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  1. #1
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    Issues With Disc Brakes in the Snow

    3 years into fat biking, and we're finally getting some snow this winter. I've been noticing that my disc brakes suck in the snow. They honk like a flock of geese and stopping power is poor. Been running Sram X0 with sintered pads and Hope Race X2 with whatever the standard pads are.

    I'm gonna guess it has to do with them getting wet. (Duh!) Anyone have any suggestions? Different pad compound or rotors, maybe?

    Both brakes work well in dry conditions, but the Sram brakes were horrible until I switched to sintered pads.

  2. #2
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    Try a bike with rim brakes in the snow then go back to your discs. They will feel much better!
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  3. #3
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    I have new sintered pads on new ashima rotors avid bb7 brakes , same issue except the geese were calling back ,, believe it or not , i think my problems is i haven't properly broken in the pads,, there isn't enough pad material on my rotors. There is a break in set up some where , i read it the other day.
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  4. #4
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    Organic pads won't scream but they wear super fast. I've heard the Ashima rotors help to eliminate noise. I have them on my summer 29er but not on my fatty, so can't speak from experience on that. Can't have organic pads with the Ashima rotors though.
    ...Be careful what you're looking at because it might be looking back...

  5. #5
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    There's something about the cold and disc brakes. I've had mine glaze up several times, it seems to be immediately after they get wet. They howl so bad! Both times I cleaned the disc and sanded the pads a little, problem solved.

  6. #6
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    idk, but I notice problems seem to magnify with the slightest bit of salt in the environment, that and they are avid brakes, so they already suck.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

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  7. #7
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    I'm glad to know I'm not alone!

  8. #8
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    SmoovP, I am pretty sure that squeal is part of winter no matter what your gear. I am a big believer in Shimano XT brakes based on my great experience with them on my summer bike. In summer conditions(El Mariachi ti) these brakes are bomb-proof: silent, strong, durable, consistent. However, I also have XT brakes on my winter bike (Muk Ti) and they do squeal, they are not as consistent, and they do not grab quite as strongly as they do on my summer bike. I live in Montana (not sure where you're at) so I'm dealing with moderately cold temps and not extremely deep snow. I reckon that harsher conditions would exacerbate their problems.

  9. #9
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    Instead of laying your bike down in the snow, lean it against something. Try to keep snow off of the rotor whenever possible. Work your brakes some periodically. Even then, they will make noise.

  10. #10
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    I swapped out my X0 brakes for Hope V4 calipers to get more stopping power for my Beargrease. Also upped the rotors from 160mm to 180mm. I have done three rides with the Hopes between -10C and -16C temps and only time I heard squealing was when I had warmed the brakes going downhill and then done some flat snow after which a one hellish howl was released before I got brake temps up again.

    My experience biking for five winters in southern Finland has given me the knowledge that pretty much all breaks squeal if the rotors/pads get wet and icy. I've had several Avids and Shimano XTR + Saint and now Hopes.

    Easy fix is to lightly drag the brakes before the actual need for them so that they get warm and bite better. Also the squeal problem will disappear when the rotors warm up.
    Downside is that once the rotors warm up any snow you hit will melt and because the rotors are meant to be heatsinks they will cool down fast and get icy quickly afterwards.
    Thus needing a new round of light dragging to clear the ice and build heat to work well.

    Hard compound metallic pads tend to grip better than soft ones but they have their own noise associated to them.

    One extreme case I had during last weeks fatbike ride was a complete loss of rear brake for about two minutes after crossing an ice covered puddle where the rear tire went through the ice. The rear brake got splashed heavily, but I didn't stop and kept slugging through to dry ground. The next turn where I needed some brakes the rear gave me nothing. The X0 was frozen over and biting nothing. Luckily I was exploring flat twisty forest section and front brake sufficed and after dragging the rear brake for some time it also came back. Temperature was -10C when the X0 froze.

    Basic maintenance before winter season is probably the best thing you can do to your brakes. Cleaning and lubing pistons with brake fluid and making sure everything works smooth. Then its only a matter of using the brakes often to prevent ice buildup.

    The worst brake during winter use for me has been the XTR 975 series brakes. Rear brake needed cleaning and bleeding every two weeks of commuting and I soon took them off the bike. Old Elixir 5's have been doing great for my winter use as replacements on the commuter.

  11. #11
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    Thanks. Sounds like there's no magic pill for this condition. I was hoping I could throw some money at it and make it go away.

