Motorcycle Brake Pads

Editor@Throttle|Updated: July 12, 2018 9:33

Riders love to ride motorcycles and enjoy rides. It is crucial to have properly functioning brake pad for safe operation of a motorcycle. It is important for motorcyclists to make sure that their entire braking system is in top working order before every ride. It is commonly observed that riders put off replacing their motorcycle brake pads, mainly because they don’t know what kind to get. Once you understand the different types of pads, you can decide on the ones that will perform the best on your bike. 


What are brake pads?
Brake pads are the friction surfaces which contact the brake discs (commonly called brake rotors as well) in disc brake systems. They are made of various friction materials bonded (they used to also be riveted) to a steel backing plate. Most of the older brake linings were crafted from asbestos, but as the health hazards of the material were known, asbestos was removed and new, high-tech materials were introduced to replace it. Today, brake pad linings (friction material) are made from a variety of high-tech materials. 
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Different types of braking pads

Organic Brake Pads

Organic brake pads are made from a variety of materials that include metallic parts,  non-metallic particles and non-asbestos organic materials, secured together with a solid polymer resin. They are softer than sintered brake pads which make them create more brake dust and not last as long. They offer little wear and tear on the rotors and provide smooth and controlled braking. Organic brake pads are perfect for the casual rider and come in various types depending on the materials used for making them. 



Sintered Brake Pads

Sintered brake pads are crafted by fusing metallic particles under heat and pressure to create a compound that is resistant to friction. They perform well in wet and dry conditions and are preferred for demanding situations because they provide quality stopping power. These have become the most popular choice of brake pads and are standard Original Equipment on 99% of motorcycles from the manufacturers. On the downside, these give a lot of wear and tear to the rotors, so if your bike isn’t made to be used with sintered pads, you should not use them.



Semi-Sintered Brake Pads

Semi-sintered brake pads are the best of both worlds. They provide a combination of longer life span with a modern feel and do not wear out your rotors. These pads are 30% copper by weight within an organic matrix. If you cannot decide whether to purchase sintered or organic, these are a good settlement.


Semi-Metallic Organic Brake Pads

Semi-Metallic brake pads are pads made that come with a small percentage of metallic elements and provide better braking and heat transfer. They also produce more dust and noise.


Ceramic Composite Brake Pads

Ceramic Composite brake pads are formed using high-strength ceramic fibers and non-ferrous metal filaments bonded at extreme pressures and temperatures. Ductile metal-filaments produce a friction material with moderate base coefficient of friction for good initial "bite", while heat resistant ceramic fibers and polymeric binders reduce thermal pad decomposition and out-gassing, which contribute to high temperature brake "fade." They are also quiet, and deliver strong braking performance over a wide range of conditions. Ceramic Composite material provides good stopping power when both cold, and hot after miles of riding. The non-ferrous metal filament matrix provides high thermal mass and thermal conductivity to quickly carry heat away from the pad-rotor interface for fast thermal recovery. Lower operating temperatures reduce rotor wear and risk of deformation or warping. However, they are not available for all models of motorcycles. 




How to Check Your Brakes

Inspect your brake pads on the bike visually, before a ride and during oil changes, etc. You may need a flashlight, but look into the calipers, including the back side as there are inner and outer pads. If the friction lining has worn down to about an eighth inch or less, it's time for replacement. You should also always listen and pay attention to the sounds coming from the brakes. If the sound changes, treat it as a warning and inspect the brakes immediately. A squealing sound may or may not indicate a problem


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Sometimes it’s just a high-pitched vibration which occurs as the pads are clamped onto the rotors. However, a scraping or grinding noise is definitely a strong cause for immediate concern. That’s an indication that the metal brake pad backing is rubbing against the rotor surface. Continuing to ride with metal-to-metal contact will ruin your rotors and may result in a crash because you won't be able to stop as well as you should. Typically and easy, way to tell the difference is that the high pitched squeal will go away as you clamp the brakes harder while stopping. But the grinding noise will get worse.




How To Replace Motorcycle Brake Pads


There is great news as replacing brake pads on most motorcycles is an easy project which most  riders can accomplish in under an hour with just a few basic tools. Sometimes saddlebags and other items are in the way of caliper access, which will add a few minutes to the job.


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Brake pads are self-adjusting and as a result, they require no adjusting after they are installed. If you have an older bike with drum brakes however, you will need to make some minor adjustments so keep that owner’s manual handy. Also, do not forget to pump the brake lever or pedal back up until it puts tension on the brakes after installation. If you miss this step and go for a test ride, you will find you have no brakes the first time you try to apply them.


Check rotors for warping, cracks, etc when you replace your pads. If a brake rotor is damaged or grooved, now is the time to replace it. If the brake lever had been pulsing as you come to a stop, it’s an indication that a rotor has become warped or bent. This calls for a replacement at the same time the new pads are installed. Sometimes rotors can be resurfaced but it’s difficult to find a place that has the ability to do it these days.


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Refer to the manual as needed during the installation process. It is better to take a photo of the brake assembly before dismantling it so you can have a reference for where the springs, clips and factory brake line routing. This will help ensure you to get it all back together correctly on the first try. If the bike has dual front brakes, you may consider doing one side at a time, leaving the other for reference until you get the procedure down to a science.


Some brake calipers have open tops which allow the pads to be removed without taking the caliper off the fork. In this instance, the retaining pins and hardware are removed and the caliper pistons are retracted to make room for the new, thicker pads. However, most calipers will require you to remove them from the fork tube, in order to replace the pads.


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Caliper pistons can be retracted with a large screwdriver, a small tire changing spoon or your hands if you’re tough enough. It is best to open the brake bleeder screw (connect a drain hose that will catch the fluid in a container so it doesn’t squirt all over your bike). This is a much better solution than simply forcing the fluid back through the master cylinder return port.




Clean out any dirt or crud from the brake caliper and rotors once the pads removed. Use a spray type brake cleaner, never use petroleum based cleaners in this area. Take this opportunity to inspect all the brake hardware, including spring clips, pins, etc. Replace any parts that are visibly broken, damaged or worn out. It is preferable to apply a coating of a product designed to prevent brake squeal onto the brake pad backing surface. Then slip the new pads into place, making sure that any clips or retention springs are properly positioned. This can be fiddly at times, but it must be done properly.


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Once the new pads are in place (and calipers reinstalled to the specs in your owner’s manual), make a final visual inspection and then pump the brake lever or pedal until the pads firmly contact the rotors and the lever effort feels normal. When reinstalling the caliper bolts, it is a good idea to apply blue Loctite to the threads and tighten them to the OEM specs.


Now that the brake pads have been swapped, it is time to check the brake fluid. The brake fluid level should be brought to the upper fill mark on the reservoir. Brake fluid should be completely replaced along with a flush of the entire system, about every two years. This is also the perfect time to bleed your brakes using a fluid catch system that keeps the goo from getting all over the bike or your garage.


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It is extremely important that your braking system performs with maximum effectiveness at all times. Replacing the old and worn out brake pads will improve the stopping power of a motorcycle, making it safer for the rider. Each different types of brake pads perform differently and it is important to review the owner’s manual or consult with the manufacturer to find out which ones are most compatible with your bike.