Know Your Brake Lines...................

You’ve prob­a­bly bled your brakes or changed your pads in a bid to up your bike’s anchorage, but what about chang­ing your lines? Ven­hill’s Max Adam talks us through the virtues...


FB: What is the role of a brake line?

MA: These days most bikes come fit­ted with disc brakes and a hy­draulic brak­ing sys­tem. The way the sys­tem op­er­ates is that when you squeeze the brake lever, brake fluid is forced through a hose un­til it reaches the cal­liper, where a pis­ton pushes the brake pad against the brake disc, cre­at­ing fric­tion for brak­ing force which in turn slows the bike down. Es­sen­tially, brake lines cre­ate the ves­sel to get the fluid to the caliper.

FB: So ca­ble op­er­ated brakes are no good?

MA: It is pos­si­ble to use a ca­ble op­er­ated sys­tem on a bike, as was done over time for gen­er­a­tions, but these would strug­gle to cope with the pres­sure re­quired to slow down 200kg of bike at speed. Ad­mit­tedly, ca­ble op­er­ated brakes are much sim­pler and eas­ier to main­tain, but they can’t fa­cil­i­tate any­where near the same per­for­mance as a hy­draulic op­tion. The fluid is pumped by a mas­ter cylin­der’s pis­ton to ac­cen­tu­ate the pres­sure ap­plied to a caliper’s pis­ton and al­low for much more stop­ping power. FB: How good are stan­dard lines?

MA: Rub­ber brake hoses are typ­i­cally stan­dard fit­ment on most mo­tor­cy­cles and they’re okay when new but be­come prone to ex­pan­sion un­der pres­sure with age, which means you need to pull the lever in fur­ther to achieve the same amount of pres­sure. Over time, rub­ber will per­ish, har­den and crack, which can al­low wa­ter to seep into the brake fluid. When the fluid heats up dur­ing oper­a­tion, wa­ter in the sys­tem turns to gas, cre­at­ing the air pock­ets that make the brakes feel ‘spongy’. Not good for any­one.

FB: What’s the main ben­e­fit of steel braided lines?

MA: Braided hoses are made up of a flex­i­ble Te­flon tube, which is heat re­sis­tant and won’t per­ish for a very long time. It’s wrapped in a stain­less steel over-braid, which pre­vents ex­pan­sion un­der pres­sure un­like their rub­ber coun­ter­parts. Due to their con­struc­tion, braided lines com­pletely elim­i­nate swelling un­der heavy brak­ing, even when the brake fluid reaches the ex­tremely high tem­per­a­tures ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing rac­ing, as there’s no room for ex­pan­sion. So what you squeeze is what you get, in essence. That’s why race teams fit them – their rid­ers need re­li­a­bil­ity and con­sis­tency through­out the whole race dis­tance.

FB: Why are they made from stain­less steel?

MA: Quite sim­ply it’s just way more re­sis­tant to cor­ro­sion. That’s im­por­tant, not only for ap­pear­ance, but also to main­tain the in­tegrity and the longevity of the line.

FB: Would you get any ad­van­tages on the road from af­ter­mar­ket brake lines?

MA: Braided brake lines are a prac­ti­cal up­grade for road rid­ers – not only will they im­prove per­for­mance even on gen­eral brak­ing, but they should lit­er­ally ‘last a life­time’. Apart from bleed­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, they won’t re­quire any main­te­nance or need re­plac­ing, un­like the stan­dard com­po­nents.

FB: What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween stain­less steel and zinc fit­tings?

MA: In per­for­mance terms, ab­so­lutely noth­ing at all. In the long term how­ever, stain­less steel

fit­tings will stay look­ing good for longer which is al­ways a bonus. In price terms, stain­less steel is more ex­pen­sive though.

FB: Are there any ad­van­tages of mak­ing lines specif­i­cally to or­der?

MA: If you’re sim­ply re­plac­ing a stan­dard set-up, then an off-the-shelf kit is prob­a­bly best as the whole con­fig­u­ra­tion is still sim­i­lar. How­ever, if you’ve mod­i­fied the set-up (higher/ lower bars, changed the forks, etc. like you would on a race bike) then it’s al­ways worth go­ing made to mea­sure, just like you would with a set of leathers if you were search­ing for that per­fect fit. Cus­tom lines aren’t al­ways nec­es­sary, but they’re there to en­sure your bike is as safe and func­tional as pos­si­ble. If your hoses are too short they could re­strict the de­gree of move­ment from the bars, and be­ing too long might risk them snag­ging on some­thing.

Ca­ble op­er­ated lines are best kept in mu­se­ums.

Braided lines don’t flex or per­ish like rub­ber hoses. Pick a colour, any colour... If your hoses are crap, your brak­ing will be crap.

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