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My journey to work has uphill and downhill segments in both directions (a fact I'm sure to share with my future grandkids one day). In two of these segments, I have to brake pretty hard to arrest my speed.

Despite having my brakes replaced recently, and despite having worked from home about 50% of the time and not using my bike as much, I am once again in the situation where maximum-effort braking is no longer enough to slow myself down to a stop on these slopes.

Is the need for regular new brakes something I should just accept? Or are there higher quality brakes available that I should ask the bike shop to install?

EDIT: I think the brakes are disc brakes. This is what they look like: brakes

I am vaguely aware that on some brakes you can adjust something that allows you to tighten the remaining brake material against the disc, but I'm not sure how you'd do that.

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    Just to be clear, are you replacing your brakes, or your brake pads? – whatsisname Jan 6 at 2:14
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    Disc or rim brakes? Can you post a photo of the pads. – mattnz Jan 6 at 2:51
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    @user2259438 citation? — I'm pretty sure braking shorter/faster does not reduce pad wear; especially for resin pads which don't like high temperatures it's on the contrary best to minimise heating, which you can mostly influence by using both brakes, which you should anyway do. Regardless, switching to an unsafer riding style in order to reduce pad wear is a questionable suggestion, at best. (Braking late does help in the sense that the faster you ride, the more energy is lost in air resistance – but this is mostly an issue of when you brake, not how.) – leftaroundabout Jan 6 at 19:15
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    We are still not clear if you are replacing the calipers entirely, or just the brake pads. The calipers are the big metal housings bolted to the frame. There's a cable bolted to the caliper that's connected to your brake lever. The pads are inside the caliper and can be removed and replaced. In the same way that we don't throw out a whole printer when the ink cartridges run out, or a whole missile cruiser once its vertical launch cells have been fired, we can just pull out the pads and replace them when they are worn down to the nubs. – Weiwen Ng Jan 6 at 21:42
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    Are you... (ahem) large ? – Lamar Latrell Jan 7 at 19:57
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That seems too frequent and perhaps something else is going on with respect to cable tension that is preventing you from applying maximum force through the brake assembly.

For instance, if you still have material left on the pad and just feel like when you pull the lever in all the way that you are not slowing, then perhaps there is too much slack in the cable in relation to the resting position of the lever.

On my bike, I can use my barrel adjuster to get the pads the right distance away from the rim such that I have very little play in the lever before the pads touch the rims. If you have more than 1-2mm between the pads and the rim, then that is too much space.

Hope that helps and for a frame of reference I have several thousand miles on my Shimano 105 brakes, but I don't have too many major descents where I am really pushing them.

---- Edited Due to Pic Posting-----

Yes you have disc brakes and with the rust on there, it looks like you potentially could have a caliper that is sticking. I assume the pads are worn to the backing material when you take them off correct? If so, most likely a caliper that is not releasing for some reason or another.

I only have experience on car disc brakes, so will let someone else comment regarding the bikes, but if you have a sticking caliper, replacement of it/faulty parts perhaps is best vs. eating through pads and eventually the disc.

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    Concur - sounds like OP is wearing their pads down a bit and replacing them, not adjusting for wear. – Criggie Jan 6 at 6:15
  • Another cause for too much slack is if the wheel is mounted under an angle. You need the extra slack so it doesn't the pad every turn – Ferrybig Jan 6 at 12:40
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    I find the best way to get the pads in the right position is to put the barrel adjust about half way out, then tighten the cable so they are tight against rims, and then loosen the barrel adjuster so you get just the desired amount of space between the pads and the rim. It's much easier to get the right cable position this way, as trying to tighten it up with the barrel adjuster when they are too loose often results in not enough adjustment room to get them close enough. – Kibbee Jan 6 at 13:22
  • If the disc itself gets bent, even a small amount, you'll need to add some slack, or you will get rubbing on each revolution. If you don't, not only is it annoying, but it will also wear the pads prematurely. – Mohair Jan 7 at 17:04
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You appear to have Shimano Tourney TX cable-actuated disc brakes. Here's the dealer's manual (the owner's manual is pretty useless). If you scroll down to p. 14, you can see the process for adjusting the brakes to account for wear.

You are not replacing the whole brake, just the pads. You shouldn't need to replace the pads as often as every few months unless you are logging enormous mileage. You probably do need to adjust the brakes every few months. With disc brakes, the pads need to ride within a few mm of the rotors, and as the gap opens up due to pad wear, braking will deteriorate unless you compensate.

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    "With disc brakes, the pads need to ride within a few mm" - few tenths of a millimeter. – mattnz Jan 7 at 5:46
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EDIT: thanks for the additional picture. It is clear now that the question is about disc brakes. This answer relates to rim brake pads.

