Braking News: Five Things You Didn’t Know About MotoGP Brakes

A handful of facts about the best motorcycle brakes in the world.

Brembo MotoGP brakes
I was not supposed to take this photo from inside a MotoGP garage at COTA, but I won't mention the manufacturer so hopefully I won't get in trouble. Unless you're a MotoGP team, those carbon discs and pads are unobtanium.Photo: Ari Henning

While in Austin this past weekend we had the chance to check out the incredible Handbuilt Show and watch Marc Marquez wax the competition, but we also got to talk to Davide Ascerbis, Brembo's lead engineer for MotoGP. While most of us are infatuated with how fast and powerful MotoGP bikes are (200+ mph and 200+ horsepower!), Davide's sole focus is on slowing those prototype racebikes as effectively as possible. After chatting with Davide, we came away with these five fascinating insights:

1. SO MANY OPTIONS
MotoGP riders have more brake-setup options than tire options. Brembo offers two different calipers and four different carbon-fiber disc sizes/configurations. There are two 320mm and two 340mm options, each in a standard and "high mass" configuration with deeper discs for more swept area. Each track and bike has different requirements, and each rider has different preferences. Some guys, like Pedrosa, are evidently very picky.

2. THEY'RE EXPENSIVE, AND YOU CAN'T HAVE THEM
A set of carbon discs, carbon pads, and monoblock calipers would run you between $10,000 and $15,000. I say "would" because you can't buy them, even if you're swimming in cash. These parts are only available to MotoGP riders. Not even World Superbike teams can buy the parts to play with, so no, you can't order them for your Panigale.

3. THEY LIKE IT HOT
Carbon discs and pads don't work unless they're hot. How hot? At least 400 degrees Fahrenheit. There can be a 200-degree difference from the leading edge to the trailing edge of the brake pad, and the surface of the discs can reach 1,500 degrees during a race. The techs use an infrared pyrometer or color-changing paint to monitor brake temps. That high operating temp requirement is one of the reasons carbon brakes won't work on streetbikes, no matter how cool they'd look on your Panigale.

4. WHAT IF IT RAINS?
If it rains, teams will switch from heat-loving carbon brakes to more conventional steel discs and sintered pads for gentler braking. They also run smaller, less powerful calipers and master cylinders with softer initial bite. Carbon brakes for the rain are on the horizon, however. "The riders have begun to outperform the brakes in the rain (due to improved engine and tire performance), so our next challenge is to adapt carbon discs for the wet," says Ascerbis.

5. MOTOGP TEAMS PAY TO PLAY
Every team on the grid runs Brembo brakes, and they pay for the parts. Why shell out hundreds of thousands for Brembo bits when you could use someone else's equipment for free? Because Brembo has the best equipment on the planet, and that's only because it is relentless with its R&D and is willing to make custom parts to suit special applications. "We work with the riders to get them what they want," says Ascerbis. The best part is that the rest us mere mortals get to benefit from that hard work as that MotoGP technology trickles down to the latest sportbikes.