Best MTB and Road Bike Brake Pads – Gorilla Brakes

Brake Science

Brake Setup

Before using a new bike for the first time, you have to do some setup – Check and tune some things for your size, and your weight and your preferences.

The first thing most riders will do before going for a ride is check the tyre pressure. They also prioritise the suspension and saddle height. But the one component of the bike that gives the most control and dictates our ability to go fast, ride difficult terrain, and stay safe- the brakes- often go unmentioned.

There are three main variables to be aware of when tuning brakes:

  • Brake pad choice
  • The bed-in process
  • Lever set up

Brake Pad Choice

Many riders feel organic pads have a precise grip as long as they are being used in dry conditions, but underperform in the wet and dirt and extremely long descents. Sintered pads are more suitable for wet, muddy conditions and for long descents so the choice between these options should reflect the type of ride.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a sintered and organic pad. A sintered pad will typically look metallic, you’ll be able to see metal flakes in the pad itself, whereas an organic or resin pad will look more neutral or grey.

Sintered Semi-Metallic Organic Pad Comparison

If your brake pads wear out or if you want to try a different compound, you’ll need to change them. If you have been using, for example, sintered pads, your rotor will have been bed-in with sintered pads. This provides the ideal surface for new sintered pads but not for a change in compound. When you put a new pad material on the rotor, the friction couples don’t match well, so the power will not be optimal and the performance lower. The best solution in this circumstance is to change the rotor too.

Bedding in the Brakes

The bed-in process is one of the most important parts of setting up a new brake, a new rotor or new pads. Whether the pad is manufacturers own or aftermarket, it still requires this initial set-up which will determine the performance of the brakes and their longevity.

The purpose of bedding in the brakes is to transfer material from the pads to the rotor to create optimal friction and the ideal surface between the two for best performance. Braking on a new Rotor will cause pad material to build up in an uneven way, reduce the power of the brakes and make a squealing noise, especially in wet conditions. It could also lead to early glazing, where the components have become too hot and are just sliding over one another. This could result in around 50% less power compared with a properly bed-in rotor.

To bed-in your brakes, find a flat, even surface with plenty of space if possible- an empty car park would be an ideal spot or a section of road with no traffic. Ride up to speed and grip the brakes (firmly but do not lock the brake) to slow to a walking pace. Continue to do this over and over again at various speeds for fifteen minutes or so.

Lever Setup

Lever setup includes distance from the bar, lever angle, and adjusting where along the path the lever engages the pads and the rotors.

Brake Lever

Brake lever tuning is entirely personal. Requirements are so nuanced that some riders even have different preferences for each hand. Hand size, finger length, finger strength and riding conditions all make a difference when adjusting the brake levers for your own preferences.

If you have small hands, bringing the lever in as close as you can (without hitting the bar) could be advantageous. This should give more control during the ride and save hands and arms from tiring prematurely. The opposite is true if you have big hands- put the lever further out.

Lever angle adjustment also is crucial for comfort and riding conditions. For example, many riders like a relatively flat position, especially if they’re riding steep, rough terrain, as it places the grip centrally in the palm, reducing hand fatigue.

On some brakes, there is also a dial on the brake lever to adjust the bite or contact point of the brakes. This can also be adjusted according to personal preference. Issues with hand or arm fatigue or comfort during the ride could be solved through trial and error with these brake lever adjustments.

Once your brakes are set up properly, adjusted for the biomechanics of your hands and the pads are bed-in thoroughly, this will give the most optimal performance from all of the components of the braking system as well as prevent any loss of performance due to unnecessary strain on arms and hands.