Dirt Rider - - Route Sheet - Story By Kris Keefer • Photos By Jeff Allen

We pulled out the stops to show you which mods re­ally make a dif­fer­ence when slow­ing down.

You can only go as fast as your brakes al­low you to slow down. That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? But if you don’t have good stop­ping power on your dirt bike, chances are you will not be able to get around the track or scoot down that trail at any rea­son­able rate of speed without miss­ing your mark or crash­ing. Most of to­day’s off-road mo­tor­cy­cles come stock with fairly good brakes and are usu­ally plenty ca­pa­ble for 90 per­cent of the rid­ers out there. But what about those 10-per­centers who want just that lit­tle ex­tra or maybe are su­per picky about how their brake en­gages or feels? We wanted to “brake” down sev­eral ways that you can al­ter your brakes’ per­for­mance to get the most out of that lever and pedal.


Who comes with the best stock brakes, out of all the new off-road ma­chines? KTM has used Brembo brakes, Galfer ro­tors, and steel-braided brake lines for quite some time. This com­bi­na­tion has proven to be the most pow­er­ful, yet the most pro­gres­sive, way to get stopped or slowed down from an off-the-show­room dirt bike. If you’re on a Nissin brake sys­tem, us­ing some of th­ese mod­i­fi­ca­tions be­low will get your bike to this point, or us­ing all of th­ese mods will get you past it.


A fixed brake ro­tor is a sim­ple, solid, one-piece ro­tor. A fixed brake can also in­crease lever pres­sure and power but is sus­cep­ti­ble to more warpage when hot due to its solid mount­ing points. Fixed ro­tors are lighter than a float­ing ro­tor, and, re­mem­ber, ro­tors are un­sprung weight, which is key to a bike’s han­dling on mo­tocross ma­chines. A float­ing ro­tor sys­tem uses bush­ings that at­tach a mount­ing bracket to the brake area where the pads grab. The bush­ings of­fer a slight bit of play, al­low­ing for a more cen­tered or equal grab by pads, lead­ing to more even pad wear. Also, in case of an im­pact, float­ing discs can take more abuse than a fixed disc. How­ever, float­ing discs are heav­ier and more ex­pen­sive.

On The Track: A fixed ro­tor has a more pos­i­tive feel at the front brake lever. A float­ing ro­tor is not as pos­i­tive and can re­quire a lit­tle more lever pres­sure to help stop the ma­chine.


This is the most com­mon of all brake pur­chases. An over­size ro­tor can dis­si­pate heat more (due to its larger cir­cum­fer­ence), in­crease brake pad life, and in­crease the stop­ping power to your front brake lever be­cause of its ex­tra lever­age. Most stock com­pe­ti­tion off-road bikes come with a 260mm or 270mm front ro­tor and a 240mm or 245mm rear ro­tor. Af­ter­mar­ket brake com­pa­nies usu­ally of­fer their “over­size” front ro­tors in ei­ther 270mm or 280mm. When go­ing to a larger ro­tor than stock you will need to also change the caliper car­rier, which usu­ally comes with the ro­tor.

On The Track: A no­tice­able im­prove­ment in brak­ing power. Note that when go­ing to a larger ro­tor than stock, the brake can be­come more re­spon­sive (or grabby) to the touch of the lever.


Steel-braided lines re­duce ex­pan­sion when the brake fluid gets hot. This keeps the lever en­gage­ment con­sis­tent and in the same spot over a longer pe­riod of time. The life span of a steel-braided line is longer than a stan­dard rub­ber/ny­lon line that comes on most ma­chines. You get more con­sis­tent feel at the lever, and con­sis­tency is key for any rider.

On The Track: Just pur­chas­ing a steel-braided brake line alone with stock brakes can in­crease stop­ping power, es­pe­cially in longer races. With a steel-braided line and over­size ro­tor the brak­ing power be­comes more in­tim­i­dat­ing to less skilled rid­ers, but faster rid­ers usu­ally love how easy it is to get the bike slowed com­ing into cor­ners.


