Tech Tips

Inspecting Your Brake Pads

Written by  March 31, 2005

In last month’s article I walked you step-by-step through changing your brake fluid, so it seems only natural that this month we discuss how to inspect your brake pads.

Whether you’re enjoying a long cruise or just putting over to your favorite bike night hangout, you should always make sure your brakes are in top working condition. If you start feeling excessive play in your front brake lever or rear brake pedal, first check your brake fluid. If that is not the culprit, you should inspect your brake pads immediately. The procedure for inspecting your front and rear brake pads is basically the same. Many people think this is a difficult procedure, but it is actually quite easy.

Although you can eyeball your brake pads with a flashlight, the only true way to inspect the thickness of your pads, is to remove the caliper. To do this, remove the two caliper mounting bolts, and wiggle the caliper mounting bracket back and forth to remove it. Lay the caliper down on your workbench and away from any painted surfaces. You will notice that this setup keeps the brake pads in the carrier, which is nice because you do not have to fight the brake pads to reinstall the caliper. You can now remove the pads and inspect the thickness level of each one. Refer to the brake section in your service manual for the minimum and maximum brake pad thickness. You will also need to refer to your manual for the required torque specs when reinstalling the calipers.

The motorcycle we are using today is fairly new; however, please don’t think that just because this is a late model bike, this process does not need to be performed. The EBC brake pad replacements you can purchase today are made of far superior material than those of the past.

Please keep in mind that we are just inspecting the brake pads at this time. To replace the pads, you follow this same procedure. If your bike is equipped with Anti-Locking Brakes (ABS), you must open the bleeder screw when you push the caliper pistons back in, so you do not contaminate the ABS sensor located on each wheel. This also prevents the sensor from being damaged by debris.

I use a digital vernier caliper to measure the thickness of the pads; however, if you don’t have an accurate way to measure the thickness, you can simply use a ruler and any flat surface.

If the pads are not in tolerance (not the appropriate thickness), they must be replaced. Motorcycle brake pads are approximately $25 per set, and you can locate the ones you will need by going to the EBC Brakes web site. New pads will not only give you peace of mind, but they could also save your life if that car pulls out in front of you.

If you need to install new pads, follow the instructions in your service manual and make sure to use the correct torque values rather than just hand tightening them. You will also want to use lithium grease on the bolts because most calipers are full floating and need to move freely. Many of today’s bikes, including all of the new sport bikes, even have floating rotors.

When the caliper is working correctly, the pistons in the caliper are pushed out, which is caused by the hydraulic action each time the brakes are applied. One thing that is most commonly overlooked during reassembly is to push the caliper pistons back into the caliper housing. After installing the pads and the torque values have been met, pump the brakes until resistance is felt. If the front and rear brakes are firm, you are probably good. Anything other than a firm lever or pedal should be addressed. Before taking your test ride, always check the brakes first by pushing or coasting the bike and applying the brakes.

Brake inspection or replacement is a periodic service that must be followed. I recommend that you inspect the brakes on your bike every 30 days, depending on the type of riding you do. Keeping a pre-ride checklist will keep your bike in good condition for trouble free riding.

Performing this procedure yourself will not only save you money, but will help you become more familiar with the mechanics of your bike. This procedure normally takes around two hours, and for the beginner, it may take slightly longer. On the tough-o-meter scale, this one rates a 2, as most people should be able to handle this procedure.

Inspect your brakes and b-safe out there.

By Dave Miller