Some cyclists claim they can get over 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) out of the brake pads on their bicycle. Others complain that the pads require replacement after fewer than 100 miles.
Many factors play a role in determining the lifespan of bicycle brake pads. How long bicycle brake pads last depends on the type of brakes, the cyclist’s braking and riding habits, weather conditions, and more.
Although the focus of this article is on disc brakes, one must first understand that bikes generally use two different types of brake systems: rim brake pads and disc brake pads.
Different Brake Types: Rim vs. Disc
Rim Brake Pads
V-brakes or cantilever in design, these brakes have pads that clamp onto the rim to stop the bike. They need to be replaced when the grooves or ‘teeth’ have worn down and before they disappear.
Disc Brake Pads
Disc brakes have become the most common type of brake pad on many bike models. These pads usually have about 3 to 4 millimeters of compound that force the bike to slow down or stop. When a cyclist applies the brakes on a bike with disc brakes, the pads press against the spinning rotor.
When Should Disc Brake Pads Be Replaced?
A variety of factors influence the wear and tear that disc brake pads endure. These factors are addressed below. If you notice that the pad appears thin or worn, seems unresponsive, squeals loudly, or stops unevenly, you should inspect the brakes.
After inspection, if the current brakes fail to perform, they should be replaced by you or by a capable technician. If the bike brake pads have worn down to less than 1.5 millimeters, they should be replaced. If they have less than 1 millimeter of thickness, the pads need to be changed immediately.
8 Factors That Affect Disc Brake Pads
1. Type of Disc Brakes Selected
A cyclist may select from three types of disc brakes: organic resin, sintered metallic, or semi-metallic.
Organic Resin Pads
Bound together with resin, organic brake pads offer a quieter, better initial response in lower temperature settings. Organic compounds used in these softer pads tend to generate less heat and noise when a cyclist applies the brakes. They’re a great option for those who usually ride their bikes in dry conditions and along level surfaces.
Resin pads usually wear out more quickly and require regular inspection. Dirtier, wetter, and hotter conditions will have an adverse effect on the performance of organic resin pads. In extreme heat, resin pads can glaze over. Moisture, dirt and extreme mountain terrain will degrade their function.
Sintered Metallic Brake Pads
Although noisier, these pads composed of metallic particles tend to last longer and stop better when used in extreme conditions. Sintered brake pads handle higher temperatures, wetter conditions, and dirtier terrain better than resin pads do. These durable brakes work better once they get warm. They transfer greater amounts of heat to the calipers, but are not likely to glaze.
Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
These pads strike a balance between the advantages of resin and sintered disc brakes. With both metallic particles and organic compounds, they offer better predictability and warm up quicker than sintered pads. These pads provide greater durability for wet-weather riding and uneven terrain than organic pads. Semi-metallic pads usually cost more.
2. Brake Pad Quality
Similar to any product on the market—including bicycles, tires, and protective gear—different brake pads have varying quality levels. Inexpensive pads manufactured by lesser-known companies may be available at a bargain price. However, they may have inferior or low-quality materials, less durability, or other characteristics that will require their replacement more quickly than expected. They may also pose safety concerns if they offer uneven performance.
3. Cyclist’s Braking Habits
How a cyclist applies the brakes and the frequency they are used have a large impact on their longevity. A parallel exists between bicycle brakes and brakes on a motorized vehicle. If a driver keeps their foot on the brake pedal for an extended period of time, riding the brakes will lead to drums and pads overheating and deteriorating. Abrupt or excessive braking due to terrain, traffic, weather conditions, or personal habits will accelerate the deterioration of cycle brake pads.
4. Cyclist’s Riding Habits
How hard a person rides their bicycle will have an impact on the brake pads and many other components. Going slower rather than applying the brakes for turns and curves puts less pressure on the pads. Using the brakes lightly and occasionally rather than firmly and frequently plays a role in prolonging the life of brake pads. Refrain from leaning forward while braking in order to maintain balance between the front and rear brake.
5. Cyclist’s Weight
Rider weight will affect wear and tear on brake pads. It takes more effort to slow down a bike with a heavier rider, especially when riding downhill or on a downward slope.
6. Regular Maintenance Practices
The frequency of use and maintenance practices play a pivotal role in increasing the longevity of disc brake pads. A cyclist who frequently commutes on their bike will get a feel for how it handles, similar to the way a driver will notice slight variations in the steering wheel, engine performance, and handling of vehicular brakes.
Those who regularly use their bikes or take them on longer rides should get into the practice of visually inspecting the brakes at least once weekly, and probably more frequently than that. While carefully inspecting the brake pads, the cyclist should note the presence of any gravel or other debris, and clean as needed. Check pad alignment on the rotor to assure the caliper is properly centered and that no rotor friction occurs unless the brakes are engaged.
Less-frequently-used bicycles should be fully inspected before use to ensure proper tire pressure, brake alignment, and operation of other features. Any metal-on-metal contact between the rotor and pad’s support requires immediate attention.
The type of terrain you ride your bicycle on will impact wear and tear on the disc brakes. Smooth, paved, flat pathways provide better road conditions than dirt, gravel, unpaved, hilly or bumpy terrain. Mountain paths have the greatest impact on wearing down a bicycle’s brakes. Even smooth surfaces will have an adverse effect on disc brake pads if the pavement has a lot of debris or road salt. Unpaved smooth surfaces such as abrasive red clay will wreak havoc on bike brakes.
As a rule of thumb, brakes on a mountain bike used on rough, varying terrain will deteriorate more quickly than brakes on a standard road bike operating along a paved path with a level surface or areas with only slight undulations. Extreme downhill mountain biking exacts a greater toll than cross-country biking along established mountain trails.
An avid cyclist does not let a little change in the weather affect their cycling schedule. Hot or cold, sunny or rainy conditions, some people enjoy their bikes for recreation or commute regularly throughout the year. Other active cyclists may put greater impact on their bikes during a particular season or prefer sunny weather. They may even encounter a little rain along the way.
Certain disc brake pad options perform better in different climates. People who ride long distances throughout the year in areas that experience substantial seasonal fluctuations should consider changing pads to maximize their performance.
Rain and Moisture
Wet conditions deteriorate brake pads. Moisture affects performance, as does the presence of mud, gravel and grit that may get into the rotor, rim and pads. Similar to operating a motorized vehicle, try to slow down earlier and avoid abrupt use of the brakes whenever possible. Inspect and clean areas around the brakes after riding through very wet conditions, especially if on unpaved and uneven surfaces. Dry weather conditions tend to prolong the average lifespan of disc brake pads.
Winter months in colder areas pose a variety of challenges. Ice, sleet, slush and snow make cycling a challenge, if not outright dangerous. For those who have other options, the bike may get a break. Those who choose or need to ride in wintery conditions must pay greater attention to wear and tear on brake pads, keep the areas clean, and remove any accumulation of road salt or debris.
Applying your brakes generates heat friction. This heat becomes more intense during hotter weather, putting greater tension on organic resin pads. Sintered metallic disc brakes work better in warmer conditions and on uneven terrain.