Brake pad/block performance

Cheap brake blocks are rubbish, they either seem to be made of solid plastic and don’t grip the rim that well or are made of a soft rubber and wear away quickly.
The pads that my previous bike came with (from new) only lasted 2,000 miles and this more or less fit inline with previous cheap pads I’d had experience of. I was wondering if I needed to spend a bit more and get superiour braking performance and longer life. I splashed out on some multi compound pads and at just under £20 x 2 they weren’t cheap:

Now they have worn out I can give my true verdict, and that is 10,000 miles! They were adequately looked after and swapped from front to back and back again a couple of times so they wore evenly. I have now bought replacement pads (which are only slightly cheaper than the pads and blocks together) and will continue to do so as they are far better than the cheap ones.

To increase life there are two main things I try and do as often as I can be bothered:
– Remove aluminium shavings that get lodged in the pad surface, these are caused firstly by grit then by the shaving scraping more braking surface away. Use a pin or knife point (etc) to carefully “dig” out the shavings. Some people file the surface down, but that removes too much of it. Doing this will increase both rim and pad life.
– Clean those rims regularly! In winter and dirty weather all that dirt grinds away your pads and rims.

Lastly, if your brakes are adjusted and maintained suitably you will be safer as your stopping distance will be reduced. I’m not going to go as far as saying the pads I have stop better than any other pad, but my like for like comparison when I got them was that they really did reduce my stopping distance compared with cheap pads.

For ease of adjustment I would recommend parallel push v-brakes, they require less tweaking as the pad wears. Standard v-brakes and cantilever brakes swing at the rim in an ark, so as the pad wears they hit the rim lower and lower each time so they require adjustment to ensure they hit the middle of the rim. Whereas parallel push brakes hit the rim horizontally each time so only a barrel adjustment is required. At the moment I have a parallel push v-brake on the front and a standard v-brake on the back, I wish I could get the Shimano XTR v-brakes like a friend of mine, but I’m also saving up for other components and they are low on the priority list (for now).

10 responses to “Brake pad/block performance

  1. Now then Timothy.

    I am intrigued by your claim that the new pads improved stopping distances.

    I would have thought (schoolboy physics) that the stopping distance is limited by the tyre grip, so assuming the original brakes were good enough to be able to lock the wheels then in theory they should be able to stop the bicycle in the same distance.

    I suspect that the better pads do provide more control and ‘feel’ allowing the brake applications to be better modulated (to prevent wheel lockup) thus giving the rider more confidence during real world riding.

    • More specifically new quality pads.

      The most efficient (good weather) braking is claimed to be front wheel braking and I have to agree since locking up the back wheel even on cheap pads is achievable and contrary to efficient stopping. Ease off on the front when you approach stopping otherwise you’ll get your bike on your head.
      Physics, the simple rule of friction, if there isn’t enough between the rim and pad then you aren’t going to stop as quickly, this is what I am referring to.

      It’s the rest of the brake system that impacts control and feel in my experiences.

  2. Brake Block Top Trumps

    Swisstop Blues 19,238km and still going strong.

    You forgot to mention the main cause of brake wear is using your brakes, I can do my 16km commute and only use the brakes twice and one of those is to so I don’t crash into the bike shed.

    p.s Isn’t it better to have different parts of the rim being worn rather than wear away a hole in the middle, says the friend with the XTR brakes.

    • I didn’t go into your fancy XTR setup with carbide rims as I don’t have experience of that, but you can share…

      But anyway I’m talking the entry level here, where it probably makes the biggest difference (to me anyway).

      Yes, equal wear is ideal, but what the lazy people end up with is half a pad on the rim and the bottom half missing the rim, which is rubbish and leads to the top half wearing more as well and the bottom of the braking surface wearing more too. My long gone old bike had this, but now I am a new man 🙂

  3. Interesting read, and good advice. I admire your ability to keep record of your components performance. I seem to be in a rush all the time, trying to keep my commute going, no time otherwise, with work, home, life etc., managing to commandeer most of my time. Still, they say, the best always have time on the bike (ball).

    • I have a little (no size jokes please) notepad, I write my rides in (date, distance, average speed, car miles save [if any], min and max temperatures, weather [e.g. rain] and clothing) and in this pad I just stick in a line about what I’ve replaced/maintained etc.
      When I can be bothered I key this into my spreadsheet that gives me the mileage of these things.
      It’s not as time consuming as you might think, I write ditto a lot and as my mileage is 99% commuting the details don’t change often.

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