Tips & Tricks: Disc Brakes Pad Replacement


Hydraulic disc brake. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As cycling changes, so does cycling technology.  The biggest change to road cycling in the last ten years is the use of disc brakes on road bikes. While road disc brakes are still making inroads into the professional peloton, they are present on most new road bikes at every level.  Cyclocross bikes have been using cable-driven disc brakes, most road bikes now use hydraulic disc brakes that have greater power, but require more maintenance in general.  Many experienced road cyclists understand use and maintenance of rim brakes and even replace their own. Although disc brakes are substantially more complicated in nature, replacement of brake pads is only slightly harder.  In this article we will cover the types of disc brake pads available along with a step-by-step guide to replacing your own disc brake pads.

Disc Brake Pad Selection

While most mechanics will tell you to replace worn brake pads with like-kind, there are several aftermarket manufacturers which make replacement pads to fit any caliper type an size.   We have used aftermarket replacement pads from both SwissStop and Kool Stop to replace the pads in our disc brake equipped mountain bikes and disc brake equipped road bikes.  As we have personal experience with these pads, we will discuss the selections from these manufacturers in our discussion of brake pad selection.

Disc brake pads consist of a braking compound bound to a metal backing plate.  There are two main types of disc brake pad compound materials : (1) sintered (metallic); and (2) organic (semi-metallic).  Knowing the difference between the pad compound types and the qualities of each can make your pad selection easier based on your riding style and environmental conditions.

Sintered Pads

Sintered pad are made of a metallic braking compound bound to a metal backing plate.  Some of the metal backing plates are aluminum, others are brass for increased heat conductivity.  Sintered pads are the standard material that comes stock with both SRAM and Shimano systems.  Sintered pads are better in wet weather than their organic counterparts.  They also have a long life and the braking power does not reduce when the pads are hot (high heat resistance).  However, sintered pads are very noisy and take a long time to bed in properly.   The metal to metal contact between the pad material and the rotor creates a very reliable braking surface in all weather conditions, but in our experience the noise from the metal to metal contact became very annoying and we changed out otherwise serviceable sintered pads for organic pads.

Organic Pads

Organic pads are made of proprietary mix of organic materials that are blended and bound together using a resin and then bound to the metal backing.  There are trace elements of metals in the organic pads as well, but much less than in the sintered, hence the name “semi-metalic” pads.  The SwissStop organic pads consist of a mix of Kevlar, Ceramic and Brass materials.  Organic pads provide excellent braking power along with better power modulation through the pull of the braking lever than sintered pads. Organic pads have consistent performance in both wet and dry conditions while maintaining excellent pad life.  Once broken in, the noise in dry conditions is minimal except when the rotors and pads are very hot.  There is some noise in wet conditions, but not as much as with sintered pads.

Other Mixes and Variants 

In addition to the standard sintered and organic pads, aftermarket pad manufacturers have been attempting to improve on both sintered and organic compounds by making variants of each and revised backing plates that maximize braking power and consistency, increase pad life and reduce braking noise in all environments.

Brake pads with cooling fins are the one variant of the disc brake pad that attempts to reduce the temperature of the brake pad material and rotor by maximize the surface area of the backing plate.  This is accomplished by adding a cooling fin heat sink (like on a computer chipset) to the backing plate.  The cooling fin acts as an air-cooled radiator that dissipates heat from the brake pad material without transferring it to the rotor.  Reducing the temperature of the rotor and pad material increases the braking power and modulation along with extending the life of the pad and rotor.  One example of a brake pad with a heat sink is the Kool Stop Aero Kool pad.


Kool Stop Aero Kool Pad with copper backing plate and add-on cooling fin

Another example of a brake pad with a cooling fin is the SwissStop EXOTherm2 pad. We are presently running the SwissStop EXOTherm2 pad on our road bikes and have had good success with keeping the brakes cool.  However, they are a bit loud when stopping in either wet, or humid environments.

SwissStop has also made a variant of its organic pad compound with its Disc RS compound.  The Disc RS compound remains organic, but seeks a balanced combination of brake performance, durability and incredibly low noise in all conditions.  This is accomplished with a revision to their organic compound mix along with a reduction in the backing plate thickness that provides the preferred thermal characteristics, strength and stability of steel while reducing weight and increasing pad thickness.  The Disc RS was debuted in August 2017, but we have not had the opportunity to test out these pads yet.


