As a general rule, motorcycles need to have at least as much stopping power as they have motor. Better still, perhaps a little more.
As a guy that hot rodded a 900cc, lightened flywheel, ported and balanced boxer in a /5 with drum brakes, I know very well that of which I speak.
Experience like that contributes to my overall sensitivity about the operating condition of everything involving friction in the systems of my motorcycles.
I have been rolling up miles lately – blasting back and forth from Jefferson to my new gig in Baltimore – many miles of which are spent on cruise and at speed. For a motorcycle that had been spending an unfortunate percentage of time sitting, piling up miles has been good for the bike, and good for me, but has rolled forward the calendar on a whole rabid pack of snarling deferred maintenance items.
Item one to go was my Avon Storm rear tire. The Storms are dual compound tires, and can, under exactly the wrong conditions, develop a little angle from wear where the two compounds come together, and that subtle change of profile is not a force for good where it comes to handling and stability. When the Storms are new, they are nothing short of magic, but when they begin to wear unevenly, their handling goes off well before they run out of tread depth. The tire certainly didn’t owe me a thing, as the logs indicated it was closing in on 12,000 miles – which on that bike and given how I ride it is an enormous accomplishment. One trip to The Internet, one visit to my buds at Fredericktown Yamaha for a mount, and things on the handling front were much improved. They’ll probably see me again two weeks from now, at the rate the front tire is currently regressing.
The last third of my trip into the city frequently involves congested traffic – the office building garage where I work is an old type with frequent and steeply banked concrete ramps. Both conditions require far more use of rear brakes than is my normal practice. One a recent trip through the garage, something about the feedback from the rear brake coming off one of the ramps set off my very reliable biker intuition. I resolved to check the condition of the pads upon my return to the shop.
The position of the caliper on the K12LT is such – positioned inside the rim as it is – that without a lift or an inspection camera there is no way one can see the condition of the pads with it in place. Two big allen bolts, though, and it’s in one’s hand.
My Biker Intuition’s batting average is off the charts good.
So it was back to The Internets for some brake pads.
I’ll admit I’d been plotting some form of additional braking performance upgrade for a while, anyway, and this was the kind of excuse for same that really isn’t negotiable – once again time to turn lemons into Delightful Lemony Cocktails.
Why an upgrade? K1200LT brakes have never been known as beasts – in fairness, 850 pounds of bike plus rider is a lot of mass to manage — they were likely the proximate cause for BMW to develop the power Evo brakes that folks either love or completely hate. My bike, as a result of an encounter with a well-intentioned BMW dealer who misunderstood what kind of rider I was, is equipped with a set of SBS Organic pads whose virtues include ‘being kind to one’s brake rotors’ and do not include generating as much friction as the bike’s brakes are capable of. More than a few times in the life of these pads I have had to deploy them in anger only to be passed by a cloud of white, acrid smoke upon slowing which was the combusted byproducts of my former ‘kind brake pads’. It was the kind of experience which reinforces my Road-grimed Astronaut view of the LT as some form of mutant Space Shuttle – making harsh sounds and toxic gasses upon reentry.
Testing and writing about new motorcycles has provided a few examples of braking systems which represent two decades or so of additional technological development. And such bikes – including ones with comparable or even more mass – like the Gold Wing (around 20 pounds less) and The Indian Roadmaster (around 80 pounds more!) – had more apparent braking power than my LT as it was currently equipped.
On this go-around, we were going to find the most powerful friction rating brake pads that were available for this motorcycle. If we were going to be smoking on re-entry, it was going to be where the contact patches hit the pavement, not by converting pads into ineffective smoke inside the calipers.
Consensus among the Internet BMW Enthusiast types was that the best ones available came from a French outfit called Carbone Lorraine – their street cred was bolstered by being a supplier to several MotoGP teams, so they clearly know a little about generating buttloads of braking force. One quick visit to my longtime buds at Beemer Boneyard, and some new sintered goodness was almost instantly inbound.
The day after they were ordered, the afternoon USPS tracking showed them delivered to the Post Office in Jefferson, for delivery the next morning. After work that evening, I went out to the garage, pulled the caliper and removed the cotters and slide pins. One of the cotters was partially seized, and required the judicious application of and hammer and punch to free everything up. I used some compressed air and dishwashing soap to clean up the pistons before pushing them back with my fingers – Brembo calipers are somewhat infamous for the incompatibility of their critical rubber seals to any and all kinds of commercial spray brake cleaners. I cleaned the brake rotor with copious amounts of rubbing alcohol and a towel. I dressed the slide pins by taking some fine garnet sandpaper to them to remove the residue, cleaned them off with brake cleaner, and then applied a very fine coating of moly grease to them. I propped the caliper up on a work stool, and awaited the arrival of the postman the next day.
The next afternoon, after inspecting and appreciating my three new sets of CL brake pads, I headed back to the shop, slid the new pads into place, inserted the slide pins and cotters through the pad and dust cover, slid the caliper over the disk, and torqued the two allen bolts back into place. I checked the level of brake fluid in the reservoir – just a hair under full – perfect. Total elapsed time – about seven minutes. I wasn’t yet at endurance racing pit crew levels of performance, but more practice was inbound.
In a checkride around the neighborhood response was as soft and unresponsive as one would expect a set of not yet bedded-in brake pads to be. All I really cared about was that the system was working properly, and that the pistons were retracting after application – a proper bedding in would have to wait for tomorrow’s ride to work.
The next morning was one of those mornings where the ride is so nice one considers going right by the office – a clear blue cloudless sky, temperature in the low 70s and low to no humidity. Coming down Roundtree Road in Jefferson I was all by myself, and got the opportunity to get the bike up just under 60 three times, and brake with just the rear brakes down to just below 40. By the time I reached the stop sign at Roundtree and Lander, rear brake response was much improved – this was going to be just fine.
Normally, on the stretch of I-70 between Frederick and Baltimore, I don’t get much in the way of traffic alone time. This morning, though, I found myself running solo between two large traffic clots – one well out behind, and one way out ahead. I’ve found this can be an effect produced by maintaining one’s speed without regard to that of surrounding traffic – play your own game and you’ll often find yourself out alone.
If one is looking for the optimum place to bed in some brake pads, a nearly empty interstate and a speedo that reads a tick over 80 is pretty much exactly what you want. I got out of the gas and braked the LT hard — on only the rear brake – until road speed was under 50 and still falling. I gently got back in the throttle, and then did it again. I still had my alone spot, so I did it again.
By the time I found myself working the back brake coming off the ramps in the parking garage, the back brake was working as well as that of any bike I’ve ever had. These CL pads get two elkskin gloved thumbs up.
I’ve already had to order a new front tire – after 7000 miles the front Storm is doing the same oddball wear thing the rear was doing. I’m conducting a little experiment – pairing the rear Storm with a front Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT – a heavy carcass dual compound Sport Touring tire. Both tire designs have very similar construction and the PR front is the correct service rating. I’m not the first guy to try this, and those that have report good results – better straight line stability with no scary handling side effects.
When the wheel is off we’ll upgrade the front calipers to the pair of CL sintered pads that are sitting next to my computer. I’m looking forward to having some ‘stops like stink’ to accompany my formidable go power.