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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @

February 2008 - Off The Pegs

Wintertime Tune Up: Brakes

If you're anything like me (and for the sake of your wallet, I certainly hope not) then you are likely suffering through a long and grueling off-season. Despite the cold days and even colder nights, this is the time of year when long-overdue maintenance starts to look a whole lot more doable. This month we'll dig into the topic of brakes.

Let's take the following scenario: You have noticed a slightly mushy feeling at the lever despite having quite a bit of life left on your pads. Don't panic; there are steps to take to return to that crisp modulation your quad offered from the showroom.

1) Replace the Fluid

Ever notice the term hygroscopic on a bottle of brake fluid? This means brake fluid literally draws water from the air we breathe the moment it is exposed. The collected water then dilutes the brake fluid's properties. The problem really begins to show when the fluid becomes heated during a long day of riding or even a short period of racing. When the water heats up, it eventually boils and becomes steam. Once you have water vapor in the line, things get mushy up at the lever and stay that way even after the fluid cools back down. Drain that old water-logged brake fluid and replace it with fresh DOT 4.

Sintered pads feel better but eat rotors a bit quicker.
Sintered pads feel better but eat rotors a bit quicker.

Take a close look at the rotor when replacing the pads.
Take a close look at the rotor when replacing the pads.

2) How About the Pads?

Don't assume that just because there is life left on the pads that they aren't the culprit of spongy stoppers. Check the pad surface for glazing which is often the result of spilled oil or ATV cleaning agents that have gathered over time. Now is a good time to put a fresh set on and remember that organic brake pads feel weaker but wear slower. Sintered metal compound pads are going to feel grabbier but eat through rotors quicker.

3) Speaking of the Rotor.

The general advice of any mechanic worth his weight in rubber washers is to replace the rotor along with the pads. Why so? Well, if the rotor contains scratches or is even slightly warped, it will eat through those new pads by the end of your first ride. We here at ATV Source hate wasting money and bet that you don't like to either. Take a long hard look at the condition of your rotor while you have the brakes disassembled for maintenance. If you detect grooves or warping, toss it like a Frisbee and replace it right along with the pads.

In a few hours time, the system is restored to near showroom-quality braking. I say near because fanatics may point out that the only way to truly duplicate that factory level of performance is to replace the hydraulic brake lines along with all of the other components. Also, if you want to get really crazy, a new master cylinder and brake lever could be part of the equation as well. However, nine out of ten times the culprit for mashed potato-style braking resides right there in the components that receive the lion's share of the abuse in bringing your quad down to a stop.

Let's review.

Change your brake fluid regularly. It begins gathering power-seeping water the moment you open the bottle. Slap new pads on the moment you notice the first signs of brake-fade as doing so quickly can prevent damage to the rotor (which in turn damages new pads). Replace the rotor only as needed. If you were quick enough in tossing the worn pads, the rotor could last through several brake jobs. Finally, if after having replaced the fluid, pads, and rotors, the brakes still feel weak and unresponsive, it may be time to consider replacing the line itself. One should save the master cylinder and brake lever for absolute last as these components are the least likely to fail.

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