Looks can stop traffic. Modern brakes can stop old bikes.
How to achieve more modern brake performance for your vintage motorcycle.
There’s not much that’s more exciting than the head-turning power of an old motorcycle brought back to life as a resto-mod café, a retro racer, or a full restoration. What’s also exciting—but not in such a good way—is vintage braking system performance. A freight train could stop faster than most vintage bikes.
Brake technology and performance have come a long way, even in the past few years. And while you may not be able to replicate the mind-blowing braking performance of today’s high-tech bikes on your vintage ride without some serious engineering and fabrication, there are things you can do to seriously improve braking performance and safety.
Fortunately, a few affordable modern mods can make a huge difference. Here are a few things you can do on your retro machine.
Pitch the old material. While classic looks stand the test of time, old rubber seals and brake lines do not. Trash all of those original rubber components that are likely resembling tar about now. While you’re at it, if your bike has hydraulic brakes, flush that old brake fluid out and replace it with fresh modern, high-performance brake fluid.
Come up with a new line. Rubber hydraulic brake lines expand and flex under pressure, allowing some of that stopping power to be lost in the bulge of the lines. Consider swapping out to stainless steel braided brake lines. This will greatly improve feel, minimizes effort at the lever, and get more of that stopping force down to the brakes themselves.
Move to a new pad. To get more braking power, it may be time to move to a new pad. Or shoe. Braking force is really all about friction. The greater the friction, the better the braking power. The limiting factor, historically, has been how well brake components create and manage friction together. And that comes down to the type and quality of the braking components.
- Organic brake material is the softer option (and likely what your bike came with). As such, they have a more gradual feel and are gentler on brake discs. They also have decent performance right from the start, even when cold. The tradeoff is they don’t have the grip of harder brake materials. Organic pads also generate lotd of brake dust, which can foul the appearance of an otherwise pristine vintage bike.
- Sintered brake pads and shoes are made with compounds of metal and other materials to create a harder and higher-performance brake, especially at higher temperatures and in wet conditions. Sintered pads last longer and resist fade, but they are tough on brake discs since they grind more aggressively. Upgrading to sintered brake material will be enhanced with the installation of modern brake rotors.
Slip in a new disc. Modern brake discs are made from better steel and have advanced designs that help improve stopping power, channel away heat and water, and reduce un-sprung weight. Depending on the year and make of your bike, replacing the old rotors with modern ones is often just a simple swap out.
If you’re looking to upgrade the braking performance of your vintage machine, try swapping out something old with something new. Check out the full range of performance braking components available for your old bike at sunstar-braking.com.
Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us.