How To Change Brake Pads On Your Bike

As we already mentioned in a previous article, bike brake pads are essential for braking. The brake pads work by friction and are made of a mixture of abrasive components that apply pressure on the rotor, stopping the rotation of the wheel.

Every contact between the brake pads and the rotor of the disc causes mutual wear. In other words, the surface of both hardware components is consumed, albeit in different timeframes and modes. In fact, the brake pads consume faster than the disc, this is why most cyclists are wondering how to change brake pads on their bikes.

If you are struggling with the same question, this guide is designed to give you a comprehensive insight into how to change brake pads. Find out whether it’s time to change them and learn the 10 easy steps that will make you change brake pads like a pro.

When To Change Bike Brake Pads

As mentioned above, the contact between the brake pads and the rotor causes both components to wear down. In fact, each time you brake, both components will continue to wear until the contact surface between the two is no longer sufficient. At this stage, the entire braking system is compromised.

There are various symptoms that indicate that it is time to replace the bike brake pads. These symptoms are:

  • Reduction of brake reactivity: the disc brake system is highly reactive and modular. When functioning well, this system allows braking by acting with very little force on the lever, which improves the cycling experience. In fact, many cyclists are able to brake using only one finger. Nevertheless, consumed brake pads reduce the reactivity of the system and you will notice a braking delay between the action on the lever and the actual speed reduction. This means that the brake pad is not acting with enough friction on the rotor, and it is time to change it.
  • The weakness of the braking lever: on bikes equipped with disc brakes, the lever is stiff when touched. For this reason, if you notice any difference in the stiffness of the lever, or if it seems that it doesn’t deliver the command to the brake pads then the pads are worn out. Due to this, the distance between the disc and the pad is increased and you will need to trigger the lever several times to achieve sufficient stroke. If the brake pads are in perfect condition yet you still get this symptom, then you might want to check the integrity of the air purging plant.
  • The smoothness of the pad: if you notice that whenever you use the brake lever the bike takes a long time to stop even though the brake pads are new, then you might want to check and see if the contact surface maintained its original characteristics. Braking pads should be abrasive, but in some cases, especially if you use organic pads, your cycling style or habits might cause the contact surface to smooth. This happens especially when heat is not dissipated efficiently and the surface of the pad becomes glazed. In this case, braking is inefficient and the brake pads must be changed.
  • Contamination: contamination gives similar problems to those caused by the smoothness of the braking pads. In addition to the low reactivity, contamination provides other signs as well, which include the emission of a sharp and clumsy noise that is very annoying. Contamination is caused by the oily fluids and it majorly affects organic brake pads. Useless to say, when contaminated the brake pads are no longer effective and need to be changed.
  • Visual inspection: all brake pads should be inspected with regularity and checked if their surface is in good conditions. You should check the brake pads even if your bike seems to work perfectly. In fact, the last thing you’d want is to find yourself riding in the middle of nowhere on a bike with a broken brake system. At a visual inspection, you should check the thickness of the pad. If it is lower than 0,5 mm, then the brake pads must be replaced.

How To Replace Brake Pads On Your Bike

Required Tools:

  • A pair of latex gloves: brake pads are very sensitive to the action of oily fluids, which includes the superficial fat that could be released by your epidermis. Keeping your brake pads away from these fluids is of crucial importance, especially if you’re using organic brake pads.
  • Gripper: to remove the pin.
  • 3 mm Allen key: to remove the locking screw.
  • New brake pads.
  • Cotton cloth.
  • Disc cleaner or isopropyl alcohol: the first is a special product designed to be used on bike brake pads and disc, and it is easy to find in any bike shop. The latter is a particular type of alcohol that has a high cleaning effect but it doesn’t contaminate the brake pads.
  • Tire lever: to reset the stroke of the pistons.

Timing And Difficulty

Replacing the brake pads is an all-in-one, fairly easy task. You shouldn’t engage more than 10 minutes on each brake. The task can be carried out autonomously, or you can ask a bike mechanic to change the brake pads for you.

How To Change The Brake Pads In 10 Easy Steps

change brake pads

Step 1: Remove the wheel

Although it is possible to change the brake pads without removing the wheel, it is more comfortable to change them without worrying about the balance of a whole bike. As such, you should loose the quick release of the wheel and remove the wheel from the frame.

Step 2: Remove the pin

Using the gripper, remove the pin that holds the brake screw in place. If the brakes are not equipped with a screw but with a cushion, such as the case of the Shimano Deore brake pads, then you will have to straighten the upper jaw of the brakes and pass from the hole to the body of the brake.

Step 3: Remove the screw

With the 3mm Allen key remove the screw that secures the pads in place. If the pads are held by a pin, grasp the head with a pinch and pull it towards you until it comes out.

Step 4: Remove the pads

Now, since the pads are no longer secured to the braking system, grasp them with two fingers and pull them away from the body of the brake. The insertion side of the brakes varies from one bike to another, but you will find it either on the lower or on the upper side.

Step 5: Spray cleaning agent

Sprinkle a generous amount of isopropyl alcohol or disc cleaner on both the outer and on the inner sides of the body of the brake. Clean the area thoroughly with a clean cloth to remove all residues of grease or oily fluids. Repeat the operation on the rotor.  

Step 6: Reset the stroke of the pistons

With a regular plastic tire lever, push on both pistons, applying sufficient pressure to reset them. This operation facilitates the insertion of the new brake pads. Remember that new brake pads are thicker, as it is logical to be, so you might struggle with this operation. Resetting the pistons is useful as they slightly change their positions when the brake pads wear out, to compensate for the loss of thickness in the system.

Step 7: Insert the new brake pads

At this stage, you are ready to put on the new brake pads. Insert them into the body of the braking system, making sure to not touch the surface of the pads with your bare hands or dirty gloves. At this stage, for safety reasons, it is recommended to put on clean latex gloves. Don’t forget to insert the spring supplied with the pads between them, as the spring will help the pads fix into their places.

Step 8: Secure the screw

Using the Allen key, put back the screw you previously removed. Make sure that it passes through the holes of the pads, to make sure they are securely kept in place.

Step 9: Mount the pin

Once the screw is in its place, use the gripper to put the pin back in its place. Bend it in position to prevent it from falling while cycling.

Step 10: Reassemble the wheel

Insert the wheel back on its place. Be careful not to “pinch” the new brake pads with the rotor, as it may splinter the coating of the pads.

Final Thoughts

Changing the brake pads on your bike is an uncomplicated operation that doesn’t require the knowledge of a mechanic. Nevertheless, to make sure your brakes function properly, you should follow all the above steps carefully.

Avoid using different tools than the ones recommended, as other tools might damage the hardware of your bike.

  • October 20, 2017
  • Blog
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