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The different pad types explained from sintered to organic

The brakes on your bicycle go unnoticed most of the time. Until they stop working so well, that is. One of the common causes of poor brake performance is worn out brake pads. Here’s everything you need to know about replacing and upgrading your disc brake pads.

How long will my brake pads last?

How long you can expect brake pads to last is like asking how long a piece of string is. Different compounds impact the durability of a brake pad. Then there is the type of riding, the terrain, the weather conditions, the rider weight, these are factors that influence how long the brake pads last. Generally, you can expect disc brake pads to last longer than rim brake blocks, part of the reason they have become popular in the UK.

- Everything you need to know about disc brakes

When to replace brake pads

If you ride frequently, it’s a sensible idea to visually inspect your brakes on a regular basis. While brake pads can last a very long time, the last thing you want is to get caught out miles away from home with ineffective brake pads because you’ve let them wear down dangerously. Brake pads will wear more quickly in the winter so it’s critical to pay them close attention at this time of year.

If your brakes don’t feel as good as they did when the bike was new, it might be a sign you need some new brakes. With mechanical (cable operated) disc brakes, you can start to tell when your brake pads are wearing down as the brake lever will pull closer to the handlebar. To remedy this, you can take out the slack in the system by using the barrel adjuster on the lever or caliper to adjust the cable tension. Hydraulic systems automatically adjust the pad clearance.

- 2016's hottest disc-equipped road bikes

shimano-105-hydraulic-callipers-2.jpg

It’s a little tricky to do a quick visual inspection of disc brake pads. While you can peer closely at the caliper and see how much pad material is remaining on the metal backing plate, sometimes it’s easier to remove the wheel and inspect the brake pads without the disc rotor inserted between the pads.

There should be a reasonable amount of pad material on the metal back plate, a couple of millimetres at least, any less than that and it's a good time to replace them. If all you can see is the backing plate, you need some new pads!

If you do wear down your brake pads to the metal backing plate, you’ll likely know since they’ll make an awful sound and the performance will be poor. This is the reason for the frequent inspections, to replace the pads before they get dangerously low.

What brake pad choices are there?

Disc brake pads typically come in three flavours; sintered, organic and semi-metallic.

Sintered pads 

clarks-xt-sram-grimeca-8-hydraulic-disc-brake-pads-43674.jpg

Sintered pads are made from hardened metallic ingredients and provide a long lifespan and good performance in the wet. They do take a bit longer to bed-in however, and they can sometimes be a bit noisy, but they cope with high temperatures well and are a good choice if doing some long descents, such as riding in the mountains.

Organic pads

Organic (or resin or non-metallic pads) pads are made from organic materials and bound together using resin. The material is soft so the bed-in period is much shorter, and that means they have more initial bite and they’re quieter. They don’t last as long as sintered pads, and they’re not great in wet conditions, and can glaze at higher temperatures.

Semi-metallic pads

The third option is semi-metallic. These combine metal and organic materials using resins to hold everything together with a steel or aluminium backing plate. They strive to provide performance that is somewhere between sintered and organic, but it depends on how much metal the manufacturer adds to the compound.

mad8vt-9802d1.jpg

If you were to choose between these different pads, you would put sintered pads on for the winter, and organic for the summer, but many cyclists use sintered year-round quite happily.

Other options

Some manufacturers offer disc brake pads that attempt to reduce the heat buildup in a disc caliper. Koolstop produces a disc pad with a ceramic barrier between the organic material and the steel backing plate, to limit the heat that is transferred to the brake caliper.

Shimano produces Ice-Tech disc pads with feature cooling fins that operate like a heat sink, drawing heat away from the pads.

Often the best route is to replace like-for-like. Each manufacturer will provide recommended pads, and that's typically the sensible choice. Look at any online retailer and you'll see a huge choice of pads at different price points, each offering different benefits, so it can be worth shopping around if you want to try something different. 

Not all brake pads are the same though, they come in a bewildering range of shapes. You need to ensure you buy new brake pads that are compatible with your brakes. 

