Stopping Power: Which Brake Setup Is Right For You? 2

We run through four different brake setups (including stock) on our KX450 to see how each combo feels on the bike.

 

Words by Chris Siebenhaar

You can only go as fast as you can slow down, as the saying goes. In motocross, brakes are a dynamic system where you a battling the forces of traction, friction, heat, feel, power, and feedback, all at the same time. Unlike paved disciplines of racing, where maximum stopping power is usually the goal, motocross and supercross require a much more subtle and responsive brake system that allows the rider to have maximum control, rather than max braking power. 

Since there are multiple parts to a brake system, there are multiple ways to upgrade or change a dirt bike's brakes. Lines, rotor shapes, rotor sizes, and brake pads can all be swapped for different parts in many combinations. We decided to reach out to Galfer USA to test some of their set ups for motocross bikes on the same day, at the same track to really get an apples-to-apples comparison. This test can apply to any brand of brakes and is about different set ups more than being about specific products. If you'd rather listen than read or watch, check out this episode of the Inside Line Podcast with Galfer USA's Sandro Milesi who goes way more in depth on all aspects of motocross brake systems. 

FRONT BRAKE ROTOR DETAILS

BRAKE ROTOR OEM Rotor GALFER Floating Wave Rotor GALFER Floating Tsunami Rotor
Rotor Size 270 mm 270 mm 280 mm
Rotor Thickness 2.91 mm 3.03 mm 3.09 mm
Carrier Thickness 2.91 mm 3.16 mm 4.49 mm
Weight 1.14 lb 1.6 lb 1.4 lb

GALFER BRAKE PADS

Changing material will affect the bite of the pad, meaning how aggressive the pads contact the rotor. 

  • Semi-Metallic: Soft initial bite 
  • Sintered: Moderate initial bite – This was the pad used for all of our tests. 
  • Ceramic Race: Aggressive initial bite

OEM Setup (Rotor, Pads, Line)

In stock form, the Kawasaki has a very neutral brake lever feel and for the most part, a very linear power curve. In fact, during our 2021 MX Shootout, the KX450 had my favorite front brake feel in terms of power and modulation. Still, it’s not 100% to my liking, towards the end of the lever pull (around 75% or so) the braking/stopping power starts to taper off.

For comparison (based of 2021 450cc MX Shootout) Honda and Yamaha have a much more sensitive brake lever feel. By that I mean it’s very touchy at the beginning of the lever pull, almost instantaneous, but the power of the brake tapers off shortly after. It’s as if majority of the brake power is within the first 25% of the lever pull but then goes a bit flat. 

The KTM, Husqvarna and GASGAS have a very soft lever pull and the power of the brakes doesn’t really show until around 50% lever pull. From there, the power of the brakes comes on strong and fast. 


GALFER 270mm Floating Wave Rotor – GALFER Sintered Pads – OEM Brake Line

This Rotor setup has a very similar feel to the OEM rotor from about 0-25% lever pull. From around 25-50% there is a definite increase of feedback from the brake rotor, and I began to feel more connected to what the front wheel was doing. From 50% on there is a noticeable amount of power increase to the braking. Where the OEM rotor/pads would start to lose its stopping power, the GALFER Wave Rotor is still ramping up its power all the while giving an increased level of feedback and therefor confidence in what is going on at the wheel. 

GALFER 270 mm Wave Rotor.

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This is largely due to the difference in the steel used for the braking surface of the rotor, GALFER uses 420 High Carbon Steel for all their rotors. While there is a plethora of science behind the material and their methods of constructing the rotor, I’ll keep it simple. The high carbon steel provides greater feedback to the rider AND greater stopping ability as the pads are pushed harder into the rotor. Additionally, as noted in the rotor details, both the rotor and the carrier are thicker than stock. This further helps to provide more positive feedback to the rider and a more accurate brake feel. 


GALFER 280mm Floating Tsunami Rotor – Sintered Pads – OEM Brake Line

There’s a lot to talk about with this rotor here. For starters, the rotor size. While it’s only 10mm larger than the current OEM rotor size found on all modern motocross bikes, it is 20mm larger than what was found on the same bikes less than 10 years ago. With a larger rotor comes shorter braking distances and greater stopping power with less effort. Again, while we can get way more technical about why are larger rotor stops better (heat, surface area, contact, etc), think of it this way, a larger rotor gives you more leverage to stop your wheel. Imagine a torque wrench or any wrench for that matter; the longer the wrench, the easier it is to all apply torque to the bolt (or pivot point). The further out the caliper and brake surface is from the axel, the more “torque” can be applied with the same or less effort to stopping the rotation of the axel (and the wheel attached to it).

