Disc brakes have mighty stopping power, even in bad weather. This stopping power is a feature I just loved when I got my first ‘grown-up’ bike.
And if you’ve recently made the switch from rim brakes to disc brakes, you probably know exactly what I mean! But there are a few things you might want to know about your new disc brakes, for example:
Do Bike Disc Brakes Need to Break In?
Bike disc brakes need to be broken in (or bedded in) when they’re brand new or when the pads or rotors have been replaced. Bedding in is the process of applying the brakes to heat them up and transfer a bit of brake pad material onto the rotors. This gives the brakes something to grip onto when stopping.
In this article, we’ll talk about the bedding-in process for disc brakes. We’ll tell you when you need to break in your brakes and give you all the steps you need to accomplish this task. Then, we’ll go over what can happen if you don’t bed-in your brakes and explain a bit of brake rub. First, though, we’ll teach you what the bed-in process is for your bike disc brakes.
What is the Bed-In Process (For Bike Disc Brakes)?
Bedding-in or burnishing is just a fancy way of saying you need to break in your new brakes, just like you would do with a pair of shoes. You want the brake pads and rotors to fit together just like a well broken-in pair of shoes fit your feet.
If you purchase a new bike from a bike shop, they may take care of the bedding-in process for you, so your bike is ready to go when you pick it up. But there are a few scenarios in which you’ll want to do this process yourself:
- You bought a direct-to-consumer bike
- You recently upgraded your bike to disc brakes
- You replaced the rotors, brake pads, or other brake parts
- Your bike has been sitting in storage for a while
- Your brakes feel weak or make noise
Bedding-in is the process of ‘marrying’ the brake pads to the rotors. Bedding-in is accomplished by applying the brakes in such a way to heat up the rotors and the pads to help them meld with each other, break up the glazing or hardening of the pads, and transfer a little bit of the brake pad material onto the rotor so that the brake pad has something to grip when you apply the brakes.
Bedding in will help the brakes work more smoothly and more powerfully, minimizing any noise or vibration as well. Let’s take a look at the details of how to properly break in your brakes.
How to Break-In Bike Disc Brakes
To bed-in your brakes, you’ll need your bike and a safe stretch of road with no traffic. Of course, you’ll need to follow all safety precautions and laws that you usually would when riding your bike, so choose your location carefully.
Always wear your helmet and use common sense to stay safe, even when breaking in your brake pads.
Before we get into the steps, you can check out this YouTube video from ERIK’S Bike, Board & Ski, to get an overview of how to bed-in your brakes.
10 Steps to Bed-In Your Bike Disc Brakes
Keep in mind that all brake manufacturers have their own method to break in your new brakes. However, they all use similar steps because the key idea is to heat up and cool the rotors and pads consistently and carefully to marry them to each other.
Braking too hard too soon can cause scoring or scorching to the rotors, which is why we use a specific process to do this instead of just letting it happen by chance while you ride.
When you are ready to break in your new rotors and pads, you can use the following method:
- Clean your brake rotors. Wear gloves so you don’t transfer oil or dirt from your hands onto your rotors, then clean them with disc brake cleaner.
- Check your brake pads. Make sure your pads aren’t worn down – if they are, replace them first.
- Find a safe space without traffic where you can accelerate to about 10mph and then have room to slow down.
- Get on your bike and start pedaling, speeding up to about 10mph.
- Apply the rear wheel brake only. Apply it slowly and evenly. Don’t skid or stop hard but allow the bike to slow down. Do not come to a complete stop. Instead, gently release the brakes while you are still moving. Remember that early braking may feel sketchy, weak, or inconsistent.
- Repeat Steps 4-5 ten times using the same brake, without stopping in between repetitions. Your braking power should increase with each repetition, but be deliberate and do not allow the bike to skid.
- Perform Steps 4-6 using the front brake, but be careful not to brake hard and go over the bars.
- After completing the first seven steps, you need to start the process again, doing the same set of actions on the rear brake. This time, however, try speeding up to about 15 mph each time.
- Repeat this process with the front brake.
- If you are using oversized rotors or bedding-in your brakes in colder weather, it may take more repetitions to complete the process.
You’ll know your brakes are bedded-in when you notice strong, consistent stopping power.
If you don’t have time or a good place to bed-in your brakes, there are a few things you should know before you ride your bike.
What Happens if You Don’t Break In Disc Brakes?
If you don’t bed in your disc brakes, they won’t reach their full stopping power.
In fact, they might feel weak, as if they won’t really stop your bike. They may also squeal or vibrate. In addition, if you have left your bike to sit unused for a season, the brake material and pads may glaze and harden. In this case, the pads won’t be able to grip the rotors, leaving you with poor braking power.
Finally, if your brakes aren’t broken in, they could pose an issue if you need to stop in a hurry.
If you don’t bed in your brakes and are having difficulty braking, you might try cleaning your pads and rotors and trying the bed-in process.
If the disc pads have a hard glazing overtop, you can also sand them down a little bit and try the bed-in process again. In some cases, if the bed-in process does not stop the problems, you might need to take your bike to a local bike shop for a new set of brakes and rotors altogether.
Riding Without Bedding-In Your Brakes
That being said, if you don’t take the time to bed-in your disc brakes, they will probably do it on their own. A few good stops might heat up those disc brakes just enough to transfer some brake pad material, giving you the stopping power you really need.
Also, don’t fret if you don’t follow the bed-in procedure perfectly. For example, if a car comes and you have to pause your efforts, don’t worry about it. Just continue on your way when it is safe to do so. Bedding-in brakes isn’t a precise science, and different manufacturers will have slightly different methods of doing so.
Whether or not you have broken in your brakes, you may experience some disc brake rub.
Are Disc Brakes Supposed to Rub?
Disc brakes are not supposed to rub, but it is a very common problem. Usually, you can tell if your brakes are rubbing by noise, resistance when you spin the wheel, and poor braking performance.
If the disc rub is minor, for example, it makes a little bit of noise but isn’t hampering your riding or braking. You can just leave it alone.
But if the brake rub is more severe and stops the wheel or applies resistance when you aren’t using the brake, you’ll need to correct it so it doesn’t prematurely wear out your pads and rotors. For more on how to fix disc brake rub, check out our previous article, Why Won’t My Bicycle Brakes Release?