Reasons why your Bike Brakes aren’t Gripping Properly!

Regardless of whether you’re riding on off-road terrains or on-road terrains when bike brakes are not gripping, it’s a severe situation. It’s essential to be able to come to an effective stop while you’re riding a bicycle. 

When you start feeling like your bike brakes aren’t working correctly, it’s only natural to ask why?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to why your bike brakes are not gripping correctly; there are several different brake types, which makes things even more confusing. 

However, there’s no need to worry. We’ll discuss all the different brake types and why you might be experiencing issues with grip. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about bike brakes and any potential problems that you might encounter. 

Different Types of Brakes 

To understand why bike brakes are not gripping properly, cyclists must first understand the different types of bike brakes and how they function. 

There are three main types of bicycle brakes that you can choose between; Disc Brakes, Drum brakes, and Rim Brakes. 

Disc Brakes 

Disc brakes are becoming increasingly popular among modern bicycles because they are much more powerful than drum and rim brakes. 

In a disc brake system, the main component is a metal disc or rotor installed on the wheel hub. Next to the rotor, you’ll find a caliper that features two brake pads. Once you press the lever, the brake pads on the calipers close in on the rotor to help stop the bicycles. 

Disc brakes are becoming increasingly popular because they’re powerful and versatile enough to fit with multiple different bikes. Their design also helps ensure that outdoor conditions don’t significantly impact brake performance. 

Cyclists can choose between two main types of disc brakes: Mechanical Disc Brake and Hydraulic Disc Brake. 

Mechanical Disc Brake 

A mechanical disc brake relies on cables in much the same way as rim brakes. Consequently, the brakes remain lightweight, affordable, and don’t require much maintenance. 

Initially, mechanical disc brakes were the only system that worked effectively with drop handlebars. 

Hydraulic Disc Brake 

On the other hand, a hydraulic disc brake entirely does away with the cable and replaces it with a sealed line. Inside the sealed line, a fluid moves when the brake is applied. The fluid moves because of the pressure and causes the brake pads to press down on the disc. 

Hydraulic disc brakes offer cyclists more control over the braking power and require barely any maintenance. 

Drum Brakes 

Another type of brake that you’ll often find on commuter and other utility bikes is drum brakes. These systems rely on a hand-lever-operated hub brake, with brake pads that press against the cylindrical drum. 

Drum brakes used to be the brake type of choice for most motor vehicles, but disc brakes have replaced them. You’ll generally find cyclists going for drum brakes in countries with wet weather. 

Rim Brakes 

Lastly, the third primary type of brakes that you’ll find on a bike are rim brakes. The bicycle brake pads will apply force directly to the wheel’s rim in rim brakes. The friction, in turn, will cause the bicycle to slow down and come to a stop. 

You can use these brakes by activating a lever present on the handlebar. Rim brakes are sturdy, lightweight, and affordable to operate. While maintenance is generally easy, they require some work now and then. 

When it comes to rim brakes, there are many different types that cyclists can choose between. There are rod brakes, caliper brakes, side-pull caliper brakes, u-brakes, cantilever brakes, v brakes, hydraulic rim brakes, and much more!

Here are the most common types of rim brakes you’ll find in modern bikes; 

Caliper Brakes 

Caliper brakes are a cable-activated system that ensures that the brake mounts properly at one particular point. As caliper brakes are less effective with wide tires, you usually only find them on road bikes. Mountain bikes and other bike types that use wider tires use a different rim brake. 

Cantilever Brakes 

Cantilever brakes feature a cable attachment and brake show on specific points on the same fork or pivot. As cantilever brake systems allow for greater distance between the pad and the mount, they tend to be the brake type of choice for mountain bikes and gravel bikes. 


V-brakes are a more modern form of cantilever brakes, also known as linear-pull brakes. The main system works thanks to mounting bosses with long arms on the same frame. Generally, the cable will attach to one arm and the cable housing to the other. 

As V-brakes don’t rely on a single isolated cable to stop the work, they work well with bikes with complex suspension systems. They’re the ideal brake system to use with a mountain bike. 

These are the main types of brakes that you’ll find on modern bicycles. However, here are some of the main reasons behind why bike brakes are not gripping properly. 


Reasons behind why bike brakes are not gripping 

There are several different types of bike brakes that bicycles come with, and there are also several different reasons why the bike’s brakes aren’t gripping properly. 

Worn out brake pads 

Bike brakes not gripping properly can sometimes be because the brake pads are too worn out. Regardless of the biking system you use, it’ll involve some sort of brake pad rubbing against the wheel or disc to make it come to a stop. 

All brake systems rely on friction to help slow a bike down. However, that friction also eventually causes the brake pads to wear off. With time, the brake pad can potentially lose all its rubber and won’t effectively use friction to stop the bike. 

You’ll also potentially hear a squeaking noise when the metal of the brake pad comes into contact with the tire. The squealing noise indicates that your bike brakes are not working properly. 

You may still experience some form of grip, and your brakes won’t be completely unusable, but it’ll become a significant inconvenience while you’re riding. Not only will the metal make a squealing noise, but it’ll also cause your brakes not to work properly. 