Next, you may notice that the weight of the 280mm rotor is less than the 270mm, that’s not a typo. I had to check multiple times. The reason for this is that the 280mm rotor uses a “superlight” carrier in addition to have lighter pins. So while the rotor is a larger diameter, there are some lighter weight materials that also make up the construction. 

GALFER 280 mm Tsunami Rotor

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Again, while using the Sintered Pads, the initial bite is very much the same as the other rotor combinations, rather mild, yet positive. However, once you increased the lever pull just slightly you are rewarded with a significant increase of braking power. From there the stopping power increases exponentially from stock. In addition to the high carbon steel giving a more positive feedback, the grooves that make up the Tsunami rotor, further increase feel and rider feedback. Now I was told that this rotor with the Ceramic Race pad can have a very aggressive bite, and you’d best use caution if riding/racing on surfaces with less-than-ideal traction. But again, with our combination, I was comfortable and confident using this rotor even as the track became rough and as it dried out. 


GALFER 280mm Floating Tsunami Rotor – Sintered Pads – GALFER Braided Brake Line

Overall braking forces felt nearly identical to using the OEM brake line. The big difference came from lever feel. With the GALFER Steel Braided Line, there is almost no squish or give in the lever. Every percentage of movement from the lever translates to an equal percentage of pressure pushing into the pads. There is nothing lost from even the slightest bit of flex or expansion of the brake line. While feedback was better when there was ample traction throughout the morning, I felt a slight amount of feedback was lost at the end of the day when braking into dry, dusty, hard packed sections. This is due to the fact that sometimes the bit of squish from a stock line can actually help with what feels like pushback against the lever, sometimes that can help take some of the excess forces from going straight to the pads. It’s not a big deal, just something to be aware of later in the day. Think of a balloon, as you blow air into it, the tension of the rubber tries to push the air back out the easiest way possible, which is back through the part you’re blowing into. If you stop blowing, you can feel the air pressure in the balloon at your lips, this is pretty similar. It’s easier for the compressed fluid in the hose to push back against the lever, than it is against the rotor. That’s where there, at times you can get a bit more feedback to the lever in certain situations. 

This is an important note because due to your bike, the brake line supplied from the manufacture can vary significantly. Honda and Yamaha use rubber hoses which break down over time and allow for expansion when fluid is compressed through it. This will affect lever feel. KTM, Husqvarna and GASGAS all use steel braided lines, so this is an upgrade that is not necessary. Kawasaki comes with a braided line of sorts, but a difference is felt when switched to a steel braid. Whatever Kawasaki uses as their line, it’s sits comfortable between the other Japanese brands and the Austrian group, this no doubt contributes to its OEM brake feel. 

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REAR BRAKE ROTOR DETAILS

REAR BRAKE ROTOR OEM Rotor GALFER Tsunami Rotor
Rotor Size 250 mm 250 mm
Rotor Thickness 3.95 mm 4.05 mm
Weight 1.2 lb 1.4 lb

GALFER 250 mm Rear Wave Rotor

We switched out the same components of the OEM rear brake system consisting of the rear brake rotor, line and pads and installed GALFER Tsunami Wave rotor (non-floating), GALFER Braided Brake Line and GALFER Sintered Pads. In stock form I have hear and read that some people to find that the increased rear rotor (240mm to 250mm) that Kawasaki installed a few years back, is too sensitive. Some have said that they lock up the rear wheel more often than in previous years or, on other models. Personally, I have never had an issue with the OEM 250mm rotor and find that it has a reasonable amount of feel and modulation. Thus, I had some hesitation when installing items that may give it MORE stopping power, but what I forgot, was that I would also get more feedback and feel. 

Like the Tsunami front rotor and brake line, the change of these two items yielded a strong increase of feedback through the pedal and to my foot. To be honest, throughout the day I frequently forgot we had even changed the rear system. But occasionally, I would notice how accurate the feel from the rear wheel was. There was a handful of times when charging hard into a corner, trailing the brakes in, I was actually surprised that I wasn’t locking up the rear wheel, but rather feeding the power/pressure in with extreme accuracy. 

If you are looking for more feedback and feel from your rear brake, this rotor and a brake line may be a great start. If you would like less bit from the brake system, use the Semi-Metallic pad instead of the Sintered pads that I used. 

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