How To: Brake Pads 101

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Category: How To

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.

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