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Looking around for rim brake pads, I have noticed a wide variety:

  • low end-ish: cheap, rubber pad with metal stem, unknown brand
  • high end-ish: expensive, rubber pad with metal stem, known brand
  • cool end-ish: dedicate pad sections (1 for dry, 1 for mud, 1 for rain)

Is there any good reason to go for an high end-ish or for the cool end-ish, or is it just plain old marketing tricks?

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  • 1
    First note that there are several styles and sizes, and they are not generally interchangeable. In particular, threaded vs non-threaded. Nov 10 '17 at 13:14
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There are huge differences in durability, braking performance and picking up grit between brands and models. In this case I believe comparing specific brands is justifiable. My experience has been following:

  • Tektro: Works nicely in all weather, lasted 400km commuting
  • Kool Stop Salmon: Works also nicely in all weather, the only pair I managed to wear out was 8000km in similar use. Yes, that's 20x more kilometers from pads that cost me 3x. These also didn't pick up metal debris like many others.
  • OEMs from ProMax and some no-brand brakes + non-salmon red Kool Stop: No friction in wet weather, wear out quite fast but not as bad as Tektro, pick up metal pieces
  • Shimano original "extreme conditions" pads: No friction wet weather, also they picked up lots of metal and sand that wore out the rear rim. This is probably why so many people think discs are better.
  • Jagwire basic model: These were the cheapest one available at local sports store, not as durable as Kool Stop but otherwise equally good.

The summary is that there are differences but not necessarily correlated with price. One exception is that carbon rims require special pads, and those are always expensive. The differences between them may or may not be equally large, I don't know.

And to answer the question, the best ones of the bunch were not cool-end: no fancy shape or packaging, no advertising except word of mouth and either black or color that is more ugly than flashy.

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    I used to run dual compound XLC pads (for v-brakes) which worked very nicely but wore quite fast. I now use koolstop ones where you just replace the rubber. They stop at least as well but wear more slowly. The difference over Shimano's cheapest OEM pads is significant, especially in the wet, and those should be better than no-name pads. (just a couple of extra data points)
    – Chris H
    Nov 10 '17 at 11:20
  • You mentioned carbon rims. I came across cheap pads with marks: "For Alloy", "For Stainless", but now I'm unable to find it in any store.
    – krzyski
    Nov 10 '17 at 12:53
  • Aluminium, or alloy for those who aren't too technical, is more or less default material for bicycle rims. Rim brakes work really poorly with steel, anyway.
    – ojs
    Nov 10 '17 at 13:50
  • Personally, I never look at a name. Quality is not a name, but rather the individual product. That said, you can get a "duff" item once in a while. @ojs had good info on characteristics to look out for. 1) all weather stopping power. 2) no retention of debris (metal/sand etc). 3) price per mile. You can get cheapo ones if they work and replace frequently, or splash out on hi end. But remember to tick off the points.
    – Tempus
    Nov 10 '17 at 15:35
  • While names are an imperfect way to identify things, they are the best way there is. Certainly better than buying things at random until you hit a product with the characteristics you are looking for.
    – ojs
    Nov 10 '17 at 16:43
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My experience has been similar to @ojs

New cheap brake pads are better than old hardened/oxidised brake pads no matter what the brand.

An old brake pad may seem to work "okay" until it is applied hard, where it can grip then slip repeatedly. This feels awful on a downhill and in an extreme case could cause a loss of tyre/road grip leading to an accident.

For my personal bikes that I will ride a lot, I always buy Kool Stop pads of the correct shape for the style of brake. They're not a lot more expensive,

Brakes is not a subsystem on which you want to cheap-out!

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