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How To Change Motorcycle Brake Pads In 4 Easy Steps

Motorcycle brake pads need to be changed regularly to maintain their efficiency, and learning how to change them can save a lot of money that would otherwise be paid to a repair shop. It may seem complex at first but is relatively easy to change your motorcycle brake pads.

The 4 easy steps for changing motorcycle brake pads are:

  1. Dismantle the brake caliper from the wheel
  2. Remove the old brake pads
  3. Fit the new brake pads into the brake caliper
  4. Assemble the brake caliper onto the wheel

If it seems simple, that’s because it is. Doing it the first time can be a struggle, but after that it becomes much easier than you would expect to be possible! Keep reading as below we take a look at the most efficient way to change motorcycle brake pads.

How To Know When To Change Your Motorcycle’s Brake Pads

Worn brake pads exhibit telltale signs that they need changing in a number of ways. The most important sign is when your motorcycle takes longer to stop, and the brakes just don’t have the same stopping power that they used to. This usually happens when there is a loss of friction between the brake pad and the metal rotor because the brake pad has lost its surface characteristics.

The easiest way to tell that the brake pads are worn out is when you can feel the brakes losing their stopping power. The squeeze on the brake lever that used to bring the motorcycle to a dead halt now slows it down. At this point, the correct choice is to get a new set of brake pads and fit them.

Another common sign is when the brakes make a squeaking noise when they are applied. This happens when the brake pad material has been highly compressed from a lot of use and has become polished and shiny. Some people try to clean them or lightly sandpaper the pad surface to take off the shine. This is a short-term measure that may work for some time, but the best fix is to change the pads.

Anti-Squeal Compound

Anti-squeal compound is sold as a spray, paste, and liquid at a very low price. This has to be applied very carefully so as not to degrade the performance of the brakes. It will eliminate any squeal from the brakes but should not be used with new brake pads. This isn’t a permanent fix and works until it wears off, after which it may have to be applied again.

The best cure for brake squeal is to replace the brake pads and ideally resurface the brake rotor if there is any damage to it. Any pad-mounting clips and anti-rattle shims should be replaced at the same time.

Visual Signs That The Brake Pads Need To Be Replaced

If you open out the brake caliper then you can see the brake pad thickness. Typically, if the pad thickness is 2 millimeters or 1/16 of an inch or less, it needs to be changed immediately. Brake pads have a wear indicator groove so that a visual inspection will reveal their condition.

Some brake pads have grooves cut into them so that as they are used, the material above the groove gets worn out and the pad becomes level so that the grooves are no longer visible. When this happens, it means that new brake pads have to be fitted.

Fit A Brake Wear Indicator

A brake pad wear indicator is quite cheap costing below $20 and could be the best purchase you ever made. It is designed to inform you as soon as the brake pads are worn down below a critical level by switching on a light on the instrument cluster. A special sensor cable needs to be purchased and fitted to trigger the light. When the warning light comes on, buy a set of new brake pads and fit them.

The Cost Of Not Changing The Brake Pads

Changing the brake pads when they have worn down is the right decision since the cost of not changing them is much higher. A brake pad that is worn to its backing plate exposes the brake rotor to it. The brake pad backing plate rubbing against the brake rotor eventually creates grooves in the rotor which is a very expensive part to replace. A scored rotor is going to lead to deteriorated brakes.

Things To Do Before Changing Your Motorcycle’s Brake Pads

Everyone gets so intent on changing the brake pads that it becomes easy to overlook the mechanical parts surrounding the brake caliper. As the motorcycle is used and the brake pads get worn out the entire assembly picks up a large amount of dust and dirt that needs to be removed at every chance you get.

Since you are going to open out the brake caliper, this is an ideal time to inspect it and remove any grime that has accumulated. Keep a soft toothbrush and some cleaner handy so that after you remove the brake caliper, you can remove the dirt that has caked on the inside of the assembly.

A good general-purpose spray such as WD-40 can be used. Spray some of it on the parts that need cleaning and give it some time before scrubbing it with the toothbrush. The grime that has come unstuck can be removed by wiping it with a cloth.

Clean The Brake Rotors

The brakes are able to stop the motorcycle by slowing down the wheel rotation. This is accomplished through the friction between the brake pad and the brake rotor. If the rotor is not squeaky clean, then the brake performance will be diminished. Check for worn-out brake rotors first and replace them if they are worn.

