Everything about motorcycle brakes

Table of contents

Everything about motorcycle brakes



Everything about motorcycle brakes

Everything about motorcycle brakes
Brake system report

Progress through perfect standstill. The decisive meters can be made on the brakes. In racing it can mean victory, on the road it can save life. MOTORRAD tells you what you can do for yourself and your brakes.

Jorg Lohse


The Honda CX 500 C turns the hairpin with whimpering tires. The driver fights his way down to the valley with the 1981 slurry pump. Sure thing, here in the Swiss Alps, the 999 euro bike from MOTORRAD has reached its limit. On the winding downhill passages, the pilot is happy to receive any support for the aged brake system, consisting of a palm-sized pair of cast discs with a simple single-piston floating caliper on the front wheel and an antiquated drum brake on the rear: closing the throttle is like reversing thrust, and quickly engaged gearshifts are just as effective small gear steps, which the engine acknowledges with howling speeds.

Should you come to terms with it, or shouldn’t you give the brakes modern technology? Insiders from the development departments of some manufacturers face such questions with frowns. They think it is dubious to modify individual parts of the braking system. Her credo: The motorcycle is a coordinated overall concept – including the originally installed brake system. This applies to current superbikes as well as to the 26-year-old slurry pump. Anyone screwing powerful six-piston pliers onto the matchstick-thin CX fork brings the whole system into a threatening imbalance, which ultimately applies to: top technology, but impassable!

The range of accessories for everything to do with brake systems is gigantic, but the individual parts should be viewed critically. There are useful components, but there are also those that are simply not challenged in road use, and that would dramatically overwhelm the driver and the machine at the same time. To make the overview easier, we take a look at the individual components of the braking system on the following pages, revealing how the performance of a system can be improved or how a more effective effect can be achieved by fine-tuning your personal braking habits. In addition, many parts of the braking system require careful control and technical cuddles. From the handle to the pane, all important maintenance and care measures are listed.

1. The brake fitting – everything under control

The command center of the braking system. A sure instinct is required here.

The heart of the brake fitting is the brake pump, which is increasingly being used in a radial design. In terms of brake pressure, which it builds up in the system, it is not superior to a conventional brake pump, but it is in terms of feedback and controllability, since larger pistons are used that cover less distance when braking. It is essential to have an easy-to-use brake lever that should be adjustable using a ratchet mechanism – now standard on many new motorcycles.

Maintenance and Care
High frictional forces arise at the bearing points on the handbrake lever. That is why the bolts and friction surface on the brake cylinder must always be well lubricated (high-pressure-resistant grease, copper paste). Dry levers can only be moved jerkily at high pressure. The brake armature should be adjusted so that outstretched fingers and forearm form a line. When aligning, first tighten the upper clamping screw and then fix it with the lower one. Incorrectly installed clamps are the cause of a doughy brake feel. When adjusting the reach, try all positions in order to find the optimal position for sensitive brake metering. Tip: The index and middle fingers should extend beyond the lever with your hand loosely on the handle.

Retrofitting adjustable levers is recommended. These cost around 120 euros. With radial pumps, the hand lever, which can be adjusted using a knurled screw, is part of the basic equipment. The exchange makes sense for a finer brake feel. Single-disc brake systems require radial pumps with 13-millimeter master pistons; with double-disc brakes, the master piston should have a diameter of between 16 and 19 millimeters, depending on the brake caliper. Cost: around 300 euros. Attention: An ABE or a parts certificate is required to replace the brake lever.

2. The brake line – real hose

The main artery of the braking system. Nothing should give way here under pressure.

Not uncommon: the brake lever sticks to the rubber grip at the top, but hardly anything happens at the bottom of the brake caliper and disc. Time to take a close look at the brakes in the brake system, i.e. brake hoses and brake fluid.

