Brake Pads
Find the right brake pads is like finding the right
woman: you gotta try out a lot first. And I have. In
terms of brake pads, what I've found is sintered metal
is most economical for rear brakes, and the softer,
"stickier" pads are best on the front brakes. As with
most choices, there are trade-offs. Softer pad
materials are generally more responsive and will stop
you quicker. The downside is they don't last as long,
especially if you ride in wet conditions where mud,
grit, and grime will turn your brake rotors into grinding
wheels. Back in 2002, the first time I rode my KTM
300MXC the rear pads were worn down to metal (it
was a bit wet that day, however).  Sintered metal
pads are designed to better survive those muddy
days. They last a lot longer, but aren't as sticky and
won't stop you as quick.

My choice of "sticky" pads in the front and sintered
metal pads on the rear has everything to do with my
riding style. I prefer an intensely sensitive front brake,
but am less so concerned with the rear. Sintered
metal pads just don't give me the kind of front brake
response that I want. And since the front brake does
most of the work anyway, I want instant response with
a quick one-finger pull on the brake lever.
Softer-material front pads don't last as long as
sintered metal, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to
make.

On the other hand, the rear brake performs less
braking power and is therefore of lesser concern to
me for brake response. When stopping quickly, the
rear wheel is basically dragged along for the ride, so
it requires far less force on the brake pads to lock up
the wheel. Therefore, I'm not as concerned with rear
brake action and am willing to use a pad with less
"stick" and longer life.

Even though the softer-material pads don't last as
long, the front brakes see less of the mud than the
rear brakes and I often get about the same life out of
the front pads as I do the rears. I do think the new
"wave" style brake rotors have helped prolong pad
life, even though at first I thought it was a total style
gimmick. On past bikes, I changed to solid rear rotors
in an attempt to lengthen pad life, but I'm getting
almost the same life out of the pads on my KTM
250XC (with its "wave" style rotor) as I did with the
solid rear rotors on past bikes. Guess those engineers
knew what they were doing.

As far as specific brands, I like the EBC sintered
metal rear brake pads and stock front pads. EBC's
are reasonably priced and are long-lasting. Stock
front pads are generally more expensive, but usually
have more grip
<rant on> because that's what all the
manufacturers want the dirt bike magazines to rave
about in their reviews because they know the
magazines will only test them for a short while and
therefore won't be able to complain that the pads
don't last very long and even if they don't last long,
the magazines don't care because they get everything
for free and don't give a rat's ass about how long
things last
<rant off>. In 2010 I tried out Galfer
semi-metallic front pads and am very happy with their
performance. I think it does help that Brembo finally
produced a strong front brake system (see continuing
rant below - Nissin master cylinder conversion), so
maybe pad selection is less of an issue with the
later-model Brembo's.

Solid Brake Rotors
Back in my days of continued searching for all things
cheap, I went on a crusade of longer lasting brake
pads. To prolong pad life, I bought solid front and
rear brake rotors at various times for various bikes.
Typical off-road brake rotors have holes and notches
carved out to help with cooling. This is nice, but mud
tends to collect in those holes and notches. Mud is
usually abrasive, so chunks of mud packed into the
holes and notches will act as an abrasive, which is
not good for brake pad life. Thus, the King of Cheap
experimented with solid brake rotors. No holes or
notches should equal longer brake pad life, correct?

Correct. Solid rotors also retain more heat, which can
eventually cause brake fluid to boil and result in your
braking ability being reduced to zero. I tend to be a
rear brake-dragger, so in certain races my rear brake
would fade. I don't abuse the front brake as much, so
I never had that problem with solid front rotors. On
the rear, switching to a more expensive brake fluid
with a higher boiling point helped quite a bit.

I experimented with solid rotors on my KTM 300EXC,
partly because the stock rotors were pretty weak and
tended to bend in the rocks of Missouri.  Part of
KTM's problem back then was the stylish design it
chose for the rotors, which I am convinced made them
more prone to bending (never had this problem with
my Kawasaki's). In 1999, the rear rotor bent so badly
(despite a rotor guard) that it broke off a piece of the
stock hub.  

