Stainless steel brake lines upgrade

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With all the changes you can make to an EX250 that are cosmetic, the most fun (IMHO) comes from things that actually make the bike work better. An odd and rather expensive example of this is adding an aftermarket exhaust system and pods. All in all, you won't get much more than a 1 or 2 bhp gain from it, but your seat of the pants dyno test says different. Why? You just shed ~20lbs. off an already light bike. Loss of weight = more perceived power. Nifty, eh? Dieting and exercise make this even more fun. Added bonus is the ease of working on the carbs with the airbox AWOL.

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?

1) Better lever feel (especially on older bikes)
2) Less perceived brake fade in repetitive braking
3) New brake fluid! (It's about time anyway, isn't it?)
4) New brake pads (Well, while you're there...)

"Just the front?!?" you ask? Yes, although if you like matching sparkly bits, go whole hog and do the rear as well. Any tricked-out larger street bike has 'em, why shouldn't you? Most line manufacturers these days also have colored line covers to match your bike's color. Most of your braking power comes from the front anyway....

Several companies make SS lines for the EX250. Galfer lines are a good product, and their customer service is excellent. Goodrich is also another good manufacturer. Price is usually pretty cheap, somewhere in the $50 US range. Plus, you'll have the pleasure of knowing your braking systems (and hence, your safety) are up to snuff. Even better? You can easily do the upgrade yourself with simple hand tools. Nothing complicated here...

Why not? Be the first on your block!

If you need to find out where to get SS lines, contact your local dealer or use Google and search for 'Galfer USA' or 'Goodrich Stainless Steel Brake Lines'. There are other makers out there,too, so poke around.

[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. eBay has dealers who carry these, too.

Installation of stainless steel lines, by IanJ

On MIK's recent advice to another poster, I purchased a set of Galfer stainless steel brake lines from Cycle Brakes. Total cost was $103 and change, with the front line costing $55, and the rear $40 (although it was a higher cost to order the rear line by itself), and $8. something for shipping. The order was placed on a Friday, and I had the new lines sitting on my doorstep in Seattle in four days, over Memorial Day weekend.

I used the following tools to do the installation:

  • hand-operated vacuum pump
    1. 2 Phillips screwdriver
  • 10mm wrench
  • 12mm wrench
  • 14mm wrench
  • 14mm socket
  • torque wrench
  • small rubber mallet (handy, but not required)

I used the following supplies:

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

First thing was to take the cover off the front brake fluid reservoir (#2 Phillips screwdriver), being careful not to drip any fluid on the bike (or wipe it up quickly where I did drip). Then I used the vacuum pump, attached to the bleed nipple on the front brake, to suck the old brake fluid out of the system. It was dark brown with lots of nasty swirling black stuff -- I'm pretty sure this was the original brake fluid from the factory (2001 model year bike). The bleed nipple takes a 10mm wrench.

With the fluid out of the front line, I disconnected the banjo bolts at the caliper and handlebar (12mm wrench). I kept the bolts and washers to compare to the same items supplied by Galfer. The factory bolts were ~3mm longer than the Galfer bolts, but that doesn't make any practical difference. Galfer supplied copper washers (with two spares, I was pleased to note), and the factory washers were silver-colored (aluminum? not sure). Again, no practical difference, I'm sure.

One of the ends of the front line had a bend in the fitting, and I quickly determined that that was the bottom of the line. I left the old line in place while attaching the new line (the Galfer banjo bolts take a 14mm wrench), to make sure it ran on the same path. It appears that the Galfer line is slightly longer than the factory line, which, in combination with being stiffer, means it's likely to rub a bit -- I'll be keeping an eye on it for the first thousand miles to make sure it's not abrading itself dangerously.

Installation is simple, just attach each banjo using a washer on each side, and torque to 12 ft-lbs as recommended by Galfer. I highly recommend getting a proper torque wrench to do this: 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.

