How To: Brake Pads 101

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How To: Brake Pads 101

Brake lever getting soft? Bike not stopping as quickly? Time for new brakes? The answer is most likely yes. Depending on how many miles your motorcycle has you may also need some new rotors and a change of brake fluid. I am going to focus on choosing the right brake pads for your riding style and motorcycle.

Most stock brake pads leave a lot to be desired. They are a compromise designed to get decent stopping power, reasonably long life, and to do so quietly so as not to offend new owners with excess noise.

In order to choose the right brake pads for your riding we first need to discuss the kinds of brake pads offered. There are three types that we will cover here. Organic, semi sintered, and sintered are the most commonly used on street or dual sport oriented motorcycles.

Organic brake pads are made from aromatic polyamides more commonly known as Aramid fiber; different manufacturers have different compounds and names for what they use. The most well known aramid materials are Kevlar, Nomex, and New Star . Organic pads are noted for their additional “feel” by riders. In normal street use they will stop as well as a sintered brake pad with similar wear. They generally have expansion grooves to prevent cracking and make them quieter.

Semi sintered is a combination of materials using 30% of the copper metal content that a full sintered brake pad has, along with an organic friction material. This gives you close to the durability of a full sintered brake pad a very wide operating temperature, with less wear and heat transfer to the braking system. These can also be called semi-metallic brake pads. They offer the “feel” of an organic combined with the stopping power and wear of the sintered. These also tend to be a cleaner pad with less dusting on the wheels.

Sintering is the process of heating and fusing under pressure metallic particles with other elements that enhance wear properties and stopping friction. Copper is the primary metal used in a sintered brake pad, besides being the main component of the pad material it is also used to coat the backing plate. For outright braking performance no organic brake pad can stop as well as a full sintered brake pad. Sintered brake pads have the highest heat range but can transfer that heat to the brake fluid causing the it to boil under extreme riding. Manufacturers will install a secondary thin metal backing plate to prevent some of this heat transfer. Sintered brake pads will also be the longest lasting brake pad because of the high metal content and other friction materials, this is more important under very hard use and will only offer a limited benefit under normal riding.

So how do you choose the right brake pad? There are multiple manufacturers on the market, Brembo, Galfer, EBC and more. They all make very good brake pads and almost all of them make matching rotors and other parts allowing you the ability to get everything you need from one vendor. In the following steps I will go through the process of selecting new brake pads for my own motorcycle.

Step One: Using your owner’s manual, local dealer, or internet find out what kind of brake pad came installed on your motorcycle. If you liked its performance, wear, and how it felt look for a similar material.

I currently ride a 2013 Triumph Explorer 1200 that comes with an HH Sintered brake pad. It stops well with good initial bite and is easy to modulate pressure and feel what the front end is doing. It is noisy when coming to a full stop and it leaves a lot of brake dust on the wheels.

Step Two: Decide what’s most important to you. Maximum braking for hard riding, cost, long life, or clean and quiet? You can always go with some combination of features as well.

I want a cleaner wearing brake pad with reasonable life that offers good braking performance and feel.

Step Three: Armed with this information find a manufacturer who makes a brake pad that fits your motorcycle and offers the type of material, and features to fit your needs. Not all manufacturers make a brake pad for every motorcycle, the ideal brake pad for you may not be available and some compromises may have to be made. That’s why step two is very important.

Looking at the Galfer USA website an ideal brake pad candidate for me is the G1532 Kevlar brake pad. It’s an organic brake pad with strong initial bite, fade free performance, is easy on rotors and works in a wide temperature range. It also matches the items that were important to me in step two.

Step Four: Buy your new brake pads and enjoy improved stopping!

My pads have a lot of life left in them so step four will wait a few more months before replacing mine.

  • Bluesceyes

    Two additions…
    -DO NOT go for broke and get racing series pads unless you are running iron rotors.
    -Consider upgrading to braided lines. They will provide more brake feel and require less lever effort due to the line not expanding during heavy braking. They also last a lot longer. You can put the best HH pads on your bike but the cheap rubber line that the majority of manufacturers use will negate the increased pad friction.

    • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

      Excellent points.

    • Timothy Gray

      If you cant afford the braided hoses, at least replace the lines with new OEM every 5 years. I see so many bikes riding on ticking time bombs of old brake lines. Heck a good 80% of the bikes I spot have black goo for brake fluid that has never been changed.

  • Scheffy

    If you’re looking at new pads as a result of reduced stopping performance over time as opposed to outright wear, a quick (and free) cleaning might be all you need instead of throwing money at new pads. The easiest thing to start with is taking out the pads and checking the condition of the friction material and the sliding pins you had to remove to get the pads out. Corroded or notched pins in particular can cause some significant braking issues as they prevent the pads from moving easily when the pistons try pushing them against the rotors. Glazed/overheated pad friction material can cause reduced braking power too.
    Removing the pads, polishing the pins and scrubbing the friction side of the pads with a steel brush and some brake cleaner, then reinstalling often takes less than 15 minutes and can make a world of difference. Only do this in a well-ventilated area and/or with a respirator though – some pretty nasty stuff is still used in brake pads (asbestos comes to mind), and brake cleaner isn’t much better.

    Of course, if your braking sucks and the bike is fairly new with minimal wear, different pads might be one of your only options.

    • Bluesceyes

      Napa Sil Glyde is a great compound to put on the pins to prevent corrosion. I also use it on the pad ends where they slide in the caliper and on the backs of the pads themselves. A little goes a long way.

    • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

      Excellent advice as well. That’s why “Time for new brakes?” was written as a question and then answered. It was the transition into choosing new brake pads.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Your pads aren’t noisy because they’re sintered. You glazed the pads.

    • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

      Where does it say sintered are noisy? The facts are that the grooves in organic pads are there to do exactly what I said they are. Prevent cracking and make them quieter. This article was written with information direct from the manufacturers own description of the brake pad. The definitions of the materials are from multiple sources, that were cross checked between three brake manufacturers.

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        I like your other comment better.

        “Where does it say sintered are noisy? The facts are that the grooves in organic pads are there to do exactly what I said they are. Prevent cracking and make them quieter. This article was written with information direct from the manufacturers own description of the brake pad. The definitions of the materials are from multiple sources, that were cross checked between three brake manufacturers.”

        I refer you to your own article:

        “HH Sintered brake pad. It stops well with good initial bite and is easy to modulate pressure and feel what the front end is doing. It is noisy when coming to a full stop and it leaves a lot of brake dust on the wheels.”

        • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

          Still doesn’t say sintered are noisy. My brake pads are noisy, they happen to be sintered but at no point do I say sintered brake pads are noisy because they are sintered. Talking about a personal experience with my own brakes does not label an entire genre of components. In fact one would more likely infer that the pads are dirty possibly causing the noise as the excess dust is in between the pad and rotor.

          Whole sentence in the quote instead of cherry picking a piece that sort of looks like what you want it to say.
          “I currently ride a 2013 Triumph Explorer 1200 that comes with an HH Sintered brake pad. It stops well with good initial bite and is easy to modulate pressure and feel what the front end is doing. It is noisy when coming to a full stop and it leaves a lot of brake dust on the wheels.”

          • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

            I again refer you to your article:

            “They are a compromise designed to get decent stopping power, reasonably long life, and to do so quietly so as not to offend new owners with excess noise.”

            What pad makes “excess noise?”

            • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

              Some people when they get new brake pads do not like the noise that they make. This is because aftermarket pads are generally better and use harder materials than OEM pieces. OEMs like to save money and while a pad may be HH it is not always the same quality as the aftermarket. You end up hearing the friction of new brakes pads on the rotor more because the aftermarket uses harder materials that do not compress as much, sometimes described as a whooshing sound.

              • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                If new pads are making noise they were installed incorrectly. You are supposed to resurface the rotors to remove the groove created by the last pads. Then you are supposed to take it REALLY easy for the first 250 miles. You didn’t do that and now have squeaky brakes.

                • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

                  I agree you need to bed the rotors in. Which can be a whole other discussion. These are the factory installed pads, so no resurfacing as they were the original setup.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Then you didnt take it easy for the first 250 miles and glazed them. That’s part of the bedding process.

                • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

                  I actually go about 300 miles on new pads and follow the recommendations from EBC. That said my brakes don’t squeak, they are wearing out and making noise from being near the end of their useful life. I can probably get a bit more time out of them as I said above, but only a month or two depending on how much riding I do.

                  “Once your pads are 90% surface area bedded after the 300-400 miles, on a safe road, use the brakes 10 times in succession stopping your motorcycle from 60mph to 20mph to get the brakes deliberately hot. This is particularly important with the organic versions (Kevlar® types, carbon based pad types and semi-metallic pad types). After this process, the pads should settle down and normal riding and brake performance can be safely achieved.”

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Then why the fuck are you talking about your sintered pads being noisy when you know its because you need new pads?

                • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

                  I am describing what the brake pad is doing. The fact that they are sintered is descriptive information so people know what brake pads are on the bike.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  “Anecdotal evidence.”

                • Chris McAlevy

                  I cannot believe this guy does not understand your incredibly simple statement, William.

                • Bluesceyes

                  Nope. When replacing new pads. Carefully Scotch-Brite the rotors. Then find a nice empty road and accelerate to 20MPH then brake hard, then accel to 30MPH, then brake hard. Do this several times with speeds getting gradually faster. This will bed the rotors and pads without glazing them. This procedure is recommended by several brake and pad manufacturers. There is a difference between bedding in a new rotor and bedding in new pads. here is an excerpt from Galfer’s own website:

                  Brake pads should be bedded in to clean rotors (see rotor maintenance). Start with slow stops ranging from 10-15 mph and increasing in blocks of 10 mph until about 40-50 mph. Repeat this step 2-3 times and resume casual riding. Bedding in brake pads helps prevent glazing and helps to mate the pads to the rotor surface.

                  Brake-Tech and EBC are both pretty much the same.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  “Brake-Tech and EBC are both pretty much the same.”

                  http://ebcbrakes.com/articles/bedding-in-new-motorcycle-pads-and-rotors/

                  “Fitting New Disc Pads To Used Brake Discs/Rotors

                  First of all, there are two different types of brake pad on the world markets which are sintered copper alloy or organic types. The sintered types are of course much harder and take 3-5 times longer to bed in GEOMETRICALLY to any hollow areas or ridges on a worn brake rotor. Organic pads being slightly softer bed in more quickly but also suffer from what is known as “green fade”. Green fade is explained as a heat curing of the brake material which happens over the first heavy heat cycles.

                  To bed in sintered pads, drive the vehicle carefully allowing extra braking distance for the first 300 miles. Please be aware that brake performance during the bed in period may be significantly less than you have been accustomed to. What you are looking for is to see a 90%+ surface area contact between the pad and the disc or rotor before optimum braking will be achieved.

                  Once your pads are 90% surface area bedded after the 300-400 miles, on a safe road, use the brakes 10 times in succession stopping your motorcycle from 60mph to 20mph to get the brakes deliberately hot. This is particularly important with the organic versions (Kevlar® types, carbon based pad types and semi-metallic pad types). After this process, the pads should settle down and normal riding and brake performance can be safely achieved.

                  Fitting New Disc Pads With New Brake Discs/Rotors

                  Although the brake disc/rotor surface will be perfectly flat when using a new rotor, it is still extremely important to “condition” the brake discs and match them up to your pads by driving gently for 200-300 miles. After this period, perform the heat bedding of organic pads as above in blue text.

                  Always remember not to contaminate your brake pads with any fluids or greases (even brake fluid) during the install process.

                  If you experience any vibration or serious loss of brake during this process, contact a professional motorcycle dealer for assistance.”

