By: Tim Donaldson
"How-To" - Changing
Hydraulic Disk Brakes
Mud buildup that accelerates pad wear.
Isaac Newton, the father of the Laws of
Motion, stated that an object in motion tends to
stay in motion until an equal and opposite force
is acted upon it. Without adequate brakes on an
ATV to act as an opposing force to forward
momentum, a rider may have to rely on other
naturally available objects, such as trees or
large rocks, to act as the necessary stopping
force! In order to prevent a potential disaster,
it is important to maintain a healthy braking
There are many different types of braking
systems on ATV's, even varying in style from
front to rear wheel. To name a few, the range
includes: triple-sealed hydraulic drum brakes,
drum and shoe brakes, wet brakes, and the basic
hydraulic disk brake system.
New Vs. Old Pads
Of the styles of systems, the task of
changing disk brakes is the least arduous and
time consuming. However, due to their direct
exposure to the elements (mud and water), you
may find that changing brake pads 3 times in one
riding season is not uncommon for those riding
in similar types of harsh environments,
especially without adequate cleaning afterwards.
With such a limited duty-cycle, riders may
find it beneficial to acquire the basic skills
necessary to change their own brake pads, rather
than paying expensive service fees.
This "How-To" will address changing the front
hydraulic disk brakes on a 2006 Kawasaki Prairie
360 4 x 4. Although the specific details may
vary from make and model, the fundamental
techniques are basically the same. Also,
consider that I am an enthusiast trying to save
a few bucks, not a professional mechanic.
Caliper and Piston
- Loosen wheel lugs and remove wheel. Before
lifting the ATV off the ground, loosen the wheel
lugs. It is easier to apply the necessary force
to break the lugs free, when the wheels are
unable to spin. Avoid applying a lot of brake
pressure. Applying the brakes will extend the
caliper piston (squeezing pads on disk), making
it more difficult to remove the pads later. For
added safety, slide one of the wheels under the
ATV-in case of jack or stand failure.
- Clean dirt and debris from the caliper, brake
pad, and disk area. This is the root cause of
the excessive brake wear. CV boot guards and
A-arm skid plates are great for machine
protection but create nice hiding spots for dirt
and debris that makes them difficult to clean.
- Loosen brake pad fasteners. Do not remove
bolts. Simply loosen them. Locking tabs
surrounding the bolt heads can be pushed back
with a screwdriver.
Remove brake calipers (the device which
clamps pads via hydraulic piston) from the disk.
The calipers are mounted onto the wheel knuckle
by two bolts. Kawasaki engineers cleverly molded
an access hole in the knuckle which accommodates
a ratchet with extension, making the job much
Locking tabs must be pushed back away from bolt head to allow free
- Remove old pads from brake caliper. Since
previously loosing the fastening bolts, no
awkward leverage will be necessary to slacken
- Place new pads into caliper and replace the
mounting bolts. As mentioned earlier, excess
braking during preliminary prep will extend the
cylinder piston. In order to successfully
replace the pads so that there is sufficient
clearance about the disk, it may be necessary to
manually or forcefully retract the cylinder.
Remember that the new pads are much thicker than
the old ones that you just removed. A small wood
block with a c-clamp will return the piston to
its "home" position, allowing the new pads to
easily slide over the disk into position.
- Remount the brake caliper.
Tighten pad fasteners and restore locking
New pads in caliper viewed with
- Remount wheels and tighten lugs.
- Carefully test brakes before flying out of
the garage or down the trail. Hopefully, this
one is common sense!
Part of purchasing a quad is upkeep and
maintenance. If you are considering a new
purchase, take into account the types of riding
environments that will typically be encountered;
and your comfort or willingness to perform
related maintenance tasks, as a result. Many ATV
manufacturers have considered the harsh
environments and abuses that riders encounter.
Evaluate the pros and cons that each has to
offer. Have fun, and don't run into any trees or
rocks out there! Make sure you have a set of
great working brakes!