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Keep on the Road – A Guide to Maintaining Hydraulic Disk Brakes

Disk brakes are becoming increasingly popular and nearly every pro team has adopted them, although there are a few exceptions where rim brakes are still used.
Hydraulic brakes work using hydraulic fluid and pistons to push the pads together when you squeeze the brake lever. This is far more complex than standard rim brakes. As such, they do require more maintenance than rim brakes and from time to time repair.
With this in mind, let’s look at hydraulic brakes and how to keep them maintained.

disk brake repair adviceDisk brakes are used by most Pro peloton teams.

Disk Brake Components Explained

In essence, your disk brake components are as follows.

  • Rotor - This is the disk that is attached to the wheel hub. 
  • Brake pads - This is the part that makes contact with the rotor when you apply the brake and slows the bike down.
  • Callipers - These hold the brake pads in place.
  • Pistons - These push the callipers together as you apply the brake.
  • Brake lines - These are filled with hydraulic brake fluid that activates the pistons when you pull the brake lever.
  • Mounting bolts - These hold the brakes to the bike frame.

Inspect Your Brake Pads

It is important you inspect your brake pads regularly and replace them when they start to show signs of wear and tear. Your pads are very much at the sharp end of the braking system as this is the part that makes contact with the rotor and slows you down.

If you notice your brakes are losing responsiveness, it could be the pads are wearing out. So inspect and if necessary replace in the first instance.

Brake Lines can Leak!

Brake lines sometimes leak and if you can’t find anything wrong with the pads, take a look at where two lines join. You may want to tighten the connecting nuts and if there is a leak you might find fluid around that area.

Replacing braking fluid is a tricky job and is best left to a qualified bike mechanic.

Travelling and Disk Brakes

Disk brakes have a reputation for not travelling too well, so if you are taking your bike on a plane, train or car, it is advised that you protect the brakes during transit. The alignment of the brake callipers is very precise for the disk brake to work. When travelling this alignment can be easily displaced rendering the brake ineffective.

There are several products on the market to help you protect your disk brakes such as calliper spacers and tools that are designed to push the callipers apart should they have closed together due to the rigours of travel.

If you are travelling by plane it is a good idea to remove the rotors. If left to their own devices they may bend and warp. Should that happen, again, there are tools to help you bend the rotor back into shape. Consider using a disk brake cover to protect them from oils and other fluids that impede performance.

General Maintenance

To keep your disk brakes in good working order, always ensure your brakes are clean and debris free. Using a dedicated disk brake cleaner is essential, and perform maintenance regularly, ideally before every ride.

What Should I do if My Disk Brakes Develop a Fault?

If your disk brakes develop a fault it is best practice to take your bike to a professional bike mechanic. They are quite tricky to repair due to their more involved and complex nature and given your brake’s importance to keeping you safe in the saddle, you are best advised to take your bike to an expert.

You could also invalidate the bike warranty by attempting to repair the brakes yourself.

SportActive - Faster, Fitter, Stronger

Submitted: 1/3/23

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