SwissStop Disc Brake Pads
Brake pads are one of the most important components on a bike. There. We said it. If they don't work, you're toast. If you don't trust them to the fullest, you're likely to ride more conservatively and grab the levers a little earlier than needed instead of bombing through hairy sections with the confidence gained from knowing your brakes will be there exactly when you need them to be. When we hear the unmistakable sound of pad-backing scraping on rotor, or, if we happen to notice that our pads are about to wear out, most of us blindly purchase the replacement pads made by the same manufacturers of our brake systems and go merrily down the trail until they wear out again. However, a quick glance at podium finishers' bike bits in the road and cyclocross arenas shows that aftermarket brake pads are a dominant force in those disciplines. SwissStop, KoolStop, Corima, and others have all developed high tech rubbers that compete head to head and even outperform the offerings from OEM's like Shimano and Campagnolo in stopping power, weight and longevity. For whatever reason the big hitters' pads don't always represent the best available options. So what about the mountain bike side of things? All brake makers out there recommend using their own pads, but recently several companies have jumped in with their own versions of replacement disc brake pads with claims of outstanding results, including the SwissStop Disc Brake Pads.
SwissStop Disc Brake Pads were developed by the same folks that brought us the GHP, Race 2000, BHP, Yellow King and other pads for the rim brake stopping market that have helped numerous pro road and cyclocross racers stop when they didn't want to go fast anymore. Those are easy though. Almost every road and/or cross brake out there requires pads that fall into a small handful of different styles. Part of the problem with developing aftermarket disc brake pads for the off road set is the roughly 2.4 gazillion different shapes an outfit has to make in order to cover a decent amount of brake types. It's almost like going out and deciding to make aftermarket toner to compete with HP. Not impossible, but not easy either. SwissStop has stepped up to the challenge and currently offers 25 different pad shapes to fit most everything imaginable from Hope, Magura, Hayes, Formula, Shimano, Avid and even some in-house stoppers from Giant and Cannondale. We dropped a set of #18's into our Formula Oro K24s for this test -- not a moment too soon as our old pads were almost fried. At 20g for the set, they weighed in exactly the same as the stock K24 organic pads.
First things first -- we've never considered brake pads as an aesthetic addition to a bike, but SwissStop's telltale interstate-highway-sign-green color on the backs of the pads peaks out from inside the calipers just enough to be noticed by those enlightened riding partners in the know. It does absolutely nothing to help your riding but it doesn't hurt either. Who cares though? Live it up a little. That green paint is a tiny but effective step beyond the requisite engineering tied up in a set of pads. Your pads might as well look good too.
Looks aside, the folks at SwissStop have created their pads with a proprietary mixture of ceramic, Kevlar, brass and resin, so when times are tough you'll at least be able to eat off of them, stop stray bullets, craft some kick-ass doorknobs and maybe even stick some things together if you can figure out how to re-liquefy the resin. But in terms of cycling performance, SwissStop claims their brew "provides excellent brake performance and durability" and works for all mountain bike applications: XC, DH, Freeride and everything in between. We'd agree.
We had absolutely no problems with the performance in our own tests, and our experience with them points to excellent durability too, i.e. we weren't able to wear them out yet, so they last a long time, but we're not exactly sure how long. We put the SwissStop Disc Brake Pads through their paces on a variety of terrains and surfaces around central Arkansas and never had any problems at all with stopping power. Even after some long descents that left the whole brake assembly super hot we didn't experience any noticeable brake fade (Kudos to Formula here as well).
The SwissStop Disc Brake Pads fall into the organic/resin category rather than sintered metal but successfully combine positive attributes of both. Wet weather performance was better than other organic pads we've ridden, durability looks to be top notch, and the lack of fade points to either good heat transmission through the pad or simply a compound that performs under high heat better than most organics out there. We've found that sintered metal pads are stronger and tend to last a bit longer than organics, and the organics are quieter and provide more modulation capability. SwissStop Disc Brake Pads do it all. We experienced a little squealing during break in and some more immediately after stream crossings, but for the most part they proved to be very quiet. SwissStop also makes a Disc Brake Silencer to render pads even quieter and to lengthen their life spans more (look for an upcoming review). One additional advantage is that pads that incorporate ceramic materials into their compounds tend to produce less brake dust, so everything stays cleaner which should lead to less frequent cleanings and longer lives for all the parts involved.
SwissStop Disc Brake Pads are a step forward in disc brake pad technology. The engineers at SwissStop have developed a pad that stops and lasts like sintered metal yet works and sounds like an organic one. They might cost a bit more up front than some of the OEM pads they're designed to replace, but we think the investment is worth it given their increased durability and improved performance. Plus, they look cool.