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Brakes squealing? On the receiving end of cursed looks from your fellow road cyclists? Pulling on the brakes and you’re not stopping just as well as you’d like anymore?
It’s probably time for a new set of pads.
But the choice is easy, right? Wrong!
There’s a few nuances within the world of road bike brakes. Luckily, we’re here to take the pain out of what to buy and set the record straight.
7 Best Road Bike Brake Pads
Here are our top 7 picks for road bike brake pads.
We’ve mixed the rim and disc pads together…
1. SwissStop FlashPro Black Prince Brake Pad (best for carbon rims)
First off, we have the cream of the crop choice for carbon rims, the FlashPro Black Prince pads from SwissStop.
These have excellent modulation, meaning you have more control over the amount of braking you want to exert. Great for feathering!
They are also good pads to use in wet conditions. Carbon rims are notorious for poor braking performance in the rain. These pads help to negate this unwelcome characteristic.
Temperatures are kept to a minimum too. This is exactly what a carbon wheel cyclist wants to hear. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of cyclist who trashed their wheels when braking constantly on a descent. These pads will help give you peace of mind that you won’t end up in that very unwanted scenario.
- Comes in a 4-pack
- Fits Shimano SRAM and Campagnolo brakes
2. SwissStop Flash Pro Original BXP (best for alloy rims)
And now to the alloy rim cousin of the Black Prince, the BXP. Yup, it’s another set of pads from the SwissStop team, and this is our favorite pick for allow rims.
Once again, excellent modulation, so you have the options of great brake feathering on the downhills. Braking is good in dry or wet conditions, which is what you want to hear when you’re out on a big day on the bike, trying to dodge the showers.
It’s reassuring to know that you can brake hard to stop in an emergency, but also brake in a more controlled manner to slow down when in traffic, a bunch ride, or coming up to a corner – no matter the weather conditions.
- Comes with an extra set of pads
- Fits Shimano SRAM and Campagnolo brakes
3. Kool Stop Bicycle Brake Pads with X Pad (best alloy all-rounder)
Most brake pads are black. Gets a bit boring right? Well not these bad boys! How about fixing on some salmon-colored pads to liven up things?!
Kool Stop are a very respected brand in the cycling industry, and if you have alloy rims (or carbon wheels with alloy braking surfaces), these pads are worthy of your consideration. This particular set, the “Dura Type”, are designed for most Shimano series brake types.
There are two sets of pads included. One is the dual compound, which is great for all conditions, and most users will prefer these. There is also a salmon-only compound which are more aggressive and perform better in the wet. These will come in handy for those who ride all year round (commuters and keen enthusiasts), and need the extra bite in wet wintry conditions.
- Includes a set of replacement pads
- Great for all-weather braking
4. Shimano Brake Pads R55C4 (best for Shimano rim brakes)
Another great pick for those running with alloy rims.
The R55C4s (the newer version of the R55C3) are a great fit for the upper-end Shimano wheel family (we’re talking Dura Ace, Ultegra, 105 here). The pads are easy to install, and fit most calliper types, including Bontrager (likely won’t work if you have Campagnolo though)
These rubber pads are designed to smoothly slow you down on those long descents, while also braking sharply when you have to.
Braking noises are generally kept to a minimum, so you are less likely to have to contend with any squeaking. Phew!
- Generally quiet braking
- Budget priced
5. Shimano Metallic BR-RS805/RS505 L04C (best for Shimano disc brakes)
And here’s our first disc brake option…and it comes from Shimano.
In our opinion, these are Shimano’s best offering for disc brake pads, and fit Dura Ace, Ultegra, 105 and Tiagra brakes. This is the metal (sintered) version of the L03A (see below) resin offering. These pads deliver better braking and should last a lot longer than their resin counterparts.
They are designed to stay cool under persistent braking. This is what you want to hear if you’re a fan of climbing the hills. The last thing you want on your mind is the distant thought of the brakes failing on a long downhill.
As is the nature of disc pads, they perform exceptionally well in the wet.
- Comes with a 2-year warranty
- Superb durability
6. SRAM HRD Road
If you have SRAM brakes, then in our opinion, the HRDs are your best bet.
These metallic pads have fantastic initial bite, as well as great modulation for the gentler downhills.
They are very durable and work in all conditions, including cold, damp wintery settings. And they like to keep quiet.
Works well with gravel and cyclocross bikes too.
- Compatible with Force
- Great for on and off-road
7. SHIMANO L03A Resin Disc Brake Pads (best budget for Shimano disc brakes)
And here’s our budget pick for disc brake pads. These resin pads offer a cheaper alternative to the Shimano Metallic L04C pads above.
Don’t let the budget price put you off. Users are generally pleased with the lack of noise and decent stopping power when it matters.
Once again, compatible with Shimano Dura Ace, Ultegra and 105 brake systems.
- Great budget disc pads
- Quiet under braking
8. Pioneeryao Sport Road Bike Cycle Bicycle Brake (best budget alloy rim brake pads)
Last, but no means least, we have our budget rim brake pads offering.