If the brake rotors have no signs of excessive wear, then the next step is to clean them thoroughly. Take a soft cloth and spray WD-40 onto it. Then use the cloth to wipe the area of the brake rotor that the brake pad is going to come into contact with. This simple step can do wonders to improve brake performance even with worn brake pads.

Very often the brake rotor has grease, oil, or brake fluid on it, that has attracted dust on top. Any anti-corrosion coating also attracts dirt that has to be removed using the WD-40 and toothbrush. Until the coating has worn off, it needs to be cleaned regularly.

4 Easy Steps To Change Motorcycle Brake Pads

1. Dismantle The Brake Caliper From The Wheel

On many of the newer motorcycle models, this step may not be required as it is possible to change the brake pads without removing the brake caliper. It is preferable to open it as you can then inspect it for grime and clean other parts that need your attention. If your motorcycle requires the brake caliper removed, then locate the bolts that hold it in place and remove them.

2. Remove The Old Brake Pads

Once you have separated the brake caliper from the wheel, look for the bolts holding the brake pads in place. Usually, these will be Allen key bolts also known as Allen screws, or Allen bolts. Use the correct size of Allen key to open the bolts after which the brake pad slides out easily.

3. Fit The New Brake Pads Into The Brake Caliper

Remove the new brake pads from their packing and carefully note which pad goes on the front and which one fits on the rear. Insert them into their slots and fit the Allen key bolts to hold them in place. Ensure that the bolts are tightened properly so that the new brake pads are ready to use.

4. Assemble The Brake Caliper Onto The Wheel

At this point, your new brake pads are fitted inside the brake caliper, so before fitting it back, it is time for a quick check to ensure that the surrounding parts are clean and cotter pins have been correctly fitted. After fitting the brake caliper back, test the brake by spinning the wheel with your hand and then use the brake to stop it.

This is a good time to check your finished re-assembled brake caliper with the photos you took with your phone camera before you started. Any cables and wires have to be routed as they were before changing the brake pads.

Should Both Front And Rear Brake Pads Be Replaced At The Same Time?

Front and rear brake pads should generally be replaced at the same time. As most riders use both the front and rear brakes when stopping, they will wear out relatively evenly and need replaced at the same time. This may not be true if the rider uses one brake a lot more frequently than the other.

Replacement of brake pads is necessary only when they have worn down to their danger level or are not working up to their usual level of performance. A rider who favors using the rear brake will find that the rear brake pads get worn much faster while the front brake pads are as good as new. The front brake has more stopping power but has to be used very carefully to avoid skidding.

Most riders use a combination of both brakes, starting with the rear brake, and then as the bike starts slowing down, use the front brake as well. This is the correct way to apply the brakes as it allows both brakes to be used evenly to bring the motorcycle to a smooth stop. For riders who are habituated to using both brakes to stop, the ideal is to change both front and rear brake pads at the same time.

Even though the front brake pads may not get worn out as fast as the rear pads, this method of braking requires both sets of brakes to be used simultaneously and to be in good condition meaning replacing both sets is the best way to keep your brakes working correctly.

The Importance Of Using Both Brakes

When the brakes are applied the weight of the motorcycle shifts forward, compressing the front suspension and applying pressure onto the front wheel. This gives the front wheel its maximum grip and if the rider presses the front brakes too hard the front wheel can lock completely while the rear wheel is still trying to rotate forward.

On a light motorcycle the back wheel can lift off the ground very slightly but sufficient to neutralize its braking effect. At this point, there is a chance of skiddingwhich can lead to a fall. This is the reason why most driving schools suggest braking by using the rear brake first then only using the front brake as well. At slower speeds, using only one brake does not make much of a difference.

During a slow turn, using the front brake should be avoided especially when the handlebar is turned. At this time braking has to be progressively controlled by using the rear brake only. On lighter motorcycles, it is estimated that the front brake does 70% of the braking. In a traffic jam, or in a small space, is when the rear brakes have to be used to the maximum.

How Often Should You Change Brake Pads On A Motorcycle?

Brake pads need to be changed about every 3,000 miles (4,800 km) but it may be better to change them as soon as you find that your brake performance has degraded. Brake pads wear out faster when the motorcycle is ridden on wet and dirty roads, while in dry conditions they last much longer.