How to fix bike brakes not gripping properly due to brake pads? 

Bike brakes not gripping properly because of some issues with the brake pad is a problem that you resolve easily. Ultimately, it’s either an issue with the amount of lubrication, or the brake pads aren’t in working condition. 

You can try the brake system again after adding a bit more lube to see if that fixes the problem. However, if the problem persists after you finish lubricating the bike, then it’s a sign that you need to replace your brake pads. 

When you’re replacing your brake pads, it’s important to ensure that the brake pads fit properly with your braking system. If they aren’t the correct size, the bike brakes won’t work effectively even with brand new brake pads.  

Incorrect Wheel Alignment 

Another issue that can impact all types of brakes is incorrect wheel alignment. When the wheels don’t align properly with the braking system, bike brakes are not gripping properly. 

Whenever you feel your brake is being too spongy, it could indicate an issue with the wheel alignment. Aside from the rim not being aligned properly, another reason the bike brakes are not gripping properly could be a misaligned caliper or cable. 

In the case of hydraulic brakes, you might be getting a spongy sensation because there might be an issue with the brake fluid. The most common issue with the brake fluid is the presence of air bubbles. These air bubbles will cause a decrease in the air pressure and prevent the bike brakes from gripping properly. 

How to fix bike brakes not gripping due to incorrect wheel alignment?

You’ll need to check your wheel alignment to notice any gaps or issues with fitting. If there are some issues, you’ll have to work on realigning the wheel yourself. If you’re not too handy with bike maintenance, then it’s a good idea to take your bike to your local bicycle mechanic. 

They’ll be able to identify whether there’s an issue with the fitting of your brake system or if the wheels are misaligned. Typically, a wheel that doesn’t align properly with the brake system can be fixed via a hydraulic press or by getting a new wheel. 

Once again, if you choose to get a new wheel, it’s crucial to pick one that fits appropriately with your bike frame and brake setup. For example, if you’re riding a mountain bike and running cantilever brakes, it’s important to avoid the especially narrow tires on the market. 

Cable Issues 

Another common reason behind bike brakes not gripping is issues with the cable. In many brake systems, the cable is responsible for activating the brake pads and helps control the braking power. 

If there’s an issue with the cables, the most likely scenario is that your bike brakes don’t respond when you press the level or become sticky. 

How to fix bike brakes not gripping properly due to cable issues?

It’s easy to identify an issue with the cables if they’re wholly frayed or visibly damaged. You just need to install a replacement chain, and you’ll be good to go! On the other hand, it’s much more challenging to diagnose any potential issues with the cable tension. 

Only the most experienced cyclists will effectively identify any issues with the cable tension. So if you see no visible damage on the cable, it’s a good idea to check the cable tension as that’s the most likely cause for the issue. 

While adjusting the tension, it’s essential to find the optimal amount. Too much or too little tension will reduce the effectiveness of your bike brakes. Once again, it’s best to take your bicycle to a local mechanic if you are very new to bicycle maintenance. 

Too much lubrication 

It’s also possible for the bike brakes not gripping issue to show up even if you’ve been engaging in regular maintenance. A common reason for bike brake pads not gripping properly is too much lubrication. 

In the case of too much lube, your brakes will feel like they’re slipping and won’t produce enough friction to stop effectively.

How to fix bike brakes not gripping properly due to too much lubrication?

There are two ways that you can fix the lube issue. You can either choose to leave the bike to dry, or you can use water to clean everything. 

However, after using water, you’ll need to ensure that all the components are properly dry. Otherwise, you’ll encounter potential issues. 

Stuck Debris 

While not an issue you’ll encounter when riding on disc brakes, stuck debris becomes a problem for other brake systems. Even though it’s more of an issue when working with off-road bikes, it’s also possible for debris to get stuck in a road bike. 

Depending on the size of the debris, you’ll either have to deal with a fairly simple cleaning process or something that’s annoyingly complex. 


How to fix bike brakes not gripping properly due to stuck debris? 

It’s also possible for stuck debris to be the main reason behind why your bike brakes aren’t gripping properly. Mountain bikers and gravel bikers are more likely to experience bike brakes that don’t grip properly because of the nature of the terrain. 

You can fix the stuck debris issue by running pressurized air through the braking system. That can effectively help remove any debris. Alternatively, for more annoying forms of debris, you may use a pressure hose to get rid of any debris that’s stuck.

Stuck debris can also cause your bike chain to skip and create more issues for cyclists.

Ensure that you properly dry the brake system before testing the brakes so everything works effectively. If you’re careful with the drying, the water present in the braking system can also cause issues with the overall grip. 


If the bike brakes aren’t gripping properly, it’s serious cause for concern for any cyclist. Without a proper braking system, cyclists won’t remain effective in control of their bikes. 

Hopefully, reading through these potential issues and tips will help you get to the bottom of the issue.

James Dawson

After learning how to ride a bicycle much later than all the other kids, James Dawson hasn't looked back. The author now actively rides a bicycle as a part of the community cycling group and competes regularly in local competitions. Aside from that, he loves technology and always keeps up to date with the latest cycling tech.

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