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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0 thoughts on “Grinding brakes test nerves and rims”

  1. Johnny says:

    Something similar has happened to me on two bikes, even in warm weather. I thought I was picking up crap from the road, but no one I know who rides in Baltimore seems to have this happen as often as I do. My rims have racing stripes now:)

  2. Noah says:

    My cheap OEM pads had the same problem. They’d pick up aluminum flakes and eat my rims for breakfast in a hurry. I’ve been very impressed with the wet and dry performance of the SwissStop green pads. I also know many others who’ve had great luck with Kool-Stop Salmon pads. I suggest switching out pads if you keep having this issue.

  3. holodri says:

    hi, same problem, different material. guess my rims are just too old and have to be replaced. tried new pads of other brands on same old rim but it seems like the aluminium surface is worn out.
    be aware of rims with racing stripes, they might fall apart leaving sharp shrapnells in softer parts of the local environment 😉

  4. rick p says:

    Similar problems when commuting last year. Switched to fixed gear for commuting this winter. No worries except those ice patches on the road here and there.

  5. John says:

    Get Kool Stop _salmon colored_ replacement cartridges and you’ll probably not have to worry about this again.

    They’re the least damaging and best gripping material out there for brake pads on bicycles.

    Your rims will thank you.

  6. xSmurf says:

    Same issue with the regular Kool Stop pads.

  7. John says:

    Could you elaborate, xSmurf?

    You aren’t talking about the salmon-colored pads, are you?

    If so, we have amazingly different results.

  8. Great tutorial, clear and informative.

    I like to re-surface my pads with a file or sandpaper.

  9. Mark says:

    It would seem there is an advantage to the old-school chromed steel rims after all. At least for those less concerned with weight.

  10. Bud says:

    You guys should use the Automatic Brake System Modulator the Budbrake and you will have less problems with your brake pads and rims.

  11. Rose zuly says:

    Rose zuly in the game you may or may not notice. I know vitality is very tempting in rose zulie.

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