The Factors That Determine How Fast The Brake Pads Wear Out

The lifespan of brake pads is supposed to be 20,000 miles in theory, but in practice can vary greatly depending on the bike, the riding conditions, and how often the brakes are applied. Riding in conditions that require constant application of the brakes contributes to excessive brake use. The type of brake pads used also influences how often they need to be changed.

Some riders are in the habit of using the rear brakes more often while others like to use the front brakes, and some use a combination of front and back brakes for more even braking. Irrespective of which brake is favored, the fact is that it is going to wear out faster. Heavy bikes need more stopping power, so their brake pads are prone to wear out much faster as compared to lightweight bikes.

Motorcycles that are used for commuting to a place of work experience faster brake pad wear caused by frequent application of the brakes in heavy traffic. Brake pads can wear out much faster if they are not accurately aligned with the rotor. In practice, it is not possible to get perfect alignment so there will always be some extra wear.

Types Of Motorcycle Brake Pads

1. Organic Brake Pads

Organic brake pads also known as ceramic brake pads are constructed from resin mixed with rubber, silicon, or Kevlar. These pads heat up less and make less noise but wear out much more easily. These are best used for sport bikes which don’t require a lot of braking power. They stop the motorcycle faster although being unsuitable for wet and dirty conditions.

They are ideal for summer riding in dry areas as long as the temperature isn’t too extreme. Over time the pads become polished and glazed which happens more often after a lot of constant braking. The glazing can be removed by taking out the brake pads, then lightly sandpaper them before fitting them back.

These brake pads wear out faster, so it is recommended to change them more frequently. Of all the brake pads these are the cheapest, but also need to be changed more often which needs to be taken into account. This also varies with the fitting of the brake pads and the brand used.

2. Sintered Brake Pads

Sintered brake pads are more durable than organic brake pads and are ideal for use in wet and muddy conditions. They are made from a mix of metal particles that are pressed together and can withstand higher temperatures making them preferable for continuous use. These brake pads need some warm-up before they get their optimal grip and can be noisy.

Sintered brake pads are more expensive than organic brake pads, but it needs to be considered that even though they do not need replacement as often they wear down the brake rotor faster. They are superior in that they have more stopping power and can be used in very demanding conditions and will never glaze or need to be opened out.

3. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

Semi-metallic brake pads are made from both metallic particles and organic compounds such as fiberglass and resin to gain the advantages of both organic and sintered pads. These pads are more expensive and can apply more stopping power. Since they contain organic compounds, they do glaze over but don’t need any warm-up time.

The addition of metal particles makes them suitable for use in wet weather and to withstand high temperatures. Compared to organic pads they last longer as well and are an ideal choice for a number of riding environments and riding styles.

Combined Braking Systems And Anti-lock Braking Systems

Both of these braking systems use complex electronics with hydraulics to regulate the amount of force that each brake applies. Any motorcycle that uses these systems needs to replace the brake pads of both wheels at the same time to ensure optimal performance.

Combined Braking Systems

A combined braking system also known as linked brakes is a system for linking both the brakes on a motorcycle so that the rider can use both brakes at the same time using one lever or foot pedal. The amount of force applied to each brake can be adjusted individually.

In 1983, Honda introduced the first street motorcycle to feature a combined braking system in their Honda Gold Wing 1100. Later motorcycles use electronic control circuits to distribute the pressure proportionately between the front and back wheels. BMW has a system whereby the front brake lever operates both the front and rear brakes, but the brake foot pedal operates the rear brake only.

These systems have evolved considerably with sensors to measure the amount of force being exerted on each brake and complex hydraulics with valves to precisely control the amount of pressure applied to the brake pads. These systems have trickled down to sport motorcycles using older brake drum mechanisms. In this type of controlled braking, both sets of brake pads have to be changed at the same time.

Anti-lock Braking Systems

Some motorcycles use anti-lock braking systems which are also known as ABS. When the rider uses excessive brake force this system keeps the wheels from locking up and skidding. This system has evolved from its use on aircraft wheels to the motorcycle where it claims to reduce stopping distance by 30% in both normal and wet conditions, which is a notable achievement.

This system uses electronics with a few sensors attached to the wheel to measure a few parameters. This includes the wheel rotational speed, brake pressure, temperature, and motorcycle speed. Due to its complexity and cost, this system is usually found on high-end motorcycles where it can help the rider considerably and is coupled with electronic stability control systems.