SwissStop Disc RS

Brake Pad Replacement Process

Once you’ve selected the brake pads that are right for your style of riding, then its time to install them.  The process of replacing the brake pads is relatively simple, though a bit more complicated than for rim brakes.  Follow these simple steps and the pad replacement process will go quickly.  One thing to keep in mind is that hydraulic disc brakes require the lines to be bled at certain points in the life of the system, however, manufacturers (SRAM v Shimano v Campy) vary on how often you should bleed the hydraulic brake lines.  This is a very involved process that should be performed by your mechanic at the proper maintenance point.  Refer to your disc brake manufacturer’s instructions for the specific time frames.

WARNING: During the brake pad replacement process, DO NOT squeeze the brake lever unless you are using a pad spreader tool or until the wheel is back on the bicycle.  

Step 1

Either attach your bike to a stand or flip it upside down and remove the first wheel.  When removing the rear wheel, its best to shift the chain to the further outboard gears (largest chainring in the front and smallest cog on the cassette in the back).  This allows for quick chain alignment when putting the wheel back in place.


Step 2

Remove the locking mechanism for the pads.  This can either be in the form of a cotter pin or a locking clip and pad retention bolt.

Step 3

Remove the pads and spring (the metal part holding the pads in the caliper).  The pads are removed toward the disc.

Step 4

Reset the caliper pistons to be in the fully retracted positions (flush with the caliper surface).  This can be done with a plastic tire lever to avoid damaging the pistons.

Step 5

Install the new pads and spring followed by the cotter pin or pad retention bolt and locking clip.

Step 6

If you have a pad spreader tool, insert it between the pads and depress the brake lever to ensure the free movement of both pistons.  If you don’t have a pad spreader tool, skip this step.

Step 7

Reinstall the wheel.  If you skipped Step 6, depress the brake lever once the rotor is reinstalled and check for the free movement of the pistons.  Rotate the wheel to ensure that neither pad is rubbing.  If the pads are rubbing, continue to rotate the wheel and determine if the rotor needs adjustment or if the caliper adjustment needs modification. Once the pads are replaced, it’s time to go for a ride and bed in the new pads.

Brake Pad Bed In Process

One of the idiosyncrasies of  disc brakes, as opposed to rim brakes, is the necessity to “bed in” the pads.  Bedding in is the process of working the pad compound onto the rotor in order to maximize the braking power.  Brake pad performance and noise can be affected by the bedding in process.  Once a pad has been properly bed in it becomes more effective and less noisy in most conditions.  The various types of pad compounds can be bedded in by using the following procedure recommended by SwissStop:

Step 1. On a gradual downhill slope, drag each brake for 20-30 seconds, alternating between front and rear. Repeat 2-3 times.

Step 2. On a steeper slope, engage and drag the brakes for 10-15 seconds then increase lever pressure until the bike slows almost to a complete stop. Repeat 2-3 times.

Pro Tip: The front pads will have been heated more than the rear. To achieve optimal performance, exchange the front and rear pads then repeat Step 2.

CAUTION before replacing or exchanging brake pads it is essential to let all parts cool.

After we installed new SwissStop organic pads on our hydraulic disc brake equipped road bikes, we followed this process for bedding in the pads.  While the process took a couple of rides to complete due to the swapping of the pads, the stopping power was there quickly and the brakes are typically quiet other than when the rotors are hot.

More Information on Disc Brakes

For more information on disc brakes, see Bicycling Magazine’s The Beginner’s Guide to Disc Brakes.

Promoting Bike Culture in the US

By Featured Writer Jenny Holt


Bike culture has seen a dramatic change in the last decade.  According to the 2014 Statista Report, there are more than 67 million riders in America, an increase of 20 million riders  since 2008. Where car sales have stabilized or even decreased, bicycle purchases have more than doubled. As more people see the health, economic and other effects of cycling, more trips that used to be made by care are being replaced by leg power.  Cities like Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. are seeing more and more bike commuters each year.  However, even with the ever increasing number of cyclists on the road, there are still many challenges facing bike riders in the US.

