On the subject of cyclocross disc brakes. And pads.

Discs in cyclocross are the ‘love ‘em or loathe ‘em’ Marmite product of the last couple of years. Enthusiastically adopted by some, fiercely rejected by others. And only partially embraced by the professional end of the sport.

At Fluent in Cross we’ve tried them all. From single-moving piston BB7 type mechanical systems, through hydraulic compromise systems like V-Twin and Parabox, into cable operated hydraulic caliper systems like Hy/Rd to full on hydraulic systems from the likes of SRAM and Shimano.

And they all work to varying degrees of success and performance standards. We won’t go into the pros and cons of each system here, let alone the full debate about cantilever vs disc – we’ll leave that for another time. Instead, this article will focus on the biggest issue affecting disc usage amongst first time users – that of pad wear.

This writer’s email inbox, twitter feed and anecdotal feed (gabbing on) has been full of the same story over the past year or so. An enthusisatic disc virgin whose hopes of a miracle cure for their cyclocross braking woes have been dashed, by the apparent failure of their lovely disc brakes within a single long ride, or even 1 hour cross race. The complaint is always the same – that of pad wear so great as to render the brakes useless within X timeframe.

And in almost all cases, the cause is the same. It’s something mountainbikers have initially suffered from too, then learned to work with and now have mastered completely. Those cyclocross disc newcomers from outside of an mtb background have usually neglected or at least underestimated, the importance of pad compound and pad bedding in. That is not to say that there haven’t been instances of complete pad wear within a few laps or few miles in particularly challenging conditions – think US Nationals in 2012 – but mostly the solution is simple.

Many new users of disc brakes are unaware that there are different compounds out there ranging from soft organic to fully metallic sintered, with several gradations in between. And it is also not always known by the first time user that original factory products are almost always issued with the soft organic pads. Partly on grounds of cost and partly that most producers aren’t located in the high rainfall, high silica and grit geologies that we have here, at least in much of the UK and in particular NW England.

Put simply, an organic pad in a normal UK winter is unlikely to last long, especially in bad conditions, and needs to be swapped out pretty much straight away for a semi-metallic or better still fully metallic sintered pad. Equally pads that are not bedded in will simply shred through in double quick time, even to some degree sintered compounds as well. Bedding in with heat allows a crust to form on the pad, that then protects from abrasion, as well as spreading pad material onto the disc rotor to allow stronger ‘meshing’ of pad and rotor and consequently, more powerful braking.

So, unless you live in a dry dusty area, make sure you always run semi- or full-metallic pads and bed them in properly. Bedding in can be done by repeated runs (in the dry) down a hill utilising hard braking efforts to get heat into the pads, and allow the glazing process to work. Dragging the brakes also gets some heat in but it is those hard braking efforts that will really set your pads up for longevity and performance. Enjoy.

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