Ask a Mechanic: Upgrading Your Brake Rotors

Justin wants to know, “What’s the advantage in buying nicer brake rotors for my bike?”

Great question. Upgrading to nicer rotors is a relatively cheap way to get superior performance out of one of your bike’s most critical components. In short, better rotors means quieter performance, lighter weight, and much more efficient heat dissipation.

If sheer stopping power is your only concern, installing a larger rotor is the easiest way to go, albeit at the expense of more rotating weight. Increasing rotor diameter by just one size will create an impressive increase in your braking force. Remember that bigger rotors will likely require new mount-to-caliper adapters, so purchase accordingly.

If you’re running Shimano brakes, upgrading to any Ice-Tech rotor will deliver better temperature control and a significantly lower weight. Ice Technology is Shimano’s process of forging two pieces of stainless steel to an aluminum core in order to rapidly transfer heat away from the rotor, dramatically reducing brake fade on long descents. An added benefit of having an aluminum core is reduced rotor weight. These nicer rotors, like Shimano’s RT-86 and RT-99, also utilize aluminum rotor spiders, or carriers, which play a large role in managing heat dissipation and help fight any warping that may occur in high-heat situations.

For those using SRAM disc brakes, switching to any new Centerline rotor will be a noticeable upgrade. The most obvious difference will be the lack of noise. Older SRAM or AVID brake rotors are infamous for being embarrassingly loud—a sound affectionately dubbed the “turkey gobble”—which was sometimes violent enough to be felt as wheel-wobble. SRAM’s Centerline rotors do an excellent job of maintaining silence during heavy braking, while still delivering excellent stopping power and heat management.

Because rotor upgrades are relatively cheap and braking confidence is a surefire way to increase your speed on the trail, we would highly recommend going for the best rotor that fits within your budget. Once you get a feel for the good stuff, you’ll never go back. When you’re ready to shop for your new rotors, check out