Challenges of Riding a Bicycle

In cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen where biking is the norm, in the US, a majority of people, especially drivers, still see cycling in a different light.  This difference in perception has created invisible barriers to increasing overall cycling activity. The results of a study commissioned by in 2014 revealed several of these barriers. One is the lack of bike infrastructure (i.e., protected bike lanes and separate paths).  This was found to dissuade a third of respondents from cycling more often. Other problems include lack of access to bicycles especially among lower-income households.  The study found that the major issue why Americans cycle less often is safety.  In the study, 54% of respondents admitting that they are afraid to be hit by vehicles while cycling.  This is a significant concern for cyclists in areas without protected bikes or wide shoulders for cycling.  The study found that 46% of its participants would be more inclined to ride a bike in protected bike lanes, ones that are physically separated from vehicular traffic, as opposed to being forced to ride in the same lane as traffic.


Solutions to Increase Bicycle Participation

If a city has the goal of encourage a greater amount of cycling, politicians would be well-served to review the concerns of those who, but for the safety concerns, would cycle more often and replace a greater number of car trips with bicycle trips.  Overall, the survey results indicated that respondents want to see more protected bike lanes because it found safety was a major concern of the participants.  The first thing that is needed in greater quantity is biking infrastructure. Another major issue is bike theft.  To help combat bike theft, the construction of secure parking for bicycles is also important.

Cities in the US that have high cycling rates, such as Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, all have good support and investments from city governments.  In San Francisco, the SF MTA has constructed bike lockers and have installed bike stands throughout the city.


Other systems, like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has bike parking which offers protection from the rain and a safe area where bicycles can be left without fear of being stripped at the end of the day.  These are two systems in San Francisco that are helping make commuting by bike safer and more worry free.


There are also bike lanes and pathways, parking and well-connected bike roads are a few examples of initiatives by governments to promote use of the bicycle. The San zFrancisco Bike Coalition has helped map out many of the routes used by cyclists, some of which are now being made into protected bike lanes.  Others like the Marin County Bike Coalition have helped with the transformation of “rails-to-trails” throughout the county as well as advocacy for improvement of the road surfaces.


Bike education programs were also rolled out which included safety tips such as fitting bicycles with proper lights like LEDs to enhance day or night time visibility, wearing of crash helmets, high-visibility clothing gear and the like.  In addition, there were bike-sharing and cost-sharing programs that largely, encouraged more people to ride bicycles than drive motor vehicles whether it is for recreation or as a means of transportation.

As the number of cyclists in the US grows, the number of cyclists and car encounter also grows.  The key to keeping people on their bikes is education and keeping everyone (both cyclist and driver alike) as safe as possible while they are on the road.  Happy riding and keep the rubber side down.


Tips & Tricks: Keep it Clean – Pre- & Post-Ride Rituals

Bike maintenance doesn’t just happen when you take your bike to the shop, it’s what you do before and after every ride.  To keep our bikes working their best all of the time, we have these pre- and post-ride rituals.


Because of our post-ride rituals, our pre-ride check takes only a few minutes.  All that is required is to pump your tires to the desired pressure. We use 95 – 100 psi for normal rides, or 100 – 110 psi for races. Once the tires are pumped, we are ready to roll with the clean, bright and shiny frames!


After a ride is when your bike needs the most care.  Putting your bike away dirty is one of the ways to make your bike and components wear out more quickly.  To keep your bike working better longer, our post-ride ritual requires lube, a couple of rags, a paper bag, steel wool and alcohol pads.
Start by lubing the chain with Rock-n-Roll lube. On days with dry roads, we use the red, Absolute Dry lube. When the roads are wet, or it’s foggy out, we use the Gold lube for a bit more waxiness to keep the chain from getting wet.  There’s a third option which is great for your mountain bike, the blue Rock-n-Roll Extreme lube.
Set up the rags behind the the chain and apply the lube to the lower part of the chain behind the chain ring. Rotate the pedals ten times while applying the lube. Next apply the lube to both upper and lower rear derailleur sprockets. Then rotate the pedals another ten times.
With a clean rag, wipe the excess lube off the chain and derailleur sprockets. Start with the lower sprocket and then the upper sprocket. Then the chain where it meets the lower sprocket and repeat where the chain meets the upper sprocket.
Then wipe the excess lube off the top and bottom of the chain by gripping the top and bottom of the lower part of the chain with your thumb and forefingers and rotating the pedals twenty times. Then do the same for the sides of the chain an rotate the pedals thirty times. Finally, repeat wiping the top and bottom of the chain another ten rotations. When you are done, your clean rag will have much of the dirt, grime and excess lube from your chain.
After lubing the chain, we use an isopropyl alcohol pad to wipe off the aluminum breaking surfaces of the rims in order to remove any brake dust and ensure proper brake power.
If you have a nick or other surface imperfection in your braking surface, you can also use steel wool to smooth out the surface. We use copper, as it leaves less residue on the aluminum braking surfaces as your are smoothing it out.

