OK boys and girls, how many of you live where your bike is parked for the winter? Let’s see a show of hands. One, two, three…wow… too many to count. Now here is where I could gloat…living in So Cal and riding year round… but I won’t. I’m your friend, I’m here to help. Our last podcast (www.themotoworld.libsyn.com) we reviewed motorcycle video games; good fun but only for a little while. Some of us have project bikes to build…I’m working on my Honda 350 Cafe Racer… and we all have maintenance work to do. Whats your project? I have a good one for you and actually, it’s the most important maintenance project you can do.
Stop!!! Literally. It’s time to either upgrade your brakes or simply service your current braking system. Brakes are something we take for granted until they don’t work. But you’re thinking “my brakes work fine, I’ve had no problems…I’d rather put a pipe on, change the bars, powdercoat or chrome the frame, install a GPS, buy some new saddlebags and maybe a new set of tires.” Yeah OK, lets try this again…It doesn’t matter how fast you can go if you can’t stop when you need to. Let’s make your bike stop better. And, besides, it’s a good winter project.
My day job has had me working with motorcycle brakes for a long time and I’m always amazed at how little riders know about their brakes. From how they work to how to use them. There are a number of riding schools that can teach you how to use your brakes and those lessons are valuable but, most ‘stock’ brake systems are lacking performance. Brake upgrades are easy and not too expensive.
Let’s start with the biggest improvement you can make to your motorcycle, install a set of braided steel brake lines. You will not believe the improvement in performance and feel. Honest. The stock rubber brake lines are junk, jettison them as fast as you can. When you buy a new or used motorcycle, the very first thing you should do is replace the brake lines!
Motorcycle brakes 101. What happens when squeeze the brake lever? Class?..Anyone?…Anyone? Here’s the basics of your brake system..pull on the brake lever or step on the pedal, fluid is forced from the master cylinder down to the caliper to squeeze the pads onto the rotor and, voila..your motorcycle slows down. Nice. Now picture this, when you send fluid down the stock rubber lines the first thing that happens is that as the pressure increases the rubber expands, kind of like a balloon, then…the fluid heads to the caliper and the general feeling at the lever is vague.
Picture number two; you squeeze the brake lever and your bike slows down faster than it ever has..even better than when it was new!! Stainless lines don’t expand, they transmit the energy right now, right to the caliper, right to your disc and you came to a stop a lot sooner than you used to. Nicer. Then there is the feel at the brake lever. Positive and predictable. Nicer still. The ability to modulate your brakes entering the corner, mid corner and exiting the corner is crucial to confidence in your riding. You know exacxtly how the brakes are working, no mushiness, no vagueness, just positive feel at your fingertips.
Installing new lines is really easy. Buy the new line kit from your local shop or online store, it should have all the parts you will need…lines, bolts and washers. Get a new bottle of high quality brake fluid, DOT4 or 5.1. Don’t use the one sitting on your shelf since last time you added a bit a year ago. Next, read the installation directions. This is not a piece of IKEA furniture, it’s your life so a couple of minutes reading the manufacturers instructions is a good thing.
Remove the old lines and pay attention to the routing. Some aftermarket line kits have different routing and some are the same as OEM so just look carefully at what you had and what you now have. One thing to add here; always disconnect the brake lines first at the calipers and let them drain out before you disconnect at the the master cylinder and always cover any painted surface with a towel or rag so you don’t accidentally drip brake fluid (which could eat your paint job) on your bike.
After the old brake lines are off install the new lines. But wait….now is the time to make sure you have your routing correct. Hook everything up but don’t tighten everything down just yet. Once the lines are on, move the suspension up and down..no binding?..good. Now move the steering left to right; again, no binding?…good. If your bike has a fairing, the lines aren’t catching anywhere?…good. Looks like you’re set to finish the job.
Before you tighten down all the bolts be aware of one VERY important thing…some aftermarket brakeline companies have different torque spec’s than the motorcycle manufacturer. Back to step one…read the directions. Many Aftermarket companies use aluminum bolts instead of steel so the torque specs are often times much lower and ‘Armstrong’ torque wrenches aren’t very valid. Make sure you have a good torque wrench and use it per the directions.
Everything is all hooked up, it doesn’t bind and now it’s time for fluid. A good high quality Dot 4 or Dot 5.1 and you are ready. Fill and bleed the system..this is where it is good to have a friend. But let’s say you don’t have any friends, I have a solution for you, remember, I’m here to help. The EZ Bleeder. We have all used or heard about the Mighty Vac to suck the air out of your brake system but the EZ Bleeder does it just the opposite. The EZ Bleeder ‘pushes’ the air out of the system. It’s simply a syringe you fill up with brake fluid, attach it to the caliper and push fluid ‘UP’. Air likes to go up. System is bled in no time and you are ready to go riding.
A word of caution here…your brakes are going to be a bit more sensitive than they were before. Take a few miles to get used to the new feeling and the improved stopping power. Don’t go grabbing a handfull of brake like you used to, you might just find yourself, well…
Next up will be installing new brake pads..there’s more to it than sliding new pads in and this something you want to do yourself..don’t leave it to the dealer.