How to Brake Harder

Braking hard on a motorcycle is a tricky business. So tricky, in fact, that a lot of people never get round to doing it, even though it's great fun and offers cool fringe benefits such as saving your life. And now you can fine-tune the feel and performance of your brakes, just by changing the pads.

Really, this is nothing new. All aftermarket pads have their own feel and power, ranging from excellent to dire. But Brembo now do three compounds for virtually every bike, regardless of whether they made the calipers. As the Italian giant is the world's best brake maker, this is an interesting development.

We track-tested all three compounds on a Honda CBR600RR running Michelin Pilot 2CT tyres. We started with the original Honda pads, which felt very safe and predictable, ideal for learning the track, which had one banzai braking zone, and two gentler sections where the bike was leaned over.Next came Brambo's replacements for the original equipment, known as SA. These are designed to do much the same job as the originals: work consistently from 50c to 350c (disc temperature), and deliver the same friction coefficient at all speeds. Feel was very similar to the original Honda pads, but perhaps slightly firmer.

The third set were Brembo's SC compound, billed as sporty road/track pads, and designed for more experienced riders. According to Brembo, friction coefficient falls slightly as road speed rises, but stays consistently higher than the SA all the way to 400c degree. On the track, they caused some initial problem: where the originals and Brembo SA felt comfortable at relatively normal braking levels, the same apparent point on the Brembo SC made the CBR judder and sway alarmingly. Only when we'd stiffened the compression and rebound damping did the bike behave well again. It looked as if the compound was making it easier to get nearer the limit.

The final set were Brembo RS, recommended purely for racing, and designed to give very high friction levels between 200c and 400c degree. Because of the change from sintered to carbon ceramic material, Brembo's test riders cleaned the discs with 150-grade emery paper before putting in a few laps to build up a new 'transfer layer' of pad material on the disc. We where expecting something pretty awkward, but they had bags of feel. As for power, the CBR's fork compression adjusters were by now almost fully shut. My notes read: 'I have no interest in braking any harder than this'

With no rain, how is it possible, I can only comment on the pads' performance under perfect conditions: boot-trashing grip from the Michelin's, and enough heat and effort to write off an Arai with sweat. Within these limits, I'd suggest Brembo SA for the road, Brembo SC if you're a fast track day rider, and Brembo RC for serious competition. With all means I will say not start mounting Brembo RC pads on your road bike to ride around town....
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