What Happens if You Don’t Replace Bike Brake Pads?

Many parts of your bicycle wear out over time and require replacing. Your brakes are one such item, and you must pay careful attention to replacing them when needed. 

If you do not replace your brakes as they wear out, your bicycle will have reduced stopping power. Not being able to stop or slow down quickly could spell disaster and result in an accident. If you have disc brakes, you will also damage your rotors if you continue to ride on worn pads.

What Can Be Damaged?

Whether you have disc brakes or rim brakes, it’s critical to maintain them regularly. Worn brakes don’t provide as much stopping power as new brakes. Continuing to ride on worn-out brake pads can also damage other components. 

If you have rim brakes, not much can be damaged directly, but worn-out ones severely reduce your stopping power and can result in an accident. Riding with worn disc brake pads can score and damage the rotors. 

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What Happens If You Don’t Replace Mechanical Brake Pads?

Mechanical brakes are a type of disc brake, but they differ from hydraulic brakes because they operate via a cable. The brake cable pulls when you squeeze your bike’s brake lever. Doing so causes the pad to engage with the rotor. 

Generally speaking, mechanical brakes require more pull force than hydraulic brakes. That makes riding on worn pads more dangerous because applying the required pressure to stop the bike gets harder and harder as the brakes wear. 

As far as actual damage that can occur from riding with worn brake pads, they are the same with both mechanical and hydraulic brakes. If the pads wear too low, they can damage the rotors, which results in a more costly repair bill. 

What Happens If You Don’t Replace Hydraulic Brake Pads?

As discussed above, hydraulic brakes require less lever pull to apply equal levels of force than mechanical brakes. Hydraulic brakes have a lighter pull and more relative stopping power. 

As your pads wear out with a hydraulic brake setup, you will still need to apply more lever pull to equal the same stopping power, but it is easier than with mechanical brakes. As such, while your pads are wearing out, stopping and slowing are still easier with a hydraulic brake setup.

That said, the damages to your brake components are still the same. If you continue to ride with worn-out pads, your rotors can be damaged, and if your stopping power is compromised, it can result in an accident. 

Are the Consequences the Same On Rim Brakes?

Rim brakes differ from disc brakes in that they don’t use a pad and rotor system for stopping but instead use a rubber compound pad to apply pressure to the actual rim of your wheel to slow the bicycle. 

This type of brake was standard on all bicycles until recently. Rim brakes can still be found on more inexpensive bicycles and older bikes, but they are not as favored as disc brakes for several reasons.

Rim brakes provide less stopping power than disc brakes. However, rim brakes are simpler mechanically than disc brakes and require less maintenance. This type of brake also is susceptible to poor performance in wet conditions. 

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As rim brakes wear, they provide reduced stopping power and require more lever pull. Once a rim brake pad wears out, it won’t cause further damage to other components; it will just cease working as well. 

How Often Do You Have To Replace the Pads?

Bicycle brake pads wear differently depending on several variables. Those variables include the type of riding you do and environmental conditions.

As a rule of thumb, most riders say to replace your pads every 500-1000 miles. However, this is no replacement for visibly inspecting your bicycle’s brakes. 

The type of riding you do can increase or decrease how long your brake pads last. Other things, such as rider weight, can affect this as well. A heavier rider will require more force to stop, and as a result, pads wear down more quickly. 

Both disc brake pads and rim brake have a visible wear indicator similar to a tread depth wear indicator on tires. As you use your brake pads, the material gets worn down, and once it wears down to the indicator, it’s time to replace your pads. 

In addition to the visible signs that your pads are worn, you will also start to hear noises coming from your brakes as they wear out. Listen for screeching or whistling. Any odd sounds coming from your brakes should be addressed as soon as possible. 

One further sign that your brakes are wearing out is how the brake lever feels when you pull it. As your pads wear down, the brake lever will take more force to pull and travel further. If you have to pull your lever to your handlebars, it is beyond time to check on your brakes. 

Do You Need To Replace Front and Rear Brake Pads at the Same Time?

The front and rear brakes of your bicycle are independently operated. One brake lever controls the front brakes, while the other operates the rear brakes. 

Your front brakes are what provide the majority of the stopping power. As a result, your front pads will wear more quickly than your rear pads. It is not uncommon to have to replace the front pads before you need to replace the rear ones.

While replacing them as a set won’t hurt anything, it is wasteful and not necessary if both don’t require replacement. As a good rule of thumb, I replace my rear brake pads every second time I replace the front pads. 

Do You Need To Use the Same Brand When Replacing the Pads?

Brake pads, for the most part, are universal, meaning they should have the same size and shape across different manufacturers. However, different compounds affect the braking characteristics of your bicycle. 

I always replace my brake pads, both disc and rim brakes, with the same brand I’m familiar with. Doing so lets me know that the braking characteristics will stay the same on my bicycles.

I ride both road and mountain, so I have different needs from my brakes depending on which bike I’m riding. In both cases, I want my brakes to respond as I anticipate, so I always keep my pads the same brand and compound during changes. 

That being said, if you’re unhappy with how your brakes respond, it could benefit you to shop around for different compounds to find a pad that you like the best. Just be mindful not to push your brakes hard until you’re comfortable with how they react.

When Do You Need To Change the Rotor (in the Case of Disc Brakes)?

So long as you’re replacing your pads regularly, brake rotors on disc brake-equipped bicycles are one of the fit-and-forget types of components. Brake rotors on bicycles last a long time, provided that you properly maintain them. 

You should consult your rotor’s manufacturer for specifications on when they need replacing. Different rotors will have different requirements for when they need replaced. 

For example, my Shimano rotors have a minimum thickness of 1.5mm which means they need to be replaced when the thickness of the rotor’s braking surface measures 1.5mm. This information is usually stamped on the rotor itself. 

However, if you crash your bicycle, make sure you inspect your rotors and replace them if they show any signs of damage.

Sam Benkoczy

Hi, I'm Sam. I own and maintain 6 e-bikes, 15 regular bikes (road bikes, folding bikes, hybrid bikes, city bikes among others). I learned about bikes from my local bike mechanic as well as from bike maintenance courses. I love being out there in the saddle, and using my bike as a practical means of transportation. You can also find me on my YouTube channel at youtube.com/bikecommuterhero Say hi to me at sam@bikecommuterhero.com.

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