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How to center wheels on the road

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How to center wheels on the road

Old 08-13-17, 11:25 AM
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How to center wheels on the road

Is there some trick to centering a wheel between the brake pads after repairing a flat on the road? I find it hard to center a wheel to keep it from dragging against the brake on one side or another. I center the wheel, tighten it, then find it is dragging on one side, so I have to loosen the wheel and start over. I push the wheel way to one side hoping to compensate, but the results aren't consistent. The little tension adjusting screws on the brake arms help some, but I'd like to start out with a centered wheel.
Also, what explains the "fishtailing" sensation I get when I hit the brakes hard for an emergency stop? I can feel the bike swerving to one side under hard brake pressure, even though the brakes look evenly centered on the wheels.

(My bike is a 2012 Giant Escape 2 with V-brakes)
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Old 08-13-17, 11:40 AM
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You should have vertical dropouts.

All of the centering of the wheel should be resting the wheel on the ground with minimal downward force of the bike/frame, and the axles should rest against the top of the dropout slots as you tighten the quick release or axle nuts.

Doing the front and rear should be similar. On the front, people routinely re-install the front wheel the same direction every time, so adjustment should be identical every time.

I'm not sure about your fishtailing. Are you skidding? The rear wheel can skid relatively easily.
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Old 08-13-17, 12:06 PM
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Rear, I center the tire between the chain-stays, it's easy to eyeball that.
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Old 08-13-17, 12:10 PM
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You mention you have V-brakes, and one of the annoying things about them is when undone they rarely go back to the even spacing you had before opening them up to remove a wheel.

Other than that I love V-brakes.
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Old 08-13-17, 12:47 PM
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The biggest thing about centering brakes is to make sure that you always install the wheel the same way. Your bike should be upright, so that the weight of the bike bottoms the wheel in the dropout, you can even put a bit of body weight on the saddle to make sure this happens. Then you adjust the brakes. The next time you remove and reinstall the wheel, do it the same way. Odds are, the wheel will be properly aligned to the brakes
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Old 08-13-17, 12:52 PM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil
The biggest thing about centering brakes is to make sure that you always install the wheel the same way. Your bike should be upright, so that the weight of the bike bottoms the wheel in the dropout, you can even put a bit of body weight on the saddle to make sure this happens. Then you adjust the brakes. The next time you remove and reinstall the wheel, do it the same way. Odds are, the wheel will be properly aligned to the brakes
This.

If you start out with the brakes adjusted based on the natural position of wheels installed on the ground, it'll repeat every time you do it the same way.

One of the problems with new bikes is that wheels are installed with the bike in a repair stand, and mechanics don't always pull them up fully and squarely in the dropouts. They then (mis)adjust the brakes accordingly, leading to the difficulty of subsequent installations.
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Old 08-13-17, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
This.

If you start out with the brakes adjusted based on the natural position of wheels installed on the ground, it'll repeat every time you do it the same way.

One of the problems with new bikes is that wheels are installed with the bike in a repair stand, and mechanics don't always pull them up fully and squarely in the dropouts. They then (mis)adjust the brakes accordingly, leading to the difficulty of subsequent installations.
I will offer an alternative explanation:https://www.giant-bicycles.com/us/escape-2-2012

if you read the spec sheet of this bike you will see " Alloy Direct Pull" as a brake spec. This means that Giant used a generic V-brake for this model. I have no idea why they do this. For less than $5 more they could specify something much better. My wife had a very nice Specialized Crossroads hybrid with the same problem, if you removed the front wheel, you had trouble adjusting the brakes when you put it back. I resolved the problem by buying a high quality replacement. For the life of me I don't get it. Brakes are the most important safety feature on any bike, yet brakes are one of the first things that bike companies outsource in order to save money
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Old 08-13-17, 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil
I will offer an alternative explanation:...
It may well be that the brakes don't center consistently, but the OP can never know that unless he can get the wheel to install to the same position every time.

It's a question of fundamentals. You can't frame a house until the foundation is completed.

So, it makes no sense to spend dough to replace brakes until you KNOW that's the problem. By the same token, even those "lousy" brakes can be made to center consistently, so even if they're the issue, it can be dealt with for free.

OTOH - if the OP decides he wants better brakes, ie. ones that stop better, that's his call, but if he's otherwise satisfied, then it's just a question of solving the centering problem, something that takes less than 5 minutes (if that).
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Old 08-13-17, 02:12 PM
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I'm the last guy you want to ask mechanical advice but in addition to the advice you have received, you may want to spin the wheel once or twice and put on the break before you begin riding. It seems to self adjust a bit.

As for the fishtailing, perhaps your braking technique needs adjustment. There are various recommendations for the best way to stop. While this is a British training piece (which means the front and rear brake levers might be reversed on your handlebar) as it relates to USA bikes, I think the suggestion is OK. https://totalwomenscycling.com/road-...iday-innsbruck
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Old 08-13-17, 04:43 PM
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Fishtailing

I think CliffordK may have the right explanation: the fishtailing sensation I get when when I hit the brakes in a panic-stop is probably caused by a wheel locking up and skidding. That would explain why it doesn't happen under normal brake pressure.
I was wondering if the sideways motion of the rear wheel might be caused by the wheel rim deforming under unequal pressure from the brake pads and "steering" the wheel sideways. I've never lost control of the bike, but I definitely feel the rear of the bike trying to come around. Maybe the ground surface is uneven enough to prevent a straight-line skid.
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Old 08-13-17, 06:48 PM
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I don't bother, I don't want to waste time centering and truing wheels on the side of the road. I'll simple adjust the brakes until they don't rub, and continue with my ride. I can deal with the wheel when I get home.
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Old 08-13-17, 08:08 PM
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My Specialized road bike Had single pivot side pull calipers and had none of those problems.

First they had a quick release lever to open them up to remove the wheels. Nice feature. I could literally have the front wheel off in under 5 sec.

Second I adjusted the single pivot so that I could adjust them by hand. If for some reason, they got bumped off center, just a quick twist of the caliper put it back where it belonged.

Those brakes were almost zero maintenance.
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Old 08-13-17, 08:10 PM
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Yep, I don't understand the brakes problem because my I put my wheel on straight and my brakes are always adjusted for a straight wheel. The fishtailing may be because you're using too much front brake and the rear wheel is lifting. Does the bike dog-trot down the road?
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Old 08-14-17, 10:19 AM
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Thanks for your comments, folks.
BlazingPedals, I don't understand what you mean by dog-trot. The skidding and sideways movement only happens in a hard-braking panic stop, especially when going down hill.
Sangetsu, what you suggest is wise: I sometimes have spent more time adjusting the wheel and brakes after repairing a flat than I spent actually fixing the flat.

I may be extra careful about this because last year I had to replace a rear wheel, one rim of which had collapsed under brake pressure. The rim was actually indented all the way around on one side of the wheel. The bike shop condemned it, wouldn't do (unrelated) work on it. It made me think I had Superman hands, but more likely it meant the brakes were badly adjusted.
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