How To Replace Disc Brake Pads On A Bike In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

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A big part of becoming an experienced cyclist is learning to look after your bike properly.

Having your bike in tip-top condition not only extends the lifetime of its components but also gives you much better performance. One part of the bike you’ll want to pay very close attention to is your brakes

Learning how to replace disc brake pads is an essential job you’ll repeat many times across a bike’s lifetime. Many cyclists take a trip to the bike shop for this, but it’s a very easy job to do yourself!

In this article, we’ll be giving you the lowdown on how to replace disc brake pads, covering:

  • Why Is It Important To Learn How To Replace Disc Brake Pads?
  • How Do You Know When To Replace Brake Pads On A Bike?
  • What Pads Do You Need? Disc Brake Pad Types Explained
  • How To Replace Disc Brake Pads In 7 Steps

Let’s dive in!

How To Replace Disc Brake Pads: Title Image

Why Is It Important To Learn How To Replace Disc Brake Pads?

Having brakes that work properly on a bike is vital. Besides providing poor performance in a racing situation, using worn-out brake pads could easily become dangerous too. 

Brake pads have a compound to help grip and allow your bike to slow down properly. When this compound wears down, it will take much longer to stop. 

Secondly, using worn-out pads risks damaging other components, such as your calipers and discs. When the braking compound wears down, then you rub the components on a metal surface.

This generates heat, causing damage and further reducing the effectiveness of the brakes.

Close-up of a black disc brake.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

How Do You Know When Your Disc Brake Pads Need Changing?

Unlike your car, when your brake pads need changing, a small light doesn’t come up to tell you. You have to inspect it yourself or hear the signs.

Here’s how to find out if they need changing.

#1. Visual Inspection

If you look at the pads, you should be able to see a layer of the gritty compound where they contact the rim or the disc.

If you can’t see this, then you probably need to change them. 

#2. Performance

It’s really easy for brake pads to wear down without you noticing.

You get used to them being a little bit less effective each week. It’s worth giving them a little test every so often at the same place to see if it takes you longer to come to a stop.

#3. Noise

You can tell when brake pads need replacing through the noise.

This is very common when it comes to disc brakes. If they start to constantly grind like they have dirt in them, they need checking as soon as possible.  

You might also find your brakes getting squeaky, which could mean they are contaminated. When this happens, you need to decontaminate the discs, pads, and calipers. This is another reason why learning how to replace brake pads is vital.

Side-view of a disc brake on a black road bike.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

What Pads Do You Need? Disc Brake Pad Types Explained

Finding the right compatible pads for your bike can be challenging.

The best way to go is to search for your brakes. If you look at your brake calipers, you will see a model name such as Ultegra, 105, or TRP Spyre-C.

Many people don’t know that bike brake pads come in different compounds. Some are designed for durability, and others for performance.

Here’s what you need to know!

Sintered Disc Brake Pads

Sintered pads are often referred to as metal pads.

They are made to be very durable and withstand high temperatures. They are excellent for extreme braking and last for a long time.

As far as drawbacks go, sintered pads are typically more expensive than other types of brake pads, noisier, less responsive, and take ages to bed in.

Organic Disc Brake Pads

Organic pads are also known as resin pads.

Unlike sintered pads, they are very quick to bed in and feel very responsive. They are also cheap, quiet under use, and dissipate heat well.

As far as drawbacks go, organic pads wear out fairly quickly, have less power under extreme braking, and can glaze over if not looked after properly.

Semi-Metal Disc Brake Pads

Semi-metal pads are a mix between both organic and sintered. They offer solid all-around performance but don’t excel in many departments.

How To Replace Disc Brake Pads In 7 Steps

Step #1. Preparation

View of the equipment required to replace disc brake pads.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

The first step of how to change brake pads is to get prepared and ready. Find a place where it is safe to work, and you have space for tools and bike parts. Here are the tools you’re going to need.

  • Bike Stand (Optional)
  • Allen keys
  • Disc brake cleaner 
  • Clean rag
  • Flathead screwdriver or tire lever

Before you start taking anything apart, it’s important to visually inspect your brake cables and calipers to ensure they are in good working condition. If any of these need replacing, you should do that first.

Step #2. Remove the wheels

Removing the wheel from the frame.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

The next step is to remove the wheels.

Typically you will either have quick-release skewers or thru axles. If not, you might need an Allen key set for this part.

With the wheels out, you now have access to the brake calipers.

There are two types of disc brake calipers: hydraulic and mechanical. It is a very similar process to replace the pads for both.

If you have hydraulic brakes, we recommend avoiding pulling the brake levers unless you need to, as this will adjust the pistons. 

Step #3. Remove the pads

Replacing the pads from the calipers.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now it’s time to get the old pads out.

First, release the safety clip by pushing the screwdriver into the circular piece. After that, you will have a small screw that you typically need an Allen key to undo called the safety pin. 

Once the safety pin and clip are free, you can grip the back of the pads and pull them out along with the return spring. It’s important to see which side is right and left as you take them out. Generally, pads have either an L or an R on them.

Remember which side is which!

Step #4. Reset the Pistons (Hydraulic Disc Brakes Only)

Resetting the hydraulic pistons.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

The next step only refers to hydraulic brakes.

Hydraulic brakes are self-adjusting. The more the pads wear down, the more they adjust to keep the brakes feeling responsive. These need resetting to fit new pads, which is very easy to do.

Before fitting the new pads, take the screwdriver or tire lever and push the pistons back into place inside the calipers. Make sure you do not pierce them.

We recommend using something fairly blunt. Push them as far as you can back into the caliper without being forceful.

Step #5. Insert the new pads

Inserting the new pads into the calipers.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now you need to get the new pads in.

Put them together with the spring in the center and press them together with your fingers. With the left and right in the correct position, insert them back into the bike.

Now, take the safety pin and reinsert it through each pad and the spring. Screw it in with your Allen key, and then tighten it up.

When tight, add the safety clip and ensure it’s all securely in place as before.

Step #6. Insert the wheel

Wiping the braking disc surface down before reinstalling the wheel.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Before putting the wheel back in, it’s important to clean the disc to ensure if it’s contaminated, it doesn’t spread to the pads. Spray the clean rag with disc brake cleaner and wipe it down to remove any oil or grease.

Next, fit the wheel back onto the bike.

Now the disc is clean, and the pads are too. Reinsert the wheel and tighten it up to ensure it’s in correctly. You might get a little brake rub from the discs but don’t worry, as we need to make adjustments next. 

Step #7. Make adjustments

Squeezing the brake lever after installation of the new brake pads.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now for the adjustments.

If you have hydraulic disc brakes, you will need to spin the wheel and pump the brake lever a few times. The first few times, it will feel spongy as it adjusts itself – but don’t worry, it’s not broken, just doing its job of self-adjusting.

If you have mechanical cable brakes, when adding new pads, you might find they now rub.

This is very common, because there’s more compound on the pads than there was previously. Using the barrel cable adjuster, turn it clockwise to release the pads until they don’t rub.

Finally, it’s time for a test ride.

Do not expect instant super responsive brakes straight away. Sometimes it can take a few miles for them to wear in. Provided they still stop you safely and you feel confident to ride them, continue letting them bed themselves naturally. 

Found this disc brake pad replacement guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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