Brakes Advice Please

I’m looking for some advice regarding the brakes on my road bike.

I bought my bike second hand a couple of years ago, a standard entry-level bike it came fitted with Tektro callipers which have never really inspired confidence, even after professional services, and so I’ve been considering changing them out for a while (with 105) but wasn’t really convinced a change would make much difference. With my current setup I take a number of meters to stop, even on flats at 18-20mph.

I recently spent some time abroad with work and hired a Felt F5 with a 105 groupset (5800 I think) which was awesome; on getting back on my own bike today the difference is stark. Could this be as simple as Tektro vs 105 callipers or is there likely something else going on?

For clarity my current setup is below:
Sora R3000 STI leavers
Tektro Callipers
SwissStop Salmon blocks
Mavic Aksium wheels

My bike is due a service and figured if changing the callipers out will make as much of a difference as it first seems then it’ll be a no-brainer. Glad to hear and thoughts.

My 1st post 2000 10 speed bike was a steel rando frame with Tektro brakes. I rode that thing all over…did my first 8 triathlons on it…raced my first crit on it…raced Dirty Kanza on it…did my first century on it…rode it to work every day. Rode it a lot.

Eventually I bought an Orbea TT bike for ultras and triathlons. It came with Ultegra brakes. First time I casually grabbed the brakes at a stop sign I totally locked up both wheels, almost went down, and came to a full stop about 8 feet before the intersection. So I can’t speak for modern 105 brakes but at least circa 2011 Ultegra brakes are way more powerful than circa 2011 tektro brakes.


I’ve upgraded both of my current bikes shortly after purchase, one with Ultegra, one with Dura Ace brake calipers. In both cases, the difference between the stock Cannondale and Cervelo brake calipers (which were probably just re-branded something) was night and day. I have no doubt that the 105s would be an upgrade, but I can’t specifically speak to it with experience. Upgrading stock brake calipers is one of the more popular upgrades for a reason. I wouldn’t hesitate.


Is the difference in how the force is applied to the wheel, or the quality of the block do you think?

A bike brake does not have very high mechanical load demands - the rear one only needs to generate enough braking force to lock the wheel, and the front to throw you over the bars. The three factors that will make brakes “bad” are cable adjustment, pad state/quality, and rim surface, in that order.

First, make sure your wheels are straight - out-of-true wheels will prevent you from adjusting the brake pads close to the rim, and thus severely limit the max braking power.

Second, change the pads. Most cheaper brakes have hard and slippery pads. Get new ones, don’t go cheap.

Third, adjust the pads as close to the rims as possible, without rub. You should be unable to bottom out the brake levers; with the bike stopped, you should be able to squeeze as hard as you possibly can, still have room to go on the levers, and feel the cables tightly stretching in the lever. Also check the lever reach adjust; most Sora levers have a screw to adjust how far/close the levers are to the bars, and this can affect the lever travel available. Run the levers as far from the bars as you can confortably allow, to give as much lever travel as possible.

Last, check the state of the rim braking tracks. This is less often an issue, but is the place to look for uneven braking forces.

The higher-cost brake calipers are lighter and stiffer; but nothing should prevent a cheaper brake from working correctly - except the above.

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The main difference is in the pads. Caliper stiffness and inner/outer cable quality affect the brake feel, i.e. the ability to easily modulate braking force.

SwissStop don’t make ‘salmon’ brake pads. Do you mean Kool stop?

For sure, Swissstop pads will offer a much more effective (and usually quieter) braking experience than most other pads, especially the stock Shimano pads on any level of groupset.

The other thing you need to do is check the set up of your pads. Are the pads contacting the rims correctly? Are the pads worn out, or is the surface all shiny?

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Wheels are good, I have the same braking issue on three wheelsets all of which are true with clear brake tracks.

Sorry, you’re right with Koolstop Salmon. Much better than some Ultegra pads I had but still not great - I bought these due to a recommendation, should I try something else?

Pad positioning and lever settings are good. Pads aren’t overly worn and I check regularly for any debris build up (which is always minimal).

FWIW after reading the first two replies this morning I pulled the trigger on some R7000 calipers - I’ll update this thread once I’ve got a few rides with them with my thoughts. Interested to know whether I should replace my Koolstop pads too.

You didn’t break the bank with those calipers, and with good pads in there, I think you’ll be happier. I have zero regrets with both of my caliper upgrades personally, and I run Ultegra/Dura Ace pads in each with no issues at all, again n=1. (Disclaimer: I ride in a very dry area, so the whole disc brake road bike craze is kind of lost on me as well!)

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I’d say give Swissstop BXP a try, they are hands down better than anything else I tried, for both alloy or carbon rims.

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I’ve just been swapping out my callipers and noticed that, whilst I’ve loads of wear left on my current pads, they are quite shiny - could this be part of the problem? If so what would cause this?

I’d say (without seeing them) dried-out pads, meaning the rubber has aged and hardened. Can be (maybe) fixed by filing out the top surface, but easier by swapping pads.

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Ok, thanks @rocourteau.

The pads are only about 12 months old, how often should they be changed normally? The front pads seemed a lot worse.

Amazon should be delivering some new cables for me tomorrow so will get the new callipers and pads on and see how I get on - will try some swissstop pads if I want some more improvement.

Thanks all!

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Depending on what kind of riding you do, you can sometimes see the pads get shiny even after a few rides. Every now and then when I’m giving my bike a good clean/tune-up, I’ll also do what’s mentioned above - just get a nail file on the pads and rub away that shiny layer.

As for how it occurs, I’m no expert, but I suspect it probably has something to do with the interaction of the pad on rim and and/or the heat that gets generated.

If you ride in the rain, the water will combine with the pad debris and other crap from the road to form a nice ‘grinding paste’ that will wear your rims out. Sometimes on close inspection of your pads, you can see tiny fragments of grit, glass or metal embedded. If you see this just pick it out with a needle or small blade. Will help your pads and rims last longer.

You may also want to take a look at your rims also, maybe they’re all gunked up with pad residue also? If so give them a clean. Clean rims and pads give you the best chance of stopping effectively.

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