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Technical FAQ: Carbon brake pads and Campy brake modifications

  • By Lennard Zinn
  • Published Jul. 17, 2012
Bontrager's recommended cork brake pads. Photo: Caley Fretz | VeloNews.com

Editor’s Note: Lennard Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

Dear Lennard,
I have Bontrager Race XXX-Lite Wheels on my Klein Q-Pro Carbon and use the provided cork brake pads with Dura-Ace brakes. My thought was to use the SwissStop Yellow King pads because of the favorable reviews I’ve read, especially their performance in wet conditions. But my LBS says it would void my wheel warranty and I should stick with the cork pads. Any recommendations on how to make the cork pads perform better?
— Denny

Dear Denny,
My feeling is that life is too short to not have functioning brakes. I personally switch different brands of carbon pads all around until I find ones that work best without grabbing, squealing, or undue wear on whatever carbon wheels I happen to be using at the moment.

I don’t know about that warranty voiding. I have not heard that, but then, I’ve never asked about it, either. I imagine that you wouldn’t be covered if you were to crash because your brakes didn’t stop with non-Trek-recommended pads. But if your wheel were to fail for a non-brake-related reason, you would still have a strong case no matter what pads you had on.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
I had a problem with my SwissStop yellow pads melting and not releasing my carbon rims and causing a crash.  Do you have any recommendations on what would be a good alternative to the SwissStops? I don’t need super performance, just something that won’t make me crash.
— Bill

Dear Bill,
If you’re having a problem with pads melting, I’d try ones with the least amount of rubber in them, namely cork pads. By brand, that would be Zipp, Bontrager, or Mad Fiber cork pads.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
My Dura-Ace carbon brake pads on the back wheel keep picking up metal from my Easton Vista (aluminum) rims. Replaced them a few days ago and the same thing is happening. Rim surfaces appear to be quite smooth, no indication that “sanding” would help. Tired of digging metal shards out with my knifepoint.
— George

Dear George,
That’s going to happen with any pad you use on aluminum rims. And obviously, metal in your pads is going to cause more damage to the brake tracks on your carbon rims than pads without metal shards stuck in them.

I’ll say this again: DON’T USE THE SAME PADS ON CARBON AND ALUMINUM RIMS. Just switch the pads when you switch the wheels. I personally remove the retaining screw from the pad holder so I can just slide the pads in and out and am not futzing with, and eventually stripping the head, of a bolt with a 2mm hex-key head. (In the case of Campagnolo brakes, which do not have a retention screw but fit extremely tightly, see answer to Drew below.) You obviously would be leaving the screw out at your own risk; I’m sure those retention screws are there because of lawyers somewhere in the past dictating it. When I was racing in the early 1980s, pad holders definitely had no pad-retention screws in them. As long as you have the pad holder oriented so the closed end is pointed forward and you don’t push the bike backward while the brakes are engaged, there is no force acting on the pads that will pull them out of the pad holders in normal riding.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
I have a question regarding brake block choice.

I currently race with Zipp tubular wheels and use SwissStop yellow pads appropriate for a carbon rim, but want to train in the week using Mavic Ksyrium wheels, which have a metal braking surface. Should I be changing the brake blocks when changing the wheels? Am I causing damage if I don’t?
— Emma

Dear Emma,
Yes and yes. See my above answer to George.
― Lennard

Lennard,
Do you think some time before the racing season you could revisit the perennial nuisance of changing Campagnolo brake blocks? I have always switched my Campy pads for SwissStop yellow the night before a carbon wheel race day, and last year I even bought extra shoes for each set to avoid the finger splitting agony of extracting the Campy pads. I know that SwissStops claim to be ok on all surfaces, but I am still skeptical and they wear too fast for $60 brake pads…
— Drew

Dear Drew,
There exists a very slick, lever-operated tool for pushing pads out, but it makes no sense for a home mechanic to invest in it. You can also remove the pad holder, pry the old pad out with a thin screwdriver, and hammer the new one in after wetting it (here’s a video), but removing, replacing, and readjusting your pad holders for every pad change is a pain. You might as well have the separate pad holders as you do, if you’re going to go to the trouble of removing and replacing the pad holders anyway.

On Campy pad holders that I change pads in frequently, I personally file the inner ridges off on the rear part of each pad holder so I can get the pads in and out easily while leaving the pad holders mounted on the brake arms. The rear two thirds of the pad holders end up with vertical walls, which still retain the pads quite well, and only the front third has angled-in sides to grab the angled edges of the Campy pads.

I thought of this when I began using eeBrakes and was amazed at how easy it is to switch pads with them. As you can see in the photo, there are only inward-pointing ridges on the front third of each pad holder. There is a little retaining bump near the rear, where the retaining screw would be on non-Campy pad holders. To clear that retaining nub, you just push the tail of the pad inward (there’s a little curved cutout at the tail of the pad holder so you can push on the pad easily), and then slide the pad out with your thumb. Easy schmeezy.

So I made a number of my and my daughter’s Campy pad holders much like eeBrake pad holders by filing off the inner ridges in back. There is a section in the middle of the holder where there is no ridge anyway due to the presence of the head of the mounting bolt (you can see it in the above video), so you are only filing the ridge off of the rear third of each pad side of each pad holder. It makes getting Campy pads in and out sooooo much easier! Obviously, you of course do this at your own risk. See my statement about this risk in the answer to George above.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
I am currently running both Campy and Shimano 10-speed on my bikes — ’cross and race bike are Campy, TT bike is Shimano. Most of my wheels are aluminum. However, once I start using carbon wheels/rims, I know I will need to run carbon brake pads. Campy brake pads are a PAIN to change so am looking for an easy way to be able to change pads depending on which wheels I am using. Here’s my question: can I use Shimano brake holders on Campy brake or are they completely incompatible? If no on that question, do you have any easy tips on changing Campy pads — is the easiest thing to have an extra set of holders that you can put on rather than remove and replace the pads each time?
— Saul

Dear Saul,
See my above answer to Drew. I personally make my Campy pad holders easier to change, rather than trying to mount non-Campy pad holders on Campy brakes. I’ve never tried non-Campy pad holders on Campy brakes, so I have no idea if any others fit.
― Lennard

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Lennard Zinn

Lennard Zinn

Our longtime technical writer joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a framebuilder, a former U.S. National Team rider, and author of many bicycle books, including Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn's Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ.

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