Replacing disc brake pads

Fitting new disc brake pads can be a little tricky the first time you do it, but once you know how, it’s a doddle. You can sometimes replace the pads without removing the wheel, but it’s easier if you first remove the wheel. Use a workstand if you have one, otherwise carefully pop the bike against the wall on some cardboard or carpet to protect the bike/kitchen floor.

Most disc brakes have a retaining pin that is threaded through the top of the brake pads, often with a retaining circlip at one end. First carefully remove the clip and pin and put them somewhere safe. Now, extract the worn out brake pads and dispose of.

SRAM Rival 22 Hydro groupset - brake calliper on bike.jpg

Next, and this is the trickiest part of the job, the pistons need to be pushed back into the caliper body. Most disc brakes, certainly all hydraulic systems, are self-adjusting. This involves the pistons automatically pushing out of the caliper body to keep the correct pad clearance as they wear down. Mechanical systems, however, work similarly to a caliper rim brake and the cable tension needs to be adjusted manually.

With the brake pads out, take a suitably sized spanner or flat head screwdriver, and very carefully push the pistons back into the caliper. It shouldn’t require too much force.

With the pistons back in the caliper, you can now fit the new brake pads, which is the reverse process of removing them. The new pads should slide in easily. Reinsert the retaining pin and clip, put the wheel back in, and cycle the brake lever a few times.

It can take a little while for disc brake pads to bed in, riding up and down the road and applying the brakes with some force is often enough to get them working well.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

35 comments

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Pfaff [22 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I think it should be added that there are discs targeted for resin pads only which will wear down very fast if sintered pads are used.

 

 

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graemeshaw [24 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
road.cc wrote:

If you were to choose between these different pads, you would put sintered pads on for the winter, and sintered for the summer, but many cyclists use sintered year-round quite happily.

I assume at least one of these should be "organic"?

Just changed the pads on my disc bike for the first time.  Nice guide, just wish I'd had it last week  1

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CXR94Di2 [2251 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

Rotors and pads are disposable items. Only use best items for best performance and sod the wear rate

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mrmo [2098 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

and i seem to remember that Magura are, or were very specific organic pads only on their MTB brakes, to the point they would not honour a warranty claim where sintered pads were used. 

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Stephan Matthiesen [72 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

"reasonable amount of pad material on the metal back plate, a couple of millimetres at least"

That seems very thick. They are only about 2mm when new, and the manual for mine says to replace then when down to 0.7mm.

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jollygoodvelo [1735 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

Ah, I love the old "refitting is the reverse of removal" schtick.  3

 

Not a single mention of "Curse when the circlip bounces off into the distance", no "try again when you realise you fitted them the wrong way up", and no "ask your wife to drive you to hospital with a scratched eyeball"?

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bikebot [2117 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

If you're commuting or ride early, do consider how anit-social noisy brake pads can be.  I use organic pads for the simple reason they're much less likely to squeal.  They do wear down a bit quicker but also cost less and in typical use last ages anyway.

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cqexbesd [109 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Maybe you could add tips about what to do when it goes wrong? e.g. when you have pushed your pistons all the way in but still there is not enough clearence between the rotor and the pads.

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David Arthur @d... [896 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

graemeshaw wrote:

road.cc wrote:

If you were to choose between these different pads, you would put sintered pads on for the winter, and sintered for the summer, but many cyclists use sintered year-round quite happily.

I assume at least one of these should be "organic"?

Just changed the pads on my disc bike for the first time.  Nice guide, just wish I'd had it last week  1

 

Yes. Stupid fingers. Great, glad you liked it

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ellisblackman [7 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
mrmo wrote:

and i seem to remember that Magura are, or were very specific organic pads only on their MTB brakes, to the point they would not honour a warranty claim where sintered pads were used. 

From memory, you're not allowed to use anything other than Magura pads. You have to use Magura blood and any modification other than OEM voids warranty.

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Team EPO [155 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

When bike sites review disc brakes I wish they would review how easy or hard it is to change the pads for non mechanics.  Eg. my shimano ones are drop in easy whilst Hope and SRAM are  finger fiddley nightmares!

