Choosing modulation over sheer power

IMG_8423Brake designers tirelessly test different pad compounds and materials to ensure you’re getting the most out of your stoppers. However, there’s plenty of misinformation about what different pad materials are designed for. We set out to dispel some of the rumors by equipping the same brake with completely different pad compounds to see if the claims from the testing labs at Shimano actually translate to real trail performance.

Tech features:

Shimano offers several types of brake pads for their XT and XTR brakes. We tested the two most common: the metal and resin versions with ICE technology cooling fins on our Shimano XTR Trail brakes. The metal pad (clearly etched on the pad’s backing plate) material is sintered to a steel backing plate, which essentially means it’s applied in layers and welded on. The resin version is bonded to an aluminum backing plate. The resin pad is a softer material that is designed to provide more modulation and noise control at the cost of raw power and fade resistance. The metal pad uses a much higher percentage of metal in the compound, resulting in a more rigid construction. This is designed to increase power, fade resistance and durability at the cost of noise and modulation. It also increases the weight about a third of an ounce per pair. The resin pads retail for around $30, and the metal pads retail for roughly $40. Shimano





Field test results:

We installed the pads, front and rear, on a Yeti SB-66 test bike for two separate testing periods. Bedding in new pads when they are installed is a critical step to getting the most out of them. We performed 40 to 50 controlled stops from 5 to 10 miles per hour. This process transfers a small amount of pad material to the rotor and preps the pad surface for real-world braking. Don’t skip this step. We found the resin pads bed in and achieve full power more quickly than the metal ones.

The metal: Our test period with the metal pads included every condition, from dry, hot and dusty to huge singletrack descents with mud and stream crossings. Our pads proved up to the challenge, delivering predictable power even under these harsh conditions. The pads have an on/off feel that achieves maximum power quickly as the lever is applied. While the modulation range is small, it’s usable on just about any bike. However, these pads could be overkill for most cross-country applications unless the rider prefers lots of quick power. In wet or muddy conditions, the pads make noise, but less than other brakes. Even in these conditions, the brakes still stop on command.

The resin: Our resin pads were primarily tested in the SoCal sun but also saw a few late-season Colorado rides through mud and snow. These pads have an extremely smooth feeling and deliver adequate power for most riding styles. We loved the great modulation and huge range of power that could be generated with these pads. While we had to apply more lever force to generate the initial bite, the usable power range on the XTR brakes is much larger with the resin pads. Both pads deliver quiet braking, but the resin is certainly quieter. We were unable to get either pad to fade during even long descents, possibly thanks to the ICE tech rotors and pad cooling fins.

Conclusion: The XT and XTR brakes are currently our favorite trailbike brakes. We knew we would like both pads, but we expected the raw power of the metal pads to win out. To our surprise, for most circumstances we tested in, we preferred the resin. The resin material comes as the stock pad for most, but not all, XT and XTR brakes. If you ride a downhill race bike, park bike, or frequently ride aggressive long descents, you will appreciate the power and fade resistance of the metal pads. For all other applications, we preferred the resin hands down. Our suggestion would be to start there and upgrade to the more expensive metal pads if you need them.


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