Stainless steel brake lines upgrade

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Revision as of 13:56, 22 January 2014 by MIK (Talk | contribs) (Brake lines need to be replaced anyway...)

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Why stainless lines?

With all the changes you can make to an EX250 that are cosmetic, sometimes it's nice to do something that actually makes the bike work better. A great and relatively inexpensive, yet highly effective, change in your Ninjette enjoyment can be achieved by replacing the stock front brake line with an aftermarket replacement stainless steel brake line. What will this gain you?

  • Better lever feel
  • Less brake fade in repetitive braking
  • Greatly decreased stopping distance
  • New brake fluid (about time anyway, isn't it?)
  • New brake pads (while you're there...)

Here's why SS is better: The rubber lines expand with pressure. The SS lines don't (at least nowhere near as much). When you squeeze the brake lever on a stock line, some of that energy goes into expanding the rubber, instead of squeezing the brake pads together. With the SS line, that energy is no longer wasted. The end result is a brake that feels crisper and more definite. It makes the system feel much more precise and high-quality, with a greater sense of control.

"Just the front?" you ask? Opinions are somewhat divided:

  • Jim Race: Yes, since the majority of your braking power comes from the front anyway.... Although, if you like matching sparkly bits, go whole hog and do the rear as well. Most of the manufacturers these days have colored covers to match your bike's color. Think first about how the extra stopping power out back will affect your riding.
  • Wes: When you have rear SS lines, you have a direct connection between your foot and the brake pads. It's like a rod. When you have rubber lines, they flex outward as you apply pressure, on a slight time delay. So, it's like a rod on a spring. The older the rubber lines, the springier they are. SS lines give you control.
  • IanJ: I installed SS lines both front and rear on my first bike, and liked it, but didn't really notice much difference in rear feel. It was better, but not a lot better. On my second bike, I opted to skip the SS rear line and haven't regretted it.
  • agradzki: I have HH sintered pads on the rear and I haven't even locked up the rear yet (despite epic braking power) because you can feel the wheel speed in your hand and foot so easily. With the rubber lines there would be no feedback until you started fishtailing.
  • BrianM: In the past when I used SS rear lines, I had to bleed air into the system to get the rear less touchy. Before doing that, I'd encounter situations where I'd lock the tire. Since I use the rear brake quite a bit, having the rear wheel lock up with very little foot movement was a headache and resulted in less smoothness, not more.

Brake lines need to be replaced anyway...

A generally ignored part of the service schedule is that OEM brake lines should be replaced every four years. So, if your bike is more than three years old, this should be part of your scheduled maintenance. Recommendation for life expectancy on stainless lines is five years.

Cycle Brakes is a good place to start. They have a lot of info on their site, different colors to choose from, and they carry all sorts of brake-related stuff.

All three of the top brands (Galfer, Spiegler, Goodridge) are, for most bikes, equally good. However, last time we checked only Galfer had a kit for the EX250. With Goodridge you'd have to use a universal line. This is generally not recommended. Spiegler claims to have a kit, but theirs is far from plug-and-play. It involves bending some of the fittings, and we don't like it because of that. Safety-related items should work right out of the box.

As of 2012, Venhill, a British company, has started selling Ninja 250 kits for the F and J series. We've only had a couple people use them, but they like them and have good things to say about their US distributor's customer service. See them at venhilldirect on eBay.

Galfer part numbers

On Galfer site pdf:

  • front: FK003D249
  • rear: FK003D249R

At Cycle Brakes:

  • front: FK003D249-1
  • rear: FK003D249-R
  • Front & rear kit: COMBOD249-1F-1R

Venhill part numbers

  • front: KAW-2006FC
  • rear: KAW-2006RC
  • front & rear kit: KAW-2006FRC

Venhill photos

Venhill 1.jpg Venhill 2-2.jpg


The manufacturers generally sell through dealers (except Venhill). Contact your local dealer, or use a search engine to find out who sells them online. eBay has dealers who carry Galfer parts. You can also get ss lines made up from a reputable local hot rod or speed shop.

One thing to make sure and look for is that the line has a plastic covering over the steel braid. Without this, you run the risk of lines cutting through fenders, radiators, or even tires. Most suppliers have this taken care of; in fact, you'll probably be trying to decide what color your covering will be. Just make sure that the line comes with one before you order.

The price of stainless lines is roughly the same (sometimes cheaper) as rubber lines and fittings (on the OEM diagram, you have to buy the banjo bolts and washers separately). Plus, you'll have the pleasure of knowing your braking system (and hence, your safety) is up to snuff. Even better? You can easily do the upgrade yourself with simple hand tools.

Why not? Be the first on your block!

Installation of stainless steel lines

This tutorial follows the installation of Galfer stainless steel brake lines from Cycle Brakes.

Brakes are critical

A complete novice should not attempt this operation if you're at all uncomfortable about it - not because it's hard, but because you're working with the brakes, which are one of the systems that will get you killed fastest if you mess it up. If you're not comfortable with the idea of doing this yourself, get a friend to help out. Even another novice is useful in having another pair of eyes to double-check your work, but a mechanically experienced friend is best.

It's a good idea to only work on one brake system (either front or rear) at a time. That way you know that even if you do something wrong, you'll still have brakes at one end of the bike. If you take everything apart right away, you have no guaranteed backup.