Maintenance and Care
The most common fault in the system is too old brake fluid. This should be replaced every two years at the latest, as it is hygroscopic, i.e. it absorbs water as it ages: the boiling point of the liquid drops and its performance drops significantly. The type of DOT brake fluid that can be used is noted on the cover of the expansion tank; if in doubt, ask your specialist dealer. The glycol-based types DOT 3, 4 and 5.1 may be mixed with each other, but not with the type DOT 5, which contains silicone and therefore has a completely different composition. After replacing the fluid, meticulous venting of the system is required. To do this, we recommend the use of a bleeding device (around 50 euros), in which the liquid is sucked off using negative pressure. During the subsequent functional check, the pressure point must remain constant.

Gray rubber hoses should definitely be replaced by a high-pressure-resistant steel flex line. In contrast to rubber hoses, which become porous as they age and allow water vapor to penetrate into the system, the steel braided Teflon lines are maintenance-free and do not have to be replaced every five years (manufacturer’s instructions!) Like the rubber hoses. Steel braided lines are available from around 50 euros with ABE, so there is no need to enter them in the vehicle documents.

3. The brake caliper – be embraced

The command post of the braking system. We must not back down here.

The main design principle of the brake calliper is a rigid shape that does not expand under high pressure and at extreme temperatures. Radially screwed brake calipers are increasingly being used in sports motorcycles. Their actual purpose is racing: the radial calipers can be quickly adapted to other brake disc diameters using spacer sleeves. Constructive advantage: the more stable connection to the fork leg and the elimination of torsion-prone adapter plates. For most types of motorcycles, conventionally mounted fixed caliper brakes with four pistons remain the high-performance standard.

Maintenance and Care
When changing the pads you should clean the pliers at the same time. Baked-on brake dust and road dirt can be removed with a brass or copper brush, plenty of water and washing-up liquid. A soft cloth or toothbrush is recommended for cleaning the brake piston to avoid scoring and scratches. Caution: If dirty pistons are pushed back into the pliers, the seals can be damaged. During the first visual inspection, it is essential to pay attention to damp spots in the brake calliper. Brake fluid escapes here.

An update to brake calipers with six or even eight pistons (around 1000 euros per pair) is only recommended for drivers with real sporting ambitions. The advantage (smooth pistons, higher braking torque) can only be measured gradually. The same applies to converting to radial brake calipers (around 600 euros per pair), for which new fork feet are also required. These cost at least 1000 euros. Older street bikes are quickly overwhelmed with such brakes anyway.

4. The brake pads – a real friction

The rapid reaction force of the braking system. Here must be firmly packed.

There are two types of brake pads: Sintered metal pads, which mainly consist of metal powder, lubricants and abrasives and have the advantage that they work well cold and hot. Organic coverings mainly contain binding resin, metals and also lubricants and abrasives. Although they respond more gently, they work significantly worse when cold and do not match the performance of sintered metal coverings when wet.

Maintenance and Care
A regular look into the brake caliper is sufficient to check the thickness of the lining. Another indication of the change: a shifting pressure point and increased lever travel on the brake armature. With a little routine, brake pads can be changed quickly. When inserting the new coverings, they should be thinly coated on the back with copper paste. This prevents annoying brake squeal. But be careful: the paste must never get onto the base. The brake pads should then be run in according to the manufacturer’s specifications (usually through moderate braking maneuvers over the first 100 kilometers).

With the right pad mixture, a dull and bland looking brake can be turned into one that grabs a lot in no time at all. However, the performance of the lining depends heavily on the friction partner, the brake disc. Therefore one cannot generalize the judgment about the rubbers of different manufacturers. Attention: The systems of older models in particular can be overwhelmed by the high temperatures that arise when using sintered metal coverings. Therefore, you should discuss a change from organic coverings to sintered metal with your specialist dealer.

5. The brake disc – never free from heat

The sufferer of the braking system. She has to swallow everything that is pushed into her.

