Dear Mountain Bike Brake Pad Maker…

HI there,

My name is RL Policar, I’m a super cool, very handsome mountain biker. I was wondering if you could explain something to me, WHY IN THE WORLD ARE BICYCLE DISC BRAKE PADS SO EXPENSIVE!?! Each pad set usually runs between $20-$40 dollars depending on the brake system. But what I don’t get is how you can charge so much for pads that are a fraction of the size of automotive brake pads. Have you ever seen how thick brake pads are for cars? Just look at the photo below, see how much more “pad” you get for your car, and here’s the killer part. A set of brake pads for my car only cost me $25 for a set and this means both front wheels, not like bike pads in which you pay the same amount for 1 wheel! That’s right…ONE WHEEL!
brake parts

I know we all need brake pads for our bikes, but why do they have to be so expensive? I’m wondering if they are made with unicorn hair or baby tears, better yet, are they made out of unobtanium?

Thanks for your time,

RL Policar!

7 Replies to “Dear Mountain Bike Brake Pad Maker…”

  1. i definitely think this is a case of the manufacturer making most of their money off of the consumables, kinda like inkjet printers. sure, you can get a pretty decent inkjet for about $100, but you’re going to be paying $40 or more per ink cartridge when they run out…and since most inkjets have at least two cartridges (which are suspiciously undersized), you’re looking at $80 just to replace the ink…on a printer that probably only cost about $10 more than that.

    printers are “loss-leader” products, which means the manufacturer may actually lose money on the device, but they know they’ll MORE than make up for it by overpricing the ink cartridges. this is why most printers have a short warranty and even if you call up Epson, for example, to get a repair, they much more inclined to just exchange the printer for a new one (which is probably cheaper than actually repairing the broken machine). but god forbid you use refilled ink cartridges in your printer!!! this is why the printer makers HATE places that refill in cartridges, because they LOST money on the printer and depend on selling cartridges to actually turn that into a profit.

    i have a sneaking feeling this is exactly what’s going on with bike disc brake pads (among a few other parts). brake pads wear out, and you’ll have to buy new ones. there’s nothing you can do about that (except maybe ride a fixie, but yeah, screw that). a lot of disc systems are probably loss leaders (especially with cable-actuated systems. i mean you can find brand new BB7 systems on sale for $45 a wheel. i have a hard time believing that AVID makes much of a profit, if any, on a system like that). they probably make a bit more on hydraulic systems, but even most of the hydro models tend to hit right around the $100-$125 for the ones that will work for the vast majority of people (and the mainstream consumer and lower-end “pro-sumer” models probably make up the majority of disc brake system sales). only once you start getting into carbon fiber stuff does it start getting pricey, but that’s mostly because working with carbon and the material itself isn’t cheap to begin with.

    i mean, let’s face it: most disc brake systems aren’t particularly complicated, even the hydraulic ones. they don’t have THAT many more moving parts than v-brakes, and actually, once they’re dialled in and setup, you rarely have to mess with them anymore unless something gets damaged (and we’ve seen that even DH riders don’t break their brakes all that often). the manufacturers know that once you’ve got a set on your bike, they only way they can really keep any money on it is to overcharge for the two parts (pads and rotors) that are guaranteed to wear out on a pretty regular basis.

    i generally think the truth of manufacturing, in a lot of industries, is that the bigger or more expensive a product is, the less profit the manufacturer actually makes. it’s all about the small stuff that we HAVE to replace, for one reason or another. i mean, once a brake manufacturer goes through the whole R&D process and then sells a couple thousand parts, the R&D had paid for itself. and then all they have to do is tweak previous designs every so often, instead of starting from scratch, if that “tweaking” is just a new color scheme every model year.

  2. I agree. This topic is especially timely as I just did the brakes on my Honda. A big WTF! ran through my mind as I paid one dollar less for my car’s pads than for my bike’s. Don’t start the rant about the price of bike tires as compared to car or motorcycle tires.

  3. bike-specific lubes and cleaners….honestly, i’d say that most of them, while they definitely work, are overpriced simply because they’re “made” for bikes (whatever that means). i’ve used TriFlow, FP-10 (a firearms lube with PTFE), RiG grease (general sporting goods grease), white lithium grease (from the autoparts store), Finish Line Wet, White Lightening Epic Ride (a lightweight lube), plus a couple other types i can’t remember. here’s what i’ve found…

    honestly, i think most “specialized” lubes (wet-type, dry wax, ceramic, etc) are marketing gimmicks. the thing is, they work, but i don’t think they really do anything better than the less expensive “generic” stuff that’s not specifically marketed for cyclists. in fact, i think some of them actually make things worse: every wet lube i’ve tried, while it was fairly waterproof, attracted every single little speck of dirt and glued it to my drivetrain. and it’s a bitch to clean off your gear (it’s kinda like the factory lube that SRAM and Shimano pack their chains in).

    in my opinion, something like TriFlow is probably the best all-around lube and will serve just about as well as any of the “bike specific” brands out there. the Epic Ride that i’ve got is almost identical, except it cost about $14 for a 4oz bottle! TriFlow is a general purpose lube that’s been around for years and it’s available at WalMart, auto parts stores and a bunch of other places. and it’s cheap. it does what lube is suppose to do, doesn’t attract too much dirt into the chain, and is pretty much the industry standard for lubing shift/brake cables. and it’s what, $4 a bottle?

    funny thing is, i just read an interview a couple weeks ago with a very well-known bike builder, and he said he pretty much only uses TriFlow in his shop because he didn’t think the “bike specific” lubes were worth the money. i can’t remember who it was, but he’s a pretty well-known bike builder. my browser history clears once a week so i don’t have the link anymore, but if i can find the article again, i’ll post a link to it.

    as for grease, i generally just use RiG, which is a general purpose sporting goods grease. works great, and i’ve used it to repack loose and caged-ball type bearings. it’s about $7 at most sporting goods places (and i think WalMart). i also use just plain white lithium grease from the auto parts store when necessary.

    there are a couple general purpose lubes that i wouldn’t use on bikes: i don’t think 3-in-1 oil works very well (ironic, since it was originally invented for bicycles!). it won’t hurt anything, but i think it’s kind of an antiquated formula that doesn’t last very long. and i’m of the mindset that WD-40 should never be used on bicycles! it’s mostly meant as a waterproofer and eventually it gets sticky and then hardens up, trapping dirt and stuff under it, and can be very difficult to remove!

    i think “bike cleaners” are an even bigger joke: i’ll use either just water with dish soap for basic stuff (dish soap is designed to be a gentle degreaser, after all). i just have to pay attention to not let it soak on non-stainless steel parts and to dry it thoroughly so those parts don’t rust. for hardcore cleaning i’ll use automotive brake or engine degreaser, although i am looking for a more enviromentally-friendly cleaner, since auto degreaser has some pretty nasty chemicals in it. also, nobody should EVER use auto cleaners/degreasers around carbon fiber bike parts or frames!!! they usually contain a lot of solvents, which can eat into the epoxy that holds the carbon fiber together!

    so yeah, i think most bike-specific lubes and cleaners generally aren’t worth the money.

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