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Why are the brakes on my beautiful bike so noisy?

May 12, 2023 3 min read

You live in a hilly city. You have a fancy new bike with powerful disc brakes - life is good. Until, one day your brakes start screaming at you! The peace you one experienced has turn to frustration and anxiety - so what's the deal?

Living in Wellington, one of the most common issues we see are glazed brake pads. It can happen to the best of us but with small changes in braking habits, it can easily be avoided.

How it happens.

Glazed brake pads often occur when a rider has a long steady descent, and they hold both brakes on lightly for an extended period to control their speed. The constant and light friction doesn’t allow the pads to wear down naturally but instead superheats the surface of the pads making a shiny, smooth, and hard skin – the result: glazed brake pads. This causes poor braking performance, often accompanied by that dreaded noisy, screechy brake – particularly in the wet.

How to avoid it. Pump the brakes.

Try to avoid constant light pressure on both brakes, instead apply braking pressure in bursts, or swapping from one brake to the other. Both strategies will allow each brake time to cool and when it is time to use them, needing to apply that extra pressure will allow the pads wear efficiently and perform their best. It may sound counter-intuitive but working the brakes harder, for a shorter period, will result in a much better experience for you and your beautiful bike.

This is called pumping the brakes, a technique you may have heard in relation to pumping the brakes of a car down a hill. It’s the same principle, for the same reason.  

Note. This is an issue caused by light braking down a shallow descent. If you have a steep hill to go down, the firm pressure you need to apply will work the pads properly, meaning it never has a chance to glaze. So don’t be afraid to use your brakes!

My brake pads might be glazed. What can I do?

There are a couple of good ways to go about it. The simplest is to drop it in to your local bike shop to be checked. Getting your brake system checked by a professional is always the best option.

The other way is to burn that glazed layer off yourself. Pedal the bike up to a fast run, then pull the problematic brake on moderately hard, slowing yourself down to a walking pace. Repeat this 5 – 10 times, or until the brakes stop squealing – you’ll likely notice that the brake gets more powerful after each repetition. Please make sure you are comfortable with braking powerfully and know whether you are using the front or rear brake. Repeat these steps on the other brake if necessary.

This trick is not foolproof. In rare cases not just the surface but the whole pad has been glazed. In this case your only solution is to replace the pads.

Before trying be sure that you brake pads aren't simply worn out. Unsure? Find out how to check here.


If I’m using the alternating braking technique is one brake powerful enough to slow me down?

Short answer yes – if you bought a bike from us, you’ll likely have brakes to suit your bike and cargo hauling needs. If you are unsure or feel underpowered when stopping, come see us or your local bike shop.

I don’t think my brake pads are glazed, but recently, my brakes have not been performing as expected. What’s the deal?

The answer, unfortunately, could be many things. The technique described above can solve more than just glazed pads, so if you feel comfortable, you can try that and see if it resolves the issue. Otherwise, we’d highly recommend taking your bike into your local shop for an assessment.

My brake lever pulls all the way to the bar. Why?

It you have mechanical brakes - actuated by a cable instead of fluid, it could mean that your cable has stretched or come loose. Alternatively, and more commonly, it could be a sign that your brake pads are completely worn. In any case, it is most definitely time to get this checked by your local shop.

If you have hydraulic brakes, it could mean you have an air bubble in your system - this is a relatively simple and inexpensive fix for your local shop which involves opening the system up and releasing the trapped air. Worst case scenario is you have leak - check your lever, brake calliper and rotor for oil, if you find any, left any longer it could result in complete failure. Lucky for you, your local bike shop will be all over it.



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