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iso2000 [107 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
bikebot wrote:

If you're commuting or ride early, do consider how anit-social noisy brake pads can be.  I use organic pads for the simple reason they're much less likely to squeal.  They do wear down a bit quicker but also cost less and in typical use last ages anyway.

sounds good but what are organic pads like in the wet? Tempted to change but I don't want to go back to that helpless feeling you have with rim brakes in the wet.

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poppa [65 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I notice that in the arguments for/against disc brakes, the issue of maintenance didn't seem to get mentioned much. Personally I find a set of v-brakes a lot easier to set up than hydraulic discs -  and don't store your bike upside down for any length of time!

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antigee [496 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

"I notice that in the arguments for/against disc brakes, the issue of maintenance didn't seem to get mentioned much. Personally I find a set of v-brakes a lot easier to set up than hydraulic discs -  and don't store your bike upside down for any length of time! "

having gone sort of full circle from road to mtb to drop bar hybrid/cx/adventure changing pads is easy enough - a big problem that doesn't get mentioned is not wearing out rims! 

 

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Gus T [333 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
iso2000 wrote:
bikebot wrote:

If you're commuting or ride early, do consider how anit-social noisy brake pads can be.  I use organic pads for the simple reason they're much less likely to squeal.  They do wear down a bit quicker but also cost less and in typical use last ages anyway.

sounds good but what are organic pads like in the wet? Tempted to change but I don't want to go back to that helpless feeling you have with rim brakes in the wet.

 

I replaced the BB7 pads on my Croix de Fer with organic pads, boy do I regret it, haven't bedded in at all & have about as much grip as a bar of soap, have to ride with them just fouling the discs to have any hope of stopping in both the wet & the dry. Personally I would not recommend organic pads.

 

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sanderville [350 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
bikebot wrote:

If you're commuting or ride early, do consider how anit-social noisy brake pads can be.

 

When I was commuting by bike I was glad of the squeal because it announced my presence to otherwise oblivious road users.  If you ride early then you hardly need to brake since there's no one else around.

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mrmo [2098 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Gus T wrote:

 

 

I replaced the BB7 pads on my Croix de Fer with organic pads, boy do I regret it, haven't bedded in at all & have about as much grip as a bar of soap, have to ride with them just fouling the discs to have any hope of stopping in both the wet & the dry. Personally I would not recommend organic pads.

 

are you very sure you havent contaminated the pads? I only use organic on my XTRs and the only time braking is iffy is when oil gets on the rotors and or pads. Which as an aside, how much winter crud ends up on rotors and pads basically trashing them??

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macrophotofly [321 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Contamination is a big concern for me and I would like to hear from any others who have had this. I seem to never wear out pads because they become contaminated before I get anywhere near the end of the life. I have the ICE sintered pads for the 785s and at least once every two-three months I'll go out for a ride to find the braking has gone to pot. When this happens, usually by 2/3rds of the way round a long ride the braking has come back but for the first 80km I am often in a state of just about coming to a halt. Sometimes they don't clear and after one or two more dodgy rides, its new pads time. No idea what is contaminating them this regularly - I don't use any sprays on the bike (Chain is oiled one drop at a time), rides here in Japan tend to be dry.

Any thoughts greatfully received.......

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macrophotofly [321 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Surprised myself to find the self-contamination thing around Shimano hydraulic brakes wasn't just something I was dreaming. I was just casually reading a few reviews over the weekend and came across it being mentioned by Bike Radar

Here in this review of the XTR groupset (which uses the same caliper as the Road system) -

http://www.bikeradar.com/mtb/gear/category/components/groupsets/groupset...

"...our suspicion is that the pistons seep just enough oil that if left untouched for a length of time will affect braking performance. We say without proof, as removing the pads and replacing them with a bleed block and locking the lever in place over night reveals no sign of leakage.

Under regular use, this oil is insignificant, unnoticeable and burns off immediately. However, don’t touch the bike for two to three weeks and you return to a noisy and bite-less brake. It’ll still stop you, but it lacks aggression.."

Exactly what I found.

 

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Zermattjohn [290 posts] 5 months ago
2 likes
CXR94Di2 wrote:

Rotors and pads are disposable items. Only use best items for best performance and sod the wear rate

...and the environment. When future generations uncover piles of disposable items they'll no doubt look back and think "Yep, they had the right idea".

