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Disc Brake Maintenance

  • Bicycle Maintenance
Disc Brake Maintenance

The result of a two year long, hard fought battle was the introduction of Disc brakes into professional road racing. This led to the rise in the popularity and demand for Disc brakes - not only on MTBs but also on road bikes and Hybrids too. So, if you’re reading this article it’s safe to assume you have a bicycle with Disc brakes and you might be wondering how you can look after them to ensure the work reliably and consistently? Well, the beauty of Disc brakes is that they require very little maintenance and are relatively hassle-free. The following tips can be used with any Disc brake system. Simple and easy to perform, they will help you keep your braking system working perfectly from day one.

KEEP IT NICE AND CLEAN - NOT SQUEAKY CLEAN, MIND YOU!

This is rule number one and perhaps the most important! Keeping the Disc brake pads and rotors clean is essential for the braking mechanism to function well and offer optimal stopping power. To clean the brake pads, you need to remove them from the caliper and give them a light sanding with fine grit sandpaper - just enough to remove the shiny glaze from the surface of the pad. With regular usage brake pads can become crystallized and glaze over, this causes a brake squeal and a notable decrease in braking power. Lightly sanding them will return the pad to its original condition, thereby removing any impurities and improving braking power. When it comes to brake rotors, you’ll need to use a designated brake cleaner for bicycles, or rubbing alcohol. Use a clean rag to clean the rotor of any pad residue, oil or impurities. Check the surface for any nicks or sharp edges and if found, lightly sand them down to smoothen the surface - thus offering a uniform braking surface. Lastly, make sure that the disc rotor is straight. If it isn’t, use the designated tool to straighten it until no running occurs. Remember to always use a tool to do this and never with your bare hands as this could contaminate the braking surface.

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CHECK THE FITTING HARDWARE AND PISTONS

When removing the brake pads to clean, check and clean the pistons as well. With the pads removed, carefully pull the brake lever allowing the pistons to move 2-3mm. Don’t pull too hard, doing so could result in the pistons coming out of the caliper completely (which will most likely need the expertise of a qualified mechanic to fix.) Clean the inside of the caliper and use the tool to push the pistons back to their original position. Then re-attach the brake pads. Once this is done check all bolts and fittings to make sure everything is well-tightened. Then, go over the disc rotor bolts and tighten them if necessary. A loose disc rotor can be dangerous when it comes to braking. Lastly, check for any leaks in the system, especially around the hose fittings at the caliper and brake lever.

BLEED THE BRAKES (FOR HYDRAULIC DISCS)

If you notice that your brake lever feels spongy, braking power has decreased or the brake lever travel is more than usual whilst braking, it may be time to bleed the Hydraulic system. It is important to have the correct bleed kit and that you use the correct type of hydraulic fluid recommended by the manufacturer. Using the incorrect hydraulic fluid can damage the seals in the braking system and cause failure of the braking mechanism as a whole. Even if the braking system works perfectly, it is recommended to bleed them and change the brake fluid once a year. This will help keep the system in perfect condition and give you optimal power. If you do not know how to bleed a braking system, it is recommended that you take your bike to your nearest qualified bicycle mechanic for the work to be carried out, and learn to do the same in time.

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BRAKE PAD AND ROTOR LIFE - KNOW THE LIMIT!

Both brake pads and rotors have a wear limit, after which they need to be replaced. In case of brake pads, you can easily check the wear by a simple visual check every now and then. Never wait until the pads are completely worn out to change them as they could wear down to the metal part and cause irreversible damage to the brake rotor, which could be dangerous under heavy braking. Brake rotors usually have a minimum rotor thickness guide that helps you identify the amount of wear on them, and then replacing them accordingly when required.

NOISES AND VIBRATIONS

To avoid unwanted noises and vibrations in the braking system it is important that all bolts and fittings are tightened to the recommended torque settings. Regularly clean the brake pads and rotors. Check and make sure that the QR levers are closed properly and well- tightened on both wheels. Loose QR levers could cause unnecessary vibrations. Some manufacturers recommend a light coating of high temperature grease between the brake pad backing and the pistons to avoid pad vibration under braking. This must be applied sparingly and carefully - to avoid contamination of the pads or brake rotors, which could cause loss of braking power. There is also the option of changing the brake pad compound, from organic to synthetic or vice versa this all depends on the type of terrain you will be riding, and the weather conditions.

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Conclusion

When it comes to the rider’s safety, a well maintained and well-functioning pair of brakes is a must-have. If, at first, you are unsure about maintaining your Disc brakes at home, take your bicycle to a local store and request to watch what they do - and learn the process. Once you do, you can be sure to put these tips and tricks to good use and conquer roads and trails with confidence, while being assured that your brakes are the only things stopping you!

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