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Brake maintenance & upgrade
To brake better, you need better brakes! Here we show you how to get more out of your motorcycle brakes.
Note: The videos are in German.
Good brakes on your motorbike are the best life insurance. Many standard motorcycle brakes can be optimised, especially if your bike is quite a few years old. So the following tips focus on increased braking power and enhanced control, which will make riding your machine both safer and more relaxing.
General tips on braking
Before making any changes to your brakes, you should bear in mind that many bikers aren't even aware of the full potential of their braking system, let alone utilise it to the full. As with most things, practice makes perfect. The best advice is to find out what your limits are by gradually increasing the pressure you exert on the brake lever. It doesn't matter whether the surface you use for this test happens to be dry or wet. The ideal place to practice your braking is a Iarge car park or industrial estate that's empty on weekends. Or better still, various organisations offer special brake training sessions with expert instructors, which are held at training centres where there is no other traffic.
Upgrading/optimising your braking system
The following tips concentrate exclusively on optimising hydraulic disc brakes, which have been standard on new motorbikes for many years now. Essentially, all disc brakes comprise the same components:
- Brake lever
- Brake pump
- Hydraulic line
- Brake caliper with piston
- Brake pads
- Brake discs
We show you which components can be optimised and how this improves braking performance.
Important: If you do not have the necessary skills for working on your brakes, you should take your bike to a motorcycle workshop or get professional help if you're doing the job at home.
Replacing brake pads
Brake pads consist of a mixture of different materials. So-called organic brake pads are made mainly from carbon compounds. Sintered metal brake pads, on the other hand, contain metallic components fused together under high pressure, which is what "sintered" means. Which brake pads work best on which motorbike depends on the brake disc, for example, but also on the tuning of the ABS system.
Generally, organic pads are somewhat softer (and cheaper), which makes it easier to smoothly control the level of braking force you apply via the brake lever. Sintered pads are regarded as having more “bite”, i.e. greater braking power, so they're the right choice if you’re a sporty rider who tends to brake later and harder.
As brake pads are wearing parts and need to be replaced at regular intervals anyway, it's certainly worth experimenting with different pads. For information on how to fit new brake pads yourself, go to the DIY tip Brake Pads.
Replacing a brake disc
In the early days, brake discs were almost always made of (grey) cast iron, but today cast steel is the material of choice. Steel is less prone to rust and, given the right alloy, offers comparable friction coefficients to cast iron. So the material no longer plays a part in optimising braking performance. In that respect, the design of the disc is more important. Holes and slots increase the surface area (in relation to disc mass). This means that the heat caused by friction when you brake can be dissipated more quickly. In addition, the holes in the disc act like the tread on a tyre when you ride in the rain, i.e. they channel away the water which would otherwise greatly reduce braking performance.
By the way, when we talk about a "floating" brake disc, it's got nothing to do with water. What it actually means is that the brake disc is mounted in such a way as to permit a degree of sideways movement. This type of mounting is always used with fixed caliper brakes (dual-piston), whereas rigid brake discs are required with "floating" caliper brakes (single-piston). The DIY tip Brake Discs, shows you how to replace brake discs.
Converting/adjusting a brake lever
Some braking problems have a very simple, ergonomic cause. A brake lever that doesn't fit your hand well is not easy to control smoothly. The way round this problem is to choose adjustable brake (and clutch) levers from the Louis range.
These aftermarket levers come in a standard length or in a sporty short version. You can also get levers whose length is infinitely adjustable. In addition, some levers have a joint to enable the levers to fold out of the way instead of snapping off if you have an accident or if your bike hits the deck. This conversion is quick and easy to do even for inexperienced DIY mechanics. We explain how in the DIY tip CNC Levers. Brake levers have to be approved, and they come with a component test certificate or vehicle type approval see DIY tip Vehicle Safety Inspection and EU law.
Adjustment points on the rear brake pedal
It's a similar story with the rear brake pedal. Most rear pedals are easy to adjust for height so that they don't get in the way of your foot, but are also easy to operate. The adjustment is either by means of the toothing on the pedal shaft or by adjusting the brake linkage.
Upgrading from axial to radial pump
Many motorcycles are equipped with axial brake pumps as standard. On expensive sports bikes, however, the manufacturers install radial pumps instead - and for good reason. The direct lever action with the radial pump gives you better brake feel, which is a huge help in tricky braking situations (e.g. on a wet road surface or when leaning into a corner). Some replacement pumps even feature adjustable leverage:
- Larger piston diameter = shorter lever travel, faster response
- Smaller piston diameter = longer lever travel, finer control
Replacing brake lines
Apart from regularly changing the brake fluid, it's also a good idea to replace the rubber brake hoses that are often fitted as standard. Rubber hoses weaken with age.
As a result, when you pull on the brake lever, the pressure created tends to make the walls of the hose bulge rather than pressing the brake pads against the disc. This reduces the brake feel and, worse still, the braking power. The solution is to fit steel-braided brake lines. As the name suggests, these lines have an outer covering of braided steel. They guarantee a defined pressure point and more controlled braking.
Everything you need to know about changing over to steel-braided brake lines is explained in the DIY tip Steel-Braided Brake Lines.
Regular brake cleaning
Usually the braking system is only given a clean when the brake pads are replaced, but you’ll find that more regular cleaning gives you increased braking performance.
Dirt from the air and road surface creates a greasy coating on the brake discs. You can use brake cleaner to get rid of all grease and dust on the discs. The brake pistons should also be cleaned and lubricated at regular intervals to remove the brake dust which tends to accumulate. Our DIY tip Brake Pads describes in detail how to clean your brakes.
The Louis Technical Centre
If you have a technical question about your motorbike, please contact our Technical Centre, where they have endless experience, reference books and contacts.
These tips for DIY mechanics contain general recommendations that may not apply to all vehicles or all individual components. As local conditions may vary considerably, we are unable to guarantee the correctness of information in these tips for DIY mechanics.
Thank you for your understanding.