The things that make you
You may never see your brake pads but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter
No matter what you ride, or how slow or fast you go, effective brake pads are essential for your safety. If you have ever replaced your brake pads and then thought, “Oh, it still doesn’t stop as well as it used to”, it might be that the replacement pad material is not as good as the original. You can do something about it by changing your brake pad compound.
Original equipment brake pads
Manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort developing a bike’s braking system and there is no telling what a different type of brake pad material might do to your rotors or how well different pads will work with the overall design and set-up of your bike. If you like the feel and performance of your current brakes, stick with genuine factory parts.
Organic brake pads
Organic pads are the easiest option when it comes to handing over the folding stuff. They are made from aramid fibre compounds, rubber and some copper strands. They offer less overall stopping power compared with a sintered pad, so are suitable for those who are less hyper on the road, a commuter or someone who owns a lightweight bike.
The downside is that organic pads give poor wet weather performance, have poor high-temperature performance (resulting in fade) and a short lifespan and they require some time to properly bed in.
The upside is the price and gradual build-up of performance, so you won’t have to worry about performing instant stoppies.
While these are similar to organic pads and are priced well, they do give good wet weather performance. The downside is that the discs can rust after riding in the rain and they shed plenty of dust. The actual compound technology comes from cars; they are mainly made out of steel wool fibres and are for road users only. Semi-metallic pads are very similar to the ones used on those Euro cars you see everywhere that have black front wheels – they have semi-metallic pads and yes, the pads will do the same to your bike.
Because they generate lower heat transfer to the pistons and fluid, carbon pads are mainly for enduro riders who mix fast road with occasional off-road use. However, they will not last as long as sintered pads. Carbon pads usually are more expensive than sintered pads, so for the budget conscious, this can be off-putting. If you want performance on and off-road, carbon is a good option.
Sintered pads are fitted to most production bikes because they give excellent performance in a wide range of conditions and offer long life. However, depending on brand, sintered pads are priced above organic and semi-metallic pads.
Sintered pads are made from copper, tin, graphite (carbon) and mullite. Friction modifiers are added to tune the amount of friction and initial bite and this is where manufacturers spend a lot of time getting the balance just right.
Sintered pads like being worked hard and will last a long time with little performance change throughout their life, so they are suited to high-performance bikes and heavy bikes. They are for people who ride hard or do the occasional track day.
Ceramic pads are very much the same as sintered pads, except for the added component of ceramic powder. This is used as a friction enhancer and also helps to stabilise the friction performance throughout the operating temperature range.
The downsides are the price and level of initial bite. However, they give good wet and dry performance, little brake dust and have a long life and require little bedding in.
Race specific pads are available but unless you are doing track days on a consistent basis, you won’t want them for the simple reason that they love to be worked at high temperatures. Racing pads offer high levels of initial bite and they resist fading. The bite can be too much for some people because it can take away some low-speed feel. Usually, race pads have a thermal backing to prevent the extreme heat from being transferred to the pistons and brake fluid. If you are considering these pads, bear in mind they are really expensive and are not for road use.
The other bits
Along with good brake pads there are so many other things that should be in top-notch order to ensure excellent braking performance; things such as correct brake fluid level, brake lines and callipers. Make sure you adjust the levers to suit you because this can alter how the brakes feel. But remember, brakes can be a safety issue, so if you are unsure about working on your brakes or even have the slightest doubt about their effectiveness, talk to a professional motorcycle mechanic.