Grinding brakes test nerves and rims

I’ve been using SwissStop all-weather pads on my road bike for a while, but this morning, they started grinding. As it turns out, the temperatures here are still below freezing, and that made the brake pads harder and harsher. Little by little, they started to scour aluminum off of my rims. This made a horrible noise when slowing or stopping, and worsened my braking effectiveness. I set out to fix them while I was at work. Here’s how. Click thumbnails for larger images.

First, I removed the wheel and unscrewed the brake pad holder set screws from both brake pad holders:

unscrew set screws

Next, I slide the brake pads back and out of the holders. I took the pads and set screws up to my office to assess the carnage. Yum. Carnage. Notice the chunks of aluminum wedged into the brake pad material:


With the knife tip on my multi-tool, I gently got under the metallic flakes and pried them out of the brake pad. You could use a thumb tack or other sharp object in a pinch.


Once all the flakes were removed, I soaked the pads in hot, soapy water for a while, then scrubbed them off with some paper towels to remove the grimy residue from the pads as much as possible. Notice that the pads are still a little torn up, but they’ll wear and smooth out after braking some more.


Final re-assembly: Slide the pads back into the brake pad holder, then re-install the set screws. Brake gently the first few times to allow the brakes to shape themselves to your rims again.


Some mountain bikes have similar brake holders with cotter pins. Feel free to work on your brakes if you have this setup as well. Many bikes simply don’t have brake pads that can be removed from the holder in this way. On those, the brakes have to be re-aligned and installed just right in order to work properly. I’d wait until I got home to start tinkering, or take it to a shop if you don’t trust your skills. Brakes are a very critical system on any vehicle, so always test your brakes before every ride and get periodic brake pad and cable tune-ups.

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