It doesn’t matter whether you’re riding a motorcycle, moped, or scooter, if you need to stop (especially in an emergency), you want your brakes to work.
And like any other mechanical components, there are several common brake problems – just like there are several common ways to detect and solve them.
In this blog post, you’ll discover 5 of these common brake problems. There are plenty more, but we’ll limit it to just 5 for this post.
For the sake of coverage, we’re also going to cover both hydraulic and mechanical brake systems.
Are you unsure of the differences between hydraulic and mechanical brake systems? Read more about it in this article here on the Dual Wheel Journey.
Prefer to get this information in podcast form? Listen to the 30-Minute Motorcycling Podcast episode about these 5 common brake problems:
#1. No Or Old Brake Fluid (hydraulic brakes)
Your hydraulic brake system relies on brake fluid to work. Therefore, if there’s no or not enough brake fluid, it’s time that you top it up.
But even if it’s topped up, when was the last time you changed your brake fluid?
Because if the fluid itself is old, it doesn’t matter if it’s topped up or not.
Keep this in mind – DOT 4 brake fluid attracts water over time, which makes your brakes less effective.
Why does water make brake fluid less effective?
One of the most desirable characteristics of brake fluid is a high boiling point – on average, DOT 4 brake fluid has a boiling point of about 230 C (or 446 Fahrenheit).
Compare this to water, which only has a boiling point of 100 C (or 212 Fahrenheit).
If too much water gets mixed into your brake fluid, the total boiling point drops.
Therefore, you should change your brake fluid every 2 years. If you haven’t done this, it’s time to break out the brake bleeding kit (no pun intended)
2. Brake Fluid Leak (hydraulic brakes)
Just like how a leak in your coolant system can cause your engine to overheat, a leak in your brake hoses causes your hydraulic brake system to not function.
Fortunately, just like coolant leaks, you can find a leak in your brake hoses by looking for suspicious-looking puddles underneath your bike.
Not only that but if the fluid level inside the brake fluid reservoir suddenly drops, it might be caused by a brake hose leak.
If you find a leak, it’s time to replace your brake hoses.
#3. The Brakes Are Too Tight or Too Loose (mechanical brakes)
You might think that mechanical brakes don’t require maintenance since they don’t rely on brake fluid.
But then you’d be wrong – mechanical brakes also need some tuning from time to time – particularly the brake cable’s tightness.
To find out how to tighten your mechanical brakes, here is a video from Tomos America that explains it very well (it’s aimed towards mopeds, but the principle applies to almost all mechanical brakes):
#4. A Chafed or Broken Brake Cable (mechanical brakes)
So, you’ve tightened (or loosened) your mechanical brakes – but you’re still not done.
Did you look at your brake cables themselves? Are they intact and in good condition?
If they’re looking thin in some spots and not so thing in others, you’ve got a chafed cable wire.
It might not happen immediately, but one day, you might have to apply your brakes hard, and *twang* – your cable snaps.
Now, your brakes are completely unusable – so the sooner you detect a chafed metal wire, the better.
But simply tightening the brake cable isn’t enough to solve a chafed wire. In this case, you’ll need to replace your brake cable with a new one.
#5. Worn-down brake pads (either)
Of course, even good, topped-up brake fluid and properly tightened mechanical brakes won’t save you if your brake pads as worn down.
And unlike the previous 4 brake problems, this one can affect bikes with both hydraulic AND mechanical brakes.
Why? Because both brake systems use brake pads (unless you’re riding around on a 1970s Puch moped with drum brakes).
Since brake pads are what press against your brake rotors to bring the bike to a stop, they will thin every time you use them.
Once the thickness drops below 3 mm (or 0.11 inches), it’s time to get a set of new ones.
Don’t continue to ride with worn-out brake pads – not only will you not stop in time, but eventually, there will be nothing but bare metal left on them.
If this metal comes into contact with the brake rotor, it will damage the rotor – all while making a hideous grinding noise.