These are best used on older or inexpensive bikes. Ultimately, we feel you should probably go for the pads above. This is because the other pads on the list are branded and we have more confidence in them.
However, if you’re looking for a budget set of rim pads for the city “to the shops” bike, then these are worth looking at.
- Surprisingly good performance for their price
- Multiple color choice
Road Bike Brake Pad Buying Guide
There are two main types of brake pads for road bikes; disc and rim. Let’s dig in further:
Rim Brake Pads
These are what we think of as traditional bike brakes.
Rim pads are for brakes that slow a bike down by applying friction against the rim of a bike wheel (Yeah, stating the obvious, we know!). The rim is the flat surface on the outer edge of the wheel.
Pressure is applied from the brake callipers that are attached to the bike frame.
When choosing rim brake pads, it’s very important to get the correct pad for the type of rim. And there are two main rim types:
These have been around since forever. Well, since steel rims were all the rage all those years ago! They are still the most widely used rim types on road bikes today.
It is important to know that some carbon wheels (we’ll come to those in a minute) actually have alloy rims. And so, you will need alloy pads to use with these. You won’t see carbon rims on an alloy wheel!
Although you could use carbon brakes on alloy rims, the performance would be poor. In fact, don’t do it; it’s just downright dangerous!
Carbon is the newer type of wheel and is found on more expensive bikes.
Carbon is generally lighter than alloy and is the choice of those who want to make their bikes as light as possible. For some, it’s all about losing as many pounds as possible to get the extra gains on those climbs!
As we mentioned before, some carbon wheels have alloy coated rims.
There is significantly more heat generated when slowing down carbon rims. It is vitally important you use carbon brake pads on these rim surfaces. Alloy pads will overheat and likely fail. You really don’t want that…unless you’re on a suicide mission.
Once you’ve determined the material of rim pad you need, you’re pretty much good to go. Most pads fit most brake brands. The ones that can often be an exception are Campagnolo (Campys for those in the know). It’s always a good thing to check regardless.
Disc Brake Pads
These are the newer types of bike brakes.
Using either mechanical or hydraulic means, force is applied to a rotor near the middle of a wheel.
It is important to know that, generally, most disc brake brand manufacturers will have their own shape and fitting of pads. Interoperability between brands is pretty much non-existent.
The next thing to consider is the brake compound. There’s three main types:
These are the most durable, and therefore can withstand the hottest temperatures from continued braking, the best. So on your way back down from the big climb, you can have more confidence that the metal pads will up to the job.
It should be noted however that they can take a few hundred miles to bed in. Of course, it depends how much braking you’re doing!
They can be noisy at when first used too.
These bad boys are nice and quiet; even when new.
They don’t squeal like a pig, compared to their sintered counterparts.
On the downside, they don’t offer quite as good performance, and often don’t last as long either.
Notable mention is the hybrid of disc pads.
Using a steel backing plate, these hybrid compound pads fuse together organic and metallic using resin.
Most road riders use either metallic or organic resin pads.
When Should You Replace Your Disc Pads?
If you start noticing that it requires more effort pulling on the brake lever to slow down, then it’s time to inspect your pads to see if they’re done.
Take the wheel off and remove the pad from the brake.
If the pad is worn right through, and can see the steel back, then replace immediately! You’re gonna trash your brakes if you stick with them.
If you still have some padding and it’s 1mm or less thick, replace. If you don’t have a digital calliper to measure, then an old trick is to use three business cards together (which should measure about 1mm thick).
Video: When to replace disc brake pads
I Get Squealing Noises When I Brake. What Should I Do?
No-one wants this. The embarrassing screeching noise every time you squeeze the brakes. Especially cringeworthy if you’re riding in a bunch!
This noise is usually caused by contaminates from riding along roads or trails over time that naturally attracting dirt. Sometimes cleaning products or even oil from human skin can create that awful sound too.
Take your pads off (this applies to rim and disc) and inspect them. Do they have a build-up of residue, or have a glazed look on the surface of braking surface?
Give them a rub with a clean cloth and some isopropyl alcohol (or just branded bike brake cleaner – DO NOT use car brake cleaner!). Even better, also give them a light of a rub with emery paper, or very fine 150 grit or above, sandpaper (finishing off with alcohol). Give your rims a good clean with alcohol too (don’t use emery or sandpaper!).
Read more: How to fix squeaky bike brakes
Can I Use Carbon Brakes On Alloy Rims (and vice-versa)?
As we said before, it’s best to keep alloy to alloy and carbon to carbon. NEVER use alloy on carbon, and use carbon on alloy, with the knowledge that performance will be poor; maybe even dangerous at certain times.
So there you go, that’s our verdict on road bike brake pads.
In summary, if you’re a rim brake user, we really liked the SwissStop Flash Pro BXP (carbon) and the SwissStop FlashPro Black Prince (alloy) pads.
If you’re a disc brake user, we liked the Shimano BR-RS805/RS505, and the SRAM HRD Road, depending on the brand you use.
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