Brake discs made of chrome steel have established themselves in series production. They are characterized by good cold and hot braking behavior in everyday use, but can warp or even crack when they are overheated. In order to compensate for this, the so-called floaters between the inner and outer rings of floating brake discs are not firmly pressed, but rather are movably mounted. This allows the outer ring to expand and contract more easily while driving. Sports drivers, on the other hand, appreciate cast discs that can absorb and dissipate heat better and also respond more gently. The potential of cold cast discs is poor, however, and the susceptibility to rust is annoying in everyday life.

Maintenance and Care
If the outer ring of the brake disc is stained, you have found an unfavorable friction pairing and should switch to other brake pads. After changing the pads, remove old abrasion from the brake disc with brake cleaner, paying attention to possible scoring. If the lever pulsates when braking, the disc is warped. If the damage can no longer be repaired by planning, the brake disc must be replaced. This also applies when the disc has reached its wear limit.

The latest fad are currently brake disks with a wave-shaped outer edge, which originally came from the off-road scene. This is where their greatest advantages lie (good self-cleaning, better wet braking behavior). As an alternative to floating disks, there are segment brake disks that can also expand radially and axially and thus prevent distortion.

Brake pads in a practical test – win and buy?

What are race-proven goods good for in everyday life? A concept comparison of different pad mixtures for country roads and racetracks.

Carlos de la Fuente from the Spanish sister paper Motociclismo is beside himself. He stands in front of Bruno Lonati and Fabrizio Motta, gesticulating wildly. The two developers of the Italian brake giant Brembo are trying to tame the Spaniard’s torrent of speech in quick notes on their shorthand pads. It doesn’t matter that Carlos makes his statement exclusively in his mother tongue. The Spaniard is easy to follow through sweeping gestures and theatrical facial expressions. He “drives” the racetrack to the nearest meter. After the tricky chicane he has just turned back onto the start-finish straight of the “Auto-dromo di Franciacorta” near Milan and then, exhausted, falls into a folding chair: “Muy bien” – very good.
We are in the middle of an experiment: What can street-legal sintered surfaces do, and how do racing surfaces compare? It is based on a Honda CBR 600 RR, which, after several run-in laps, is equipped with the standard brakes with various Brembo pads. First of all, the original pads in the radially bolted brake calipers of the CBR are replaced by the “SA” brembo compound. The street-legal sintered lining harmonizes well with the braking system of the Honda. The pressure point is precise and stable, the system can be easily dosed and controlled, both cold and warm.
This is followed by type »SC«, a street-legal sintered surface in a racing mixture, which – according to Brembo’s development goal – can be driven on both country roads and racetracks. This mixture proves to be very stable on the racetrack. Although it gives the CBR brake a lot more bite, it also demands a lot more attention and sensitivity from the driver when applying the brakes. Even after a number of laps, you don’t brake as confidently with them as you could with the SA pad right from the start.
Finally, the racing mix “RC” follows, based on carbon-ceramic materials. Anyone who thinks that the CBR stoppers will mutate into brutal throwing anchors is wrong. The Honda can be braked extremely harmoniously into curves, the area of ​​good controllability extends over a huge distance. Almost every millimeter of lever travel can be felt in actual deceleration.
But dealing with the RC pads is not easy: Road drivers will miss the hard pressure point they know from their standard pads. In addition, the racing surfaces need high temperatures in order to be stable. So nothing for everyday life, where even in the event of a panic braking with a cold brake, sufficient effect must be available immediately.

Common questions and answers – four to six

How much DOT can be, what does the disc do at the edge? Answers to questions about the braking system.

