It all seemed simple enough.
Since I was not please with the brake performance of my 10R, I figured that replacing the lines ought to fix it. Needless to say, the results were less than stellar. I heard that removing the small heat/chatter plates from behind the pads would help. It did help a little, but it was so "little", it was hardly the "solution". Sanding the pads or cleaning them and the rotors also made no difference. Measuring the rotor run out (both "hot" - after a ride and "cold") also eliminated another possibility. They were well within spec.
I'm changing the fluid and bleeding brakes on the team's various race bikes quite often so I feel that I'm fairly "proficient" at working a Mighty Vac. Still, just to be sure, I installed a set of speed bleeders on the front calipers. After repeated flushings and bleedings, there still was little if any improvement. I tried using a zip tie on the brake lever overnight to check leaks and maybe get any possible air out that could be trapped in the system. No leaks, no air and no improvement. I had thought of using a 636/6RR master cylinder, but I was concerned about the piston size might be smaller than what I was looking for in the way of feel and response.
I also feel that different brands of DOT 4 fluid actually do perform differently and indeed, some brands are better than others. The guys on the team swear by Castrol SRF and will not use anything else. I think that Motul 600C is plenty good enough for us non-racing mortals, but since there is always a "fresh" can of SRF sitting around, I see no reason to let it go to waste, right? All the same, I don't believe that "boiling off" brake fluid is the problem (for obvious reasons) and thus, using SRF didn't make much of a difference either.
So what's the deal? How come my bike has all the latest techno braking stuff, like wave rotors, radially mounted calipers, speed bleeders, trick brake fluid and so on, but the lever feels more like my daughter's EX250 than my old 12R with just braided lines? All of the team's bikes have Brembo radial master cylinders and feel better after a 8 hour endurance race than my 10R does after 20 miles of riding. Of course, at $250+ for just the master cylinder and adjustable lever, one would think that the Brembo just might be better. Still, that seemed a little to "rich" for my wallet and I was desperate for a more reasonably priced alternative.
I thought about switching to the smaller -2 lines. Even though almost no one at the track uses the -2 lines anymore (including our bikes), but I figured that it would have to make some kind of improvement. While researching -2 brake lines, I found this article by Paul Wright called Brake Line Facts and Fiction. In his article he stated this:
I sometimes hear racers claim they like the -2 lines better because they have better feel and braking power. The truth is -2 lines do have a different feel to them , but they do not give you more braking power than -3 lines, and in fact -2 brake lines can cause a serious problem not found in -3 lines (more on that later).
First let me explain that the -2 and -3 terminology simply refers to the inside diameter of the brake line Teflon sleeve, -2 being 2mm, and -3 being 3mm. Now if liquids don't compress, and any pressure created in the master cylinder is also present in the caliper, how can the diameter of the brake line make any difference in braking power? Good question! Assuming the two brake lines have the same expansion percentage, there is no difference in the pressure delivered by a 2mm line over a 3mm line, but there is a difference in volume.
Most motorcycle front master cylinders have bore diameters around 14mm. The 2mm line volume is less than half that of a 3mm line, restricting the flow from the master cylinder, making the lever feel "tighter", and giving a different "feel" at the lever. This is why some people like the 2mm brake lines better than 3mm brake lines. Braking power is not increased, but the perception of the braking power does change.
So why are so few brake lines made in the 2mm size? Most manufacturers know what we also discovered years ago with our own race team bikes - the 2mm lines do not flow enough volume to allow a fast retraction of the pads from the rotors. This means that when you release the brake pressure, the extra restriction of a 2mm line keeps your pads rubbing against the rotors far longer than with 3mm brake lines.
There is no "return spring" in your calipers. The pads retract only as the fluid flows back out of the caliper, through the brake lines, and back into the master cylinder. Slower pad retraction caused by 2mm brake lines can cause your brakes to stay much hotter, inducing pad glazing, pad backing plate warping, brake fade, premature fluid break down, and even warped rotors in extreme cases. We at 1888FASTLAP do not recommend any 2mm brake lines.
THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM
If 3mm brake lines have plenty of volume, but 2mm brake lines offer enhanced feel, why don't brake line manufacturers have something in between to give you the volume you need and better feel? The answer is price and profit. The common line sizes available are 2mm and 3mm, so that is what is cheapest and most easily obtained by brake line companies to manufacture their brake lines.
We are aware of only one company (FastLine) that specifies and uses the more expensive 2.5mm brake line, and they have it made with the correct weave of braided stainless steel that also gives you the proper expansion rate. How they keep the cost reasonable is a mystery, but FastLines cost about the same or less than other major brands.