I also used solid rear rotors on my KX250's, with
pretty good results. Solid rotors are available from
Moose Racing and Enduro Engineering.

Oversized Brake Rotors
Back when I owned my 2003 KX250, I found a
Braking
oversized front rotor on eBay for about $60
delivered to my door, so I gave it a try. It came with
the oversized rotor and a bracket that replaced the
KX's stock caliper carrier. The bracket used the stock
slider bolt and the little rubber booties. The bottom
line is, it will stop you in a hurry. However, I can't say
it was a huge improvement over the stock front brake,
because the KX's brake was pretty good to begin
with. For $60, compared to around $300 new, it was a
good upgrade but I probably wouldn't buy one of
these brand new. The only real downside is that
these larger rotors aren't always compatible with rotor
guards.

Scotts Performance "Shark Fin" Rear Brake Rotor
Guard
Back when I first began riding off-road, I outfitted my
bikes with various rear brake rotor guards. Most were
simply steel or aluminum "fins" which bolted into the
caliper carrier. Their moderate prices were
commensurate with their moderate protective abilities.
Eventually these guards all take impacts heavy
enough to crack off their mounting points on the
caliper carrier. The guards themselves usually survive
this just fine, but the caliper carriers will never again
hold another guard. Some manufacturers won't sell
caliper carriers separately from the whole caliper
assembly, which makes them hugely expensive to
replace.

Enter Scotts Performance, who was the first to mass
market a brake rotor guard fully integrated into the
caliper. In fact, it actually replaced the stock caliper
carrier. The beauty of the design is that the rear axle
goes through the guard, meaning the mounting point
of the guard is probably not ever going to break
unless you do something very, very bad (which you
probably won't remember anyway).

I first began using these on my 2003 Kawasaki
KX250, after I tried a bolt-on model from
Topar
Racing. The Topar guard was built beefy enough, but
its weakness was the same as similar guards.
Eventually the caliper carrier mounting tabs broke off.
At that point, I really had no better option than the
Scotts guard. It was a whole lot more money, but I
never had to worry about it again. The guard got
pretty dinged up over the years, but it did its job. It's
been part of every bike I've owned since.

Enduro Engineering Rear Rotor Guard - Complete
Carrier
This pretty, high-priced rotor protector was a
replacement for one those aforementioned cheap "fin"
style guards that mount to the caliper carrier. In 2003
I broke off the caliper carrier tabs on my KTM
300MXC. The carrier could not be bought separately
through KTM, so I ordered up an Enduro Engineering
model that set me back $150 (they're now a bit less
expensive). At the time, the Scotts Performance
"Shark Fin" guards were available for a little less
money, but I liked the idea of the replaceable "fin" on
the Enduro Engineering version that could be
purchased separately for $50.

My initial impression of the guard was that it was very
beautifully manufactured. A solid block of aluminum,
carved into a guard...so shiny and pretty. However,
the integration of the "fin" into the carrier had a
questionable design. The fin slid into the carrier and
was held in place by a single, very small set screw
that passed through the fin and recessed into the
carrier. What concerned me most was this tiny set
screw, which was the only thing tkeeping the fin from
sliding off. I feared that a few solid impacts with rocks
could snap it in two and let my $50 fin slide out onto
the trail. That's exactly what happened in July 2007
when the fin finally broke off somewhere in
Colorado.

I also had problems with the holes in the carrier
where the caliper pins slide back and forth as the
caliper grabs onto the brake rotor. The holes
eventually got out of shape, so much that the caliper
was able to shift around enough that the brake rotor
made contact with the brake pad pin. By the time I
discovered this, the rotor had ground about halfway
through the brake pad pin. I wanted to junk the whole
thing, but stupid me...I had already sold the original
caliper carrier on eBay years earlier, thinking I'd never
need it again. Had I known of this peculiar design, I
would have chosen the
Scotts guard.

