Which Brake Pads Are Best for my Bike?

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Which Brake Pads Are Best for my Bike?

All motorcycles eventually need new brake pads, because brake pads are designed to wear out. Replacing the brake pads, or having them replaced by a qualified mechanic, is part of proper and responsible bike maintenance. But buying new pads brings up the question, which pads are the best for a certain bike?

Although there is no one definitive answer, there are guidelines buyers can use to choose the brake pads that would work best for their bikes and riding styles. For example, if the brake disc is cast iron, sinter pads are a poor choice even though sintered pads perform very well with steel rotors. Similarly, a neat, well-defined bite point is a sign of powerful, well-functioning brakes, but some riders prefer a softer bite point, finding it easier to control. The key to making these decisions is to know how motorcycle brake systems work and what types of pads are available in order to make the best decision for any given circumstance.

How Brakes Work

Before going shopping for new brake pads, it is important to understand how a motorcycle's brake system works. The anatomy of the brakes, the difference between disc and drum brakes, and the kinds of problems that brakes can develop are all important background. Knowing how to properly maintain other aspects of the brake system is important, too, of course, but that is another discussion.

The Anatomy of Motorcycle Brakes

All brakes work by friction. Motorcycles typically have disc brakes, at least in the front wheel. Disc brakes have a disc that spins along with the wheel and friction is applied to the disc, or rotor, by a pad that is squeezed against the rotor by callipers. The callipers move by hydraulic pressure, so that the pressure of the fluid in the brake system is critical to the brakes working.

The pad has two parts, a lining and a backing. It is the lining that actually makes contact with the disc and it is designed to slowly wear away with use. When the lining, not the entire pad, thins beyond a certain point, it is time to replace the brake pad. Some pads also have wear lines, or grooves in the pad. When the pad gets thin enough that the grooves become hard to see, it is time to replace the pad. If the pad is not replaced soon enough, the rotor could be damaged and may need to be replaced. Replacement rotors are much more expensive than brake pads. Some riders like to replace the brake pads on their bike early, especially during long races, claiming significant performance improvements with new brakes.

Disc Brakes or Drum Brakes

While most motorcycles have disc brakes in the front, many have drum brakes in the back. Drum brakes work on a similar principle, but instead of friction being applied to the surface of a disc, the friction is applied to the inside of a drum. Drum brakes have no pads to replace. They are heavier and do not work quite as well as disc brakes, but they are also cheaper. Since most of a motorcycle's braking power is in the front, drum brakes work well enough for the rear wheel for most types of bikes. Some bikes, particularly classic models, have drum brakes on both wheels. So not all bikes have brakes that need replacement.

Brake Problems

When the pad wears out, brakes can develop a number of other problems. For example, if the brake fluid leaks, or absorbs water or air, brake efficiency drops. The brake fluid needs to be replaced periodically, for this reason. Uneven wear on the pad is fairly common, and should not be ignored, since it sometimes indicates an alignment problem. The pad can get dirty or glazed by high temperature, either of which interferes with function.

A new pad sometimes gives off gases, which can build up between the pad and the calliper and cause the brake to fail; there are ways to wear in a pad to avoid this. In any case, brake related problems are always serious, for obvious reasons. Even otherwise unexplained squealing could indicate impending failure. Whether the problem is related to brake pads needing replacement or not, it should be solved.

About Brake Pads

There is no one right brake pad for any given bike, unless it is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) pads the bike came with. Aside from that, choosing brake pads is a judgement call based on a variety of factors. There are, after all, several different ways a brake pad can be good, and few if any pads are equally good in all possible ways. The buyers have to decide which compromise is best for their riding style.

Types of Brake Pads

The two main types of brake pads are organic pads, which are composites of various types of fibres and resins, and sinter pads, which have a high metal content. There are many variations within each type. Low-quality sinter pads are very rough and can wear on the rotor, for example, while high-quality sinter pads do not have this problem. Nevertheless, there are categorical differences between the two groups. At one time, asbestos pads were common and posed a potential health problem for mechanics who had a lot of contact with brake pad dust. Although these have not been in use for a number of years, the older asbestos pads still occasionally turn up and should be avoided.

This table shows the contrast between the two major types of brake pads. There are also pads that are intermediate between these two pads in having some metal content, called sintered pads. Note that each has advantages and disadvantages.

