Brake pads are one of the most important parts of your motorcycle, right up there with your tires. Like tires, good quality brake pads will improve the overall handling of your bike, but it’s when you need to do an emergency stop that they really matter.
If you have to scrub off a lot of speed quickly and safely, you need to know that your brake pads are up to the job so you can brake with confidence. Pads are consumable items, because they wear out over time, so they need to be checked and replaced regularly otherwise there’s a risk they will fail to work effectively in an emergency.
A brake pad consists of a flat metal base with a pad of material that is used to grip the brake disk tightly and slow the wheel’s rotation. That material wears down slowly, and you need to replace the pads before the material is entirely gone or else the bare metal base will be forced against the disc during braking, which will fail to slow the bike down and damage the disc.
On most motorcycles it’s easy to take the dust cover off the brake calipers to inspect the pads visually. If the pad material is worn down to 2mm, or the wear indicator is no longer visible, then it’s time to replace the pads. A brake caliper uses two pads, and you should replace both at the same time, and if your bike has two calipers on the front wheel it makes good sense to do both calipers at the same time too.
Again, as with tires, pads come with different types of material that will affect how the braking works. You can buy softer pads with more stopping power, and these will wear out more quickly, or you can buy lower-friction pads made from a harder wearing compound. Your motorcycle manufacturer will recommend what grade of pad to use, and for most riders it’s best to stick with that.
If you want to use a more powerful brake pad than is recommended for your bike, make sure you also have very good tires that can cope with more aggressive braking. Also, spend time practicing and getting use to the feel of the pads, because it takes skill to control a motorcycle under heavy braking.
Brake Pad Grades
The different levels of friction of brake pads is shown using a grading system of E to H, with E having the least stopping power and H having the most. Motorcycle brake pads are often graded with two letters which show the pad’s friction level when it is cold and when it is warm. In the past brake pads often did not work as well until they warmed up, but that’s not really true any more so even though we still have the same grading system it’s rare to see pads graded with two different letters.
In most cases, motorcycle brake pads will be graded HH, but check your manufacturer’s recommendation to be sure.
Brake Pad Types
The main difference between the different types of brake pads is in what kind of material the pad is made from.
Sintered – sintered pads have a very high level of metal particles in the braking compound. This provides great stopping power, and these pads are usually recommended for everyday road riding and for high performance bikes.
Semi-sintered (aka semi-metallic)– these have a lower level of metal particles in the braking compound and provide consistent braking regardless of temperature. Recommended for touring.
Organic (aka NAO, non asbestos organic) – often contain a material such as kevlar as an alternative to hazardous asbestos which used to be common in brake pads. Organic pads provide a smoother braking feel to sintered, and some riders prefer this. Can suffer from brake-fade where the pads lose efficiency under frequent heavy braking, so not recommended for sports riding.
Ceramic – the pad material contains ceramic particles, which provide different characteristics to metal sintered pads. They provide great cold performance and are less noisy than sintered pads. Ceramic pads are seen to offer the stopping power of sintered pads, with the same smooth feel as organic.
Brake pads are critical, so it’s important to buy from a trusted supplier. While there are a lot of brands in this market, we highly recommend staying away from the cheaper, unknown makes and sticking with those that have proven track records.
It’s always advisable to buy OEM pads from your bike manufacturer, but the third party brake pad brands we also recommend are: