Swiss Stop Brake Pads
Many are of the mindset that a brake pad is a brake pad is a brake pad. And all brakes are the same. And the only issue with stopping is how the lever squeeze is modulated. And brakes aren't stoppers but speed modulators. Those who believe all of the above are probably still riding the Campy Record brakes they got in 1984, the model before the Cobalto. Not like that blue thingee did anything to improve performance. No doubt they scoffed at the sinterized pads Modolo was pushing on their brakes at the time as marketing hooey.
But what pads for the square Campy brake shoes? Even the skeptics rarely lived by Campagnolo black pads. Sometimes they went for the grey pads. Many more ditched Campy pads entirely and pushed in the Mathauser salmon pads. Though they didn't have vents to channel out grit, they stopped much, much better than Campy black. And with the import duties, and now the Euro, the Mathauser pads were cheaper. Those who don't believe can stop reading now.
There have always been after-market brake pad options for those who want to squeeze, if you will, more performance out of their brakes. When ceramic braking surfaces were introduced, there were complaints about wet weather braking until ceramic surface-grabbing pads were put in the brake shoes.
Those who have carbon-rimmed wheels have probably found that special-purpose pads do have a place in their lives. Back in the day, carbon rims were generally either too smooth or too grippy. The former would stop poorly in the dry and barely in the wet and the latter would eat a set of pads on a short ride. Even today, some carbon rims can melt a set of some brake pads in one mountainous ride.
While we first noticed Swiss Stop thanks to carbon-specific pads, they've been around for a long, long time. The Switzerland-based company has not only made brake pads under other labels for the bike industry names like Weinmann and Magura, but also debuted their own pads in 1991. And pads are only a small part of their business. They also make rubber gaskets, bumpers, and dampers for all sorts of applications. They've got chemists on staff and a full testing facility and run in house tests to develop pads.
We started looking into getting brake pads that actually stopped carbon-rimmed wheels. Their Yellow Carbon King Pads came highly recommended and lived up to the praise. They are amazing, last a long time, and are more subtle when colored grey and sold under the Lightweight label. We used the carbon pads when we tested a set of Lightweight Wheels. Several hundred miles of daily riding in traffic and out, on smooth roads, and rough, and a fair amount of rain riding barely seemed to wear down the rubber.
More importantly, we were amazed by how well we were able to brake. Dry- and wet-weather braking was as good as we've experienced with regular pads on regular aluminum rims. We found that we didn't hold back riding the Lightweights on wet descents because we had confidence that the pads would stop as we wanted when we wanted. And, when the test was over, the wear on the pads was minimal. All told, the pads helped us think of the Lightweights as durable and predictable enough for daily riding.
Swiss Stop recommends saving carbon-specific pads for carbon-rimmed wheels. The reason for this is that brake pads often get foreign particles embedded in their contact surfaces. Shards of aluminum rim material, grit, and glass can be found embedded in brake pads. Some have even seen that pads put on brand-new aluminum rims with machined braking surfaces end up "cleaning" the pads of aluminum debris. Carbon rim material shouldn't come off into brake pads; the braking surface is designed to prevent this from happening. Having foreign matter lodged in brake pads can lead to the matter slowly gouging carbon braking surfaces. This is never a good thing, though it's particularly concerning when the wheel is a carbon-rimmed clincher. Swiss Stop says that a few rides or swapping wheels in the midst of a race shouldn't be a problem, but daily riding is not a good thing.
In other words, it's not a good idea to run your carbon-specific pads as your daily stopping material if you're only using your carbon rims a few times a month. Interestingly, Zero Gravity runs the Carbon King pads on their titanium brake set as the standard pad; they believe it works great on carbon and aluminum.
We definitely should have kept the yellow pads in as a test, especially to see how the pads worked in winter. Roads aren't cleaned frequently and sand and grit are routinely dumped on our training roads in addition to having dirt and branches and all sorts of detritus left after runoff. Alas, we decided to follow instructions.
With the Lightweights retired, we pulled the carbon-specific pads out of the rim. We're using Campy brake shoes, which holds the pads in with a friction fit. The shoes have one open end, one closed end and the force of braking with a wheel moving forward keeps the pads snug. The rear pads came out without removing the brakes from the bike. Pliers and a hard yank was enough. The front pads necessitated removing the brakes from the fork. After this hard yanking, we considered means to make pad removal easier. We thought about using dry chain lube, but resisted, fearing that would take away all friction. Swiss Stop recommends putting some rubbing alcohol in the shoes before inserting clean pads. A tech rep at Campy told us to heat the open end of the shoe with a soldering iron. That's a bit more involved than we like. Shimano shoes can be easier because they don't rely on friction, but a tiny allen bolt to hold the shoes in place. Here, too, the force of stopping can jam the pad hard into the shoes.
Some might be moved to have a second set of brake shoes with pads in to swap in and out. While it might seem simpler, the act of adjusting the shoes takes some work. Not only does one have to get the height of the pad right, but know how to hold the shoe against the concave washer to get that second and third dimension right. For people who have wheels with radically different braking surface heights, this could be a solution, but it seems unnecessarily time consuming for most.
We pushed in a set of Swiss Stop's Green High Performance (GHP) pads. We don't skip training rides because of bad weather and with winter approaching, we figured there were many wet days in our future. There was, and it seemed like the GHPs were there with us all the way. Braking was excellent in the wet and the dry. Good braking in the dry is expected, but in the wet, it was better than expected. There was a gritty pitch emanating from the pads as we slowed on rainy days, but we assumed that was a good thing, grit getting destroyed as it passed through the pads. Then it got louder. We figured it was worth a check. A close inspection revealed that a decent sized pebble had gotten embedded in the green rubber. We pried it out with a mini-screwdriver and went on our way.
About halfway through the winter, we thought it was a good idea to switch pads just to see if there was a difference. We pliered out the greens and put in the Black High Performance (BHP) pads. The GHPs had plenty of life in them even after taking on the worst winter had to offer and a few thousand miles.
The BHPs were quieter. And the braking seemed none the worse. Seemed good, even in the rain. We asked around. Turns out that this pad is probably better for the rims on our training wheels. We're using anodized Mavics that have no machined braking surface for our daily wheels. When they describe the black pads as for "very sensible alloy rims," we had thought they were referring to low-end rims only. It also means anything with an anodized surface as well. The wear, which we expected to be faster with the black pads, is a good bit faster.
The GHPs are supposed to be better with machined braking surfaces and with ceramics. We haven't done extended time in the wet in with this setup, though we did run the blacks and machined rims for a race or two and didn't seem to notice any braking issues, though short on-off braking is only one kind of indicator of overall braking performance.
Which brings us back to the beginning. Maybe it is all in the squeeze. Even if it is, Swiss Stops are a bargain. BHPs are cheaper than Campy by a lot and on par with Shimano. The GHPs are only a few bucks more, and the Carbon Kings are more than Zipp but less than Lightweight. And the thing about pads is they're always wearing out. Trying a new set is easier than swapping most components.