                • Bluesceyes

                  Dude…do you honestly think that WSBK teams and MotoGP teams pussy-foot around on their bikes for 250 miles to bed in their rotors and pads. Galfer’s article on rotor maintenance are for BRAND NEW ROTORS from the factory. I I have personally spoken at length with reps from Galfer, Ferodo and Brake-tech at numerous trade shows and most will tell you the same thing. I have used their equipment on my bikes over the years and done this procedure every time. EBC only has that on their website because some squid will screw it up and smoke his pads.

                  I wasn’t supporting him because I do think there are issues with his article. I’m not starting an argument with you over this. I do what I do and it works for me and never had an issue, track or street.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Since you cant talk physics, data, or even cite a webpage that agrees with you, youve now resorted to saying you have more experience talking to experts. Im the guy writing the articles on knee dragging vespas and following actual racers around. I work with guys who build and operate race cars and race teams. Youve talked to salesmen.

                  Shut up.

                • Bluesceyes

                  All I was doing was sharing my experience. Last I checked that was what this website was for. No need to get hostile. I actually did enjoy your article about the Vespa. Look forward to more since scooters are something that I am looking into for around the town and commute. Do you have any input on The Aprilia SR50 by any chance? I’d love to hear if you do and that is not sarcasm.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Im not writing anything else for this site until they stop misinforming people, among other things.

                • runnermatt

                  Apparently you don’t have much experience with actual track brake pads. The Hawk HP+ brakes pads on my VW GTI are loud enough that it sounds like a city bus. If the HP+ were any more track oriented then they would not be suitable for street use. During normal driving they have the same amount of response and stopping power as the stock brake pads did. As I get some heat into the pads they stop BETTER. They are loud while cold but get quieter as I get heat into the brakes. The bed in procedure per Hawk is to perform 5 hard stops in a row from 45mph. Different pads behave differently based on the materials they are made with. Just because you have experience with a few types doesn’t make you an expert on all types.

                  Also, reading a few of your other comments I have an additional point. When bedding in pads and rotors you are not simply bring geometrically mated they are also being chemically mated as some of the pad material transfers into the rotor and some of the rotors metal transfers into the pad. During optimal braking the materials transfer back and forth. During certain braking the materials do not transfer properly and this leads to wear, noise and dust.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Should’ve listened to Twain:

                  http://www.hawkperformance.com/sites/default/files/downloads/Motorcycle_Bed_in_Procedure.pdf

                  “Warning – New brake pads can take up to 200 miles to completely bed-in, so avoid extreme braking
                  until the pad and rotor achieve sufficient surface contact. “

                • runnermatt

                  I’m sorry how are those the Hawk HP+ pads on my VW GTI? My point was that you don’t know everything. Now stop being an a$$ to everyone and go have beer or something.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  So what you’re saying is, your experience with your VW GTI has absolutely nothing to do with hawk motorcycle brake pads. Stop talking out of your’s and I’ll stop being one.

                • runnermatt

                  Also I suppose you are saying that I shouldn’t argue with stupid people. Since you are the one doing all the arguing I’m not going to bring myself down contour level.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Mark Twain (not me) is saying those who support their arguments with just experience are stupid.

                • runnermatt

                  And Socrates said the wisest man is not the man who knows the most, but the man who knows what he does not know.

                • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

                  Couldn’t agree more.

          • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

            In case you think I’m railing on you for no reason, what you’re suggesting is that pad material determines noise, so if someone has a squeaky brake, they should replace their pads with organic compound. This is false information and replacing the pad does not solve the actual problem.

  • Ansuz

    Issue with article: Article describes organic and semi sintered brake pads and compares them to sintered brake pads before actually descibing sintered brake pads. This leads to confusion for the reader.

    • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

      Thank you for the feedback. I will be more careful of that. Sorry for any confusion that caused.

      • James Jamerson

        Could you do an article on rubber vs stainless lines? I’ve started doing some research and it’s much more complex than i thought. Apparently the rubber lines have fibers in them so they don’t expand, and the stainless can catch rock chips and wear a hole in the inner line. But on the flip side, many people swear by ‘em. Thanks!