Technical Tip

Brakes - By Eric Schettler


Your brakes are one of the most important systems on your bike but often times are one of the most neglected.  Most riders wait until their brake pads are completely smoked before changing them and then just slap the cheapest set on the internet in there thinking they are as good as new.  Well there is more to it than that. 
Some racers take brake maintenance to the extreme and will even regularly rebuild their calipers but I just don’t have time for all that.  I try to flush my brake fluid at least every 6 months and always use OEM pads. 
There are many tricks to bleeding your brakes properly.  It can sometimes be harder to get all of the air out of the system than one would think.  Spending $100 on a Mityvac like this is a big help.

But, what if you are out on the trail, have no money for parts, or just don’t have time to fool around with your bike?  Here’s a couple tips that will quickly improve your brake performance and won’t cost you anything.

  1. Most refer to this as “Reverse Bleeding”.  Turn the handlebars or lean the bike so that the master cylinder is the highest point of the system and so that the brake line is straight (without the typical high arch where air could get trapped).  Now press firmly on the brake caliper with your foot or hand (may be hot) to completely compress the caliper in one fluid motion. It helps to grab the spokes like I am in the photo below and pull the caliper towards the wheel.  Then pump the brake lever until the brakes regain pressure.  They should feel a little firmer now.  You may need to do this 2-3 times to get all of the air out of the line if yours are really bad.  This can be a very helpful trick in a race after a crash or boiling your fluid.
  2. Another trick to improve your brake lever feel is to tightly zip-tie the lever in the “brakes on” position for a few hours or overnight.  Honestly I don’t know why it works but it does.
  3. No money for new brake pads?………well find a piece of sandpaper in the garage, pop your brake pads out, and give them a good re-finishing.  Be sure to place the sandpaper on something very flat and with firm pressure rub the pads in a figure eight pattern.  You will see the surface color change almost instantly but keep rubbing until most of the major gouges are gone.  Also be sure the “dirt grooves” in the pads are clean afterwards.  Carefully scrape out any debris with a fine pick.  Then be sure to wipe your rotors down with a clean rag and some brake parts cleaner before re-installing your pads.
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