big_brake.jpg (12870 bytes) Big Brakes look impressive - but are they a good idea?
The "Big Brake Mistake"
Words and pictures: Rob Bell

If you read performance car magazines - particularly those that deal with performance modifications to normal road cars, one of the first areas that authors emphasise is upgrading of brakes as one of the first steps you should take. After all, this seems to make perfect sense; if you are looking at big performance gains surely you need bigger brakes to match that performance? Yes it does - but only if the brake upgrades are performed and engineered properly. Why might larger brakes be beneficial?

  1. If you are using all that extra performance, you may discover that you are using the brakes far more frequently - and if on track, you will be attempting to slow the car down from higher speeds that were achievable before the modifications had been performed. This means more heat. Larger rotors and pads have much better heat dissipation properties. Result: less brake fade and less disc and pad wear.
  2. Larger rotors mean that the calipers biting on the rotors have more leverage. The upshot of this is that maximum retardation can be more rapidly applied, and requires less pedal effort. This is most noticeable from very high speeds where more force may be required to slow the rotational velocity of the road wheels. This can result in shorter stopping distances - but largely this is dependent upon how effective your old standard brakes were!
  3. Uprated calipers using multi-pot designs (such as AP racing/ HiSpec/ Mike Satur/ Wilwood/ Brembo etc that all have 4 or more pots per caliper) offer improved pad stability. The benefit of this is that the pad is less likely to rotate in the caliper resulting in 'taper-wear' where the leading edge of the pad wears faster than the trailing edge. High-end calipers, such as those sold by Brembo [read more here], actually use larger pistons at the trailing edge of the pad, and smaller pistons at the leading edge in such a way that is specifically designed to over come this phenomenon of taper-wear [Taper wear references: RPMnet, StopTech].

All this sounds great - we should all rush out and buy bigger brakes for our car immediately! HOWEVER, there are plenty of opportunities to get things very wrong and actually make the brake performance rather worse than the apparently puny brakes fitted to your car as standard. There's a lot more to brakes than might immediately catch the eye - and this is the purpose of this page to explore some of these intricacies in more detail and in particular reference to the MGF/TF. Plus we shall explode the biggest brake myth of all: that bigger brakes automatically mean more stopping power!

Background part one: weight transfer
Background part two: the Traction Circle
The #1 urban myth regarding brakes: "Big Brakes mean I can stop more quickly"