Of all the parts you can upgrade on a dirt bike, spending money on the brake system might rank next to last.
Does the bike stop? Yes. Well good enough. Right?
Slow Down to Go Faster
Not necessarily. Remember the old adage - you have to slow down to go faster. What better way to slow down and slow down correctly than with a solid brake system that works with you instead of against you. Poor stopping power and a mushy lever do not always mean you need a brake flush or rotor replacement. You just might run a poor braking system. An upgrade offers an easy and affordable means to better control, better handling, and enhanced braking power which all boils down to faster speed and better performance on the track or trails.
When to Upgrade the Brakes
In our experience, KTM, Husqvarna and Honda typically offer a great OEM brake package on their dirt bikes and usually do not require an overhaul. All others would probably do better with an upgrade in parts including oversized rotors. However, regardless of bike model, if you experience the following while riding you not only need new brakes but would likely benefit from an upgrade:
- Abrupt stoppage
- Mushy feel
- Burn through pads and/or rotors regularly
- Overheat the pads and/or rotors regularly
- Loss of hand strength from tight-pulling lever
- Lose trust in your system
Upgrade Front and Rear Brakes?
Since 80 percent of the stopping power comes from the front brake you don't need to upgrade the rear brake. Additionally, no room exists for a large rotor so you can't install an oversized rotor anyway, nor can you use the floating rotor system. You can change the lines and pads as well as try a higher-end standard-sized, fixed rotor but you will not feel the change an upgrade to the front system provides.
Fixed Brake Rotor vs. Floating Rotor System
At first glance you might wonder why anyone uses a floating rotor system considering the fixed brake rotor has a one-piece design. A floating rotor uses bushings that attach a mounting bracket to the area where the pads grab. Sounds complicated but floating rotors allow for equal grab by the caliper on the pad surface which provides even pad wear. Some riders find floating rotors cause less lock-up but others prefer the simple straight-forward design of a fixed rotor.
Both styles work well and if you ride one, try the other and see if that improves your results and resolves any issues, like those described above.
When deciding on an upgrade, you also have to determine whether to fix your bike with oversized brake rotors or continue with the regular stock size. Most of the time, oversized wins out because of the benefits which include:
- Better heat distribution
- Longer pad life
- Longer rotor life
- Better response
Any of the oversized brake rotors, found here, whether fixed or floating offer an immediate upgrade to your braking system.
However, oversized brake rotors cost more and require changes to the caliper brackets to handle the larger rotor. So if you'd rather not deal with the overhaul and prefer an easy upgrade to your brake system, check out these standard-sized rotors from Galfer and EBC:
Steel Brake Lines
The final upgrade replaces the stock brake line with a braided stainless steel line. Stock brakes sometimes have braided steel for some of the length but others use rubber or plastic. The full length metal lines won't stretch over time, easily attach and reduce the chance of crimping or damage in a crash. The sturdy construction prevents line expansion or ballooning when applying the brakes, offers a stronger lever feel, decreases the amount of hand flexing and increases stopping power.
If you plan to piecemeal your brake upgrade, start with a new rotor whether a switch from fixed to floating and/or an upgrade to oversized. Remember, if you upgrade to an oversized rotor you also need a new caliper bracket which usually comes as a package with the new rotors but requires a bit more work. If you still fail to see a significant boost in braking performance, then add the steel-braided brake line.
Written By: AndrewT