Brake Rotors, Pads, & Kits


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How to choose motocross brakes, rotors, and pads: While we all want to go faster and typically spend money to boost the horsepower of our bikes, sometimes, being able to stop more quickly will make you go faster. After all, it was Ricky Carmichael that once said if he had better brakes, he'd be willing to go even faster. So what goes into the metal rotors at the front and rear of our motocross bikes? Let's learn a thing or two in our Brakes buyer's guide.

How Brake Rotors and Pads Work

When you squeeze the brake lever (or push the pedal), the brake pads close and compress against the brake rotor. This causes friction, which in turn causes the bike to slow down. The more pressure, the more friction, until finally it can actually "lock the brakes" by stopping the rotor from moving entirely.

Materials, Types, and Sizes

There are a few different ways to increase braking power on our bikes, one of which is to use larger diameter brake rotors. For quite a few years, 240-250mm front brake rotors were the norm, but now standards are around 260mm, with aftermarket units reaching to 280mm for motocross applications (even larger for Supermoto). The larger the rotor, the more leverage it has on the wheel. Also, the more total surface area that the rotor has can improve its ability to cool down after each rotation through the pads. Brake rotors also come in different styles: such as solid rotors (no venting) for mud conditions, vented (fairly standard), and high-end versions with channels or cutouts for improved action and cooling.

The rotors themselves will either be stamped or laser cut from different grades of steel. Stamping is typically the cheaper process but may not provide the accuracy of a rotor blade that has been laser cut. How the rotors are attached to the hub/wheel is another component of their performance, as we have solid and floating mounts. Solid mounts used to be more common before floating setups came along, but are now making a bit of a comeback in the pro field. A solid mount means the rotor blade is mounted solidly to the hub, while a floating rotor has some form of cushion, pressed button, or sleeve that allows the rotor to float from side-to-side on the mount. Solid mounted rotors feel a bit more "on-off" for power as they create more immediate friction when the pads contact them. The floating rotor on the other hand will move a bit as the pads contact the rotor, and flex to stay with the pads as the wheel travels through the stroke of the suspension on rough terrain. A floating rotor won't offer the immediate power of a solid mount, but is typically more consistent in rough terrain and offers more modulation of power, along with having a bit of "give" when hit in an impact.

Brake pads also have a say in braking performance based on their size and compound. For the most part, in the motocross realm, we're held to the size of pad the brake calipers were designed for, so compounds and design are where you can change things up. Typically, a metallic or carbon metallic-based pad will be best used in day-to-day scenarios. Like light trail riding, general track days, just for the guy looking for consistent braking performance over a range of conditions. These pads however aren't the best in extreme racing conditions, as they tend to fade more under high-stress and heat. For the more hardcore racer or heavy brake user, a sintered or ceramic/carbon composite pad is better. These pads won't usually have the immediate performance of a metallic pad, but get better-and-better as the heat and stress rises.

Brake Lines and Calipers

Another common mod or aftermarket component is to swap out your brake lines. Higher-quality aftermarket lines are typically steel braided, meaning there's less flex in the lines and allow the fluid to travel more precisely between the master cylinder and the brake caliper. Depending on the application, the line may even be smaller inside, to change the amount of fluid that travels to the caliper; which would change the feel and power applied to the pads.

This transfer of fluid plays a bit into why some teams have aftermarket or even "works" brake calipers. This comes down to understanding how much brake fluid the master cylinder can push, how much the line can flow, and the size of the pistons in the brake. Most aftermarket brake calipers have larger pistons, which can utilize some of the OEM master cylinders that move a lot of fluid. This creates a more equal balance between the output of the pressure from the cylinder, and the pressure needed to move the brake caliper piston. This in turn can create better modulation or brake feel, and increase power...if combined properly.

How Much To Spend

Brake rotors vary the most in this category, and at $50-$100 you'll find stock replacement rotors, while moving above this will add in more features and oversize options.

Above $100, you'll find the highest-end rear rotors and moving into basic level front rotor kits and some oversize options.

Once you crack the $200 mark you'll find various front rotor kits of larger sizes, along with other features to lose weight and improve brake rotor cooling at each price jump. At the highest end, they might range all the way up to near $400.

For the most part, the overall size and quality of the rotor material is the most important part of your choice. Most riders wouldn't notice the difference between the middle of the road and high-end priced options, as the high priced kits are just a tad bit lighter and work just a bit better over long motos.

Product Reviews

Before buying, be sure to do your research and read product reviews. Reviews are a great way to find out specifics about a particular model, user impressions, and things to watch out for. After you've purchased a product and had enough time to thoroughly test it, we encourage you to leave a review for other people to see when they are researching bikes and parts on the web.

We hope you've found this information to be helpful. If you have a question that isn't answered in this guide, the Vital MX Forum is a great place to get advice from knowledgeable riders.

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