Sign up for our newsletter


Best road bike brake pads

Cyclist magazine
14 Jun 2021

We look at the history of road bike brake pads along with advice on how to get the most out of them plus a run down of our favourites.

They might not be glamorous but brake pads are truly essential. And just because nobody lusts after them, doesn't mean you should scrimp on your next pair.

So whether you want to replace or upgrade, have a look through our guide to the best road bike brake pads on the market. Just check you select the right type to match either standard alloy or posh carbon fibre brake tracks. 

Here are the best road bike brake pads on the market

Road bike brake blocks for alloy rims

Shimano BR-5800 Cartridge Type 

If your bike already has Shimano brake pads, that’s great. Just buy the matching replacement inserts. However, there’s no reason you can’t also improve the performance of your existing non-Shimano system by swapping these in.

Coming from the brand’s mid-level 105 groupset they’re leagues ahead of most un-branded alternatives. Not only does this mean better braking and less wear on your rims, but when it’s time to replace them, you just slot new inserts into the holsters. Cheaper and easier. 

Kool-Stop Dura 2

It’s well known among bike mechanics that Kool-Stop don’t make a single duff pad. Pretty much all of them are good. Its standard-issue road pads are the Dura 2 models.

Coming in the standard black compound, softer salmon or a combination of both, all provide excellent braking while being gentle on your rims. Given their well-above-average longevity, our preference is for the softest salmon ones. 

Shop Kool-Stop at SJS Cycles

SwissStop Flash Pro BXP Alloy

Less expensive than SwissStop's carbon compound pads, but still not cheap, luckily the performance of the alloy-compatible BXP pads is top-notch.

Noticeably more powerful than cheaper alternatives, they’re also kinder to your rims.

Ashima 3 Function

Ashima 3 function brake pads

The lip on the edge aims to clean grime from your rim. The body also has channels to aid cooling and displace water. Good modulation and power is offset by a quicker wear rate.

Designed for standard aluminium rims, these are a decent enough budget option. 

Buy now as a system from Tredz for £15.48

Buy now as inserts only from Tredz for £5.99

Road bike brake blocks for carbon rims

SwissStop Flash Pro Yellow King Carbon 

SwissStop flash pro yellow brake pads

A High-performance compound exclusively for carbon wheels. Top stopping power in both wet and dry weather with superior modulation and minimal amounts of wear or heat build-up.

Expensive but a worthwhile investment. Easy on rims while offering confidence-inspiring power in all conditions, oodles of feel at the levers and silent running.

Prime Carbon Pro Rim Brake Pads

When the time comes to service your bike, this bundle of four pads will sort out both ends of your bike without costing too much money.

Obviously, you’ll need the pre-existing holders, but given that they’re designed for carbon rims, we can probably take that as read. Much better than some cheap alternatives, they’re also recommended for Wiggle’s line of lightweight Prime carbon wheels.

Buy now from Wiggle for £12.99 

Aztec Carbon

While it's a bit odd to seek out the cheapest pads for your expensive carbon rims, there's little wrong with these budget inserts from Aztec. The first pull of the lever reveals decent bite with little being given away once the rain starts.

A silent performer, we were impressed given their low cost. 

Buy now from Tredz for £4.79

Brake pad care tips

1. If your pads are excessively worn, they’re good only for the bin. Some pads will have a wear line marked on the side – check them for this when they’re new. If you can’t see one, ensure there’s an absolute minimum depth of 2.5mm of material remaining outside the holster that the pads slot into. 

2. Loosen the retaining screw in the back of the holder and slide the pad out. Check for metallic particles in the pad; pick any out with a sharp-pointed instrument. If the surface is unevenly worn, or has become glazed due to excessive heat, you can sand the top layer off using a file.

3. There’s no point having clean pads and mucky wheel rims. First, check the rim is not excessively worn – the brake track should be flat, not concave. If they’re safe, clean with a non-oily solvent like soapy water and then give them a quick wipe with a scouring pad and some surgical spirit.

A history of the humble brake pad

The bicycle as we know it didn’t spring into existence fully formed. Its slow mutation from rolling wooden frame and wheels with no chain to the design we recognise today took many different technological leaps even before the brake pad arrived.

It has always been rim technology that has dictated changes in the materials used for brake pads. In 1934, French rim maker Mavic created the aluminium ‘Dura’ rim, an eyeleted box-section tubular that would define the design of racing wheels for the rest of the century.

From then on rubber compound brake pads and aluminium rims became the norm.

Although brake pads still look outwardly much the same as they did back then, the technology has, in fact, come on a long way. Alloy wheels, and more recently carbon rims, have forced makers to redesign their original rubber compounds.

These days, a whole range of secret fillers and additives are used to modify the properties of the material, depending on the application, with each brand jealously guarding the exact composition of its formula.

In the mix

‘The performance of a material is all about its ingredients; it’s a bit like a cake mix,’ says Blackman. ‘We’ve spent many years formulating and enhancing the recipes. Material is key, but it’s also important to ensure the surface of the pad is clear of any debris. The design of our pads ensures that they’re self-cleaning, preventing grit from becoming embedded into the surface and scoring the rims.’

This has become particularly important with the advent of carbon fibre rims, which can generate and store a far greater amount of heat under braking. ‘In the old days, aluminium rims worked in our favour by dissipating the heat build-up, but on carbon and other exotic wheels we have to combat heat with different compound mixes.’

Carbon brake tracks are a mean and difficult surface to brake on. ‘Different carbon and resins create different results during braking so rider technique is even more important.’

Carbon compound pads are designed to withstand these increased temperatures. Along with extreme heat, compatible pads also need to handle the different demands specific to carbon brake tracks, which can be enormously abrasive. Compatible pads tend to be made of a less aggressive material, which is the reason that standard pads are often too grabby when used with carbon rims. It’s crucial to pick the right pad for the job.

Along with carbon rims and long descents cooking your pads, the other common enemy of better braking is the rain. ‘Wet weather increases the stopping distance during braking,’ says Watson. ‘Everyone thinks it’s just water on the rims but motor oil and other contaminants ride on water running off the roads and end up on your brake tracks.’

And once contaminated, brake pads can quickly eat into expensive wheels, so make sure you keep both pads and rims clean. ‘A clean rim that’s free of burrs is very helpful. Check the function of the pads before each ride, making sure there’s no road debris lodged in the pad,’ says Blackman.

‘If you experience glazing, the pads can be lightly sanded to bring them back to full power. If your rim has been previously damaged you can clean the rim surface with a fine sandpaper or scouring pad and rubbing alcohol.’

They might not be sexy but understanding how your pads work and making sure they’re in good order will improve your braking and keep you safe. Leaving you to go as fast as you dare, safe in the knowledge that they’ll slow you down when needed.

Read more about: