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What’s the difference between making an insurance claim and not making one? Six inches, I reckon.
That’s why it makes sense to fit the best brake pads you can afford. A good set will offer more stopping power, which could be the difference between contact with the nearside front wing of the Mercedes that just pulled out in front of you or pulling up a few inches short.
In this guide, we’ll talk you through what you need to know about motorcycle brake pads so you can make the best purchasing decision. In truth, there isn’t an out-and-out ‘best’ when it comes to brake pads because it’s not all about stopping power.
Most of the time you’re well within your comfort zone and your brakes need to offer good feel and feedback, stopping power without fading? Of course but stopping power with little feel? No thank you.
The term ‘wooden brakes’ was often used in motorcycle reviews of old. This was generally aimed at bikes that had brakes with little to no feel. The stopping power might have been there but what use is it if you can’t feel them working?
Yes, ABS means that braking hard is less of a skill than it used to be but the right brake pads will give you plenty of feel and power, so you’ll rarely feel your ABS cutting in.
This guide is focused on motorcycle brake pads for two different applications: road use and track use. Track pads often have more stopping power but they have a narrower operating window and require the pads to carry some temperature in order to work at their best. A road pad upgrade will offer more braking performance than standard pads but they’re designed to work in all conditions.
The Anatomy of a Brake Pad
Pad material:Brake pads are made from different materials. Generally speaking sintered pads will offer the best braking performance but the feel of any brake pad varies as much from the different manufacturers as it does the material being used. Not everyone wants pads with the most amount of stopping power; some prefer a pad with more feel or less fade. Some riders swear by a type of pad material, i.e. organic, while others will prefer to stick to a specific brand.
Sintered: Sintered brake pads are the most common standard fitment on bikes today. According to EBC, 99% of production motorcycles are fitted with sintered brake pads. They’re formed from a variety of materials including metals and ceramics all bonded with a resin and compressed to form the seriously dense pad material. The metal content of a sintered pad will help dissipate heat from the disc, preventing it overheating and potentially warping.
Organic: Organic brake pads contain a negligible amount of metal and instead use other materials such as carbon, Kevlar and other ceramics. Organic pads are far less common these days. They wear faster than a sintered pad but they are also less abrasive on the disc’s surface, meaning you’ll get more life from your discs but at a cost of lesser outright braking performance.
Semi-sintered: These pads are a mix of Organic and Sintered and could just as easily be known as Semi-Organic pads. They don’t offer as potent performance as a fully-sintered pad but they’ll perform better than an outright organic brake pad.
Backing Plate:Your brake pad’s backing plate is there to hold the abrasive surface in place but it also acts as a barrier to the heat produced during braking. Often made from a combination of plastics, ceramics, and metals, the backing plate will slow the transfer of heat to the brake calipers and in turn, lessen the chances of the brake fluid overheating which can cause fade.
Wear Marker:These grooves will show you when you need to replace your pad. If you can’t see any grooves, you need new pads. While you might want to squeeze every last bit of braking from your pads, the problem with using them when they’re past the wear markers is that you’ll have less material to dissipate the heat and you’ll need to put more pressure on the lever for the same amount of braking performance. The other downside of trying to wring as much use from a set of brake pads as you can is that pads wear quicker when there’s less material on them and if you wear through the material, the pad’s backing will score and wear your discs which could cost hundreds of pounds to replace. Trust the wear markers!
Packaging:Each manufacturer’s pads contain different materials, so it pays to read the packing to understand their recommended running-in procedure. Some pads are good to go after a couple of heat cycles while others take a good 50-miles of normal riding to properly bed in.
The Best Brake Pads for Road Riders
Brake pads that offer a great blend of power, feel and longevity. Perfect for road riders looking for improved braking performance over OEM brake pads.
Great stopping power, value for money
EBC’s ‘Double-H’ sintered pads offer great braking performance and are a good brake pad upgrade for any road rider. They’re built to last too, with EBC claiming over 20,000 miles for a set of these pads. Obviously this will be much shorter if you also do trackdays. As low-cost performance upgrades go, you’ll struggle to find better.
Great stopping power from a trusted brand
Brembo is synonymous with racing and these road-focused pads offer great performance but they’re more expensive than the EBC equivalents. They have a fast bedding-in period and are designed to offer improved braking performance in all conditions.
The Best Motorcycle Trackday Brake Pads
Brake pads that offer the outright best braking performance, to help you brake later and harder, making you faster on track and helping improve your lap times.
Over the handlebars braking performance
You won’t believe how good Brembo’s Z04 pads are. I raced a season in the 848 Challenge with these in the stock Brembo M4 calipers and nothing comes close in terms of stopping power. Riders in the World Superbike and British Superbike series use these pads. Yes, they are pricey but if you want to lap faster, put simply: you need Z04s.
A great track day pad and yet not super-expensive
Brembo is synonymous with racing but they also make a great range of road-focused pads. These Road Sintered pads offer great performance but they’re more expensive than the EBC equivalents. They have a fast bedding-in period and are designed to offer improved braking performance in all conditions.
Brake pad jargon buster
Fade – this is a loss of braking performance, either caused by the pad material overheating and unable to help you scrub off speed or by the brake fluid reaches its boiling point (over 150-degrees C). With pad fade, you’ll feel the lever coming further back to the bar but with brake fluid fade you’ll just have no brakes. Scary.
Glazing – This is when the pad surface becomes polished and it can lead to a loss of braking performance. If you repeatedly brake hard you can glaze the brakes but the most likely cause is a dragging brake pad, which has little pressure on it but overheats. This causes the surface material to bake and glaze wheras with hard braking the burnt material is usually scrubbed off.
Bite – This is the initial feeling you get from the brakes when you squeeze the brake lever hard. On a quality pad you’ll get a decent amount of bite whereas on a cheap brake pad you’ll get next to no initial bite but as the pad heats up the braking will improve.
How to check your motorcycle's brake pads
Your brake pads will have wear markers on them. These are grooves cut into the surface of the pad, where it will press against the disc. Most of the time, these grooves are cut to disappear when there is 2mm of pad material left.
Grab a torch and get down on your knees to inspect your brake caliper. Where the pad touched the disc, you should be able to see grooves in the pad. While there are grooves present, the pad will operate properly, giving you full braking potential. Once the grooves have been worn away the pads need to be replaced.
If you wear your pads so there’s less than 1.5mm of pad left, you’ll start to uncover the material that connects the pad to the backing material, usually a metal clamp which will score your discs, potentially rendering them unusable.
Brake pad thickness and the MOT
Your bike will fail its MOT is there is less than 1.5mm of pad material showing, so the difference between the grooves disappearing and an MOT fail is a matter of a few hard squeezes of the brake lever.
OEM Brake Pads
If you’re happy with your bike’s current brake pads, then there’s nothing wrong with going for a set of OEM replacements.
The chances are these original pads will be made by a well-known manufacturer – their logo and the part number will be printed on the back of the pad. These pads have been designed to work with the bike’s discs, providing decent braking performance and ensuring the disc doesn’t prematurely wear.
If you do want to improve your brakes, you can always check the OEM pad manufacturer and then buy a set of performance brake pads from their range.
How to Brake Really Hard
- In the first stages of braking make sure you transfer the weight of the bike over the front wheel by braking progressively. If you just grab a handful of brakes, even with ABS fitted, you won't be able to brake as hard as you would if you allowed the bike's weight to help push the front tyre into the road surface.
- Get the bike upright to ensure you have the tyre's maximum contact patch gripping the road, to reduce the chances of your tyre losing traction.
- Change down the gears to ensure there's engine braking helping to scrub off speed.