If it detects that the wheel is rotating more slowly than the motorcycle which is animpending precursor of a skid, it steps in between by adjusting the hydraulic valves that control the brake to take control of the bike and restore stability. If the ABS detects any fault in itself, it gives up control of the brakes and hands it over to the rider.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace Motorcycle Brake Pads?

It can cost anywhere from $100 to $200 to replace motorcycle brake pads at a repair shop depending on the model of motorcycle. The actual brake pads cost between $10 to $80. Brake pads are manufactured from different materials ranging from fiber to Kevlar, and mixtures of resin with carbon fiber.

At a professional repair shop, the labor cost is about $50 to $100 depending on the motorcycle and the complexity involved in changing the brake pads. The brake pads are available in a large variety of materials from different manufacturers at a range of prices, so it is up to you to select the right one. Every brand of brake pad has its specifications printed on the packing label.

Brake pads have to withstand high temperatures and a lot of friction with the metal rotor of the wheel without wearing out very fast, so are made from special compounds that are pressed together or bonded using resin and other materials. Copper, iron, graphite, steel, and other metal alloys are commonly used to manufacture brake pads.

Is It Safe To Change Motorcycle Brake Pads Yourself?

It is safe to change motorcycle brake pads yourself if you have some experience with motorcycle maintenance. It is a simple task that takes up very little time. Familiarity in using certain tools is a must, along with a bit of common sense. The only tools needed are spanners and Allen keys.

The most crucial part of fitting the brake pads is to ensure that the pads have been fitted properly and their holding bolts have been tightened. Usually, an Allen key is used to tighten these bolts, so use the correct size to tighten it. Once this is done, spin the wheel by hand and press the brake lever to see how fast the wheel stops. This simple test can detect if it has been correctly fitted.

If you are using tools for the first time, then familiarize yourself with them first and how they are used. Do not attempt to do this on your own unless you have some prior experience. If this is your first time, then ensure that you have the supervision of a company-certified mechanic for your brand of motorcycle. Any mistakes can be fatal to the rider and those on the road nearby.

I Fit New Brake Pads But The Brakes Aren’t As Good As Before

It can take a few hundred miles before the new brake pads get their optimal grip because the brake pad surface will not be exactly flush with the wheel rim. If you have fitted them correctly, once they set they will work as good as new. If required, open the brake caliper and verify that you have fitted the brake pads with the correct side facing the brake rotor and that the rotor is clean.

Another possibility is that the brake fluid has leaked out from a loose hose and needs to be topped up or that brake oil is low. Disc brakes use brake oil to magnify the force applied by pulling the brake lever and transmit it to the caliper piston. Any air in the brake line will lessen the force applied by the caliper piston. Your best solution is to get it repaired at a certified company repair shop.

Ifit is not stored properly brake fluid can deteriorate with time by absorbing water thereby losing its effectiveness. It needs to be flushed out and new fluid of the correct specifications has to be filled in to restore brake performance. The most likely reason, however, is that the brakes need to be adjusted properly.

My New Brake Pads Are In, Now What?

It will take some time for the new brake pads to get set before they can provide braking power. This will happen as soon as the brake pads have maximum surface contact with the brake rotor at which point, they get their optimum grip through friction. Be patient as this happens slowly and can take a few hundred miles after which they will work normally.

As you ride the bike with the new brake pads stay away from heavy braking and emergency braking for at least 200 miles (if possible). This is to give the new pads the chance to wear down according to the rotor. Organic brake pads will exhibit a sizable improvement in performance after a few cycles of heating and cooling because of the effect on their resin base.

Braking at high speed is going to glaze the brake pads so allow them to set before doing any aggressive riding. If the brakes start squealing with new brake pads you can apply an anti-squeal compound. If you squeeze the brake levers smoothly, you will find that at reasonably low speeds the new brake pads can restore the enjoyment of riding a motorcycle.

Final Thoughts

Changing your motorcycle brake pads is best left to professional mechanics unless you are experienced in using basic tools and familiar with the brake caliper. It is very satisfying to be able to change the brake pads on your motorcycle yourself to enjoy the improvement in braking that new brake pads provide, plus the extra benefit is the money saved in repair charges.