You may have seen braided steel brake lines on motorcycles in your travels and wondered about them. Well, we’re here to tell you all about them, the advantages and the reasons why folks use them.
Unless it is exceedingly fancy, your motorcycle more than likely shipped from the factory with black rubber brake lines. They may or may not work just fine. How do you know when to replace your brake lines, and why would you upgrade?
When was the last time you flushed your brake fluid? “Why, Kate, I do that every other year just like I’m supposed to!” I hear you. Yeah, we both know that 98 percent of you are lying to me.
Brake fluid is hydraulic fluid, and it is designed to withstand high temperatures and to have very low compressibility. Your brake fluid is probably a glycol-ether-based (DOT3 and 4) or a silicone-based (DOT 5) fluid. Remember, these are not compatible, so don’t get them mixed up. Whatever the commandment is in the impression on your front brake master cylinder, follow it. Your DOT3 or DOT4 fluid is also hygroscopic, which means it absorbs atmospheric water and that degrades its performance over time. Swap your brake fluid this spring, everybody.
(SAFETY NOTE: Wear gloves when working with brake fluid. It is terrible for your skin. Also, clean up any spills with a damp rag immediately because brake fluid is fantastic paint remover. Read all the warning labels and don't do anything dumb.)
When your rubber brake lines begin to degrade, you can sometimes see it on the outside (they begin to crack and erode), but most often it will happen from the inside. You’ll notice when you swap out that godawful coffee-colored fluid and put nice fresh stuff in there. Check your window after a couple of weeks–is the fluid black again? Did you evict demons when you bled your brake lines last? Did some spoo get caught up in your brake bleeder? Your lines might be on their way out. It is extremely rare that brake lines fail by exploding, but not so rare that rubber goobers let go from the inside and clog up the passages in your brakes. The net result is the same: Yikes, no brakes!
So you’re headed for replacement. Why not upgrade to braided steel? Primarily, the argument against is cost. They’re more expensive compared to stock lines. How much more expensive depends on your bike. You’ll have to make that calculation.
There are several arguments for the upgrade.
- Better brake feel: they will not expand even a tiny bit under hard braking like rubber lines can.
- If you’re a dedicated off-road or adventure rider, it’s worth noting a braided steel line is much less likely to be torn open by rocks or other fun obstacles.
- They’re way pretty. Yeah, don’t tell me you don’t care about that part. You can even get them in colors to match your bike.
Remember that every motorcycle is different and you’re going to need to find lines that are made for your specific year, make and model of motorcycle. The line itself will need to be the correct length, and the terminal hardware will need to be the correct dimensions and set at the correct angle.
If you are not absolutely confident in your mechanical abilities, note that this replacement is something that a trained mechanic can do quite easily with all the tools at their disposal, so don't be shy about having this work done at a shop.