The complete and very informative article can be found at 1888FASTLAP.com. Here is a link to the full article:
Great! There's the answer to all of my problems. Well... not exactly. Fastlap does not list any Fastline brake lines for the 10R. Okay. Back to square one.
After another six months of trying every reasonable (and even some unreasonable) tip I could find in all of the 10R forums out there, I realized that if I really wanted to make a serious improvement on my 10R's front brake system, I was going to have to shell out some serious cash. Of course, I could pay over $1,500 for a full Brembo brake system that included rotors, calipers and so on, but that ain't what I meant when I said "serious cash". That would be "stupid cash". In other words, that a dollar amount my bike budget can not comprehend (or afford).
Ah, but there is always "tax return time". I had already earmarked my meager tax return for two major expenses. Half of it was to pay off a few bills and the other half was to go for all new riding gear. New leathers, boots, helmet and gloves. After getting a new Arai Quantum II and Alpinestar SuperTech boots, I realized that I would still have some money left over after I got the leathers and gloves (which I have yet to buy). So, with the "extra cash", I figured it was time to make the leap and get the Brembo master cylinder.
Seeing as how I was currently using the lines from my old 12R on my 10R, I figured that it would be best to go ahead and get some "legitimate" lines made for the 10R. The OEM pads still had plenty left on them, but I decided to go ahead and replace them as well. This way, I was figuring that I'd be addressing just about every possible issue I could think of. At least the ones I haven't already covered. Okay, now to go shopping.
Most dealers and internet outlets recommend the Brembo 19x18 for the 10R. The "19" refers to a 19mm piston diameter and the "18" is the 18mm lever offset. It seems that the average "best price" for the Brembo is around $249. Nissan does make a 19mm radial master cylinder as well, but that average cost difference is just $30. You do get a reservoir with the Nissan, but if I'm spending this kind of money ("big money" for me), getting the Brembo is worth the extra $30 and I can just use my OEM reservoir.
Another item the Nissan has that the Brembo does not is a brake light switch. Brembo does make one, but it is anywhere from $50 to $70. I remember reading about a switch that was actually built into the banjo bolt going into the master cylinder. Surely, it had to be cheaper than the Brembo version.
Being a "One Stop" kind of shopper, I now needed to find a place that not only sold the Brembo at a reasonable price, but also had a decent selection of lines and pads, as well as sold this "banjo bolt switch" thingy. I found that CalSportbike.com seemed to have all of the above items I was looking for. I had bought my SpeedoHealer from them and the seemed to have pretty good service. Even though the Brembo was $10 higher than what some of the other places offered it for, I figured that getting all the items in one box, from one place would likely make up the difference in shipping costs if I were to get all the items from different places.
Not to mention that CalSportbike.com had these unusual looking brake lines that I had not seen anywhere else. They are called Superbike lines and they are made by Gafler. I have used Goodrich and Russell lines before, but I've never had any lines from Gafler. After reading about numerous 10R owners switching over to Gafler's regular braided lines, I figured that Gafler can't be that bad.
So what makes these SBK lines so different and why would they be worth almost double of what regular braided lines go for? According to CalSportbike, it's because they do not use a banjo bolt to connect to the caliper as shown below.
Okay, in reality, the lines do not thread directly into the caliper. they use a kind of "double male" connector. It has course threads for the part that goes into the caliper and the other end has a fine thread that the line connects to. Another interesting aspect is that these SBK lines are neither a 2mm ID bore (aka "-2")or a standard 3mm (aka "-3"). No, they are not the "magical" 2.5mm either. According to CalSportbike, they are 2.8mm.
When it came to picking what pads to get, I had a choice between two kinds of Gafler pads (HH or Green 1532), EBC HH or Ferodo XR Racing HH pads. I had read where some were not pleased with the Ferodo pads. If the Gaflers din't work out, I could always get EBC pads just about anywhere, so I went with the Gafler HH pads.
Now that I had figured out all the things I wanted, I went ahead and placed my order with CalSportbike. Seeing as how I was going to be going with the race team to an event in two weeks and I wanted to try out the new set up before I left, I thought I might want to ship them by air. After debating between 2nd day and 3 day select, I went with the cheaper 3 day select. CalSportbike also has a interesting option when placing your order with them. They offer the option of shipping all of your order at once, if everything is in stock or if all of it is not in stock, the will ship each item as it becomes available... at an additional shipping cost, of course. Needless to say, if I did not get all of the order in the same box, what ever I did get would be pretty useless until the other items arrived.
