Introduction: How to Change Road-Style Bicycle Brake Levers

Bicycles are a great way to get around and are an economical, environmentally friendly means of transportation.  However, they can also be dangerous if not in proper working order, leading to injury or even death.  These instructions will explain how to replace the brake levers on a road bike, allowing you to upgrade or restore your bike’s braking system and ensure your bike is in optimum working order for safe use.  This is a task that will take about 1-2 hours, with the only skills necessary being knowledge in the use basic hand tools.  Soon, you’ll be back on the road with your upgraded bike!

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

To change your brake levers, you’ll need the following items:

• New brake levers
• Allen wrench set
• Crescent wrenches

The following items may also come in handy, but are not necessary:

• Needle nose pliers
• Electrical tape or similar types
• Screwdriver (for prying stubborn bolts out)

If you will also be doing the optional Step 8 and wrapping new handle bar tape onto the handlebars, you may need the following items:

• Scissors (not pictured)
• New bar tape
• Electrical tape or similar type

Step 2: Remove Bar Tape

1. Remove any bar tape or grip tape covering the brake lever. 
This way you can get at the bars and work with them.  Most likely, you can just peel the adhesive tape off by holding the end of the bar tape and then unwrap the bar tape from the handlebars. For this process, it is only necessary that you be able to get the tape off of the area from the brake lever to the end of the bar.

2. Remove all grip tape between the brake lever and the end of the bar. 
This will allow you to slide the brake lever assembly off the end of the bar since the brake lever will not be big enough to slide over the bar tape.

     Note: If your brakes are the type where the brake cable is intended to run under the bar tape, you may need to remove the bar tape above the brake lever also.  This is the case for my brakes, so I removed all of the bar tape.

     Warning: If using scissors to remove the tape, don’t place the scissors in a manner where they could cut you if they slip.

Step 3: Disconnect and Remove Brake Cables

1. Loosen the nut
Use the crescent wrench to loosen the nut which holds the brake cable in place in the brake assembly.

2. Ensure that the brake cable can be removed from the brake assembly.
In most cases, you will just need to ensure that the bolt is loose enough to allow the brake cable to move freely and slide out.

3. With the new slack in the line, pull the brake lever all the way in.
This will now expose the non-caliper end of the brake cable as it is held in the brake lever assembly.

4. Wiggle the brake lever slightly to loosen the brake cable end out of its housing. 
It may be useful to use needle nose pliers to help loosen the cable end.

5. Pull the end of the brake cable out of the brake lever assembly until the entire cable has been removed.

     Tip: If changing both brakes at the same time, make sure to remember which cable is for the front versus the back brakes.  Each cable is a different length, and therefore will only work in the appropriate brake lever assembly.

Step 4: Remove the Old Brake Levers

1. Pull the brake lever all the way in to expose the inside of the brake lever assembly.

2. Loosen the bolt holding the brake lever on.

This will loosen a metal band on the back of the brake lever assembly.

     Note: For me, a 5 mm Allen wrench was needed.  Your specific brake model may require a different size Allen wrench.

3. Slide the brake lever assembly off of the handle bar.

Be careful not to loosen the bolt too much where it comes out of the assembly.  If this happens, just make sure to put the pieces back in the same order they were originally.

     Note: You may notice that I also replaced the brake cables and brake cable housings.  This is not necessary when changing brake lever assembly, so it is not covered in process.  If you desire to put in new cables and cable housings, all that is required is to thread the cable housings through the frame and then cut them to size with a side cutters.  Once the brake cables are in place, they are cut to size too.

Step 5: Attach New Brake Levers

1. Slide the new brake lever assembly onto the handle bar and place in the location and orientation you want.

     Note: You may have to loosen the metal band that holds the brake lever assembly in place. 