Sinter Pads

Organic or Non-Asbestos Pads

A well-defined bite point

Softer bite point, easier to control

Produce a lot of friction, even when wet

Quieter

Vulnerable to corrosion

Wear out faster

Make brake fluid require more frequent inspection

Create a lot of dust

Have a high running temperature, less likely to fade in extreme conditions

Often glaze if the temperature limits, 800 degrees Celsius, are reached

Need only a short bed-in time

Need a long bed-in time

While sinter pads do last longer than organic pads, even high quality sinter pads can wear on discs. Low quality sintered pads, as noted, can wear on them badly. Therefore, sinter pads are a good choice for steel brake discs, but a poor choice for the softer cast iron discs.   

What to Look for in Brake Pads

Regardless of what type of brakes the rider wants, there are always a few characteristics to insist on. These include: consistent performance across a wide temperature range; physical stability under high pressure so the lining cannot detach from the backing plate; a thermal barrier between the pad itself and the hydraulic component; a good, long working lifespan. Sinter pads or sintered pads must also be very fine-grained, with metal particles as small and evenly distributed as possible, otherwise the pad could damage the rotor.

Temperature

The reason temperature is so important is that friction works to stop a motorcycle by converting the energy of motion to heat. As the pads heat up, the bike slows down. The heat dissipates into the air. So the pad has to be capable of heating up very quickly, but it must also be capable of dissipating heat quickly. If the pad gets too hot, the surface begins to melt and as it cools again it glazes. Glazed brake pads do not work well. A pad forced to work above its temperature limits fades or stops working. Pads also do not work as well if completely cold, so some riders make a habit of deliberately warming up their brakes at the beginning of a ride.

Dust

All pads produce a certain amount of dust as they wear away. They are designed to do so. However, excessive dust is messy and could cause a health risk to whoever works on the brakes. Brake dust is not healthy to breathe. Organic brake pads produce more dust than sinter pads, but organic pads are the better option for bikes with cast iron rotors. A certain trade-off and judgement call is therefore necessary, but as a general rule, a lower amount of dust is a point in a bike's favour.

Stock Brakes or Aftermarket Brakes

When in doubt, stay with the type of brake pads the bike originally came with, as these are the type the manufacturer chose for the bike. It may be possible to find pads that perform better, but it is certainly possible to find brake pads that do not perform as well. The main advantage of aftermarket brake pads is that they are less expensive, sometimes much less expensive, than stock. Some aftermarket pads also have more stopping power but wear out faster than OEM pads, a trade-off that some riders are happy with, depending on what type of riding they do. High quality aftermarket pads that work as well or better than stock can be a very good deal. Low quality aftermarket pads are dangerous. If going the aftermarket route, be suspicious of anything priced entirely out of the range of OEM pads, and look for a brand that has a good reputation among other riders.

Changing the Brakes

Changing the brake pads, like other brake-related maintenance, should only be done by a qualified mechanic, since the brake system is so critically important to safety. As is often the case, many riders become qualified mechanics in the course of working on their own bikes, but the point is that this is not a task a beginner should attempt to just figure out on their own.

Regardless of who installs the brake pads, riding hard immediately afterward is a bad idea. First, even if the new pad is the same kind as the old one, because it is new it is likely to behave very differently that the old one did. The driver needs to take the time to get used to the new handling before going for long or challenging rides. Second, new brake pads need a period of braking in before they can work at full capacity. This is called bedding in and involves repeated braking in order to coat the rotor with a thin, even layer of material from the brake pad. This layer increases friction and therefore stopping power. Instructions on how to do it are available online.

How to Buy Brake Pads for a Bike on eBay

Buying brake pads, or anything else, on eBay is fairly simple. eBay is easy to search and the buying process is simple. A few suggestions can still be helpful, though.

Buying Brake Pads on eBay with Confidence

Confidence comes when the buyers know they are getting the right product in the right condition. A simple way to get this confidence is to check the listing before buying. It is not uncommon for people who neglect this step to buy the wrong thing by mistake, such as a brake rotor instead of a brake pad. Communicating clearly with the seller is also important. The seller's profile page includes a contact link plus his or her feedback score and return policy.

Conclusion

Finding the best brake pads is one of those things, like finding the best way to make a sandwich or the best way to get to Brighton, that has no single, definitive solution because different people are looking for different things. A racing bike might need the best performance possible, and it might not matter if the brake pad wears out early. For a more casual rider, on the other hand, a pad that lasts a long time might be more important.

What the buyer can do, however, is learn more about how the brake systems of a motorcycle work and how the different types of pads compare with each other so as to be able to make an informed choice. Particularly important is knowing what aspects of braking pad choice have to with bike safety. After all, the rider is responsible not only for his or her own safety, but for that of the other people on the road.

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