If your brakes are squeaking or feel soft, don't head to your local bike shop, you can fix this. Brakes can be one of the simplest bike repairs for home mechanics. That is, if you have caliper brakes — the type that squeezes rubber pads on the rim (disc brakes are another story).
Instead of just focusing on what you think is wrong with your brakes, take five minutes for a complete tune-up to rule out any unforeseen problems. Here's a quick guide to the five-step process. You can also follow the video above.
Check that the pads contact the brake track simultaneously. If one side hits before the other, it saps your braking power. This fix is the easiest. Hold the caliper and simply center it by hand. Squeeze the brake lever to test.
Over time, your brake cable stretches, also reducing power. You can tighten the cable by turning the barrel adjuster at the top of the caliper counter-clockwise.
Next, check the brake pads for wear. You should see grooves in the rubber when looking at the side of the pad. If they're gone, it's time for a replacement. Most pads quickly slip in and out of the metal brake shoe, held in place by a small screw.
Check the brake pads' position on the wheel's brake track. Is it hitting the rim squarely, or is part of the pad hanging off? If it's out of place, loosen the brake shoe. Once it's adjusted, hold the brake lever to keep the pad in place while you tighten it.
Finally, wipe the brake track clean with rubbing alcohol to remove any grease that's built up. Not only does a dirty wheel hinder your brakes, it also makes them loud.