Your motorcycle's brakes are arguably one of the most important safety features out there. Next to your tires, your brakes are solely responsible for putting you and your bike safely to a stop while keeping the rubber side down, and the shiny side up. That being said, skipping brake maintenance can be all too easy, as it can be very deceiving to think that your brakes are in good working order simply by giving the brake lever a little squeeze.
While most modern-day braking systems continue to be relatively simple hydraulically actuated systems, this isn't to say that they don't fail. Indeed, a variety of factors can come into play which can drastically affect the service life of your brakes. Losing your brakes in the middle of a ride is definitely one of scariest, most spine-chilling moments a motorcycle rider can experience. With that, here are 4 easy tips to keep your brakes in tip top shape.
Pads and rotors
Most motorcycles are equipped with a hydraulic brake system which makes use of a disc brake setup. As such, your pads and rotors play a vital role in scrubbing off speed, and ultimately putting your bike to a stop. It's very important to conduct routine inspections on your brake pads and rotors. In fact, we'd even go as far as recommending you to take a look at them before each and every time you go for a ride.
So, what should you look out for? Well, start off by giving your rotors a good visual inspection. Try to look at your rotors from both sides—is there any scoring? Have cracks begun to develop on the surface? Is there uneven wear? The next step would be to inspect the thickness of your brake pads. Most pads come with tread wear markers which will begin to squeal once they've gone past their service life. It's always a good idea to have an extra set of pads ready to go, especially if your pads are clearly on their way out.
You could have the best, carbon-ceramic disc rotors and ultra-high-performance brake pads, however, if your brake fluid isn't up to the task of providing the hydraulic pressure needed to effectively bring your bike to a stop, then your flashy components are totally worthless. Brake fluid can very easily be forgotten about. However, doing so can be very costly. Hydraulic brakes rely on hydraulic pressure to actuate the pistons in the brake caliper. The brake pads are then pushed together to squeeze the rotor by those pistons.
As you brake, especially coming from a high rate of speed, your braking system generates heat. This heat then gets transmitted into your brake pads, the pistons, and eventually the brakes. Brake-fade is a phenomenon which occurs when your brake fluid becomes too hot to handle the continuous heat, and your braking power begins to fade, or is lost completely. Now, if your motorcycle's brake fluid has not been replaced in years, you may want to add this to your to-do list, as old and dirty brake fluid is significantly less resistant to heat, and thereby more likely to fail under heavy braking.
Unsurprisingly, the way you ride is a major contributing factor to the overall lifespan of your braking system. It isn't uncommon for racers or track day enthusiasts to swap out their brake pads every few sessions, simply because of how much stress their bikes' braking systems experience. Likewise, your brake pads and rotors can last a lot longer if you ride very smoothly and anticipate stops, so you're not slamming on the brakes unnecessarily.
While it may not seem like it, all the sudden stops and heavy braking scenarios add up in the long run, and can significantly shorten your brakes service life. Learning how to make use of engine braking via smooth downshifts is also a nice bonus when it comes to preserving your brakes. It also helps make your ride a lot smoother as you're better able to access the bike's power, no matter the speed.
Keep them clean
Just like all parts of your motorcycle, dirt, moisture, and grime can seep into your braking system and, in time, cause damage such as corrosion and the failure of oil seals. As such, keeping your brakes clean goes a long way in preserving its life. This rings particularly true for those who ride off-road or in rainy weather. During these situations, road tar, debris, and mud are flung up onto your rotors and calipers while you're riding. All these things have abrasive properties which, if not cleaned off, can accelerate the wear of your brake pads and rotors.
Several products dedicated solely to cleaining your brakes can be purchased online. Everything from brake-centric degreaser to brake parts cleaners do a good job in keeping your brakes spotless, and ready to roll. Another tip for keeping your brakes clean is to avoid over-lubricating your chain. Loose oil or chain lube has a tendency to sling off your chain while you're riding. Some of this oil can inadvertently end up on your brakes, and as we know, oil and brakes don't make for a good combo.