Disc brake pads need to be replaced when they get worn out, or if they become contaminated with oil, grease, or brake fluid. How can you tell when you need to replace your brake pads? Here’s an easy hack: stack three standard business cards alongside your brake pad. If the pad material is equal to or less than the height of the cards (about 1 mm), then it’s time to replace them. It’s an easy process even for the most novice mechanic. Here’s how to replace your disc brake pads:

What you need to replace your disc brake pads

  • New brake pads! 
  • Brake pads come in many shapes with different braking material. The easiest way to determine what are the right pads for your bike would be to bring it to your local bike shop. If you have your old pads, you can search online for pads that are identical in shape because they’ll likely work if they’re the same as your old pads.
  • Tip: Brake pad material can be metallic, organic, or semi-metallic. In some cases, there may be compatibility issues between the pad material and the rotor. Check the rotor to see if there are any warnings about which brake pad material to use.
  • Needle-nose pliers for brakes with cotter pins or pads that are a tight fit
  • A tool with a flat surface, like a tyre lever or a cone wrench, for pressing in the pistons
  • A compatible hex or Torx wrench (depending on your brake calliper design) for adjustment screws and retaining pins

Pad removal 

If you have a bike workstand, mount your bike and remove the wheel. If not, flip your bike upside down and remove the wheel. 

Tip: A bike workstand will make the process a whole easier lot, as it allows you to work on your bike the right way up.

Tip: Brake designs vary among manufacturers and therefore have a different process for removing the pads. We’ll cover the main ones here but it’s a good idea to consult the manufacturer’s own process for brake pad removal. In addition to online user manuals, many brands publish “how to” videos either to their own websites or to YouTube (or both).

If your brake calliper has a retaining pin to secure the pads, fit the appropriate hex or Torx wrench into the pin head to remove it. If the calliper has a cotter pin, bend the pin until it is straight and then slip it out of the calliper. Now you can easily slide the pads out the bottom of the calliper.

  • Similar designs have a C-shaped pin clip. Simply remove it and then remove the retaining pin. Remove the pads from the calliper’s top for this design.
  • Some pads come with an X-shaped spring that’s removed together with the pads. Your new pads should come with a replacement spring so there’s no need to hold onto the old one.
  • Some designs use a magnet to hold the pads to the pistons. With these, all you need to do is take your needle-nose pliers, grip the brake pad’s tab, pull it toward the centre of the calliper, and lift it out.
  • Other callipers have a spring protruding from the top. Grip the spring with your needle-nose pliers to remove it; the pads should easily slide out of the bottom of the calliper.
  • Your brakes may have a spring that clips onto both pads to hold them in place. Removing the pads and spring will require your needle-nose pliers and perhaps a little force.
  • For some pads it may be necessary to seize one pad with your needle-nose pliers, pull it to the calliper’s centre, and then lift it out. Do the same on the other side, and then remove the spring that holds the pads in place.

Prepping your brake callipers

Before installing new brake pads, you must fully retract the pistons. This allows space to accommodate the extra material on the new pads. Locate the pistons on the inner sides of the brake calliper. Using your tyre lever or a cone wrench, slip it into the calliper and apply even pressure on each piston to push it in.

IMPORTANT! If you accidentally squeeze your brake levers, the pistons will return to centre and you’ll have to repeat the process to retract them.

If you happen to squeeze the brakes after you’ve installed your pads but before reinstalling your wheel, simply insert a tool with a flat surface between the brake pads and press the pistons back into the calliper.

Pad installation

Installation is basically the opposite of pad removal, and each calliper design varies in how to install the pads. For example, you may have to install one pad before the other. Or, if the pads come with a spring, you may have to position the pads correctly in the spring and then install the whole unit all at once. Or maybe the pads go in first and then the spring. The best advice is to record the process for removing your old pads and then reverse the process to install the new ones.

Tip: Correctly installed pads will wiggle a bit but don’t worry, that’s normal.

If your brakes are hydraulic, pump the brake levers to position the pistons and callipers. If they are mechanical disc brakes, they will need to be realigned. You can do that yourself by searching online for “how to align mechanical disc brakes” or you can have the professionals at your local bike shop do it for you.

Once you learn how to replace your own disc brake pads, you’ll be able to get back on the road or trail sooner than if you had to hand your bike over to your local shop. So get the hang of the process, it’s easy once you get it!