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Full throttle (brake): types, materials and maintenance

Full throttle (brake): types, materials and maintenance

The correct functioning of disc brakes depends on the good condition of the brake pads. A fundamental piece of the system that suffers wear and tear and must be changed periodically. We recommend that you know the types of pads on the market, their composition and materials, their maintenance... All of these issues are necessary to guarantee perfect performance.

Brake pads: what they are like and their function

The pads are small pieces made of metal or organic compounds that are installed inside the brake caliper, one for each face or side of the disc. They are held with a small metal support. The pads serve as a friction element between the brake caliper and the disc surface. They allow powerful, progressive and block-free braking. A pill consists of three distinct parts:
  1. Support. It is the metallic part, which can be made of steel, aluminum, titanium or ceramic material (the latter better dissipates the heating of the compound). It serves as a base to glue the compound.
  2. Composite. It is the part that, pressed by the pistons of the brake caliper, touches the surface of the disc to reduce or stop the movement of the wheel. It is a millimeter-thick sheet, the material of which determines the nature of the braking (more modulated or drier) and the wear of the pad itself.
  3. Spring or leaf spring. It is a small metal piece that joins the pair of pickups to either side of the disc. It keeps them separated inside the caliper and makes them easy to remove to check their wear, or replace them with new ones.
Brake pads In addition, there are specific models with metal fins, generally made of aluminum. Inserts that prevent overheating of the pads, allowing braking efficiency not to be lost after intense use.

What are the pills made of? Types of compounds

There is no universal standard regarding the composition of pills. Brake brands (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo, Magura, Hayes, etc.) offer them in various materials, which enhance certain braking properties or delay the wear of the pads due to friction. We can classify cycling disc brake pads according to their duration:

Short-life / organic

They are made with organic compounds, such as graphite or aramid, and other inorganic ones (carbon or fiberglass), although they are generally known as organic or resin tablets. Its surface is soft and low density, which provides powerful and modulated braking, in addition to being quite silent. However, their wear is faster than pads made with other materials. They are the most economical.

Long lasting / metallic

Better known as metallic or sintered pads. In its manufacture, metals such as copper, zinc or iron are used, which are compacted by heat. The result is a denser, harder tablet that better resists high temperatures. Their wear is less and they last longer. On the other hand, braking is not as precise and progressive as with organic ones.


Organic and metallic: these are the main categories that identify the pills on the market. But there are specific models that add elements and materials of both. The objective, to obtain mixed pills for changing situations.
📺 In this video you have good information about brake pads. [embed][/embed]

Frequently asked questions about brake pads

As it is a periodically changed bicycle part, doubts often arise about its replacement, wear, maintenance, etc.

How long does a brake pad last?

Bicycle disc brake pads have an approximate useful life of 6 and 12 months. But everything will depend on the use of the cyclist and the assembly of the bike. The type of brake, the material of the pads, the greater or lesser use of the brakes, etc. will influence.

How often do you have to change the brake pads?

If you ride frequently, we recommend an annual check of your bike's brakes. You can take the opportunity to change the pads. In demanding cycling modalities, such as MTB in its different modalities, the replacement period should be shortened by six months. Especially if Enduro or Downhill is your thing.

How do you know if a pad is worn out?

Squeaking noises when braking are the clearest symptom of a worn or contaminated pad. Loss of feel or power may also indicate wear, which will require a change to avoid damage to the surface of the disc.

How to check its wear?

The thickness of the compound will have to be inspected and measured with a ruler or caliper if necessary, previously removing the pair of pads. If it is less than 1 mm, or its surface shows uneven wear, it will be necessary to change them.
If the thickness of the compound is less than 1 mm, or its wear is uneven, you should think about changing pads.
It will be necessary to inspect both the wear of the pad itself (thickness of the compound) and the cleanliness of its surface. On the other hand, you must verify that the surface does not have dirt, traces of grease, brake fluid, etc. If so, the pill will be contaminated. If the dirt is not excessive, it can be cleaned with water, alcohol and light sanding. Let's say that its replacement is not mandatory, but it is recommended.

How much do they cost?

Disc brake pads are not expensive compared to other elements of the bicycle. From 10 euros you can purchase a pair per brake, which you can replace in your own home. If you choose to go to a specialized workshop, the replacement can cost you around 40 euros.

How to keep them in good condition?

A few simple tips for use and maintenance will allow you to extend the life of your pads. Anticipate curves and obstacles to brake at the right moment. Stop pedaling early enough to then apply the brake just enough. Avoid skidding or braking too quickly. You can extend the life of the pads by avoiding sudden braking and frequently cleaning the calipers. On the other hand, it is advisable to clean the brake calipers once a month, or after an outing with rain, mud or a lot of dust. To do this, first remove the pads and clean the interior with soap and water, or with a specific product for cleaning brakes. Dry well with a cloth and then lubricate the pistons with the same mineral oil or hydraulic fluid that you use.

What type of pills to choose?

Do I buy organic pills? Better metal pads? It is the recurring doubt of many cyclists. To make your choice easier, you should take into account how you use the brake, depending on your style and the terrain you are riding on. For example: if you like to go up and down hills and go on long road trips, metal pads will be more convenient than organic ones, due to their durability and resistance to overheating. For flatter or shorter routes, organic ones will offer good braking and wear will be less noticeable. Something similar can be applied to MTB. Organic pads are more suitable for short outings or rolling routes, such as in XC. Metal pads, on the other hand, are typical of more radical disciplines, such as Enduro. In any case, it is more of a trend than a norm. If you brake a lot, installing metal pads on your XC bike can be a very wise decision. Last but not least, don't forget the compatibility of the pads with your brake model. Here the shape of the pill and its size come into play. For example: on an MTB, or on an electric bicycle, four-piston calipers will require a specific pad with a larger surface area. On the road, and even in XC, the pads are somewhat more compact.
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