As with most internet orders, I got a confirmation within minutes and was informed that I'd be receiving a shipping notice with a tracking number when everything shipped. Now I sit and wait. Some sites were saying that the Brembo was on backorder, so I was worried that I might not get them before I left for the races. My worries were put to rest when I received the shipping notice two days later. Seeing as how everything I ordered had been shipped, I knew would get to try it all out before I left for the track..... WAIT A MINUTE! WTF! According to the shipping notice, it said it was shipped REGULAR GROUND! ARGH! That means that it would arrive on the day I was leaving with the team. SHIT!
I was really PISSED now! How could they screw up something so damn simple? It looked like a very special e-mail, one only a very pissed off Pastor Elk could write, was in order. A e-mail that would clearly point out their outrageous incompetence. After spending over an hour composing it, I fired it off. It might have taken a hour to write, but it only took a couple of minutes to realize that I should not have sent it before I had time to actually think about what I had said and maybe consider a little "editing" first. Let's just say "harsh", poorly defines the content.
To make matters worse, I had forgotten that there is a two hour time difference between me and them. Within a half hour of sending it, I received a reply from Todd Robinson, General Manager of CalSportbike. According to their records, I did choose regular ground as my prefer method of shipping. For a moment, I was starting to get pissed off again and dug around for my e-mailed conformation. That sinking feeling started to set in when I realized that on their confirmation... the requested shipping method is not listed. Knowing that I spent some time scrolling between the various options and going back and forth between screens, it appeared that the order screen had reset itself to the default choice... regular ground.
To make me feel even worse, Mr. Robinson politely said that he had the Brembo and pads in stock, but not the SBK lines. He could overnight those two items to me at no charge. He also offered to enclose a set of Gafler's regular lines and would adjust my bill accordingly. If that was not satisfactory to me, he offered to discount my order by $50. Oh that's just great. I send an e-mail that was just this side of calling his daughter dirty names and he replies with one offering overnight shipping and discounts. Now I really felt like shit.
While some might have at least taken the $50 discount, I had to politely decline both offers, as well as apologize for a very uncalled for e-mail. You see, even though one might debate over what method of shipping I thought I picked, I had not proof. After thinking about it for a while, I wasn't even sure myself anymore. Also, the fact that I had requested that all items of my order be shipped together, was a little fact left me without a leg to stand on. Had any one item not been available, odds are that the package could have easily ended up at my office while I was gone anyway. Fortunately, my apology e-mail was even better written that the previous one. Mr. Robinson was very appreciative of it and he, like I, hoped that at least when everything did arrive, that I would be pleased with the products.
True to the shipping notice, the package arrived at my office on the same day I was leaving with the team. Because there was to be another event two weeks later and I was swamped at work, it would be almost three weeks before I even got around to opening the box. When that time came, everything was there, just as I had ordered. Now comes the part I have been waiting over a year for. Was these items really going to make a difference on the brakes of the 10R?
After removing the OEM master cylinder and the old 12R lines, I started putting the new hardware on. Following the instructions explicitly (CalSportbike say only a "professional" mechanic should install these lines or it will void the warranty)... I ran into a "slight" problem. The SBK lines were for a ZX-10R... using the OEM master cylinder. On the OEM unit, the lines connect on the right side. On the Brembo, they connect on the bottom and at a slight downward angle. In other words, the lines won't work and quick visit to CalSportbike's website didn't list any lines for a 10R using a Brembo master cylinder.
Needless to say, at $95 a pair, I was rather disappointed and was not sure what I could do. I really wanted to use these particular lines, but if I tried to install them, they would bind. Enter Mr. Robinson to the rescue. When I e-mailed him about my problem, he kindly offered to have Gafler custom make a set of SBK lines (with the Ultra-Poser "smoke/faux CF covers) specifically for my application and will put them in my hands by that Friday. In addition to that, he has already sent a UPS call tag and RA number for me to ship back the other lines. The real "rescue" part is that it is all at no additional charge. That was pretty cool, but what was even better was that next afternoon, I received a tracking number from the new lines. Gafler was sending them direct and I would have them on Wednesday.
When the new lines came in, I couldn't wait to get home and put them on. When I got home and opened the box, I could tell right away that they were different. The first pair just had one line with a angled fitting at the MC. The new pair had both fittings for the MC angled. I thought that this just might be the ticket. That is until I went to put them on. Sure. both fittings were angled, but they were still made to fit on the side of a OEM unit. Not under a Brembo. ARGH! WHY ME?
