How to change bike brake pads and When (Helpful Guide)

The brakes in a bike are an extremely crucial component that needs to be cared for and checked consistently. This is particularly true for avid cyclists who tend to regularly ride their bikes. Maintenance is one of the most important aspects of keeping a bike, and this includes checking the bike brake pads.

Not only can they protect you from potential accidents and over-speeding, but they can also help to make your overall journey on the bike smoother. More often than not, bike brake pads tend to get old and worn down over time, especially under consistent use. This is why you must always check your brakes every time you commence your bike ride.

There are some things to look out for in your bike that can point towards the need for a bike brake pad change. In this guide, we will talk about each of them. Moreover, we will also discuss how to change bike brake pads, how long they tend to last, what factors affect their longevity, and much more.

When to Change Bike Brake Pads
Bike Brake Pads

Rim Brakes vs. Disc Brakes

Before we discuss when you should change bike brake pads, we must first talk about the difference between rim brakes and disc brakes. These are the two most common brakes used in bikes.

Each performs differently and has varying longevity, which means that they tend to wear out at different rates. Moreover, they also have a slightly different method of changing and replacing.

Rim Brakes

These continue to be the most common type of brakes found in most bikes. They apply pressure on the exterior of the rim of the wheel to stop the bike. However, their main drawback is the fact that they tend to damage the rim as well after regular use.

To see whether the brake needs to be changed, you must assess the teeth or tread pattern on the contact side. Monitor the depth of this pattern, and once it’s shallow and nonexistent, this means that the entire surface will be flat. At this point, you will need to replace your bikes.

Disc Brakes

The less common and traditional of the two popular types of bike brakes, the disc brake is considered to be better performing. This is especially true in difficult weathers and terrains. They are relatively new and many cyclists are opting for such brakes on their bikes.

However, they are not that great either. Disc brakes tend to generally wear out and need to be replaced faster compared to rim brakes. Moreover, they are also a bit more expensive.

These disc brake pads tend to have 3 to 4mm of thickness when new. You will not need to squeeze the lever too much to get it to stop. However, once they start to wear out, then the bike might begin stopping later.

You will need to replace the disc brake pad when you have worn it down to 25% of its thickness, or when it is just over 1.5mm.

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When to Check Bike Brake Pads

A good rule of thumb is that you check the brake pads every once a month and before you begin riding your bike. Besides the type of bike brake, some factors impact how frequently you will need to check your bike brake pads. These include the following:

1. Frequency of Riding

This goes without saying, but when you are riding your bike every day then it means that the bike brake pad will also need to be changed sooner.

Bicycling has the most amount of impact on the longevity of the brake pad because it also impacts the number of times you use the brakes. In this case, you should check your brakes once every week.

2. Riding Style

If you are used to riding your bike in mountains, that means that you will need to check your bike brake pads frequently. This is because there is more pressure on the brakes during ascends and descends. The more hills your journey has, the quicker the brakes will wear out.

Moreover, you also more likely need to press your brakes frequently when mountain biking. You consistently stop quickly and over shorter distances when mountain biking, which means that the brake pads will also wear out faster.

3. Rider’s Weight

 The weight of the driver has an impact on the longevity of the bike brake pads. For example, someone who weighs more will have to check their brake pads more frequently than someone who weighs less.

This is because the more your weight is, the more power will be needed by the brakes to stop the bike.

4. Weather and Terrain

The weather of the area you live and bike in can have an impact on the wear and tear of the bike’s brakes.

For example, if you ride your bike on excessively wet roads and mud, then the dirt and grime will stick to the rims and disks, thus reducing the longevity of the pads.

In such cases, it is important that you use alcohol swabs and wipes to clean out all the dirt from the metal brake pads before you ride out or after you return.

Similarly, the terrain also has an impact. If it is rough and bumpy, you will be pressing the brakes more often. This, as we mentioned earlier, will impact the longevity of the brake pads.

5. Elevation Gain

This is another factor to keep in mind. When riding your bike on a flat and smooth surface, you will likely not be pressing the brakes as often. However, when ascending upwards frequently, or riding on hilly areas, the bike brake pads will not last long.

Signs Bike Brake Pads Needs Changing

The above-mentioned factors will tell you about how often to check your bike brake pads.

However, besides that, you can also experience some symptoms that point towards a need for the replacement of bike brake pads.

These are some of the common signs that mean that your bike brake pads need to be changed:

How to change bike brake pads
Black bike tire with brake and suspension

1. Squeaking or Squealing Sound

Over time after consistent use of your bike, there are chances that they will start making squeaking or squealing noises. This typically means that your brake pads are reaching the end of their lives because they have been completely worn down.

When the sound changes into a grinding one, this is a sign that you are in need of an immediate replacement.

2. Grinding Sound When Braking

When you apply pressure to the brake pads and it begins to make a grinding noise, this means that you must change your brakes as soon as possible. This is because if you let the brakes continue grinding, other components of the bike will get damaged, such as the rotors.

Hence, you will likely be opening yourself up to further damage and increased costs.

3. Vibration When Braking

When you press the brakes and they vibrate, then it means that your rotors have been damaged. Hence, you will need to get your bike checked by a professional and likely replace the brake pads.

4. Takes Longer to Stop

This is another significant indicator of a possible bike pad replacement. When you press the brakes and the stopping time is longer compared to when you first got the bike, then it’s probably time for a repair.