What do I have to consider when buying six-piston pliers??
Six-piston pliers that have one pad on each side are not recommended. On the one hand, the long pads can warp in extreme heat and then no longer lie evenly on the pane. On the other hand, the wide opening in the middle part of the pliers can widen during braking and noticeably worsen the pressure point. Therefore, the pliers should be equipped with individual coatings. The opening can only be secured against bending open during braking with additional screw connections.
What are the advantages of internal brakes such as those used by Buell?
In this system, the brake discs are attached directly to the rim flange with a floating mount. Advantage: The braking forces are transmitted directly to the rim and do not have to be diverted via the wheel hub and spokes, as is the case with conventional fastening. As a result, lighter and more filigree constructions are possible. This considerably reduces the unsprung masses and, at least Buell promises, the gyroscopic forces as well. With the Buell, one disc is enough to ensure stable braking performance. However, such a type of brake can be oversized for some light machines.
What is the point of using DOT 5 brake fluid?
DOT 5 is a silicone-based brake fluid that does not attract water and is therefore significantly more resistant to aging. This also reduces rust formation in the brake system. The disadvantage: DOT 5 – developed for the US military – is more compressible and can make the pressure point soft and spongy. In any case, DOT 5 may only be filled in appropriately approved systems. As an alternative to types DOT 3 or 4, only type DOT 5.1 (all based on glycol) may be used – if this is permitted by the manufacturer.
Why are carbon fiber brake discs not street legal?
When it comes to racing, carbon fiber brake discs are the ultimate choice – as long as it’s not raining. Because then the ultra-light panes will be replaced by steel panes that are around four times as heavy. The reason: carbon discs need temperatures of 200 to 300 degrees Celsius to build up an acceptable coefficient of friction. When cold, such systems remain far below their capabilities and therefore cannot be used in everyday life. A technically interesting alternative, however, are the equally light, carbon-based composite ceramic brakes, for which there is now an ABE.

More information – click and buy

Tips for screwdrivers on everything to do with the braking system can be quickly accessed at www.motorradonline.de. Numerous articles on the subject of brakes, including detailed tests of brake pads, can be found in the online magazine archive at www.motorradonline.de or delivered to your home via the reorder service (phone 0711 / 182-1229).
ABM: Telephone 07667/94460, www.ab-m.de
Alpha-Technik: Telephone 08036/3007020, www.alphatechnik.de
Braking: Phone 04334/18760, www.braking.de
Brembo: Phone 02504/73440; www.brembo.com
Carbone Lorraine: Telephone 0731/9709050, www.carbonelorraine.de
Ferodo: Telephone 040/2482770, www.pwhamburg.de
Fischer Hydraulik: Telephone 07422/240519, www.fischer-hydraulik.de
France Equipment: Telephone 07229/697070, www.franceequipment.de
Lucas: Phone 02631/9120, www.lucas-bikersworld.com
PVM: Phone 0621/855202, www.pvm.de
Riwi: Phone 0221/9522053, www.riwi-brakes.de
Sicom: Telephone 089/6133893, www.sicom-brakes.de
Spiegler Bremstechnik: Telephone 07667/906640, www.spiegler.de

Braking points

With or without ABS: the brakes require a sensitive hand. This will shorten your stopping distance.

With or without ABS: the brakes require a sensitive hand. This will shorten your stopping distance.
1 In order to achieve effective braking performance, not only the braking system but also the tires and chassis must be in order.
2 In the event of a spongy pressure point, damp areas on the brake calliper or noticeable noises from the direction of the brake system, immediately search for clues.
3 Not only wet roads require sensitive braking maneuvers. The coefficient of friction between the tires and the road also decreases on hot asphalt.
5 Brake hard at the rear during emergency braking. Dose at the front so that the front wheel moves at the locking limit.
If the front wheel locks, briefly release the brake to avoid a fall.
6 Poisonous gripping brakes quickly lead to a fall when braking in a panic. When choosing a topping, pay attention to your personal dosing preferences.
7 Good braking is a matter of practice. An empty street in the industrial area offers ideal conditions at the weekend.
8 Start your training slowly and feel your way towards the limit in small steps. Work on increasing the brake pressure continuously but quickly.
9 ABS braking also needs to be practiced. In an emergency it is important to reach in hard. This grip has to be right.
10 Remain relaxed and relaxed when braking. Anyone who brakes with clenched teeth is doing something wrong. In an emergency, concentration and presence of mind count.

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