Whether your brakes are sticking, grinding or just not giving you the stopping power you need, it’s time to pull into the garage and take a look at your disc brakes. If you’re rocking a race bike then you may want to service your disc brakes even if they still seem to be performing well. Here’s a step-by-step guide to all the disc brake maintenance you need. Learn how to adjust rear disc brakes, spot signs of bad brakes and replace your worn-out brakes easily.
Just like your car or truck, a motorcycle uses disc brakes for improved stopping power. Motorcycle disk brakes use the same basic components as a car’s disc brakes:
- Brake Pads
- Brake fluid
It’s important to understand which component needs to be replaced and which one still has some mileage in it. Replacing your entire disc brake assembly is significantly more expensive than topping up brake fluid or adding a few new pads.
Once you press down on your brakes, your brake fluid presses the caliper, which forces the brake pad onto your rotor. This allows your bike to brake quickly and gives you plenty of control. However, it means that each component is critical to proper braking.
Signs of Damaged or Worn-Out Brakes
Here are a few signs that you may need to swap out your brake pads or perform other maintenance needs. First you need to understand a few warning signs your bike may be giving you.
Air or other fluid in your brake lines is the most affordable damage to fix. If your brakes feel squishy or unresponsive, check your brake fluid. If your brake pads are reasonably new, there’s a chance that it’s simply an issue with your lines. Milky brake fluid is a sign there’s a coolant leak, and air bubbles are always a bad sign. Bleed your brake fluid and replace it to fix these issues.
More often than not, the damage is worn-out brake pads. Brake pads are the heavy hitters when it comes to your disc brakes, so they take a heavy beating during routine riding. If your brakes are squealing sticking or just not working the way they used to, follow these steps to determine whether you need new brake pads or a full disc brake replacement.
Removing Your Disc Brakes
First, you need to remove your calipers. While your front brakes may take more beating, it’s a good idea to check both the front and the back. Follow any manufacturer’s instructions. Some brake systems, like full contact disc brakes, have a very different setup than other brake systems.
Take the main bolts off that connect your calipers and forks. Floating disc brakes allow the calipers to pivot around and make sure that pressure is evenly distributed across the entire pad. Slide the calipers off and inspect your brake pad material.
You’re looking for any obvious signs of wear and tear. Thin pads, particularly less than 1/8 inch, need to be replaced. Chipped, cracked or unevenly worn pads also should be retired and replaced with OEM or aftermarket options.
Installing New Brakes
Start shopping for motorcycle brakes and control. Aftermarket brakes are rated based on their lifetime, warranty and performance. Consider brakes designed not only for your particular bike but also your specific riding style. Street cruisers, motocross fanatics and sportbikes all use brakes in slightly different ways. For a go-to option, replace your brake pads with identical OEM components.
The first step is the easiest; simply place the pads back in place and tighten them and the calipers. It’s a good idea to bring out your torque wrench for these steps, otherwise you may see your brake pads bouncing down the road as you careen around tight corners without brakes.
After it’s all been put back together, you need to bleed your brakes, fill up your brake fluid reservoir and force all the air out of the system. Once your brake lines are pressurized and your reservoir is topped up it’s time to test out those babies.
Maintaining Your Brakes
Most disc brakes are self-adjusting. However, if you need a rear disc brake adjustment, this procedure is highly specific to your particular bike. You want them tight enough that you have some stopping power but loose enough to avoid any drag. It’s a guess-and-check game, but simple to tighten and loosen the adjuster with a wrench.
While it isn’t as common as worn-out brake pads, your motorcycle may need new rotors and calipers. Here are a few steps to ensure your calipers and pads are up to par and ready for the road, race track or open trail.
Rotors have a minimum thickness, which is usually stamped directly onto the rotor itself. Inspect the thickness of your rotors and look for any large cracks. Your rotors are designed to be scuffed and scraped, but a missing piece or a completely mangled rotor is best replaced.
Calipers can either be fixed or floating. The biggest sign of a bad caliper is drag. If your brakes are squealing, sticking or not as responsive as you like, you may have an issue with your calipers. More often than not, you won’t have to throw the entire caliper into the garbage. Instead, most issues are caused by a dirty caliper, worn-out slide pin or cracked bracket.
Keep Your Stopping Power
With all the motorcycle brake pads types and riding styles out there, it’s difficult to give any hard-and-fast rules about disc brake tech. For serious racers, brake pad and rotor replacements should be part of a consistent maintenance schedule to ensure rock-hard stops and responsive brakes around hairpin turns.
For most die-hard riders, occasional brake inspection is a great place to start. Keep an eye on your brakes and brake fluid. Low brake fluid is a good sign that you may need to replace your brake pads too.
Choose your favorite brake pad style and get ready to stop on a dime. There’s nothing worse than faulty brakes when you need them, so invest in the performance, power and safety of your bike and ride hard with confidence.