At this point, I poured fresh, new DOT4 brake fluid into the reservoir from a sealed bottle that I had from a year or two ago (note: this is probably not ideal, but since it was still sealed, it's not bad). I used the vacuum pump to pull the new fluid into the system via the bleed nipple, and discovered that pulling half the vacuum gauge in is a bad idea -- it sucked all the fluid through the system and still had 90% of its vacuum left. sluurp! I tried again, this time keeping that 10mm wrench handy, and only operating the handle once or twice to pull fluid through the system slowly. That worked much better, and I was able to get most of the bubbles out in a few minutes.

The operation that seemed to work best was to fill the reservoir up, pull fluid through with the vacuum pump, then close the bleed nipple as soon as I saw some fluid coming through the tube. Then I could pull the vacuum pump tube off to lose the vacuum, reattach it, and use it as a high-class mason jar. With the reservoir cover on, pump the brake handle several times, then open the bleed nipple and pull a very slight amount of pressure with the vacuum pump. This would pull the air bubbles out, and in combination with some sharp pulls on the brake handle, I got all the bubbles out. Tapping gently on the caliper and fittings with a small rubber mallet also helps.

The rear brake line installation was nearly identical, although I had refined the bleeding procedure enough that it went a lot faster. The rear line may have been easier to bleed as well, since the basically flat orientation of the line, and the raised caliper should mean that bubbles rise to the bleed valve more easily. To access the rear brake fluid reservoir, you'll need your screwdriver to get the right-hand side panel off. In all, the brake line installation took around 40 minutes to complete both front and rear. Trying to do the job without the vacuum pump might take a little longer or waste a little more brake fluid (note that once you've opened a bottle of brake fluid, you use it right then or toss it, so "wasting" brake fluid is kind of hard to do). A complete novice should not attempt this operation if they'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.

If you don't have the more advanced tools I mention here (the torque wrench and the vacuum pump) I would definitely spend money on the torque wrench first. Buy the best one you can afford, as this is a tool that will be useful for years to come if you intend to do any amount of work on your bike. Definitely don't buy a bar-n-pointer type wrench unless that's really all you can afford. If you can scrape together $60, the clicker-type torque wrenches are much more accurate and repeatable. Sears, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. are good places to get torque wrenches. Vacuum pumps (the small, hand-operated variety) are available from automotive stores like Schucks, AutoZone, Pep Boys, NAPA, etc. I think mine cost $25-30, and that seems to be a typical price. So far, I've used my vacuum pump to bleed brakes and hold the vacuum petcock on the Ninja open, so it's not ultimately a widely useful tool like the torque wrench is. Notes on brake fluid: DOT3 and DOT4 brake fluid are hydrophillic, which means that they readily absorb moisture, which degrades their ability to work properly. DOT5 fluid must not be used in a DOT4 system -- the two types don't mix, and putting in the wrong type 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. 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.

Riding impressions At this point in time, I've only been able to ride the bike about 15 miles, but I could tell a distinct difference from the first pull on the brake lever. Brake activation is much more linear now; with the factory lines, the brakes would be linear up until the 50-60% point, then braking force would remain about the same, even though more pressure was applied to the lever or pedal. My best theory to explain this is that the factory rubber brake lines, being "springy," would just 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% now. I'd say it 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. I suspect that, in normal riding, I won't notice the difference very much. Only when stopping rapidly will I notice very much, and then the new lines will really shine.

The practical upshot of all this is that I need to go back and re-train myself in emergency braking on the Ninja. Its behavior will now be different enough that my old responses might lock up one or both wheels. As soon as I get the Ninja back on the road, I'll be practicing quick stops in an empty parking lot.

No matter what, the stainless lines look quite nice (I got the "clear" jacket color). They most likely improve safety, since they allow more braking force to be applied to the calipers. Are they worth $103 plus 40 minutes labor? Absolutely. Your situation may differ ($100 may be far dearer to you than to me), but I believe that they're an excellent upgrade to the littlest Ninja.

Here are some pictures of the rear line after installation: