A handy guide to finding the right brake pads for your bike
Brakes are one of the most important part of any bike and as much as we want to travel fast, sometimes we need to slow down to not hit a tree, or hit it a little slower in my case. Good brakes are crucial to learning to ride faster, key to making sure your brakes work are ensuring that you have the right brake pads for the job.
Modern mountain biking has effectively ditched anything other than hydraulic or cable disc brakes. Ok so some of those strange trials riders might still be putting hydraulic rim brakes to use but most of us will probably only ever use disc brakes of some sort or another. Our lycra clad roadie cousins are even slowly, if begrudgingly, making the move to disc brakes.
I am sure you are all broadly familiar with how disc brakes work. The magic brake fairies ensure that your the pads clamp down in the disc, unless you are running Shimano’s…Jokes, but disc brakes do tend to divide riders even more than anything else.
Sometimes the brake pads on your brakes might need replacing, scratch that- they will need replacing roughly every 3-6 months. However this will depend on your type of riding for example if you are riding in The Alps you might go through a pair a week. You should be checking the wear on your pads every now and then. This is important to ensure they are working in tip top condition, if they are not working you will know fairly quickly.
Buying new pads can be a bit of a minefield, and just like the “other” pads we ladies have to purchase, there are a myriad of different options. Most brake manufacturers make their own brand of pads to suit their brakes but there are a wide variety of aftermarket options out there too. We are not going to compare brands as this probably would fill a book and there is a degree of personal preference to throw into the mix. Apart from the shape and brand, there are broadly three types of brake pad compound available to purchase.
Otherwise known as metal or metallic brake pads. They last for longer, work better in wet conditions and keep more responsive at higher temperatures. They are basically the Always Pads of ….well…pads. On the other hand, they have less initial bite (thank god that’s where the joke’s end), they can be loud and it takes them longer to “warm up”. This makes them great for people who put their brakes through a lot of abuse and like making high pitch squealing noises as they ride through the wilderness.
Also known as organic brake pads. I like to think of them growing somewhere in a field, waiting to be plucked and fitted. Resin compounds don’t last as long as the sintered pads and aren’t as reliable in muddy conditions. The great thing about them is that they are quieter, plus they have more initial bite and prevent heat build up as it pushes the heat to the rotor rather than the calipers. This is important, as if heat build ups as a result of prolonged braking, the braking liquid can boil and and brakes can lose their power. The resin brakes are perfect for lighter riders, flatter areas or xc racing where brake pads are not used as intensely. In muddy, wet or dusty conditions,brake pads with a resin compound have a tendency to glaze, so it is worth sanding them a little if this happens, though of course you are filing down the remaining pad.
Semi-metal might sound like an apt description for most of the line up of Reading & Leeds Festival this year but they are basically the best of both resin and sintered brakes. They are basically organic compound brakes with lots of bits of metal thrown in, I like to think of them a bit like “glitter pads” basically. It is worth noting that not all semi-metal pads are born equally, different manufacturers put various different ratios of organic and metallic materials in their pads. They are usually a bit more expensive but if you find the right compound they are up to dealing with most styles of riding. Mr Betty and I tend to run Nukeproof semi-metallic pads on our Sram Guide brakes and mostly we have had no complaints, though after a few days riding in The Alps you will find they start to glaze over a bit.
I now hear you ask “But Cranky Betty how do I change your brakes?” Well, you should start by removing the wheel, it really does make things a lot easier, trust me. Remember not to compress your brake levers as this might move your calipers too far in and then you will only end up bending your best cake forks (yes they are a thing) trying to pry the pistons and pads apart. Sometimes you might need pliers to remove the old brake pads if you have left them in there a long. Some pads are screwed together in such a way that you will need a small allen key to unlock them before being able to pull the pads out. Remember how they were put in as in some cases (Mr Betty) you might put them in the wrong way round (dont ask me how) and your brakes won’t work very well at all. Clean the calipers like its a kitchen work surface and your mother is coming to visit (yes, that’s the feeling), so there is not much dirt in between your brakes pads, be careful what you use though as any stain on the pads could contaminate them and ultimately leave them to be chucked in the bin. For example, most bike lubes are awful for brake pads. When putting in the new brake pads, closely examine the calliper position relative to the rotor. The rotor should be running parallel and central to the calliper. Adjust if necessary, this might involve lots of hitting and screaming, or at least that’s what Mr Betty always does.
If you change the brakes on your bike and you are still not getting the power or bite you remember from the day you first got your bike then it might be a different issue, next stop if probably to bleed the brakes.
Brake pads are small but they can make a huge difference to the ride and feel of your bike. When they work well you won’t really notice them but as soon as they go wrong you won’t be able to stop thinking about them, until you hit the tree.
Let us know your thoughts about the various brake compounds, what do you run and why?
March 4, 2018