  12. #12
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    I've been running Avid/Sram brakes for years and learned to never use their brake pads. Current set up on my Beargrease XX1, stock XX brakes with Clarks 160mm rotors and Jagwire extreme blue pads. No noise and good stopping power. Out last night in -15c temps and they worked flawless.

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  13. #13
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    Meh .. I'll deal with the noise as long as the brakes work as they should. Right now, if only I could hear honking brakes. I am healing from getting slammed down on a black iced covered asphalt parking lot 9 days ago riding my Pugs to meet up with two friends for a ride .. fractured my pelvis. Good thing I had mounted a OMM rear rack on the bike the night before, because it protected the bike from damage.

  14. #14
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    I'm with Jayem, and yes, you can throw money at it to make it go away.

    Salt of any kind will make them squeal like mad. So consider where and how the bike gets to the trail.

    And yes, Avid brakes suck, get some Shimano's, heck, even the SLX's are great, and then some softer pads, as the metallics will still make a bit of noise when wet, but nowhere near as bad as the Avids.....

    And for kris7047th, man, that sucks. Had a buddy a couple years ago do the same thing, broke the head of his femur off, ow ow ow owwwwwwwww! Heal well.
    This is a Pugs not some carbon wannabee pretzel wagon!!

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  15. #15
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    BB7's with stock pads and rotors here. No issues. Yea, they can make a bit of noise when they get wet, but I've never experienced a loss in braking power. And normally the noise goes away on the next downhillish section.

    Same thing, no matter riding snowy singletrack and stream crossings to commuting.
    Oh noes. I'm going to drink the Kool-Aid.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by MendonCycleSmith View Post
    Salt of any kind will make them squeal like mad. So consider where and how the bike gets to the trail.
    So true. Last winter I swapped out the stock BB7 pads on my Pugs with Kool Stop organic pads. Silent bliss with stock rotors. This winter I had a few rides where they screamed like mad. Then, I hauled my bike inside my Mountaineer to the trail after it got a bath. Quiet again. Previous rides had it on the hitch rack getting hauled through road salt. Never doing that again.

    But, big +1 for the Kool Stop organic pads. They seem to be wearing pretty well too.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by MendonCycleSmith View Post
    I'm with Jayem, and yes, you can throw money at it to make it go away.

    Salt of any kind will make them squeal like mad. So consider where and how the bike gets to the trail.

    And yes, Avid brakes suck, get some Shimano's, heck, even the SLX's are great, and then some softer pads, as the metallics will still make a bit of noise when wet, but nowhere near as bad as the Avids.....

    And for kris7047th, man, that sucks. Had a buddy a couple years ago do the same thing, broke the head of his femur off, ow ow ow owwwwwwwww! Heal well.
    Thanks .. Not my first rodeo with a fracture. I have had MANY fractures and this is the second time I broke that same bone .. the donut shaped bone in the pelvis. The doctor thinks the old fracture from 1989 might have given way. I am more fortunate that I didn't fracture my hip. I just hope this heals quickly so I can still get some winter riding in with friends.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by kris7047th View Post
    Meh .. I'll deal with the noise as long as the brakes work as they should. Right now, if only I could hear honking brakes. I am healing from getting slammed down on a black iced covered asphalt parking lot 9 days ago riding my Pugs to meet up with two friends for a ride .. fractured my pelvis. Good thing I had mounted a OMM rear rack on the bike the night before, because it protected the bike from damage.
    Ouch. Heal up soon!

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by MendonCycleSmith View Post

    Salt of any kind will make them squeal like mad. So consider where and how the bike gets to the trail.

    And yes, Avid brakes suck, get some Shimano's, heck, even the SLX's are great, and then some softer pads, as the metallics will still make a bit of noise when wet, but nowhere near as bad as the Avids.....
    Thanks. Not dealing with salt in my case. I had a helluva time with my Avids when they were new. The typical issues - shuddering, noise, lousy performance, even in dry conditions. But switching to sintered pads and breaking them in properly cured all of that, and they've been working well for 2 years. I do like some things about them. The adjustable pad contact point, and they play well with Gripshifters on the bar. I had a brand new set of Hopes in the bin, so I threw the front set on to compare. Does anyone know what the stock Hope pad compound is?

