Stainless steel brake lines upgrade
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?
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:
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:
At Cycle Brakes:
Venhill part numbers
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.
If you've never worked on your brakes before, you should take a look at:
Notes on brake fluid
For bleeding the brakes:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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: