Burning It Up.

If I'm good at one thing, it's chewing through a crap-ton of brake pads.
The regular ones for aluminum rims last a sufficient amount of time. I buy good ones and replace them before I really need to, because I never know when I'm going to get into a bike neglect rut. The last time you want to find out your brake pads are a bit on the thin side is at the top of a steep, twisty descent.
When the weather has been good, I've been taking out the Madone 5.2 Pro. It has some relatively nice carbon clinchers on it, so it has a set of carbon fiber-specific pads in the brake calipers. These aren't the sawdust and toxic waste concoctions that come with my Chinese carbon wheels, but some nice SwissStop Black Prince pads. They aren't cheap, but stopping is often as important to me as going these days. Carbon wheels with rim brakes aren't known for stopping well if the relative humidity is above .001%, so every little bit counts.
Every time I take the bike out on Arctic Bike Club group rides, another rider complains about the fumes from my cooking brakes. My answer to him is to descend faster. What I don't tell him is the fumes aren't from the brakes. My pre-ride fuel is often Mexican.
I actually don't grab much until the very end, and then I modulate like crazy to keep the heat down as the stop sign at the T-intersection at the bottom of the long, steep hill rapidly approaches. A lot of our steeper climbs are like that, with the added bonus of cracked/bumpy/gravel-strewn pavement to spice things up. Anyone who has descended Glen Alps can relate. I can handle the switchbacks and descents with good run-outs, but some of the hills don't give you much in the way of options.
Carbon clinchers are by nature not the most structurally sound design when it comes to heat-shedding. The brake track is also the part that keeps the tire on the wheel and your teeth in your mouth. A delamination there due to heat can have severe consequences, so I'm generally pretty conservative. I try to check the brake track after every descent to see if I'm cooking it- so far, so good.
That doesn't change the fact that I eat through a lot of brake pads and stink up the group ride.
A smart person would use aluminum rims for training. There's two reasons I don't:
  1. The Madone looks better with the bling-tastic wheels. I'll admit it, I'm vain. I have some rather nice aluminum HEDs that would work just as well, but they just don't look as good. Plus, aero. I'm not sure the carbon wheels offset the aerodynamic drag of my fat rolls, but marginal gains are marginal gains. I'm certainly marginal.
  2. I'm lazy. Swapping out brake pads when I swap out wheels sucks. It doesn't take that long to do, but these days I rarely decide where I'm going to ride until a few minutes before I leave. If it's raining, I take the ti bike, which runs aluminum wheels. If it's sunny, the Madone. Given the choice, I'd much rather be riding than fiddling with brake pads, and I really like riding the Madone.
Of course, I could always switch over to disc brakes like the group ride complainer. Like my refusal to "upgrade" to 11 speed, I just don't see the benefits outweighing the disadvantages for me at the moment. I'd rather slowly bleed my finances dry buying barely effective brake pads.


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