Holy Cow – I can’t Stop!  I was trying out the brakes on my Huffy – just looking at them I knew I was going to have to work on them.  My little ride down the driveway nearly caused me to trash…Absolutely no brakes at all.

Luckily, I like working on MTBs even a “trash find” like my Huffy.  Let’s quickly get into what kind of brakes you have, then diagnosing the problems.

Huffy MTB Front Brake Trouble Shooting

  1. What kind of brakes are on your bike?  Most Huffy’s have what is called v-calipers that pinch on the wheel rim.  This article will only talk about rim/v-caliper brakes.  I’ve got some other articles on cleaning and installing disc brakes for MTBs.
  2. Double check that the brake cable swings free and isn’t kinked and the “noodle” is installed.
  3. Check to see if the cable is seated correctly in the brake assembly.
  4. Make sure the cable nut is tight and locked down on the cable.
  5. Finally, if the front wheel is bent getting the brakes to work will be a problem. VIDEO Below to “true a bike wheel”

With the trouble shooting done, let’s dig into the brake adjustment.  On my Huffy, the brakes were so bad I started over with an inexpensive kit.  I think I spent under $25 bucks so the money spent was well worth it.  Having reliable brakes is a good thing….right😜

DIY Mountain Bike Tip: When in doubt, just replace the brakes.  I bought a full set: Levers, Cables, Calipers and Shoes from Amazon with this link – Complete Bike Brake Set

Complete Bike Brake Set from Amazon
Complete Bike Brake Set from Amazon

I know the above sounds easy, so let’s dig into the details, plus we can talk about fine tuning the brakes.

V-Caliper or Side Pull Linear Brakes or what I call rim brakes are super common.  Most Huffy MTBs have these and include a centering spring adjustment as well.  This type of brake is light and can apply tremendous stopping force. 

These are most common on road bikes. Let’s first make sure the brake cable “noodle” is attached the brakes, this is an easy fix.  The noodles can be removed making it easier to remove the tire.

Bike Brake Cable Noodle
Bike Brake Cable Noodle

Squeezing the brake shoes tight to the rim allows the “noodle” (curved metal on cable) to be installed into the brake carrier assembly.

Adjusting the Huffy Front Brakes

On a Huffy four areas can be adjusted;

  • Adjusting the Brake Pad Position and Alignment
  • Rough Adjustment of the Cable at the Attachment
  • Centering the Brake Pads to the Wheel (spring that forces pads away from wheel)
  • Fine Tuning at the Hand Levers

DIY MTB:  Get a FREE PDF copy of the Huffy Owner’s Manual HERE

Tools needed:

  • 10mm open end wrench
  • 5mm Hex wrench
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Phillips / Straight head screwdriver

Adjusting the Brake Shoe at the Rim (Centering and Aligning)

The objective is to have the pads centered up and down and not twisted to the rim.  If the pad is out of alignment loosen brake pad bolt.  With a 5mm hex loose the nut at the brake shoe.

I don’t like loosening to the point that the pad is flopping around, but to the point that you can move the position of the pads with your hand. 

Slide and turn the pad so it is aligned and centered on the rim.  Here’s the trick, squeeze the brake pad onto the rim and hen tighten the bolt.  This usually takes a second adjustment, it seems like during the tighten the pad always twisted just a little.

With one side done move around to the other side and repeat the process.

Rough Adjusting the Front Brake Cable Tension

This is a job that’s great to have a helper.  In fact, they sell a tool called a 4th Hand Cable Tensioner for Gears and Brakes

First screw the barrel adjust into the brake lever housing.  We’ll adjust this later.

Brake Handle Barrel Adjuster Screw
Brake Handle Barrel Adjuster Screw

Loosen the cable nut with either a 10mm wrench or 5mm hex.  My bike is a little older, so it uses the 10mm.  With the cable freely moving through the locking bolt place a shim between the brake pad and rim on each side.  I use a piece of cardboard on each side and it works pretty well.   Now squeeze the pads onto the rim. 

With the pads tight to the cardboard and rim tighten nut.  Then remove the cardboard spacer.

Cardboard under brake shoe for adjustment
Cardboard under brake shoe for adjustment

Lift the front wheel and give it a spin.  If the wheel spins freely, take the bike for a quick test ride to insure everything is in working order.

If the brake pads touch the wheel while free spinning I usually adjust the barrel screws on the hand levers to “fine tune” the brakes.  Screwing the barrel in provides a little more clearance to the rim.

Centering the Brake Caliper ARMs to the Rim

This is probably the toughest adjustment, usually requiring a couple test rides and readjustments.

Disconnect the noddle and double check that the caliper arms move freely.  Rust can form on the pivots which can cause the arms to stick.

The starting adjustment is to make sure the front tire is centered between the forks.  You can measure this, but I just eye ball it.  If the wheel isn’t centered between the fork arms then loosen the wheel nuts and while squeezing the brakes re-tighten the nuts.

With the wheel centered between the fork arms, the next step is to look at the gap between the pads and rim.

If the gap is uneven you’ll need to adjust the spring tension on each brake pad arm to “pull” the pad into a centered position. 

Brake Caliper Arm Spring Adjuster Screw
Brake Caliper Arm Spring Adjuster Screw

Using a Phillips or Straight screw driver turning the spring tension screw clockwise will move the pad AWAY from the rim.  Turning counterclockwise moves the pad CLOSER to the rim. 

Starting on the side that is closest to the rim, adjust the spring to move it either toward or away from the rim.  The target distance is less than 1/8th inch.  The KEY is to CENTER the wheel between both pads.

Pull on the brake lever a couple times; this will actuate the brakes and have the pads return to a normal at rest position.  Again, if the rim is bent, center using the video above.

I typically have to readjust again after doing this, once the brake stays in the 1/8 clearance position and the wheel spins freely, it’s time to move to the other side.

DIY MTB Tip: – Little turns on the spring adjust make big changes.  Make a quarter turn adjustment and test the brake frequently.

The final step is to squeeze the brake levers as hard as you can.  Then take the bike for a little test ride.

Adjusting the Brake Lever Barrel Nuts – Fine Tuning the Brakes

The last step is the make the fine-tuning adjustments at the hand levers.  The levers have a barrel screw and a locking nut.

The brake pads should engage the rim when the lever is pulled about ¼ to 1/3 of the way.  This allows for the correct pressure to be applied to the rims.

With the locking bolt loosened, turn the barrel screw counterclockwise.  This will tighten the brake pads a little.  Essentially you are pre-pulling the cable a little.

If while riding you find the brake pads are too tight, screwing the barrel screw clockwise will loosen the pads slightly.

When Are You Done?

Test riding is critical, sure lifting and spinning the wheel gives you a good indication, but riding and braking is essential.

Something to be aware of is that you should never be able to squeeze the brake levers and contact the handlebars.  If this happens, you need to tighten up the cable and readjust. 

Keep Rolling, Pedaling and Stopping

My Huffy trash picking project is turning out pretty good.  Total send on the brake kit was $25 and it took about 25 minutes to install and adjust the front brakes.  Oh…and being able to stop is a great feeling. 😎😎


Learn more about Pedals, Handlebars and Brakes


David DIY MTB

David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.