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When Is the Right Time to Replace Brake Pads?

By Christopher Ashley

Brakes are one of the most important control features of your bike. Not only will brakes help you avoid potential accidents, judicious use will significantly improve your performance. Look after your brakes and they’ll look after you – so when should you replace your pads?

Rim brakes

Whether your pads are for carbon or alloy rims, your brake pads will come with a teeth or tread pattern on the contact side. As soon as that tread disappears, and you have one continuous flat surface – change the pads.

Disc brakes

Disc brake pads come with about 3 to 4 mm of compound on the pad. When you’ve worn the pad down to about 1.5 mm or 25% thickness, change the pad. If you’ve got sintered, metal pads, you may not need to change them as often as you do with organic, resin pads.

Long rides

When you commute regularly on a bike, you’re in tune with the technical rhythms of its maintenance, and you should be keeping a close eye on your brakes – they will keep you out of trouble.

But riding a century is a different kettle of fish. If the tread is narrow enough to make you question whether the brake pad will last a hundred miles, let your doubt be an indication that you need to change the pads before you ride.

Active rides

If you’re getting your full suspension ready for a weekend bombing down some of your favourite speedy, techy trails, change your pads a few days before – especially if you prefer sintered pads.

Give your new pads a couple of kilometres to get bedded in and then you’ve got one less thing to worry about tearing it around the woodland-obstacle-nightmare of your dreams.

When to check

Once you know when to change your brake pads, the next question is – how often should I check my brake pads for wear? I’m sorry to say that there is no definitive answer, but I’d say every 500 miles or once a month – whichever is sooner.

Weight watchers

Depending on your cycling conditions, you may need to check more regularly. All other things being equal, someone who weighs 76 kg, the same as Mario Cipollini, will need to change their pads more often than someone who weighs similar to Marco Pantani, 57 kg.

Weather and terrain

The amount you depend on your brakes is determined by weather and terrain. Riding in the wet will churn more minerals from your rim and into your pads – which means you’ll have to check them for wear more regularly than riding in the dry. And if your journey has lots of hills, your brakes will wear quicker than if you ride on the flat.