By Willy Ivins
All this fun that horsepower provides us with, going fast, or at least just going, has to come to an eventual end, or stop - temporarily at least. Used to be that brakes barely got a mention in a test beyond noting they were present on the bike, and worked well enough to stop it. Within the last few years, most notably 1998, when the R1 was introduced, brakes seemed suddenly worthy of actual in depth comment - power, initial bite, fade resistance, feel, etc. Ever since the R1's brakes came on the scene, manufacturers have made more effort to improve their bikes' stoppers and given them the attention needed to effectively and safely stop the bike (with proper rider control input, of course) from the ever-increasing speeds being attained both on the street and the track.
The quest for lightness has caused brake rotors get increasingly thinner, and despite the extra material present for the larger diameters, there doesn't seem to be enough metal there to handle sudden, intense and/or prolonged exposure to friction and the resulting heat. Compounding the problem, are the "floating" rotors that are actually riveted fairly tight to their aluminum carriers. The sudden or high heat introduced into the metal causes rapid expansion, and with such tight tolerances between the rotor and carrier, there effectively is not enough room for the rotor to expand, causing it to warp. This is something I had been experiencing regularly on both the 2000/2001 model CBR929RRs I owned/currently own. High mileage and sport riding had brought several sets of rotors to their knees, along with, perhaps, my braking style - late and hard. As great as Honda's warranty is - and believe me I tested it - I had grown as weary of making the trip to the shop for new rotors as they had of installing them on the bike. I made up my mind to venture out on my own to find brakes able to withstand my use (abuse?).
Selecting a brake setup is not so easy anymore. Riders are now keenly aware of the potential of a good braking setup, and that a mismatch of components can not only be inferior in performance to what you had, but hideously expensive to boot. Just changing lines, or pads can see a small benefit, but to get all the potential from one component, others should be changed to work with it, just like when you add an exhaust system, you adjust the air/fuel mixture to match the increased flow the new pipe provides. Not doing so gives you a bike that sounds better, but in fact does not perform to its potential.
Enter the folks at Spectrum Honda
. The parts guy, Rob, knew all too well of my dilemma, and suggested going with Braking's wave rotors. I had done some research on different brake manufacturers, but could not arrive at a definite answer on which to go with. A couple things pointed me towards Braking
. I had just put one of their rotors on my 125GP bike, along with a set of CM66 race compound brake pads after seeing my competitors in the class going to them, and after a little adaptation, liked the rotor/pad combo better than the iron Brembo it replaced. Fade was a problem but no more. The other thing that got me to try them is that fact that you see them at the club level here in the states and the riders like them, at the AMA level and they're also at World Supersport level, on championship winning teams like Suzuki, with rider Stephen Chambon (2000 WSS Champion) and most recently, the current WSS leader, Fabian Foret on the Ten Kate Hondas.
I decide to go with Braking, and then Rob makes a call and a set of Braking's Wave rotors and SM15 (rear) pads, Galfer
brake lines, and a set of Galfer's sintered 1375HH (front) compound pads arrive a few days later at Spectrum Honda.
Braking's Wave rotors are certainly unique in appearance. Both the inner and outer diameters of the rotor have a "scalloped", or wave shape to them. The shape, Braking says, allows heat expansion without warpage. The shape of the rotor also allows the brake pad to "float" on the disk, which helps with even wear and heat dissipation. Rotor material is a proprietary recipe, featuring high carbon content stainless steel, referred to by them as "carbonite stainless steel" and is heat-treated. Rotors are cut by laser, not stamped by a die, and milled on both sides of the rotor to ensure that the disk is not only perfectly flat, but also that each side of the disk is parallel to the other, and not just parallel to the milling surface. The rotors are then mounted, in full floating fashion, to an aluminum carrier.
The rotor material is noticeably thicker (nearly a full millimeter) than the OE units they replaced on my 929. In my mind, more material means more heat handling capacity. This also caused skepticism on my part about the claim of lighter weight. They are lighter, but only by a couple of ounces. Weight was saved in the carrier portion of the assembly. Appearance of the rotor is very high quality, and as long as you like the bluish tint of the aluminum carrier (because that is the only color it comes in), all is good in the cosmetics department.
One of the most common modifications an owner makes to their brakes is to install steel braided brake lines. Part of this is to improve lever feel, as the rubber hose lines that come on the bikes contribute to a mushy feel at the lever, and expand under heavy use, robbing the rider of added stopping power. Part of the reason is also down to cosmetics. Sizes of the lines are either -3 (3mm I.D.) or -2 (2mm I.D.) lines. -3 lines are the most commonly sold size. They provide a marked improvement in power and feel, and get rid of the mushiness at the lever. -2 lines are more commonly seen on race bikes, where the improved power is welcome in a controlled, and more predictable environment. They are also much more expensive.
Galfer knew of the advantages of -2 lines - more power, and the disadvantage, that the power is spread over a short range of motion, making modulation difficult for an unpracticed hand, or a surprised mind - e.g. an unexpected traffic or road condition that causes a reflex action, like grabbing a handful of front brake. Another disadvantage, according to Galfer, is the reduced fluid capacity of the -2 lines. Heat transfer to the fluid occurs when the brakes are used, and when there is less fluid in a brake line, heat transfer can be compromised. -3 lines offered less overall power, but better feel and spread the power over a greater range of motion, and have greater fluid capacity. Galfer wanted to combine advantages of both line sizes, and avoid the compromises, and so after much testing, they settled on a 2.8mm I.D. line. The result? Overall power that is close to -2 lines, but retains the feel and range of motion of -3 lines and has the greater fluid capacity to handle the heat transfer. Again, the lines are high quality, and are made on the premises. Custom orders for length, fittings and line colors are welcome and present no problem for Galfer's staff to make.
The brake pads, compound 1375 are also proprietary to Galfer, and are made for use with the Wave rotor. They are a HH friction rated, sintered metal pad, so they will work well in the rain also. Wear on the rotor with these pads is also negligible. Greater feel and modulation are the performance advantages of this pad.
So, how does it all work? Extremely well - after you get used to the different feel. Let me explain. The OE brakes are fantastic. Had they not warped so soon and so often, I would not have looked elsewhere. My only gripe with them was that after the hard, initial bite, they didn't really offer much more in the way of power after the initial hit, and feel at the lever got very suspect, making control while trail braking, and near lockup difficult. Braking's setup does not have the initial bite of the OE, but it does possess the overall power, spread over a greater range of motion at the lever. Combined with the pad material, modulation is much easier and you get a very clear picture of where you stand in regards to impending lockup.
Less initial bite has many benefits for riders and racers alike. Weight transfer is a vital ingredient when it comes to hard braking. High initial bite can make time for weight transfer insufficient, and the under-weighted front wheel locks up prematurely and unexpectedly. Street riders are confronted with many impromptu situations - traffic patterns, pedestrians, gravel, wet roads, etc. - and racers are sometimes presented with sudden braking situations by the riders ahead of them, either with a line change or a fallen rider and debris.