Enduro Engineering has since improved the design of
how the replaceable fin integrates into the caliper
carrier. Looks like the fin should stay put.

Acerbis front brake rotor guards
This is a product I used for awhile on my 1999 KTM
300EXC but eventually quit using. Quality was fine
and it served its purpose of keeping grass and leaves
and sticks out of the brake caliper, but the guard got
in the way of front wheel installation.  The guard was
attached by way of the axle bolt and zip ties (it
doubled as a lower fork tube guard), and eventually
the plastic around the axle bolt wore away because of
the tightening and un-tightening of the bolt.  When
the plastic finally gave way, the guard flopped around
until I could yank it the rest of the way off.

I tried a similar Acerbis guard on my 2003 KX250,
which did not use the axle bolt as a mounting point.
Instead, the guard used a special brake caliper bolt
and one of the brake line guard mounting holes. Even
so, the disc guard had to come off before the wheel
could be removed, which was still kind of a pain. The
guard also had to be removed to access the
compression clicker on the bottom of the fork leg.
Still, it provided decent protection and I never had any
brake fading because of foreign objects working their
way into the caliper and pads. It should be noted that
some mail order catalogs are indicating that the
Acerbis guard for the '03 KX250 also fits the '04
KX250.
This is not correct. Because the brake line
routing is different on the '04 KX250, the mounting of
the disc guard is different and the '03 guard will not fit.

In the mid-2000s, Acerbis released a nice front rotor
guard for most later-model dirt bikes that (finally) did
not interfere with front wheel removal. It came in two
pieces: the plastic guard and a metal mounting device
that actually replaces the stock wheel spacer. The
plastic guard stays very close to the rotor, which
keeps out plenty of trail junk and doesn't make the
front end any wider than stock, which can be helpful
when navigating deep ruts. I used this on my 2004
KX250 and liked it. One advantage is the plastic
guard can be replaced if it cracks or needs to be
replaced. A disadvantage is that the metal mounting
part uses its own wheel spacer. All wheel spacers
eventually end up with grooves which reduce the
ability for seals to separate the dirt and grit from the
wheel bearings. I ended up selling the KX250 before
the grooves became an issue (although they were
becoming evident), so I'm not sure what could be
done if the wheel spacer needed to be replaced. It
was pretty much integrated into the metal mounting
device.

Brembo to Nissin Front Brake Conversion
in 2002, I was one of those unfortunate souls who got
stuck with a Brembo front brake that was just plain
lousy. On my 300MXC, I attempted every fix known to
man, but it didn't help. It was getting to the point
where I couldn't ride as aggressively for fear of not
being able to stop in time. One day a guy on an
Internet discussion group mentioned that he had
swapped his Brembo master cylinder with a Nissin
unit from a Honda CRF450. I was desperate at that
point, so I bought a complete master cylinder kit from
Service Honda. When I first installed the Nissin, it
leaked at the banjo bolt. I was using the Brembo
brake line with the Honda banjo bolt (required), which
is a slightly different length. The hole in the banjo bolt
needed to be centered in the end of the brake line, so
I added a washer on one side and put on some teflon
tape for good measure.

Did it work? The answer is yes...but I tried a lot harder
to remove every last bubble from the brake line and
master cylinder. I'm not sure that the same effort
wouldn't have improved the feel of the Brembo. I also
replaced the seals in the caliper, just to be sure there
was no problem there. It still was never as firm as my
KX250's and my 2009 250XC, but definitely an
improvement.

Brake Snake
Don't buy it...mine didn't survive its first ride.  This is a
product designed to keep trail junk from wedging
between the brake pedal and the clutch cover. Not
sure if I installed it wrong or what, but a couple
strands of safety wire work just as well and cost about
1% of the brake snake.
Brakes
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