Breaking in Dirt Bike or ATV Brake Pads

A fresh set of brake pads on your dirt bike makes all the difference when it comes to stopping power.

You know the signs for when to get the brake checked and you know how to replace them (once learned - it's easy!) but do you know how to drag the brakes? Or seat the brakes? Or break in the brake pads? It all means the same thing.

You need to massage them a bit before rubbing them down hard. Point being, you can't grip it and rip it after installing new brake pads on your dirt bike and run a hot lap. You have to gently ease the new pads into performing well for the future or risk damage to the pads that can result in decreased wear life and improper braking function.

Newly installed pads need to seat in on the calipers and brake pads generally have an oily substance or other residue from the manufacturing process that needs scraping off in order to allow the meat of the pads to work properly. Therefore you need to literally ride and drag the brakes in order to brake the pads in properly.

How to Seat Brake Pads

Seating in the brake pads on your dirt bike will be the easiest maintenance function you can possibly do:

  • Ride slowly
  • Drag the brakes by applying slight pressure to the brakes
  • Drag for five to 10 minutes
  • Don't grab the brakes hard during this breaking-in period

Dragging the brakes in this manner heats the pads and helps to seat them on the calipers. This also rubs away any film or other residue on the pads. If you hit the brakes hard before properly seating them think of it like hammering in a nail and taking a hard swing on the first hit, prior to seating and adjusting the nail into the wood before commencing with harder hits.

New brake pads initially feel like 50 percent of normal braking power even through a fully engaged brake lever or pedal. Brake pads gradually get more "grabby" and eventually, once fully seated, you can lock the wheel and prevent it from rotating.

If you replace brake pads when required you won't feel much, if any, difference with the new pads. If you wear the old brake pads down to the nub then expect to feel a big difference in stopping power and overall engagement of the brakes once you replace with the new pads.

When to Replace the Brake Pads

You can visually see the life left on the brake pads as it wears towards the metal backing. Once the pad reaches the metal backing you need to replace them. Wait much longer and a near ear piercing squeal lets you know the time is now. You can cause additional damage to the calipers and brake system as a whole if you screech along and continue to ride using worn out brake pads.

Experienced riders eventually can eyeball the brake pad life and determine if they have one last ride or they need to spend the 10 or 15 minutes it takes to replace the pads (add more time if you plan on disassembling and cleaning the caliper) before the next ride day.

Just by chance, if you experience repressed braking power but the brake pads have plenty of remaining life, try adding fresh brake fluid. Topping off the brake fluid or bleeding the lines and replacing with fresh fluid often gives you the biggest braking power improvement when everything else looks raring and ready to stop.

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