Pre-reading

If you've never worked on your brakes before, you should take a look at:

Notes on brake fluid

  • Use DOT4 fluid. Don't use DOT5. Putting DOT5 in a DOT4 system could destroy brake system components, leading to catastrophic failure.
  • Containers of brake fluid should be kept closed at all times, unless you're actually pouring it out. This keeps out excess moisture and also keeps the fluid clean.
  • Grit or impurities in your braking system are a strict no-no, as they could gum up the fluid passages, leading to possible brake malfunction. So, keep the reservoir covered unless you're actually pouring in fluid or rapidly removing it.
  • Brake fluid is also a moderately effective paint stripper, so wipe up any spilled brake fluid as quickly as possible. It can destroy the paint on your bike, but it doesn't work immediately, so there's no reason to panic.

Tools

  • #2 Phillips screwdriver
  • 10mm wrench
  • 12mm wrench
  • 14mm wrench
  • 14mm socket (sizes may vary)
  • torque wrench
  • small rubber mallet (handy, but not required)

Supplies

  • Galfer SS front brake line with banjo bolts
  • Galfer SS rear brake line with banjo bolts
  • DOT4 brake fluid
  • nitrile gloves
  • numerous rags

For bleeding the brakes:

  • Several feet of 3/16" inside diameter vinyl tubing
  • An empty resealable bottle (milk bottle, soft drink bottle, etc.)

Removal of old line

Take the cover off the brake fluid reservoir (#2 Phillips screwdriver), being careful not to drip any fluid on the bike. Sop up the fluid in the master cylinder with a paper towel. Then you need to use one of two methods to get the rest of the fluid out of the line:

Semi-messy way: Wrap a paper towel around the bottom banjo and remove that, then remove the top banjo.

Slower way: Attach the 3/16" tubing to the bleeder screw on the caliper and let gravity do the work for you, just as though you are bleeding the brakes. The bleed nipple takes a 10mm wrench.

Put the old fluid in a sealed container and dispose of it according to local guidelines.

With the fluid out of the front line, disconnect the banjo bolts at the caliper and handlebar (12mm wrench). Keep the bolts and washers to compare to the same items supplied with the new line. If the length of the bolts is slightly different, that won't make any practical difference. Make sure you check the threads, though, and see that the pitch is the same.

Installation of new line

One of the ends of the front line will have a bend in the fitting, which should help determine which end is the bottom. Leave the old line in place while attaching the new line, to make sure it runs on the same path.

To fill the line: Attach the bottom banjo bolt (see next paragraph), then fill the line from the top with a funnel, being careful about spillage. Attach the top banjo and then fill the master cylinder. Once it's full, bleed the brakes. Make sure you get all the air bubbles out of the line. Keep the reservoir cover on to avoid splashing, and make sure to fill the reservoir when the fluid level gets low, to keep air out of the system.

Attach each banjo using a washer on each side and torque to the brake line manufacturer's specs (12 ft-lbs is recommended by Galfer). Use a torque wrench; you really don't want to over- or under-torque brake fittings, since that's an excellent way to destroy your only means of slowing down. 12 ft-lbs feels like very little torque, and the only way to accurately measure it is with a good torque wrench. If you just "screw 'em in until they're tight" you'll almost certainly break the banjo bolts.

The rear brake line installation is nearly identical. To access the rear brake fluid reservoir, you'll need your screwdriver to get the right-hand side panel off.

Check the new line every so often, to make sure it isn't rubbing anything that could make it wear prematurely.

Installation suggestion

If you look at your new lines and it seems that they may rub in places, pull the rubber tube (front) and spring (front & rear) off the old line and put it over the new one. For the tube part, you may want to use something like WD40 to slide it off and on. The spring won't fit over the banjo bolt, so you have to finesse it on. Get it started on the line, then hold the line and twist the spring, as shown with the demonstration pen at right.

846824.jpg 100 0592-2.jpg

If this doesn't work, just use something else in the places that need it. Look at your new line and decide for yourself if it's rubbing anywhere. If you see potential chafing, you should put something on there to chafe instead of your line. Electrical tape isn't really right for the job. Rubber tubing is better. 3/8" fuel line, sliced lengthwise, has been suggested. A flexible piece of rubber or plastic can be wrapped around the spot that is rubbing and held in place with zip ties. Spiral wrap is a good choice, too.

While you're at it, take a look at the rest of the cables/hoses/wires on your bike. Look for places where something rubs, and either re-route or add chafe padding.

Riding impressions

You should be able to feel a distinct difference from the rubber lines when you pull on the brake lever. Brake activation is much more linear with stainless lines. With the factory lines, the brakes are usually linear up until the 50-60% point, then braking force remains about the same, even when you apply more pressure to the lever or pedal. The factory rubber brake lines, being "springy", start expanding, rather than transmitting any further force to the brake caliper, at around 60% force.

This translates into a really nice feel when applying the brakes with the new lines in place. It also feels as if more aggressive pads have been fitted, since they continue increasing pressure beyond ~60%. Subjective feel breaks down like this:

% brake application Feel with stock lines Feel with stainless steel lines
1-15% About 1-15% About 1-15%
16-50% About 16-50% (some mushiness noted) About 16-50%
51-80% Gradually taper from about 50% to about 60%, increasingly mushy Really feels like 51-80%
81-100% No increase in braking force, feels like squeezing a sponge Some increase in braking force, although it tapers off around 85-90%

As you can see, the steel lines are more responsive, but the difference only really shows up when braking pretty hard. You might not notice the difference very much in normal riding. It's when stopping rapidly that the new lines really shine.

You should go back and re-train yourself in emergency braking on the Ninja. Its behavior will now be different enough that your old responses might lock up one or both wheels.

No matter what, the stainless lines look quite nice and improve safety, since they allow more braking force to be applied to the calipers. These lines are an excellent upgrade to the littlest Ninja.

Here are some pictures of the rear line after installation:

Rear SS line 1.jpg Rear SS line 2.jpg

Rear SS line 4.jpg Rear SS line 5.jpg