High-Performance Sports Brakes vs Regular Brakes

Brakes are the most safety critical part of any moving vehicle and in the case of cars and motorcycles quite often when brakes are used in anger, standard is just not good enough. The sport street use or track day and race use of motor vehicles and motorcycles has led to a need for higher performance brakes such as disc brake pads and brake rotors or discs.

So what does high performance mean and how do we measure this performance? Brake pads which are made of blends of petro chemical resins and other ingredients are made to a budget by car builders and are one of the first thing to be changed on a vehicles brakes when users are involved in sport or race use. A high performance brake pad will be one which has good friction level and pedal feel on first application and can hold this level of performance throughout the whole braking cycles. Brakes must not “Fade” or fall on in performance under the heat of braking. Not only must high performance brakes work effectively under heat and load they must have good durability. Additives such a copper or coke is blended into pads used on high performance brake systems to enhance durability.

Brake fluids are also tested in high performance brakes and because most fluids are hygroscopic meaning they absorb moisture a higher specification fluid is needed and even that will need regular changing and flushing to keep brakes up to par with the target usage.

Finally the brake rotors themselves must be of a decent quality G3000 Grey iron or better and if possible made from virgin alloy ingot rather than reprocessed irons which are common in 99% of aftermarket brakes. Years ago rotor castings used for automobile brakes were annealed or atmosphere aged to allow the castings to settle after being made. No longer does this happen due to cost restraints on brakes particularly by car builders and so the duty of care falls upon the brake pad to work effectively but not to cause damage to the brake rotor by overheat.

By virtue of the physics involved, brakes work by exchanging kinetic energy or momentum into one of three other energy forms, these being heat light or sound. There are no others. Therefore as it is desirous not to have immense noise from brakes and light would only be obtained by massive over heating of the brake rotor, heat is the method by which the energy exchange in brakes occurs.

This means that brakes can glow orange in high performance use, pads can overheat and fade and rotors could even develop cracks if the brake system is not designed correctly.

In automobile applications cooling of the components within the brakes is usually aided by the ducting of cool air which involves scoops in the front vehicles body work directing cool air as the car is driven onto the brake components. This can reduce overheating of the brakes by 30-40% and prevent calliper seal damage as well as rotor over heat and pad fade.’

How to Upgrade Regular Brakes to High-Performance Brakes

Typical OEM brakes are designed for cars with standard engines, performing routine tasks: the morning and evening commute, grocery shopping, driving the kids to soccer practice, etc.

But if you subject your vehicle to stresses beyond the ordinary, then stock stoppers just won’t do. By “beyond ordinary,” we mean any power upgrades, such as nitrous oxide, turbochargers or superchargers, engine swaps and driving in particularly steep areas. In other words, your OEM brakes can easily become overwhelmed.

If you race, high-performance brakes are a must. Performance brake upgrades are designed to dissipate this heat build-up more efficiently than standard equipment brakes. Let’s look a little closer at each performance brake part.

Car enthusiasts go gaga over braided stainless steel brake lines — the steel-encased Teflon flexes considerably less than ordinary rubber hoses, making for a firmer pedal feel. But controversy surrounds the safety of braided stainless steel hoses, since they can fail if they’re not replaced regularly and protected from debris. If braided stainless steel is in your future, buy from a reputable supplier, and look for lines that come with a polyurethane jacket to prevent chafing.

Two more brake upgrades, cross-drilled rotors and slotted rotors, have made their way from the track to the streets. The purpose of both is to increase airflow over and away from the rotor (also known as the brake disc), with the moving air taking heat away with it.

As always with aftermarket parts, quality and safety are concerns. Many enthusiasts report that drilled and slotted rotors wear out more easily than stock or heavy-duty smooth rotors. The reason could be inferior materials or the fact that holes and slots compromise the structural integrity of the rotor. The perforations or gouges make the metal more inclined to warp or crack under duress.

Brake pads and calipers are another way to upgrade your braking system — and there are plenty of options available. It’s easy to overdo it and spend way more money than you’ll ever use in performance. Suffice to say, you don’t need a full race-spec ensemble, here.

So how do you know which performance brake upgrade is for you? As usual, it depends on the application. For street driving with the occasional spirited driving on curvy back roads, a smooth or slotted rotor with performance pads is more than adequate. For a track-driven car or racecar, a more robust package is desirable. But be warned: racing brake pads can “bite” so aggressively that they quickly wear out your rotors in daily driving. A good place to seek advice on the appropriate upgrade package for your vehicle is an enthusiast Web site or forum.


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