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by sryanak View Post
    Try a bike with rim brakes in the snow then go back to your discs. They will feel much better!
    I'm gonna try that, but note that my only MTB with rim brakes is state-of-the-art circa mid-90's - Mavic ceramic rims + Shimano ceramic compatible brake shoes. So they might work pretty well!

  21. #21
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    No solutuions work, so far;

    Both Hayes Nines and Stroker Trails. It is very strange that the Stokers howl like the devil but the Nines do not, nearly. Stock pads howl. I tried organic on the Stokers. Howl like the devil. Different rotors don't help. Dragging the brakes does not work. I cannot stop it. Yes, my brakes get wet. I do not ride groomed trails (no such thing) and I go through creeks. Clean & scuff and once you howl them again, they glaze immediately and you are done. THERE IS NO SOLUTION, AND I HATE IT!!!!!!!!!

    I'm going to try chamfering the leading edge of the pads.
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  22. #22
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    Drum brakes, and you won't have that problem.

    You also won't get that annoying drag from the brakes when they get a bit dirty on a ride.

    Oh, and if you do any sort of reasonable mileage, you'll pay for the drum brakes in 3 or 4 pad changes.
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  23. #23
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    Hope v4 with floating 203's,on a moonlander,never heard them cry

  24. #24
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    My Shimano XT's are very quiet on my Moonlander, unless I'm riding in falling wet snow, then all bets are off.
    Riding Fat and still just as fast as I never was.

  25. #25
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    We rode with a guy at the Uberwintern festival last year from NH who claimed that Jagwire Extreme Pro pads never squeaked. I didn't even know Jagwire made pads! Anyhow, that ride was on a particularly sloppy day when EVERYONE's brakes were singing away and, I gotta say, his weren't. Maybe he was right? I have yet to experiment but am just about to build up a new fatbike with fresh brakes. I plan to try the pads out.

  26. #26
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    I have had good luck with Jagwire and EBC pads that were quiet in most conditions on Sram XO brakes. The best were the EBC red downhill compound that wore out quickly but were quiet even in the rain.

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    idk, but I notice problems seem to magnify with the slightest bit of salt in the environment, that and they are avid brakes, so they already suck.
    For what ever reason my Shimano brakes are quiet, they replaced my defective Avids that tried to kill me. I was actually happy that my new bike came with lower end Tektro brakes, at least I got to avoid the Avids often added as factory parts on that brand. They squeal like a freight train during an emergency stop though.

    I've had good luck with using "Squeak Relief 90031 Brake Finishing Treatment" on the rotors with everything still assembled. It only lasts two or three rides, but I'm sick of disassembling everything sanding and playing around for the same result anyway. I spray it on a rag and apply it to the rotor by hand to avoid overspray on other stuff. I don't think it is possible to generate the heat needed to properly break in pads and rotors on a bicycle in freezing temps.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velobike View Post
    Drum brakes, and you won't have that problem.

    You also won't get that annoying drag from the brakes when they get a bit dirty on a ride.

    Oh, and if you do any sort of reasonable mileage, you'll pay for the drum brakes in 3 or 4 pad changes.
    Talk about throwing money at it. I owned many dirt motorcycles during the 70's and 80's that had drum brakes. The things stopped poorly and ate shoes like a fat man at an all you can eat buffet. The dirt would get in during wet or muddy conditions, and then roll around in there eating the friction materials. And much more disassembly was required to service them, and they stopped like ... well like a drum brake.

    Either I took the bait, or I don't know what I'm talking about since my experience wasn't on bicycles. Or both.

  29. #29
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    I'm planning to go with the Hopes, front and rear. Anyone know what compound the stock pads are? Hope Race X2, if it matters. I see Kevlar compound aftermarket pads out there. Anyone tried 'em?

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by adaycj View Post
    Talk about throwing money at it...

    Either I took the bait, or I don't know what I'm talking about since my experience wasn't on bicycles. Or both.
    I practise and know of what what I preach.

    I grew up on drum brakes on motorbikes too. Properly setup a good drum will smoke your front tyre. You don't want a bad drum though and most of those fitted to 70s dirt bikes were inadequate for the performance of the bike, and with owners who often didn't know how to set them up to improve their performance.

    But fast heavy motorbikes with powerful engines are a completely different thing to a relatively slow human powered fatbike.

    I'm not biased - on my summer bike I use disks, on my winter/bog bike, I use drums.

    Edit: I was going to start a separate thread on drums and alternative brakes, but remembered I have already done that.

