If you’ve got disc brakes on your bike, then you’ll need to make an important decision as to which type of brake pad you wish to use: organic vs sintered brake pads.
Each one of these compound options comes with a variety of advantages and disadvantages relative to each other. This makes the choice of brake pad fairly personal to each rider, and the best option depends on when you ride your bike and your riding style.
But what are sintered brake pads? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of sintered brake pads when compared to organic brake pads?
Don’t worry! In this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on sintered brake pads and the benefits and drawbacks of each type of brake pad for disc brakes. We’ll be covering:
- How Do Disc Brakes Work?
- Why Does The Material Of Your Brake Pads Matter?
- How Often Should You Replace Your Brake Pads?
- What Are Sintered Brake Pads?
- What Are Organic Brake Pads?
- Sintered Vs Organic Brake Pads: Which Should You Choose?
Let’s dive into organic vs sintered brake pads!
How Do Disc Brakes Work?
Disc brakes have been commonplace in mountain biking for a long time now – but more recently have been introduced into other cycling disciplines such as road cycling, gravel biking, and cyclocross.
Many have come to favor disc brakes over rim brakes, and for good reason: they provide superior braking power and modulation to rim brakes, and their performance is less dependent on weather conditions.
They’re now so popular that they have become ubiquitous with performance-focused bikes of every kind: in 2023, a flagship bike of any discipline will likely come equipped with disc brakes.
But how do disc brakes work? And what role do brake pads play in the braking system?
Disc brakes essentially contain four basic parts: the brake levers, the calipers, the brake pads, and the rotor.
The way these parts are connected depends on if the disc brakes are mechanical or hydraulic, and mechanical disc brakes have a slightly different mechanism from hydraulic disc brakes.
However, without getting too specific, the overall idea of disc brakes is the same regardless of whether they are mechanical or hydraulic.
- Want to know more? Check out our guide to Mechanical Vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes: Everything You Need To Know here!
The brake pads are connected to the caliper’s two pistons that rest on either side of the rotor. Upon action of the lever, the pistons are pushed together, forcing the brake pads to make contact with the rotor.
This applies an additional resistive force to the wheel’s rotation since there is friction between the brake pads and the rotor. This friction ultimately brings the rotation of the rotor – and by extension, the wheel – to a stop.
Why does the material of your brake pads matter?
Clearly, brake pads play a critical role in the braking system of the bike. So, how does the compound of the braking material make any difference?
Different material braking compounds will essentially apply a different force on the metallic rotor.
The magnitude of the frictional force between the braking material of the pads and the metallic rotor is determined by the “coefficient of friction” between the two materials.
This is unique to the combination of the materials, as well as the external conditions.
The coefficient of friction between sintered brake pads and a steel rotor will vary according to the weather and will be different from that of organic brake pads and an aluminum rotor, for example.
Besides stopping power, the material used for the brake pads will also affect their durability.
How often should you replace your brake pads?
Since brake pads work by applying friction to a rotor under high pressure, the braking material will wear away with use. This is generally a slow process and requires a lot of braking to be fully worn down. But it does necessitate replacing your pads from time to time.
So, how often should you be replacing your pads?
Well, there’s no real way to answer this question since it depends on how much you ride your bike, how much you use your brakes, and what material your pads are.
The only way to know when it’s time to replace your pads is to examine them and determine how much of the braking material is left.
In general, regardless of the material, the thickness of the braking material of the pad should never be less than around 1.5 mm.
But how do you check your pads in the first place?
You can look straight down into the caliper and attempt to examine them like that, but it’s very difficult to know for sure using this method since the rotor obscures your view, and there usually isn’t much light.
Unfortunately, the best way to check is to fully remove the wheel, and you’ll then have an unobstructed view of the braking material. If you’re still unsure how much is left, you’ll have to further remove the brake pads themselves and measure the remaining compound.
What are sintered brake pads?
Sintered brake pads are made by compacting the particulates of a variety of different metals together.
They are also often referred to as “metallic brake pads” for this reason.
These particulates are called metal “fillers”. Sintered brake pads use a high proportion of metal fillers, such as copper, steel, iron, and aluminum.
The fillers are mixed with a binding agent and compressed at high temperatures and pressure to form a coherent pad.
What are organic brake pads?
Organic brake pads are the most common brake pads you’ll find fitted to disc brake calipers out of the box.
They are made by compressing non-metal fillers, such as glass, carbon, rubber, and resin.
They are also often called “resin” brake pads. Again, the fillers are mixed with a binding agent and heated to extreme temperature and pressure in order to form a single piece of material.
Sintered Vs Organic Brake Pads: Which Should You Choose?
Sintered brake pads and organic brake pads each have a significant number of benefits and drawbacks associated with them.
So, let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of organic vs metallic brake pads.
What are the advantages of sintered brake pads?
Sintered brake pads come with many benefits, one of which really stands out: they are far more “condition independent”. The coefficient of friction between a sintered brake pad and a rotor is roughly the same irrespective of whether it’s wet.
In other words, sintered brake pads are more consistent than organic brake pads in different weather conditions.
Additionally, once the sintered brake pads warm up, they are incredibly effective with an exceedingly strong bite and are very reliable.
Since the sintered brake pad compound is made of metals, they wear extremely slowly, even in poor conditions. This means that they are going to need replacing far less frequently than organic pads.
What are the disadvantages of sintered brake pads?
On the flip side, although the metallic nature of sintered pads does encourage slow pad wear, it acts like a super-strong sandpaper on the rotor, resulting in much faster rotor wear – which is a more expensive part to replace.
Furthermore, the bite of the brakes may be less vulnerable to rain, but it is very dependent on temperature. This isn’t such a big deal, however, since the coefficient of friction between metal and metal is very high; the pads will warm up after just a single brake.
That said, although fast brake warming is an advantage in some cases, it is a disadvantage in others. If the brakes are used a lot – such as in downhill mountain biking – this may cause the brakes to overheat, reducing their effectiveness.
The compressibility of the hydraulic fluid increases with temperature too, meaning that when it heats up, it will compress more easily upon the action of the levers, leading to reduced power and modulation.
The advantages and disadvantages of sintered pads lend themselves very well to use in winter or adverse weather conditions, but they’re probably not the best choice for general riding if you live somewhere particularly warm.
The Pros and Cons of Organic Brake Pads
Now let’s talk about organic brake pads. It’s likely that if you’ve never changed your brake pads, they’ll be organic.
Organic brake pads have a lower maximum coefficient of friction, meaning that at their best, they won’t be as effective as sintered pads at peak performance.
The coefficient of friction also has a heavier dependency on weather conditions. If it’s raining, they’ll be less effective than sintered brake pads.
They will also wear out quicker since the materials are generally softer than that of the rotor, so the wear is more frequently associated with the braking material.
This can also be seen as an advantage though, since they will not wear out the rotors as quickly, and as mentioned above, the rotors are usually more expensive than the pads.
They also will create far less noise than sintered pads. This is a bigger consideration for some than others, but we all know how annoying a squeaky pad is.
The biggest advantage of organic pads is that they don’t create as much heat as sintered pads, and are more effective outside of optimal brake temperatures.
This means that in general riding conditions, or in styles where there are long gaps between braking applications (such as a flat stage of a road race), they’ll often prove the more effective choice.
So, there are a number of factors to consider when weighing up sintered vs organic brake pads. You’ll need to weigh up the style of riding you want to do, the climate you cycle in, and the importance of durability.
And of course, personal preference always plays a big role too!
- Made a decision and want to replace your brake pads? Check out our Complete Guide to Replacing Disc Brake Pads here!