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All you need to know about replacing disc brake pads

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 worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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49 comments

Avatar
Grahamd | 1 year ago
1 like

The price of replacement pads for Shimano is exorbitant, one pair of pads cost nearly the same as the following for my old SRAM equipped bike:

New pads, new disc and new caliper. 
 

Both purchased within past 2 months.

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ktache | 1 year ago
0 likes

Had to change my fronts last night, the recent filth had taken almost all of the meat off one of the pads.  I find the Park piston press with the wheel out makes pushing the pistons back in with less potential for damaging the pistons than a screwdriver. Mine never want to move easily, probably need to service more.

And when putting the pads in rather than trying to put in the pads and spring as one unit, with the disk in, I fitted the left one, slid in the retaining pin across, inserted the other pad and pin through, then the spring in, one end at a time closed with forceps, push spring down to close to the retaing pin, remove the pin and then using the forceps pushed the spring home, retaining pin back in, tighten then drop the bloody thingy onto the floor. Eventually found it, must buy spares.

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jaspersdog | 1 year ago
0 likes

I'd just like to share something of my experience with discs across my MTB, CX, gravel and now road bikes fitted with discs. Don't be tempted to save a few pounds on the resin pads (Shimano). They last considerably less time than the metal ones, are invariably noisier and are more prone to contamination. This is exacerbated in the winter, but living in the UK I'm not sure why you'd fit resin ones at all.

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wtjs replied to jaspersdog | 1 year ago
2 likes

Don't be tempted to save a few pounds on the resin pads (Shimano). They last considerably less time than the metal ones, are invariably noisier and are more prone to contamination. This is exacerbated in the winter, but living in the UK I'm not sure why you'd fit resin ones at all

Is this conclusive evidence of Alternative Universes? New cheap 'gravel' bike arrived with me in October 2019. Admittedly TRP Spyres are cable operated so I don't know anything about replacing pads on hydraulics, but despite lots of miles in bad conditions on trips like the Pennine Bridleway I haven't had any problems with the disc brakes at all. The mud was so clinging near Settle that great lumps were rubbing under the mudguards and sitting on the chainstays, and the wheels were so reluctant to turn that I couldn't even get enough traction with my fell-shoes to push the sodding bike-trailer combination up a mild hill. I had to push and pull the lumps of mud off with my fingers (this was in January) when I got back to road, and then it was fine again after a mile or so of flinging mud about.

I'm using the bike every day through the winter and I rely on the pouring Lancashire rain to wash it. Replacing the pads is a 5 minute job, even on a camping trip, and I'm only on the 3rd front pair and the 2nd rear. All except one pair, including the TRP originals, have been resin and the pads (except the originals) have been El Cheapos on offer online. My next couple of pairs are resin Nukeproofs which I think were £5 a pair.

Any minor squeaks seem to go away when you ride in the pouring rain, and are mostly not there at all. The braking is vastly better than I've had on a road bike before, and disc brakes are the best single thing to arrive for ordinary cyclists in my lifetime- and SPDs and STI were also under consideration for the title.

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jaspersdog replied to wtjs | 1 year ago
0 likes

Could well be the conclusive proof that the multiverse is a reality. Don't get me wrong I am a huge advocate of discs. It's just that two pairs of Shimano resin pads have gone in the bin this winter prematurely whilst the metal ones are faultless for me.  

 

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wtjs replied to jaspersdog | 1 year ago
1 like

It shows how experience varies- none of my resins were Shimano, just nondescript, apart from the OEMs from TRP. All my pads have been a joy, including this afternoon on the Trough of Bowland in joyous winter sunshine, where you KNOW the brakes are going to work!

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IanMSpencer replied to jaspersdog | 1 year ago
0 likes

Horses for courses. On a road bike in Warwickshire, most braking is light. My Shimano resin pads last about 5000 miles. Resin bite better when cold, which is most of the time, and are fairly squeal free, even on winter roads picking up mud. If they do squeal, they clean up nicely with a single application of brakes. In the days when I could get replacements, I used finned on the front, unfinned on the rear, and deliberately used the rear for light speed reduction to spread wear.

So my experience is that resin pads and road bikes go together excellently, not because they are cheaper, but functionally more suited to the riding I do.

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mdavidford replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
3 likes
IanMSpencer wrote:

deliberately used the rear for light speed reduction

If I was travelling at light speed, I don't think I'd be wanting to rely on common or garden disc brakes to slow me down.

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hawkinspeter | 4 years ago
2 likes

Warning!

The Shimano pad retaining pins that screw in have a tendency to seize. The issue is made worse as the pins have flat-heads (rather than hex sockets) so you just end up mangling the head when you try to remove them. Check the pins every now and again to make sure they don't seize (maybe a tiny bit of grease may help, but using grease around brakes takes a lot of care).

I recommend replacing the flat-head pins with some hex-socket pins instead.

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DoctorFish replied to hawkinspeter | 4 years ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Warning!

The Shimano pad retaining pins that screw in have a tendency to seize. The issue is made worse as the pins have flat-heads (rather than hex sockets) so you just end up mangling the head when you try to remove them. Check the pins every now and again to make sure they don't seize (maybe a tiny bit of grease may help, but using grease around brakes takes a lot of care).

I recommend replacing the flat-head pins with some hex-socket pins instead.

Yep, I had this issue, there is a thread in the forum somewhere.  I ended up trying molegrips when the screwdriver had completely rounded the head off, and then the head sheared off.  Then off to the LBS where they took the caliper apart to get the busted bolt out and they replaced it with a split pin.  I felt a bit of an idiot, but they told me it happens all the time.  Replaced them with carefully greased he-socket pins or split pins, but get those rubbish slot headed cheese ones.

 

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to DoctorFish | 4 years ago
0 likes
DoctorFish wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

Warning!

