HOW TO TELL WHEN YOUR MOUNTAIN BIKE BRAKES ARE AT THE LIMIT
Keep your old brakes feeling fresh heading into the winter months.
GIVING YOUR BRAKES A BREAK
Brake systems deteriorate due to friction wearing down pads and rotors and from heat degrading the fluids and seal performance over time. Riders who don’t do as much aggressive descending will get more life from their brakes, while larger riders and those who love to rally the descents will have more maintenance to deal with. Your first set of pads will likely last about as long as the stock set of tires, but riding wet trails or a few days of gravity riding at a bike park can kill a set of pads in a very short period of time.
It’s best to check the thickness of your pads at least every few rides. The pad material should be at least a few millimeters thick on top of the backing plate, and if you’ve worn past there, it’s time to replace them. When it comes to rotors, most of them start at about 1.8–2mm thick, and the companies will etch the thickness at which you should replace the rotors on the rotor itself. Look carefully at the lettering stamped in the metal and it should give you this thickness, which is usually 1.5 or 1.8mm. Most rotors will last through two to three sets of brake pads before they need replacement.
Brake fluids degrade at different rates and will require different schedules to maintain. DOT brake fluid, for example, is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs water over time and loses its resistance to heat expansion. DOT fluid brakes, such as SRAM brakes, should be bled as frequently as two to three times a season or more if the brakes start to lose their snappy lever feel. Brakes that use mineral oil as fluid, such as Shimano, Magura and TRP, are less prone to fluid degradation but should still be properly bled at least once a season. No matter which type of brake you have, a bleed will set the fluid to the proper level to accommodate for pad wear and simply make your brakes feel better.