Tips & Tricks: Keep it Clean – Wax On, Wax Off

A wash is just the beginning of keeping your ride clean.  In order to make it shine and keep it clean longer, it needs a coat of wax.  This tip always raises an eyebrow. Most riders have never thought about applying wax to their bike. Waxing your car is one thing, but waxing your bike?  Not only does the wax make your ride shine, it also protects the finish from the elements and helps keep dirt, dust and mud off the frame.
If you have a dark colored, glossy frame and have never waxed your bike, you may notice streaking or a cloudiness to the finish. Waxing your bike helps eliminate the streaking and cloudy finish.
Bikes typically come in two types of finishes, glossy and matte.  The different types of finishes require the application of different protectant coatings.


Although most bikes are made from either aluminum or carbon fiber frames, the wax we use comes from the car detailing industry and our friends at Detailed Image. This same wax can be used on your steel or titanium frame as well.
Your first step is to apply the Optima No Rinse to the frame. you can do this either through a spray bottle or by applying the No Rinse onto a rag and using the rag to wipe down the frame, using enough to make the frame look wet. With a clean rag, dry the frame completely.
Next, apply the Meguiar’s M205 polish to the polishing pad. Dab a small amount of polish onto the various parts of the frame. Then use the pad to work the polish onto the entire frame. Use a circular motion to work the polish in. The polish is fully applied once you no longer see any obtuse coating or streaking from the application. The finish will feel a bit rough and waxy to the touch.
Now wipe off the polish with another clean cotton rag. Use circular motions again to remove the wax. You have removed all of the wax when the finish is smooth to the touch.
Although it seems repetitive, the next step is to use the Meguiar’s Final Inspection Spray to remove any missed wax. Again, you can either apply the spray directly to the frame or to a rag. Either way, use a clean rag to apply the Spray to the entire frame. Then wipe it down with another clean, dry rag.
The last step is to apply the Blackfire Wet Diamond to get the final shine and protection. Apply the Blackfire to another clean rag and wipe down the entire frame. Then use a second rag as a final way to remove any residue from the frame. Finally, use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the entire frame.
If you take a picture of your frame before and after the waxing, you’ll notice a huge difference in the shine of your bike. You’ll also notice your bike stays cleaner, longer as you continue to ride throughout the season.


Having a bike with a matte finish requires different treatment than a gloss finish.  Matte finishes scratch more easily and tend to trap dirt more readily.  To keep your ride looking its best and get it ready to accept the matte wax, we recommend using Chemical Guys Meticulous Matte from our friends at Detailed Image.
Working with a matte finish requires the softest cloths to ensure you don’t scratch the finish as you clean, wax or dry your bike.  Always use a microfiber cloth to dry or detail your bike.
After your bike is clean, or in-between washes, use Chemical Guy’s Meticulous Matte Detail Spray.
Spray the detail sealant onto a microfiber cloth and wipe the entire bike down.  This gets any remaining dirt and grime off of your bike’s frame and gets it ready to accept the sealant.
Once you’ve wiped down the entire frame, its time to seal the finish.  Sealing the finish keeps the mud and dust from collecting on the finish. To seal the finish, we recommend Chemical Guys Jetseal Matte.
Again, place a dab on a second microfiber cloth and work it into the finish.  Let the wax sit for 20 minutes.  Then use another microfiber cloth to wipe the wax off to finish.
That’s it, you’re done.  It’s now time to get out there and get it dirty again!


This wash and wax is also a great final wash of the season if you are putting your bike away for winter. When you pull it back out in the spring, all you will need to do is wipe it of with the microfiber cloth and apply a new round of lube to the chain. The T-9 applied above does a great job at protecting your chain from rusting or seizing while in storage.


Whether you just got a new bike, or have been riding the same steed for years, a good wash and wax can make your ride look brand new and sparkle in the sun!