I have a road bike with a front brake that wears a lot of brake pad when I ride downhill every day. I lose 900ft in elevation on steep grades with lots of stop signs and traffic lights. On top of that, it rains a decent amount and the rim brakes are terrible in that weather. I don't trust them downhill in the rain. Sometimes I just walk.

I feather the brakes going downhill, because otherwise I'm too fast to stop quickly for an errant car.

It'd be nice to not constantly replace pads, and have powerful stopping. How can I make this constant downhill more pleasant?


  • 1
    I had a 600 metre (1800 foot) elevation change in a race, and ended up being able to smell my brakes by the bottom. No smoke visible, but the wind would have hidden that. Taking the corner at the bottom of the hill was... scarey because the brakes were well below par. So I changed to Koolstop and a longer brake surface and its been a lot better, though I'm leery of too fast now. Feathering is bad, work on hard braking for a few seconds, then off the brake to assist cooling. Also, wash your rims more often to clear the abrasive road grit.
    – Criggie
    May 1, 2016 at 22:41

3 Answers 3


Have a look at installing Cantilever brakes- larger pads so you can retain the same stopping power and increase life, at the expense of a few grams of weight. Cantilever brakes will also help in the wet due large pad (more surface area). These are the preferred brakes for tandems and tourers - you may have trouble getting decent quality ones these days. As I understand, V brakes are not compatible with road bikes without adapters and are not always as successful as you would think.

Discs would be the ultimate wet weather improvement and provide the stopping power you want, but I would caution against hydraulics for such big downhills. They have been known overheat and boil the fluid - you get instant total failure when it happens. Apart form this, you need new forks and wheel (minimum of a hub), and probably new levers, so the cost may be prohibitive.

  • 3
    There are V-brake levers for the road (Tektro RL520, for example) - the problem with canti/v's is that a lot of road bikes won't have mounting points for them without replacing the fork.
    – Batman
    Nov 23, 2014 at 23:00

There are several solutions:

(1) Switch your brake pads - a harder compound will wear less, but be less effective at braking. Make sure to clean your rims for rim brakes as well.

(2) Use your brakes less and get more comfortable with higher speeds.

(3) Change your brakes (some brake models brake better than others, even if you're using the same type of brakes, e.g. caliper brakes).

  • You can replace the pads (as stated elsewhere). There are a lot of variations in pad material, and a faster-wearing pad is not necessarily a better braking pad. Unfortunately, it's hard to find a good selection of pads, and even harder to get good info on which is suitable to which conditions.

  • You can use your rear brake more, especially for speed control, and save the front for more "serious" efforts. When I'm on a downhill (rarely as steep/long as yours, though) I like to alternate between front and rear brakes for speed control, and I do it more in bursts rather than with steady pressure. I'm not sure if this is "approved" technique, but it's what makes sense to me.

  • You can install a second set of calipers. This is often done on tandems, and can be done simply on some bikes/with great difficulty on others. (Of course, you'd need to figure out how to operate the extra set, without growing a third hand, and you do have to worry a little about the rim overheating.)

  • You can get disk brakes (though from the war stories I hear here it's not clear that they are really any better in such a situation).

  • I usually do long downhills on my mountain bike on a paved road. I loose about 400ft feet in elevation (not nearly enough as your 900ft). My mountain bike came with mechanical disc brakes. I've been on love with this brakes since I first rode it. I use the rear brake to slow me down and keep me at a constant speed when needed and I use my front brake for quick stops and both for panic stops. I have found that I wear out the rear pads a lot faster than the front ones, but at least on my bike the pads are a 10-minute fix with minor adjustments.
    – Zeus A.
    Nov 25, 2014 at 16:52
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    I believe that pulsing the brakes as you describe is indeed best practice. If you google for issues with carbon rim brake rims on extended descents, I think you’ll probably find at least some mention that professional cyclists don’t have the same problems as amateurs do with overheating the rims, because pros brake very much like how you describe.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Aug 16, 2020 at 18:44
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    @Weiwen I'd be wary of reading too much into what the pros can get away with in racing. They descend at ludicrous speeds on closed and cleared roads. Even in team training they have cars out with them. For the rest of us, it's not uncommon to have to stop abruptly on descents; in the worst case (narrow roads with poor surfaces especially) you can end up having to ride so you can stop within your line of sight.
    – Chris H
    Aug 17, 2020 at 6:28

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