    Coaster/roller brakes

    No more grinding brakes in the mud ...

    Drum brakes on fat wheel II

    I've just done a 3rd StrathPuffer 24 hour race on the Pug (another muddy one) with the drum brakes, plus the intervening use. The brakes have improved with use, and are still on the original linings. I'll do a strip down this weekend to see how it's going, but basically the brakes haven't needed any attention since they were fitted. Considering that this is the bike I use for running through gloop and foul conditions, that's pretty good IMO.
    Last edited by Velobike; 01-24-2014 at 02:50 AM.
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  31. #31
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    i've had relatively good luck with shimano 180mm rotors and BB7's with organic pads. quiet and powerful - too soon to know about life of the pads but i don't do a whole lot of braking in the snow. if they are wet or they have not been used in a while they are a little noisy at first but quiet up soon after.

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    I'm still running stock everything as far as brakes are concerned, on a 2012 Moonlander. My brakes sound horrible when it is wet out, but they will still stop on a dime. I usually ride with headphones, so it doesn't bother me as much.

    I love seeing drivers freak out if they hear it. Hahaha.

  33. #33
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    Issues With Disc Brakes in the Snow

    Well so far running BB7 with stock pads front and rear with 160mm HS1 front and 140mm Magura Storm SL rear, no howling, very minimal noise when wet and I pretty much get them covered with salt, snow and slosh and riding -10C. However, I do make sure to fine tune the position of the caliper over the rotor very precisely by grinding down the CPS stack and polishing. Then I run the inboard pad flat to the rotor to avoid any warping and bending.

    They will only make a quick squeal when you start using them and it will go away in a snap. Also, I always rinse the bike down with hot water after every ride to wash out all the salt and dirt.

    I remember some commuter's having a bottle full of windshield washer fluid to squirt onto their brakes to prevent the pads from freeze up. Don't know if your disc brakes would like it though.
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  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by sryanak View Post
    Try a bike with rim brakes in the snow then go back to your discs. They will feel much better!
    That"s funny I don't care who you are.
    Still cleaning my Fatback.
    It's a life style.

  35. #35
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    I was told my bike just came with a horn!

  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velobike View Post
    I'm not biased - on my summer bike I use disks, on my winter/bog bike, I use drums.
    Have you run into water getting into the drums and then freezing? I was pretty happy with them for winter use until my last ride when a shortcut on a frozen canal ended up with going through the ice into a couple of inches of water. The drums then appeared to freeze internally and took a while of riding with the brakes on to melt them out.

  37. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by dr.welby View Post
    Have you run into water getting into the drums and then freezing? I was pretty happy with them for winter use until my last ride when a shortcut on a frozen canal ended up with going through the ice into a couple of inches of water. The drums then appeared to freeze internally and took a while of riding with the brakes on to melt them out.
    I've not had that problem.

    I rarely have to go through water of any depth though, and if it's near BB height I shoulder the bike as a matter of course.

    The only time I can remember water getting in is when the bike is left leaning to the right with the brake side up in heavy rain or hosed. Easily fixed by leaning it left.

    Sure it wasn't water getting into the cables?

    I use covers from a motorbike trials lever to prevent this. It eliminates the problem. You can see them in this pic. (I also try to arrange my cables so the open ends point down at the handlebars)

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  38. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velobike View Post

    Sure it wasn't water getting into the cables?
    Nope, I've had that happen too but this time the levers moved the cable and you could see the drum arm move but there was not one bit of braking.

    It might have been a lucky splash or something. I assume a splashed disc would have iced up too, and in the case of a mechanical brake the whole mechanism as well.

  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by dr.welby View Post
    ...It might have been a lucky splash or something. I assume a splashed disc would have iced up too, and in the case of a mechanical brake the whole mechanism as well.
    Just remembered something. I lightly drag my brakes after hitting water to gauge the feel of the brake. Started doing that on rim brakes on steel rims, carried it over to my motorbike days on drum brakes, and hence to the fatbike. I do it automatically, so often don't realise I'm doing it until the brake bites.

    Maybe that's why I don't notice the problem. On the other hand your temperatures are probably much colder which would make freezing more likely.
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  40. #40
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    My BB7s were loud also. I couldn't stand it. I assumed the cold & wet was to blame. In any case, I run the Pug as a fixed gear now. I do not miss hand brakes at all when riding in the snow.
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