Adjusting Sidepull Brakes

Mrs. Nerdly and I bought an old Schwinn Twinn Deluxe tandem bike and have enjoyed using it to get around town, but the front brake was questionable so I thought I’d try and get it working better.

The bike is a 1978 model, made in Chicago.

There’s no rear brake visible in the picture because it is a drum brake built into the rear hub.  When we got the bike I opened up the hub brake out of curiosity.  It looked OK and the mechanism is incredibly simple, and it worked well enough to leave alone for the time being.

The front brake is a simple sidepull style brake.  The rims are steel so the braking action is not going to be great, especially in the wet.  I started by replacing the lousy cheap brake pads with mid-range Aztec pads.  But then I couldn’t get the brake centered!

No matter how I adjusted things and lubricated the brake itself, the brake assembly would either want to rotate to the cable side or would bog and seize up.  And Sheldon Brown (R.I.P.), still my preferred source for information on bike repairs, had surprisingly little to say.

It seemed that removing friction from the works might help, so I pulled the cable from the housing and lubed it up along with the brake lever.  That did wonders for the smoothness and feel of the brake, but it still was difficult to center.  Further searching on the internet led to the suggestion of tapping the brake at the coiled part of the spring to adjust the centering.

I used a flat-head screwdriver and light taps with a hammer at the doubled area of the spring at the end of the arrow – this is attached to the center of the brake instead of one of the arms.  Sorted!  The braking action is now good (at least under dry conditions), with a nice smooth and tight feel.

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