This is because your brake pads are either damaged at this point, or you have lost brake fluid. In either case, it’s best to get your brakes checked to be on the safer side.

5. Brake Pads Appears to Be Thin

When you first get your brake pads, they tend to be quite thick. However, over time, through usage, the thickness of the brake pads would reduce.

As a result, so will the performance. When your brake pads are less than ¼ inch thick, you likely need a new set of brake pads.

6. Brake Pad Indicator Light Comes On

Some brake pads come with an indicator of sorts. Some may have lights that switch on when the pads have been worn out, or others might make a loud noise to alert you to a need for replacement. When you see the indicator light or hear the noise, it is time that you change your brake pads.

How to Change Bike Brake Pads

Now that you know that your bike brake pads need to be changed, it is pretty easy to do it yourself. In this guide, we will tell you how.

How to change bike brake pads
Bike Brake Pads

Step 1: Remove the Wheel

First of all, you will need to mount your bike in a bike stand and remove the wheel. The process of removing the wheel from the bike frame might differ according to the brake type you have.

For bikes with disc brakes, you will need to unscrew the axle or loosen the quick release lever on the wheel.

For rim bikes, you will need to shift the gears to the smallest cog. This makes it easier for the wheel to slip out. For the front wheels, you will need to unthread the skewer nut that is opposite to the lever and loosen the wheel out.

Step 2: Inspect the Brake System

This is a step that you should ideally be doing at least once a month to assess whether your brake pads need to be changed. For this step, you will need a flashlight and a vernier caliper for disc brakes to rotate the rotor width.

If you have disc brakes, the telltale signs that show you are in need of fresh brake pads include less brake pad material left, debris in the pad, and a worn down pad.

While you are inspecting, check the rotors as well. These don’t tend to wear out as easily, but you should still check if they need a replacement.   

For rim brakes, it is relatively easier to inspect the system. This is because they tend to have indicators that show whether you need to replace the pads or not.

Step 3: Remove the Pad Retention Screws or Bolts

Most disc brake pads are held together using magnets or horizontal screws and bolts. Use pliers to remove the pins, then unthread the screw or slide the bolt to remove it.

For rim brakes, you will need to unthread the screw from the side of the pad or pull out a pin. Depending on how old the brake model is, it could either contain a screw or a pin. Additionally, for some brakes, the pad might simply pull out.  

Step 4: Remove the Used Pads

Magnet-style pads in disc brakes don’t have a metal frame to set them in. However, other types of pads too. You will need to remove these frames first.

Then, with your fingers or pliers, you simply need to grab the small tabs, pinch them together, and pull them out of the caliper.

It is easier to remove the pads in rim brakes since you simply need to pull them out of the shoe, typically towards the rear.

Step 5: Clean the Brakes

Use a flashlight to inspect the brakes that you have just removed. If you have disc brakes, then you will need to use a clean rag and rubbing alcohol to clean the rotors.

Avoid touching the rotor’s brake track with bare hands as that might contaminate it. On rim brakes, you can clean the brake tracks the same way.  

You should also clean the inside of the pads with a degreaser spray and towel. This helps to remove containments, dust, and debris. If you don’t do this, then the dirt and containments can creep into your new brake pads as well.

Step 6: Install the New Brake Pads

When you replace the pads, make sure that you are wearing gloves. Brake pads tend to come in two types; resin/organic or metallic. Resin/organic pads are much quieter and perform well, but they tend to wear out quicker.

On the other hand, metallic pads hold power better and tend to not wear down that quickly in wet conditions. When replacing these pads, it is best that you get the same type that you previously had.

If you have rim brake pads, then you can simply slide them in the shoe. As it goes deeper inside, you can push it with more force so that it is properly seated. Then, thread the set screw back into the anchor.

For disc brake pads, squeeze the pads together with the spring in between and slide them into the caliper. After this, replace the horizontal retention screw or bolt and fix, if needed.

Step 7: Re-install the Wheels and Check

Put the wheel that you removed earlier and screw it back into place. Then, give your wheel a good spin and monitor the brakes to see if the disc brake rotor is functioning properly. In most cases, when you have worn pads, the brakes become too tight.

With rim brakes, you must also check if the brake shoe has been properly positioned and the quick-release on the brake caliper has been closed.

The pads should drag on the rim when you turn the wheel; if not, then you can adjust the brake cable tension and bolts on the caliper until it is just right for you.

When Should We Check Bike Brake Pads for Replacement?

On average, it is recommended that brake pads be checked and replaced after every 40,000 to 50,000 miles, but that number is difficult to count and remember. Moreover, multiple factors and conditions impact this rate.

To tread on the side of caution, it is best that you check your brake pads for replacement every month. If you are a frequent rider, weigh more, or ride on muddy and difficult terrain, you might need to check more often.

You can do this by removing the wheel and checking the pads with a flashlight. Ideally, a visual check-up of the brakes should be done every day, such as before you ride your bike.

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The Bottom Line

Checking your bike’s brake pads is an essential part of maintenance, whether or not you regularly ride your bike or not. To be on the safer side, it is important that you check these pads every day or before you go out to ride your bike.

A thorough check-up should be done every week or once in a month depending on your riding style, weather conditions, terrain, and more.

You don’t want to go on a long or hilly ride and not have your brakes work since that would be extremely dangerous, which is why it’s better to be safe than sorry.