- Practice braking with the rear brake as well. Applying the rear brake helps keep the bike more level, meaning you can brake harder with the front and not end up going over the handlebars.
Motorcycle Brake Pad Manufacturers
There are lots of great brake pads on the market. If the EBC and Brembo offerings above don’t float your boat, then why not take a look at the following brands that also produce brake pads for a wide variety of motorcycles. Here’s what they have to say about themselves.
For 50 years Galfer have supplied original equipment brake discs and pads to automotive and motorcycle industries worldwide. The very latest manufacturing technology and materials are employed to ensure consistent quality and high performance. Galfer are innovators in braking technology and are the company responsible for the original Wave disc design.
Brembo is a world leader in the design, development and production of braking systems and components for cars, motorbikes, industrial vehicles and machinery, for the OE market, after-market and racing.
With a worldwide work force of over 400 people, EBC Brakes is an independently owned and managed leader in the brake market, proud of it’s customers, it’s products, it’s success and its people. EBC Brakes produce the largest range of brake pads and brake discs in the world, with over 5000 parts for every type of moving vehicle. EBC Brakes are made in one of its two specialist factories in the UK and USA. The majority of EBC brake discs and brake rotors are also made in the UK.
For anyone who values a long service life, all for an almost unbeatable price. Hi-Q brakes stand out because of their good braking in the wet. Maximum heat dissipation and minimum fade. First-class qualified European workmanship is guaranteed.
Renthal is a global leader in the manufacturing, design and sales of motorcycle, ATV and cycle parts and accessories. It’s natural that a world leading manufacturer also leads the world at the very top level of sport. Renthal has attained 170 World Championships and 176 US titles in motorcycling. Attention to every small detail is what it takes to be the best. Everyone dreams of success, but achieving it takes relentless commitment and effort. It’s this obsession for detail, quality and engineering that makes Renthal products the finest on the market today.
Highway Code Stopping Distances
The Highway Code’s stopping distances were established in the 1970s, so you’d be forgiven for taking them with a pinch of salt. Modern tyre technology, more powerful brakes and ABS have all helped reduce the distance required to stop your motorcycle.
The Stopping Distance is comprised of the Thinking Distance and the Braking Distance. You could argue that while the Braking Distance for cars and bikes has reduced over the years, the Thinking Distance might well have increased due to people paying more attention to what’s going on inside their cars these days, rather than outside of them.
Official Highway Code Stopping Distances
20mph – 12m / 40ft
30mph – 23m / 75ft
40mph – 36m / 118ft
50mph – 53m / 174ft
60mph – 73m / 240ft
70mph – 96m / 315ft
Only a fool breaks the two-second rule. This saying was part of a UK Government’s advertising campaign more than 20 years ago and it referred to the thinking distance. If you’re sat right up behind another car and they suddenly brake, you might have better brakes but you’ll have next to no thinking distance.
Comparing the Highway Code to real-world figures
The world has moved on since the Highway Code’s Stopping Distances was introduced. To give you an idea of how a modern vehicle stacks up, check out these figures for approximate stopping distances from 60mph, which includes the 18m Thinking Distance:
Highway Code: 73m / 240ft
Honda Accord: 59m / 193ft
Harley-Davidson Electra Glide: 63m / 206ft
Ford Focus ST: 54m / 177ft
Kawasaki ZX-10R: 57m / 187ft
Audi R8: 47m / 154ft
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have a car anchor-on in front of you, you’ll know that, on a motorcycle, it takes a lot of braking force to not run into the back of the car.
Also as a general rule, the Braking Distance at 80mph is almost double that at 60mph.
Brake pad FAQs
What else can I do to improve my brakes?
If you want more braking power and more bite, then upgrade your standard brake hoses to braided lines. Braided brake lines are stiffer than standard lines and transfer more fluid to the brake pistons compared to standard brake lines which have a slight amount of bulge when you brake hard. You can see some here.
Thanks to the following websites which helped us research and write this article