2. Pull the brake lever all the way in to expose the inside of the assembly.

3. Tighten the bolt that tightens the metal bands holding the brake lever with an
 appropriately sized Allen wrench

     Tip: The bolt should be fairly tight to ensure there is no slipping or twisting of the brake lever assembly.  Also note that after Step 6, it will become difficult to access this bolt, so make sure it’s tightened thoroughly.

Step 6: Reconnect the Brake Cables

1. Pull the brake lever all the way in to expose the inside of the assembly.

2. Insert the caliper-end of the brake cable into the housing and feed the cable all the way in.
The cable will be fed in until the cable end is in the cable end housing. There is a correct direction that the cable must pass through the cable end housing.  One side is bigger to allow the caliper end to sit in it.  Make sure that this end is where the cable is inserted into, allowing the cable end to be secured once the cable has been fed through.

     Note: Be sure to feed the cable through the cable housing (the tube that the brake cable passes through).  Depending on your specific model of brake lever, there may be a small notch or gap for the brake cable housing to sit in.

3. Position the brake cable in the brake caliper assembly.
Put the brake cable through the hole in the bolt that connects the cable to the brake caliper assembly.

4. Squeeze the brake caliper partially closed with one hand. 

     Note: This brake caliper position will be the resting setting of the brake calipers.  How far or close the brake calipers are to the rim is up to personal preference.  Experiment a little to find what you prefer.

5. Pull the brake cable to ensure there is no slack in the line with your free hand.

6. Tighten the bolt that holds the cable.

This will be performed while still squeezing the brake closed.

7. Test your brakes.
Pull the brake lever to ensure the brake engages the wheel.  Check to make sure all bolts are tightened.  Then spin the wheel and engage the brake to make sure the brake grabs the wheel correctly and stops it.

     Warning:  Don’t test your brakes for the first time while riding.  If there’s a problem and the brakes don’t work, then injury could occur since you'll be riding a bike that can't stop.  Instead, make sure to test your brakes while stopped first.

Step 7: Wrap Your Handle Bars (Recommended)

If you so desire, you can wrap your handle bars in bar tape again to provide a more comfortable gripping surface.  Handlebar tape absorbs a lot of road vibration that occurs when riding and thus greatly improves the enjoyment of riding your bike.  I highly recommend having some sort of bar tape or grips on your handlebars where you hold them.

1. Wrap the bar tape around the handle bar starting at the end of the bar.
Be sure to provide enough overlap between the layers.  If not enough overlap is present, over time, the bar tape could come undone.

     Tip: Start wrapping with the tape only halfway on the bar.  This will leave some extra bar tape to put under the bar end, and thus hold the tape in place.

2. Insert the bar end.
This will keep debris out of the handlebar as well as hold the bar tape in place.  Push all the tape inside the handlebar and insert the bar end.  

     Note: It may require a substantial force to get the bar end all the way in; however, this ensures it will stay put.

3. Keep wrapping the handle bars until your desired spot to end the bar tape.

     Tip:  You may have problems getting the tape to cover the area around the brake lever assembly.  Be sure to peel up the hoods to get the tape as close as possible to the lever assembly.  Most bar tape packages come with an approximately 3” long piece of adhesive bar tape to cover the back of the brake lever.  Be sure to cover up the edges of this piece of tape so it doesn’t come undone.

     Tip:  If you still have a trouble area that doesn’t want to be covered, consider cutting a few inches off the end of the tape and using it as a patch to cover that trouble spot.  Make sure this patch is thoroughly held in place.

4. Cut the extra bar tape off. 
Use the scissors to do this.

5. Finish the bar tape with adhesive tape.
To finish off the taping, use the tape to secure the end of the bar tape by wrapping it several times around the handle bar, with half the electrical tape covering the bar tape and the other half sticking to the actual handle bar.

Congratulations on the completion of your brake lever change.  As you can see in the final picture, your handlebars are completely revitalized for safer and more ergonomic use.  Always be sure to practice safe bicycle habits and be courteous to traffic and pedestrians.  Now you’re ready to get outside and ride your bike!