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rct [90 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

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fukawitribe [2579 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
rct wrote:

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

No, not really. About the same.

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700c [1267 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
fukawitribe wrote:
rct wrote:

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

No, not really. About the same.

Maybe they meant pads not shoes, but either way, the article makes it sound more complex a process for discs.

Is the article wrong? or dare I suggest, are you not being very objective?!

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BighugeMonkeysuit [19 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Team EPO wrote:

When bike sites review disc brakes I wish they would review how easy or hard it is to change the pads for non mechanics.  Eg. my shimano ones are drop in easy whilst Hope and SRAM are  finger fiddley nightmares!

 

I've owned various shimano hydro brake sets, Previous brakes were SRAM apex and new bike has SRAM Rival. I found the SRAMs easiest to replace.. Neither are particularly difficult though. 

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fukawitribe [2579 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
700c wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
rct wrote:

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

No, not really. About the same.

Maybe they meant pads not shoes, but either way, the article makes it sound more complex a process for discs.

Hardly complex - the most complicated i've had is wheel out, squish pistons, slide out pin, pull, push new ones in, pin in, wheel in.. often don't need to actually take the wheel out. Couple of minutes, longer for some, similar toeing in rim blocks or not.

700c wrote:

Is the article wrong?

No entirely, although not everything is required for every set.

700c wrote:

 or dare I suggest, are you not being very objective?! 

Not fussed about peoples tastes to be honest nor questions of objectivity, and all my current bikes are rim brakes - i'm just commenting based on actually having changed pads previously and watched shit loads of others do it.

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Plasterer's Radio [437 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
rct wrote:

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

You clearly have never done it. It's easier than rim brakes.

Sounds like you wanted to confirm your own bias.

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Mungecrundle [1106 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

I find replacing disc pads is a 5 minute job and certainly no technically harder than fiddling with rim brake blocks. Not sure I'd wager the mortgage money on a race, but then again I'm not intending on entering any brake changing races.

I have had a lot of success with these cheap and cheerful organic pads from a well known online tax evading retailer.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B005PVLIJQ/ref=oh_aui_search_detailp...

Being frankly a bit of a muppet with the polish and lubricants, I have been known to contaminate my pads. If they get a bit squeaky I give them one chance of redemption in some hot water and washing up liquid and some vigorous wire brushing, if that doesn't clean them up then at under £5, a replacement set is not breaking the bank.

I only have experience with Shimano hydraulic discs on both MTB and road bike, for the most part they are maintenance free. My MTB is now 14 years old, I use it daily for commuting all year round and I have never even bled them. I keep meaning to but they are still working just fine.

 

 

Avatar
earth [418 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
Plasterer's Radio wrote:
rct wrote:

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

You clearly have never done it. It's easier than rim brakes.

Sounds like you wanted to confirm your own bias.

 

I've done it and it is a faff and it has to be done often because pads that have an area the size of a postage stamp don't last long.  I get over 2 years from rim pads and about 3 months from disc pads.  As for rim wear, I had a pair of Alu wheels that I used for over 10 years wet and dry.  The failure was that the nipples corroded, a spokes broke and could not be replaced - the shop cracked the rim in the attempt.  Brake track still had life in it.

Avatar
Plasterer's Radio [437 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes
earth wrote:
Plasterer's Radio wrote:
rct wrote:

What a faff compared to sliding brake shoes out and in.

You clearly have never done it. It's easier than rim brakes.

Sounds like you wanted to confirm your own bias.

 

I've done it and it is a faff and it has to be done often because pads that have an area the size of a postage stamp don't last long.  I get over 2 years from rim pads and about 3 months from disc pads.  As for rim wear, I had a pair of Alu wheels that I used for over 10 years wet and dry.  The failure was that the nipples corroded, a spokes broke and could not be replaced - the shop cracked the rim in the attempt.  Brake track still had life in it.

That's fascinating. 

It's easy.

Avatar
Canyon48 [1080 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

It's amazing how, on almost any disc brake article, there is someone telling everyone about how much they hate disc brakes 

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