Words by: Max Morgan
Having a good set of hydraulic disc brakes on your mountain bike is one of the key components that allows you to go as fast as you can on the trail. Without a strong set of brakes to slow you down, dropping in to steep and fast terrain is much more dangerous. The brake pads specifically are another wear item on your bike and should be changed when worn down. Understanding the different kinds of brake pads available will help you make the right decision when getting yourself some new pads. Here in this blog, we are going to break down the differences between organic and sintered mountain bike brake pads.
Organic/Resin Shimano Brake Pads with Aluminum Cooling Fins
Organic brakes pads, also referred to as resin or semi-metallic brake pads, are made from a mixture of fibers held together with a resin. Some of the materials used in organic brake pads can vary from kevlar, carbon, and rubber among other things depending on the application.
In general, organic brake pads are made from softer materials than sintered brake pads meaning they are usually quieter. In mountain bike applications, organic pads will give you more initial bite when you first grab the brake lever. One of the negatives associated with organic brake pads is that they don't manage heat as well and will fade more over long descents. Those long descents are when you need to lean on your brakes the most, and organic pads may lose some of their power when heat soaked.
The biggest downside to organic brake pads is that they do not perform well in wet conditions. In wet and muddy conditions the brake pads can wear down even faster than normal and could also get glazed over keeping them from performing again in dry conditions.
Sintered/Metallic Shimano Brake Pads with Aluminum Cooling Fins
Sintered brake pads, also referred to as metal sintered or metallic brake pads, are made from metallic particles that are fused together at a high temperature and pressure. Sintered brake pads are used in most OEM applications, not only on mountain bikes but on motorcycles and cars as well, because of their ability to perform in a variety of conditions. Sintered brake pads will continue to grab as strong as ever in wet and muddy trail conditions.
For those riders racing, sintered brake pads may work better because of there ability to be less affected by heat build up. The heavier you are on brakes, the more heat is generated. Sintered brake pads will not fade as much as organic brake pads on those long steep descents.
The few negatives to running sintered brake pads is that they can make some noise. Depending if they are wet or have been really hot, sintered brake pads can be loud! Lastly, because sintered pads are made from a harder material, they can be harder on rotors. For most riders, this usually isn't a problem because it takes some serious abuse to burn up brake rotors.
If you aren't sure what brake pads to get for your bike, most likely, sintered/metallic pads are the way to go. They give a strong consistent feel under all riding conditions and work great for mostly all applications. Organic brake pads are quieter and have more initial grab but will fade more on long descents and lack power in wet conditions.
Replacing your brake pads on your mountain bike might also be a good time to service and bleed the complete brake system. After bleeding the brakes and replacing the pads, your brakes will be feeling brand new again!
This article was written / authored by Max Morgan. Max has been a professional downhill mountain bike racer for the last 10 years, competing in the UCI World Cup downhill series and U.S. Pro GRT series. Having ridden all different kinds of bikes on trails all over the world, Max's experiences being out on the circuit give him a unique perspective on what makes for a quality cycling component. Max also has degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, and so if you don't see out on the trail, chances are he is probably in the garage tinkering on the next project.