Are you adjusting the distance between your brake pads and the wheel? this should be done to compensate for the wearing of the brake pads: the more you use, the thinner the brake pads are, the farther they are from the wheel.

Do not change too often the brake pads: many brake pads have a wear line. If any part of the word "wear line" is consumed, the brake pads must be changed. See related image in a useful forum figure of brake pad, taken from https://www.bikeforums.net/bicycle-mechanics/1041033-when-replace-brake-pads.html

as well the evident thickness difference between new and old pads: brake pads new vs old, I have no copyright on these image I found in reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/Wellworn/comments/99ctko/brake_pads_old_vs_new/

  • I never had break pads with the line being explicitly labelled as a "wear line". Up to this day I thought it was just a rough edge caused by a cheap manufacturing process. Thank you. – Hermann Jan 6 at 22:36
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Adam Rice's answer is correct, but this just adds some clarification.

You have cable-actuated disc brakes, as stated elsewhere. Higher end bikes have hydraulic disc brakes, where hydraulic fluid pumped through a hose moves the brake pistons (the things inside the brake that push the pads onto the rim). This is the same mechanism that cars use. Another alternative, especially on older bikes, is rim brakes, where the cables will pull calipers shut. On all types of brake, the pads wear out with use.

On only rim and cable-actuated disc brakes, as the pads wear out, you have to adjust the brake cable tension. (On hydraulic disc brakes, the pads self-adjust.) Say the pads started out at 2mm thick, and you wore them down to 0.5mm (per the dealer manual that Adam linked, those dimensions are actually the starting thickness and minimum usable thickness, i.e. the pads are now worn out; see diagram on page 4). The cable now has to pull the pads 1.5mm further in towards the rotor (or rim) before they start to bite. Hence, you need to tighten the cable. On caliper rim brakes like older road bikes use, you just need to tighten one cable adjuster and both pads move closer to the rim. On cable actuated disc brakes, you need to tighten two adjusters, one for the outboard pad and one for the inboard pad. The red arrow below shows the bolt to adjust the outboard pad.

enter image description here

There should be a barrel adjuster elsewhere on your bike to move the inboard pad closer to the rotor. There doesn't appear to be a barrel adjuster on your brake caliper, so I would look either at your brake lever (if you have flat bars) or follow the cables to the downtube of the frame if you have drop handlebars.

As I stated in comments, the brake calipers are the big metal things that the cables connect to. The pads can be removed from the caliper. You pull out the cotter pin, shown by the blue arrow, to access the pads. If you liken the brakes to a printer, then the pads are like the printer's ink or toner cartridges, and they can be replaced separately from the parent item. When we say "brakes", we usually mean the brake calipers. Now, bikes may not have internal combustion engines, but they do have a lot of discrete parts, so new cyclists might commonly use an over-general term, e.g. say "wheel" when they mean the rim or the tire. This is understandable, and you get used to the terminology with time. In any case, as stated elsewhere, if you were not adjusting the cable tension, you were throwing pads with useful life away. I would assume from the rust on the calipers that you didn't replace the calipers wholesale, but this would also be unnecessary. I think you would have to ride very consistently in harsh conditions to see a several month replacement cycle on pads. Below is a photo of worn out brake pads from Total Women's Cycling:

enter image description here

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    I think you are Adam Rice are correct that the OP is probably replacing their pads before they need to. The fact they say the brakes don't slow them sufficiently even at maximum pull without mentioning a horrible metal on metal scraping noise (how I know my pads need replacing tbh) is a good indicator. I think it would be useful to add an image of worn (out) versus new pads to your answer. I found a decent one in this article. totalwomenscycling.com/road-cycling/maintenance/… – Eric Nolan Jan 7 at 17:44
  • Good idea. I may additionally try to add a description of how to quickly check the brake pad thickness while the pads are still in the calipers. The problem there is that it's hard to see the pads themselves, even if you move around the bike in the workstand (I've tried). Shimano's manual mentions that the caliper arm position can be a tipoff as well, and I'll see if I can get a photo of that. – Weiwen Ng Jan 7 at 17:52
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This answer assumes you have mechanical rim brakes.

You shouldn’t have to replace your brakes at all. Brake pads are wear parts but should last several thousand kilometers. Of course it depends on terrain, weight, conditions etc. Brake cables accumulate dirt over time and increase in friction.

If your brake performance deteriorates it’s usually an adjustment/alignment problem or excessive friction in the cables.

Most brake pads have a wear indicator.

Brakes have friction bearings, it can make sense to grease them every 10Mm (10,000 kilometres, 6200 miles) or so (again, depending on conditions).

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    Is it necessary to emphasize to grease grease the bearings (and cables) and not the brake pads? Also to do that carefully so there is no run off lubricant that contaminates rims, pads, and tyres. – gschenk Jan 6 at 11:04
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    Cool. First time I see someone else use Mm :-) – cmaster - reinstate monica Jan 6 at 12:08
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    All good advice although friction due to dirt in the bearings or cables usually prevents the brake springs from fully opening the brake again (or prevent the lever from fully returning to the open position) -- actually braking is typically not the problem, the forces exerted by pulling the brake lever are large by comparison. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 6 at 12:57
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    “pads are wear parts but should last several thousand kilometers” – that is clearly not the right metric. Sure, you can road-ride in a flat, rural region for thousands of kilometres without much braking at all, but it's a very different story in a city with steep hills or for downhill MTB. When I still used rim brakes, the pads definitely never lasted me more than a couple hundred kilometres. – leftaroundabout Jan 6 at 19:20
  • @leftaroundabout: Okay, maybe that was a bit optimistic. But even when I was still doing cyclocross they usually lasted me ~1000km. Now I’m at a point where I have to replace chains much more often than brake pads. On the road bike I have the blue Swissstop brakepads and they’ve already lasted an amazing >10Mm despite hilly terrain and bad weather rides. – Michael Jan 6 at 20:11
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I bet you are not adjusting the static brake pad in a timely manner (every 2 weeks).

There's a screw directly opposite the red arrow in Weiwen Ng's answer. You reach it with an M4 reaching through the spokes on the other side of the wheel.

There are two brake pads in a disk brake. In a cable actuated brake there is one dynamic and one static. The dynamic one moves because it is attached to the cable. The static one ... doesn't move. That's why you need to adjust it!

My procedure is:

  1. retract both pads very far back(the dynamic by slacking/releasing the cable; the static by fully unscrewing it); spin the wheel; ensure zero noise is generated
  2. dial one of the pads in in little steps and spin the wheel; when slight noise starts resulting from impacting the disk, back up a little
  3. now do the other pad
  4. ???
  5. profit

One more procedure to determine if this is the problem. Get the bike when it is in a state of "have to brake pretty hard to arrest my speed". Look at the point where the disk contacts the brake. Squeeze the brake hard. If the disk did flex, it's certainly the static pad!

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    Hmm. I'm not familiar with cable disc brakes. However, by my reading of Shimano's dealer manual, the red arrow should point to the bolt you use to adjust the outboard pad. I assume that's the dynamic pad? Then, the manual seemed to imply that the adjuster for the static pad (on the inboard side, facing the bike) should be a barrel adjuster elsewhere on the bike. Is that true for only some Shimano cable discs? – Weiwen Ng Jan 13 at 20:19
  • @WeiwenNg 1. The read-arrow/outboard bolt does nothing it just holds the brake together. The stattic pad adjustment bolt is indeed on on the inboard side. 2. The static pad adjustor cannot be elsewhere on the bike because there is no wire associated with it. 1&2 are true on all Shimano and Avid cable brakes I've seen. 3. Don't get too absorber in this, cable brakes are dead, everything is hydraulic nowadays (and for good reason). – Vorac Jan 13 at 20:24
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Presuming rim brakes Steep hills means more brake wear. Fact of life. Where I used to live brake blocks lasted for ever. Now I have to adjust every 50 miles. Arghh! Rim brakes might be badly adjusted in many ways of course but I'm assuming you have the appropriate spacer washers etc. to get a fairly 'flat' contact. (It's fiddly, trial and error sometimes!)

I'm told you can get various toughnesses of brake blocks. The trouble is you might end up wearing your rim at the expense of the rubber!

The DIY answer is a front disc. Investigate retro-fitting. Once you've tried discs you won't want rim brakes ever again. So much more positive, reliable and long-lifed.

Footnote: If you ever cycle even 'on the flat' with no brakes then you'll know why saddles are traditionally brown.

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    Retrofitting a front disc brake to a bike requires a new fork, which is an expensive undertaking. I can't agree that the answer is front disc. Good rim brakes and good pads should suffice for most use cases. – Weiwen Ng Jan 6 at 21:33
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    Not so. Many forks have mountings ready. Having this problem myself I can tell you that some conditions simply result in heavy brake wear and it's nothing to do with set-up. Poor setup can be a cause but better setup isn't always the answer. For somebody who uses their brakes a lot, thinking about discs is a worthwhile exercise. – Peter Fox Jan 8 at 20:25
  • Are you talking about forks from the MTB era when they were just transitioning to disc brakes, and some manufacturers put both types of mount on the frame and fork? To my knowledge, this it not a common arrangement now. – Weiwen Ng Jan 8 at 20:52

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