An­other op­tion for Nissin brake rid­ers is in­stalling an af­ter­mar­ket brake caliper. A cou­ple com­pa­nies of­fer dif­fer­ent calipers (Ride Engi­neer­ing and Mo­to­stuff) that can dra­mat­i­cally in­crease your stop­ping power. An af­ter­mar­ket caliper has pis­tons that are larger than a stock Nissin caliper, and with this comes in­creased power at the lever. But un­like just go­ing to an over­size ro­tor, a caliper can give you a more pro­gres­sive feel. Go­ing to larger pis­tons changes the lever­age ra­tio when us­ing the stock 11mm mas­ter cylin­der that most Nissin-equipped bikes come with (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki), so it feels more grad­ual and less grabby. Flex is also re­duced and air­flow is in­creased with wider fins.

On The Track: The front brake lever has a slightly softer feel to it, but brak­ing power is in­creased and is more pro­gres­sive. Go­ing to an af­ter­mar­ket caliper gives you a bet­ter feel at the lever for in­creased tire trac­tion when pulling in the front brake or drag­ging through ruts/cor­ners over a longer throw. Along with a steel-braided line and over­size ro­tor it be­comes eas­ier to con­sis­tently ride faster and get into cor­ners. It is also more lever friendly to all types of skill lev­els.


If you’re a picky rider and want to take it even fur­ther for that per­sonal touch, there is the ARC ad­justable front brake lever. The ARC lever lets you choose from three de­grees of lever ra­tio that will let you dial in where you want the lever to grab. Some rid­ers like a very touchy lever right at the be­gin­ning of its pull, and some rid­ers like the lever to grab closer in to the han­dle­bar. With the ARC ad­justable front brake lever you are able to dial in your per­sonal set­ting.

On The Track: This is for the pick­i­est of rid­ers. If you love to tinker and re­ally dial in your lever en­gage­ment place­ment, this is a great lever. It comes in alu­minum and Mem­lon ma­te­ri­als.


Peo­ple of­ten ask if they should use DOT 4 or 5 brake fluid. There is noth­ing wrong with stick­ing to DOT 4 brake fluid. Its boil­ing point is plenty high for any mod­i­fi­ca­tion that you have read about here. How­ever, do not mix DOT 4 and 5 to­gether. DOT 4 is a gly­col-based oil and DOT 5 is sil­i­cone based. If mixed, your brake will start to feel mushy and less pow­er­ful. DOT 5.1 is gly­col based and can be added to DOT 4 if nec­es­sary, but it is also wise to flush your brake fluid out com­pletely be­fore adding any­thing dif­fer­ent.

On The Track: No per­for­mance dif­fer­ence was felt on the track with DOT 4 or 5 brake fluid.


Many com­pa­nies of­fer the op­tion of brake pads made with dif­fer­ent types of ma­te­rial to al­ter the re­sponse and power of the pads’ feel.

On The Track: Af­ter some time rid­ing on ro­tor-kit-spe­cific brake pads and us­ing stock OEM pads, we say stock pads usu­ally wear more con­sis­tently (longer) and have a less grabby feel than most af­ter­mar­ket pads. Some sin­tered pads were as pow­er­ful as OEM, but noth­ing proved to be any bet­ter than a stan­dard OEM brake pad. We ex­pe­ri­enced more noise (squeak) on some ro­tor-kit-spe­cific pads when drag­ging the brakes, more so than OEM pads. Rid­ers who are known to be brake drag­gers pre­ferred sin­tered pads, as heat buildup wasn’t quite as bad as OEM pads that were not sin­tered.


All of th­ese mods above will help your stop­ping power, but it is how you want that stop­ping power de­liv­ered that should guide you on which of th­ese mods you make to your ma­chine.

Fixed Float­ing

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