BRAKE PADS – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Mechanics, Tips & Tricks

It should go without saying that being able to stop effectively is one of the most important considerations on a bicycle. Brakes are fairly simple devices, they stop you – This is possible thanks to friction. Modern innovation has led to the invention of different types of braking systems on the bicycle. Interestingly enough, all of them use one common component, called a brake pad. Today we’re going to learn all about brake pads.

Rim brake pads
Credits – Bike Exchange

WHAT ARE BRAKE PADS?

Brake pads, also referred to as brake shoes or blocks are essentially the components that interact with the braking surfaces on your bikes – either the rim or the disc. They are crucial parts, as they play a huge role in how effectively your brake system will work, especially in wet conditions.

Brake pads are regarded as a ‘consumable component’, meaning they will wear out over time and will require replacement eventually. Old or over-worn brake pads will not work properly, therefore compromising safety, or may even cause damage to your bike, so it’s worthwhile to be aware of your brake pads and to check them regularly for wear.

TYPES OF BRAKE PADS

There are two main types of brake pads that reflectt the two main categories of cycle braking systems – 1. rim brakes and 2. disc brakes.

1. RIM BRAKE PADS

Rim brakes, as the name suggests are used only on bikes with rim-interface braking. The sides of the rims here make up the braking surface.

The brake pads themselves are mounted at the ends of the brake’s two pivoted arms, and pulling the brake lever/cable squeezes the brake pads against both sides of the rim, slowing down the bike.

Rim brakes are widely in used on road, hybrid, and some entry-level mountain bikes. They are favored for their light weight and mechanical simplicity – not much can go wrong with them.

There are a number of different iterations of rim brakes, the two main ones being caliper and cantilever brakes, so you will need to choose pads accordingly. Cantilever type brakes are quite an old system now and it’s unlikely that you’ll find too many these days.

CONSTRUCTION (RIM BRAKES)

Rim brake pads are usually made up of a single unit, attached by means of one bolt only, and with the brake arms reaching down from above the tire.

On MTB’s, rim brake pads are usually a two-piece construction – because they wear out faster (due to rougher usage). They are single piece construction versions as well (such as mentioned above). The pads with a metal body and replaceable rubber shoes are called cartridges. The single-piece construction pads are called non-cartridges pads.

Non-cartridge pads are always the better option. You can benefit from some serious performance benefits. They’re definitely worth the upgrade especially if you already have cartridge pads as stock.

MAIN FACTORS AFFECTING PAD TYPE (RIM BRAKES)

1. RIM TYPE

A majority of road and hybrid bike these days have standard alloy braking surfaces. Any regular pads will work with these rims.

Carbon-rimmed wheels on the contrary will need carbon-specific brake pads (use the manufacturer recommend pads). Meanwhile some super lightweight rims from some manufacturers require special pads in order to avoid premature wear or damage.

It’s worth noting that while most aftermarket pads will fit most caliper brake systems, some are manufacturer-specific such as Campagnolo brake pads.

2. RIDING CONDITIONS

Wet weather, dry weather, humid weather, etc. There are different pads for different kinds of riding conditions. The most common are wet weather pads. They are the ideal choice for monsoon riding. These pads can still be used in the dry, but are optimized for better performance than standard pads when it’s raining.

2. DISC BRAKE PADS

Disc brakes are the most common braking systems these days – even on some basic bicycles. Here, Instead of using the rim as a braking surface, disc brakes use a metal disc mounted on the hub of the wheel as a braking surface.

Disc brake pads “sit” within the brake calipers. Disc brake pads wear down at a slightly slower rate than rim brake pads (depending on pad type) – there may be wear indicator grooves or other indicators on the pads to tell you their time is up. In order to replace your pads, you will need to take into account the type of brakes you are using as well as additional factors including riding conditions and usage.

CONSTRUCTION (DISC BRAKES)

Just as with rim brake pads, disc brake pads are sold in a pair meant to fit a single caliper. In terms of construction, disc brake pads are quite different to that of rim brake pads.

The biggest most significant difference would be that disc brake pads have no element of rubber in them. The brake pad material is usually one of three materials – Organic, Semi-metallic or Metallic/Sintered. Behind this pad material is a metallic backing plate that makes contact with the caliper piston.

PAD MATERIALS

1. ORGANIC

Organic or resin pads are made from high-density non-metallic additives such as rubber, glass, carbon, and Kevlar to provide an all-around pad that works for most people but isn’t very durable under hard use.

Organic pads generally provide better stopping power and heat dissipation. As a trade-off, they are slower to heat up and so are advisable for use on basic XC or trail riding where extended brake usage isn’t that common.

  • Excellent bite from the get go – don’t need warming up
  • Slow rotor wear
  • Less braking noise
  • Pad wears off quickly

2. SEMI-METALLIC

As the name suggests, these pads are made of a mix of metallic fillers mixed with organic fillers to give a balance of the qualities of both metallic and organic pads. It’s a best of both world option for those who aren’t sure between the two.

  • Good high-temperature performance
  • Noisier than organic pads
  • Have a decent wear life
  • Composition varies between manufacturers

3. METALLIC/SINTERED

These kinds of pads are usually made of a very high proportion of metallic fillers such as copper, steel and iron. They’re made to work best under extreme use condition, so often aren’t the best choice for general riding. Enduro and Trail bike usually have metallic brake pads.

  • Effective braking at high pad temperatures
  • Heat up very fast – can cause braking fluid to overheat
  • Need to be warmed up to work well
  • Fast rotor wear

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH BRAKE PADS I NEED?

Knowing the manufacturer, model and model year would be ideal. The majority of pads are designed to fit specific calipers, so you will need to buy a pair that is compatible with the make and model of your brake caliper/system.

To check if the new ones will fit new ones simply remove the old ones and visually compare them – you’re going to have to do this anyway if they’re worn out, so it’s no great hardship.

WHEN DO I NEED TO REPLACE MY BRAKE PADS?

RIM BRAKES: Rim brake pads usually come with a tread pattern on the contact side. If you can’t seem to notice any indents on the pads, this is a sign that the upper layer of the rubber has worn away, and the brakes need to be changed.

New (left) vs worn-out (right) rim brake pads

Apart from this, a visual inspection of the grooves from the top will give you an idea of whether the pads are toast.

DISC BRAKES: These pads can also easily be inspected for wear using a torch. They have around 3-4 mm of compound on them. If you notice that the pads have worn down to 1.5- 1 mm or 25% thickness, it is time to change your pads.

Additionally, if your bike has metallic/sintered or semi-metallic pads, you may not be required to replace them as often as with organic/resin pads.

Whichever type of brakes you have on your bike, the general rule is that when you suspect your brakes are not performing adequately, i.e. such that you have to pull the lever to almost against the handlebar for the bike to slow down or stop, then inspect them and determine whether they need to be replaced or maybe the cables simply need adjustment – the braking system needs bleeding.


That’s all folks! Now you know everything about your brakes and how to buy new ones if the need arises. Do let us know what you thought and if you think we’ve missed out on something.

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