Speed is a good thing on your dirt bike or ATV, it is in fact, what draws many to racing or just whipping through trails. Brakes sometimes become an afterthought until difficulty slowing down presents a whole other issue.

Brake problems arise from a number of issues and riders recognize the symptoms rather quickly. Riding without adequate braking power almost always results in disaster. Knowing the signs of bad brakes is the first step in maintaining your safety and getting the necessary adjustments to get back riding. Indications of bad brakes on your dirt bike or ATV include:

  • Grinding
  • Squishy/Mushy
  • Dragging
  • Full pullback of lever or pedal
  • Skipping
  • Nonresponsive

The solution to brake issues vary widely from a simple adjustment to a full on brake job. The trick is figuring out what's causing the issue you're dealing with. Sometimes the answer is obvious like with grinding issues, other times you'll need to troubleshoot your way to an answer. So, if you're dealing with any of the above symptoms check out the following suggestions to see if there's an easy fix.

New Brake Pads

Is your dirt bike or ATV overdue for new brake pads? You'll know because of that nails-on-chalkboard sound emanating from the wheels every time you brake. The solution is simple. Replace the brake pads. If however, the brake pads are new the issue could be the type of pad. Brake pads should fit easily into the pins. Check to ensure you have the right pads for the brake system your running. Installing wrong brake pads is nearly as bad is riding without pads.

One thing to keep an eye on is the brake fluid reservoir. As the brake pads wear down, the brake caliper needs more fluid to push the pads closer to the rotor. If the brake reservoir shows low fluid levels that might be the first sign that it's time to replace the pads.

New Brake Rotor

The brake caliper squeezes the brake pads against the brake rotor to slow down your machine. Brake pads wear down, so do the brake rotors. A low brake fluid reservoir is also a clue that the rotors needs replacing since the calipers use more fluid to get the pads to reach the worn down rotors. Use a micrometer to check the rotor's thickness. The wear limits can be found in the dirt bike's or ATV's service manual. If you ride aftermarket rotors check with the manufacturer for proper thickness.

Bottom line: Don't ride with brake pads and rotors past the wear limits.

Bleed the Brakes

If dirt or air bubbles get caught in the brake line you'll have trouble stopping. Air or debris in the brake line results in the brakes skipping or a mushy or squishy feel when squeezing the brake lever or pushing on the pedal. Air in the line often occurs after a brake job or topping off the brake fluid carelessly. The solution is to loosen the drainage nipple on the backend of the brake caliper and let the brake fluid drain until the bubble releases or dirt escapes.

After bleeding the brakes, don't forget to top off with the manufacturers recommended brake fluid (usually DOT 4). Pour carefully or you'll just end up with air in the line again. Check out our How to Bleed Dirt Bike Brakes guide for help on this task.

Replace Brake Fluid

If the brake fluid is dirty or old, it's time to replace. Over time, brake fluid absorbs moisture and air and needs flushing. Brake fluid looks like regular engine oil and like engine oil, you'll know if it's dirty. However, the best way to prevent issues with bad brake fluid is to follow the manufacturer's recommendation on replacing the fluid. You don't ride overtime on the engine oil, don't ride overtime on the brake fluid.

Adjust Front Brake Lever

If you ride a bicycle you've probably already faced this annoying problem. An improperly adjusted brake lever can cause constant pressure of the pads on the rotor or, conversely, not enough pressure. Check the brake lever's adjustment and ensure it works properly.

Clean and Lubricate Caliper Pins

A lack of lubrication can cause the pins to bind up resulting in grinding or the brakes sticking or grabbing. If you need replacements try the K&L Rebuild Kit.

Replace Seals

If the seals in the caliper are bad you'll feel the brakes drag or in the case of the rear brakes, lose pressure as you push the brake pedal down. After a while, it's hard not to notice leaky seals as brake fluid leaks out and covers everything. But before getting to this stage you should have already addressed the problem.

Center and Torque Wheels

Misaligned wheels inadvertently rub along the brake pads causing dragging and wearing down one or both pads prematurely. You'll likely hear the rubbing but definitely feel it as your momentum is constantly taking a hit. If this occurs check your wheel alignment.

Clean Pads

This is about as easy as it gets. You just might have dirty pads. During clean-up don't neglect your wheels and brake system. Clean those just as well as the rest of the bike.

Maintaining the brake system on your dirt bike or ATV is just as important as all the other maintenance needs. Regularly inspecting and replacing the brake fluid according to warranty goes a long way to reducing and even eliminating most if not all the problems discussed earlier.

Brake fluid acts as a lubricant and coolant to your brake system a component of your dirt bike or ATV that can quickly overheat and damage all the vital parts. Using the wrong brake fluid or riding with old fluid with compromised viscosity and coolant properties is directly attributed to damaged seals, worn out calipers, deteriorated brake lines and eventually a busted master cylinder.