear. This prevents brake squeaking. If your brakes don’t squeak, you don’t need to worry about it. But, brakes can squeak at any time, so toe-in is a good adjustment to understand.
A trick for toeing-in pads is to turn your adjustment barrel to press both pads against the rim. That will hold them in position aligned and pressed against the rim. Next, place one business card beneath the back end of each pad.
Now, carefully loosen each brake shoe bolt and gently angle the shoe so that the front of the pad touches first. Then retighten. The business cards will provide the perfect toe-in angle. This adjustment can be a little fussy. Take your time and keep trying. You’ll get it.
Put the bicycle in a repair stand or suspend it, pedal by hand and shift both derailleurs to test your adjustments. Make sure the chain shifts to the largest and smallest cogs perfectly. Even under hard shifting pressure with the lever, the chain shouldn’t be able to go past the largest cog or it could go into the spokes. Argh!
Make sure you can hit high gear
Try shifting up and down the rear cogs with the chain on all the chainrings, too. You want it to shift fine on all of them. Sometimes the chain will shift fine onto the smallest rear cog when it’s on the small chainring, but not when it’s on the large ring. Usually, the cure is loosening the high gear limit screw on the rear derailleur just a tad.
If that doesn’t work, you may need to very slightly loosen the shift cable tension by loosening the anchor bolt (or, if you have your adjustment barrel unscrewed a bit, you can turn it to create the slack you need).
Make sure the chain doesn’t rub on the front derailleur cage
Last, shift onto the smallest chainring and largest cog and check that the chain doesn’t rub against the inside of the front derailleur cage. If it does, try turning the low gear limit screw on the front derailleur counterclockwise in half-turn increments. With luck there’ll be enough slack in the shift cable to allow the cage to move in a tiny amount and stop the rub. If not, you’ll need to loosen the cable anchor bolt just enough to make the cable a little looser so the derailleur can move in a wee bit and stop the rub.
Next, shift onto the largest chainring (leave the chain on the smallest cog) and make sure that the chain does not rub against the outside of the front derailleur cage when there. If it does, loosening the front derailleur’s high gear limit screw a tad should stop the rub.
Check every nut and bolt
Now that your adjustments are near perfect, check every bolt for tightness with the appropriate wrench and make sure everything is secure.
Also, check your brakes and derailleurs and make sure you didn’t forget anything. Are all four brake pads tight and aligned? Are the levers tight? Did you check the rear derailleur pulley bolts (once in a great while one might be a little loose straight from the factory)? How about the front derailleur spacer bolt, if you have one (the little bolt that passes through the end of the front derailleur cage)? Make sure it’s tight. And top off your tire pressure, too, if needed.
Now for the fun part: suit up and hit the road! But, don’t go sprinting or hammering too hard right away. You might have missed something, and it’s better to find out that your chain isn’t completely connected while soft pedaling than by breaking it and crashing.
Start by applying your brakes multiple times to make sure your levers don’t slip and your adjustment holds and that the brakes stop well consistently. Now’s when you may discover that your brakes squeak and you need to toe-in the pads to stop it.
Shift through the gears and make sure you can hit every combination smoothly and precisely. You shouldn’t have any rubbing noises at this point or hesitation in shifting to the highest and lowest gears.
You never know what you’ll find on the test ride. Deal with any issues and go for another spin to make sure you’ve got your rig road-ready. Note that you’ll want to give your bike another check and tune after about a month of riding since the cables and adjustments may change with use.
Congratulations! You’ll enjoy your new dream bike even more since you built it yourself and fully understand how to adjust and maintain it, too!
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.