The Shimano pad retaining pins that screw in have a tendency to seize. The issue is made worse as the pins have flat-heads (rather than hex sockets) so you just end up mangling the head when you try to remove them. Check the pins every now and again to make sure they don't seize (maybe a tiny bit of grease may help, but using grease around brakes takes a lot of care).

I recommend replacing the flat-head pins with some hex-socket pins instead.

Yep, I had this issue, there is a thread in the forum somewhere.  I ended up trying molegrips when the screwdriver had completely rounded the head off, and then the head sheared off.  Then off to the LBS where they took the caliper apart to get the busted bolt out and they replaced it with a split pin.  I felt a bit of an idiot, but they told me it happens all the time.  Replaced them with carefully greased he-socket pins or split pins, but get those rubbish slot headed cheese ones.

 

There's a couple of forum posts about this. The first one was from me when I had the issue: https://road.cc/content/forum/240256-stuck-hydraulic-brake-pad-axlepin-br-rs805

This next one has more info: https://road.cc/content/forum/246664-disc-brake-noob-tips-please

If anyone has these brakes with these pins, do yourself a favour and make sure they don't seize by loosening them periodically and then do them up only finger-tight. A tiny bit of grease on the threads may help, but the best bet is to use different pins.

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Moist von Lipwig replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
1 like

Wish I'd read that before getting a bike with shimano discs...   Just thought I'd check rear brake wear after about 6 months and give the pads a clean.  FRont bolts were pretty stiff but moved, rear bolts seized... Didn't even bother to muck about with it any further, down the LBS who got them out - just. The head came off just as the bolt started to move and shaft came out with molegrips. He replaced them with hex heads. 

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hawkinspeter replied to Moist von Lipwig | 1 year ago
0 likes
Moist von Lipwig wrote:

Wish I'd read that before getting a bike with shimano discs...   Just thought I'd check rear brake wear after about 6 months and give the pads a clean.  FRont bolts were pretty stiff but moved, rear bolts seized... Didn't even bother to muck about with it any further, down the LBS who got them out - just. The head came off just as the bolt started to move and shaft came out with molegrips. He replaced them with hex heads. 

I don't know why Shimano use those pad pins on road bikes unless it's so that they can sell more pad pins. And for the love of squirrels, why is it a flat-head?

Avatar
Mungecrundle | 5 years ago
5 likes

At this stage they are both well developed technologies, both systems stop a bicycle adequately, they each have their characteristics, advantages and drawbacks. Some people prefer a certain look. But really any argument is now at the "Which end of the egg should you crack open" level of relevance.

Avatar
Canyon48 | 5 years 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 

Avatar
Rapha Nadal replied to Canyon48 | 5 years ago
0 likes
Canyon48 wrote:

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

Like flies to shit!

Avatar
700c replied to Rapha Nadal | 5 years ago
2 likes
Rapha Nadal wrote:
Canyon48 wrote:

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

Like flies to shit!

Nobody has said they 'hate' disc brakes, they just have a different view to your own.

I've used them in mtb, not road. Never had the pleasure of installing or maintaining them. I've read the article and comments which talk about the tech, the fussiness of the different materials and brands, the tools required and various pitfalls of installation.

Yet people still insist they are as easy, or easier than changing rim brake pads (mine are tool free to swap). Go figure!

Avatar
Russell Orgazoid replied to 700c | 5 years ago
0 likes
700c wrote:
Rapha Nadal wrote:
Canyon48 wrote:

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

Like flies to shit!

Nobody has said they 'hate' disc brakes, they just have a different view to your own. I've used them in mtb, not road. Never had the pleasure of installing or maintaining them. I've read the article and comments which talk about the tech, the fussiness of the different materials and brands, the tools required and various pitfalls of installation. Yet people still insist they are as easy, or easier than changing rim brake pads (mine are tool free to swap). Go figure!

Rim pads are maintenence free now......Tool free adjustment as well.

Haha

 

Avatar
rct replied to Russell Orgazoid | 5 years ago
0 likes
Plasterer's Radio wrote:
700c wrote:
Rapha Nadal wrote:
Canyon48 wrote:

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

Like flies to shit!

Nobody has said they 'hate' disc brakes, they just have a different view to your own. I've used them in mtb, not road. Never had the pleasure of installing or maintaining them. I've read the article and comments which talk about the tech, the fussiness of the different materials and brands, the tools required and various pitfalls of installation. Yet people still insist they are as easy, or easier than changing rim brake pads (mine are tool free to swap). Go figure!

Rim pads are maintenence free now......Tool free adjustment as well.

Haha

 

 

No one has said rim brakes are maintenance free, but to change mine, I just need a pair of pliers.  A lot easier than the hydrallic discs on my mtb.

Neither are as maintenance free as the hub brakes on my Pashley, but then they also equally ineffective in the wet or dry.

Avatar
Mungecrundle | 5 years ago
4 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
rct | 5 years ago
1 like

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

Avatar
fukawitribe replied to rct | 5 years ago
4 likes
rct wrote:

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

No, not really. About the same.

Avatar
700c replied to fukawitribe | 5 years 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?!

Avatar
fukawitribe replied to 700c | 5 years ago
2 likes
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.

Avatar
Russell Orgazoid replied to rct | 5 years ago
2 likes
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.

Avatar
earth replied to Russell Orgazoid | 5 years ago
3 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
Russell Orgazoid replied to earth | 5 years ago
4 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
jacknorell replied to earth | 5 years ago
1 like
earth wrote:

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.

If that's how long the pads last, something is wrong with your setup.

Or you're riding through wet sand / polishing paste / diesel spills on a regular basis...

Avatar
macrophotofly | 8 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.

 

Avatar
macrophotofly | 8 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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