Is it a revolution? A fad? What’s going on with brake calipers these days, and why are so many people excited about new ones? If you’re wondering what’s going on beyond the buzz when it comes to the new designs for radial brakes, there are a few things you need to understand to get what’s important, what’s just chatter, and what’s flat-out misinformation. There are revolutionary performance gains being made by some brake designs, but the facts of the situation are more complex than a lot of the coverage lets on.

Radial vs. Perpendicular Calipers

So, the first thing to understand is that radial mount calipers are not new to the world of motorcycle design. In fact, radial mount brake calipers have been the standard in most bike designs for a long time, in contrast to the automobile design that usually mounts the brake caliper perpendicular to the rotor. For most of the history of these two types of brakes, performance differences between them have been very negligible. 

There are some changes to pad wear characteristics between the two that make classic radial mounted calipers a little more consistent when it comes to pad wear, but even a slight misalignment can eliminate this edge. What makes new radial mount caliper design characteristics different is the combination of new materials and an approach to the design that changes the game.

Digging Into the Performance Features of New Calipers

So, if the radial mount design is not the thing that’s making a difference, why are today’s radial brake designs showing such great improvements over prior generations of brakes? The answer lies in two things these new generation brakes focus on, and they actually have little to do with the mount design. 

The first is caliper stiffness. This has a major influence on deflection in the performance of the brakes under real-world conditions, and the differences between various original equipment designs and the aftermarket performance designs are immense. There are also big differences between various original equipment manufacturers, leading some riders with more than one OEM to choose from with a serious quality assessment to make.

The second big difference in the new radial mounted caliper designs has to do with the pad design, which has a tremendous impact on the functional efficiency of the calipers, just as caliper design has a huge impact on the braking power of pads. New pad designs are incorporating mechanics like multi-piston actions that eliminate pad taper and provide more consistent wear. The increased surface area improves braking power and the even wear prevents early brake pad failure, so you get a lot more work from each pad.

So, What? Is It Time To Avoid Radial Calipers?

Don’t think that saying the radial design doesn’t contribute directly to enhanced performance is the same thing as saying it isn’t working. Radial brakes have been a great design for motorcycles for decades, because the arrangement of parts in most bike designs would not allow for a perpendicular caliper that delivers the same results at the same price point. The overall performance when all other factors is about equal between the brake designs.

What’s important is that you look past whether these are radial designs or not, and if your bike is one that calls for a perpendicular mount on the caliper, you don’t need to reverse engineer it to get the results you want out of your braking performance. What you need to do is to look for the innovations in caliper stiffness and pad design that the best aftermarket radical designs deliver and see what’s available with those features in a fit for your motorcycle. That way, you’re getting the advantages of the most actively beneficial design innovations in a way that is efficient and effective for you.

Choosing High Performance Calipers

If you’re looking for a good example of the kinds of innovations that really matter in a radial mounted caliper design, you need look no further than what Tokico put on the 2003 Kawasaki Ultra ZX6R/RR. While there have been innovations that bring even better performance features since then, this 15-year-old breakthrough is still the benchmark for top-tier brake design today, with its separately articulating pistons and its sharp design.

More modern examples of performance brakes and their associated parts include:

  • Biker’s Choice makes a sharp four piston pad and caliper pair that delivers today’s material science alongside best practices for performance brake design
  • Moos Racing delivers calipers and a corresponding line of rebuild kits designed to help you make the most of your parts with less waste so you can avoid the big repairs down the road
  • K&L caliper pistons deliver replacements for individual pistons that articulate cleanly and work with a variety of motorcycle models

What Performance Level Do You Need?

While there’s a lot to be said for upgraded brakes, the OEM designs on most modern motorcycles and dirt bikes are nothing to scoff at. More often than not, they reflect the best practices for performance builds, they just have some trade-offs for cost containment. The example of the breakthrough Tokico design was for an original motorcycle part, after all. On the other hand, performance or race-rated parts will give you a lot more when you ask for it. The question is, will you ask for it?

If you ride hard regularly, either because you are off-road a lot or you’re covering a lot of ground, then higher performance parts will likely yield very noticeable results for you, either in the quality of life you experience as a result of the upgrade or in the extra longevity it brings to the part. If you’re a weekend warrior who only occasionally gets out or you ride in a way that avoids putting strain on the motorcycle, you might not actually notice a difference if you upgrade past the original equipment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it means you’re running your motorcycle without asking it to overwork. It just means you might not get the improvements you hear about when you upgrade to a higher tier part.

Whether it’s performance upgrades or new OEM motorcycle brake calipers, you need selection to be able to find the best price on the best fit for your bike and riding style. That’s why you need to check out the biggest curated collection of gear and parts online.