The brakes on your bicycle go unnoticed most of the time. Until they stop working so well, that is. One of the common causes of poor brake performance is worn out brake pads. Here’s everything you need to know about replacing and upgrading your disc brake pads.
How long will my brake pads last?
How long you can expect brake pads to last is like asking how long a piece of string is. Different compounds impact the durability of a brake pad. Then there is the type of riding, the terrain, the weather conditions, the rider weight, these are factors that influence how long the brake pads last. Generally, you can expect disc brake pads to last longer than rim brake blocks, part of the reason they have become popular in the UK.
When to replace brake pads
If you ride frequently, it’s a sensible idea to visually inspect your brakes on a regular basis. While brake pads can last a very long time, the last thing you want is to get caught out miles away from home with ineffective brake pads because you’ve let them wear down dangerously. Brake pads will wear more quickly in the winter so it’s critical to pay them close attention at this time of year.
If your brakes don’t feel as good as they did when the bike was new, it might be a sign you need some new brakes. With mechanical (cable operated) disc brakes, you can start to tell when your brake pads are wearing down as the brake lever will pull closer to the handlebar. To remedy this, you can take out the slack in the system by using the barrel adjuster on the lever or caliper to adjust the cable tension. Hydraulic systems automatically adjust the pad clearance.
It’s a little tricky to do a quick visual inspection of disc brake pads. While you can peer closely at the caliper and see how much pad material is remaining on the metal backing plate, sometimes it’s easier to remove the wheel and inspect the brake pads without the disc rotor inserted between the pads.
There should be a reasonable amount of pad material on the metal back plate, a couple of millimetres at least, any less than that and it’s a good time to replace them. If all you can see is the backing plate, you need some new pads!
If you do wear down your brake pads to the metal backing plate, you’ll likely know since they’ll make an awful sound and the performance will be poor. This is the reason for the frequent inspections, to replace the pads before they get dangerously low.
What brake pad choices are there?
Disc brake pads typically come in three flavours; sintered, organic and semi-metallic.
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