The only thing I could think to do is to take some pictures of how the lines were positioned at the MC and take some of the end fittings. That way I could Photoshop them into what I was wanting. Below are those pics.
In the second pic, the line (cut down in length via Photoshop) on the left was what I had got from Gafler. The line on the right was what I thought the fitting position should have been. After preparing these pics, I fired them off to Mr. Robinson first thing Thursday morning. Shortly after lunch, I got a call on my cell phone from Jason at Gafler (the number was in the tag line of my e-mails to Mr. Robinson). Jason had seen the pics and had a suggestion for me. What he instructed me to do was to first grip the crimped part of the line with a shop towel and a pair of pliers. Then get a drill bit that would fit inside the opening of the fitting with little to no play. He then said to rotate the drill bit, ONE DIRECTION ONLY, until I achieved the desired position of the fitting in relationship to the Brembo. Sounded kinda scary to me, but he assured me that if there was even a hint of a leak, that he would make another set to my specs and sent them to me next day air at no charge. Okay, I guess I could deal with that.
Unlike my previous attempts to install the lines, I wasn't that excited about going home and tweaking a $95 set of brake lines with a pair of pliers and a drill bit. Even if they would replace them after I fucked them up. It was questionable if it would work, but I did it anyway. Finally, I was able to put everything together. Gafler's instructions say you should use a zip tie to pull the lever back and leave it like that for two hours. After that, you should inspect the lines for any leaks. Since it was so late, I went on to bed and left the velcro strap (a zip tie could have tore into my Pro Grip dual compound grips) on overnight. As I was leaving for work, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no leaks and the lever felt extremely firm. Now, all I had to do was actually ride the damn thing. For that, I would have to wait until Saturday.
FINALLY! Saturday rolls around and it is time to put all this time and money to the test. Knowing that I would have to seat the pads, I figured that the brakes might be a little touchy. I did a light sanding of the pads and cleaned the rotors during the installation. Still, I was expecting the brakes to have a progression from "very little grip" to "way too much grip" and very little in between. At least until the pads started to get seated. I was shocked in the first five miles by realizing that it was not as extreme as I had imagined it would be. Yes, the brakes were 10,000% better than before. As a matter of fact, it was better than any bike I had ever ridden in my whole entire life. After 100 miles of back highways, the unimaginable happened. They got even better. I truly can not find the words to describe it. The progression is damn near sexual. After countless attempts in a 200+ mile ride to get some kind of fade or mushy feel, it never once gave even a hint of change.
I went to my dealer to visit with my salesman and a friend who works in the parts department. Since both of them race, I thought they would be able to appreciate it. That would be an understatement. My salesman's response was that he had never ridden a bike that could stop as quick as it could go. My friend in parts just simply said, "That's SICK!". Immediately after that, he got a pen and paper to write down exactly what I got and where I got it so he could order the same for his race 636... which already has a radial master cylinder. After he gets the Brembo and SBK lines, he will not be able to race in the Superstock class and will have to move over to Superbike (according to CMRA rules), but he doesn't care. The difference is so confidence inspiring, he feels that it could easily cut down his lap times to the point where he would still be competitive.
I know that for me, it is very confidence inspiring and is already dramatically changing the way I ride. In hindsight, the $447 I spent was by far and away the best money I have ever spent on a motorcycle. Had I known it would make this much of a difference, I would have bought the Brembo before I bought anything else for my bike. I can not tell you if it is the Brembo, the SBK lines or the Gafler HH pads, but I can tell you that the combination of the three makes for a braking system that can handle a 8 hour endurance race and still be "street friendly".
If you have actually read down to this point, all I can say is that for those that think that the OEM system is "plenty good enough", even if you are substantially faster or more experienced then myself (which ain't sayin' a whole lot).... YOU DON'T KNOW JACK!. Especially YOU, Mr. Fish Antlers! When it comes to brakes, you might think you got great system with the OEM set up, but I hate to tell you that no matter how good they are, they are still like a 10 speed bicycle in comparison to a Brembo/Gafler SBK lines set up.
I also would like to give my sincerest appreciation and thanks to Todd at CalSportbike and Jason at Gafler for all the time and effort the spent in making sure that I was a happy and satisfied customer. I couldn't be more so. Both of them went way above and beyond simple "customer service" for someone who started of the "relationship" with a "fuck you" e-mail. That alone should speak volumes about these two very professional and sport-loving businessmen.