Brake Rotors



The proverbial fly on the wall at any place motorcycle riders gather would find that the talk—when it’s not about beer or sex—traditionally centers on speed. Tales are told, true or tall, about stroker motors, straight pipes, and how fast the old FXR or Sporty goes. Conversation might be focused on two-wheeled world records achieved on the salt flats, drag strip burnouts, or just getting to Sturgis in record time. The bottom line is that most motor-cyclists are preoccupied with going fast. So, when it comes to speeding things up, most stock bikes do not stay that way for long.

Brakes, on the other hand, seem to get much less respect. Or maybe a better way of putting it is: Stopping safely and quickly, or smoothly scrubbing off some speed when approaching a tight turn, is something riders today—virtually all on bikes equipped with disc brakes—don’t give much thought. (Certainly that was not the case in the old days when motorcycle drum brakes provided “maybe they will, maybe they won’t” stopping power.)

But, if modern motorcycle brakes are pretty good right off the showroom floor, that doesn’t mean they cannot or should not be improved over stock. Just like any other performance component on your bike, the braking setup should reflect how one rides. That was a lesson learned five years ago when we picked up a then-spanking new 2004 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Standard. Dubbed the Geezer Glide, the plan was to load her down with duds, cameras, computers, and often a passenger before hitting the roads in search of Thunder Press news.

Almost immediately it became clear that, even loaded to the gunwales, getting the Geezer going wasn’t a real problem. On the other hand, slowing or stopping that big load was far less satisfactory. The stock rotors squeaked and squealed and really lacked the appropriate feel, especially in the front. Off came the OEM stuff and a set of Screamin’ Eagle floating rotors were added. Problem solved.

But that was then and this is now so, 67,000 miles later, the old girl needs some freshening up. (There will be a series of stories over the next months about Geezer Glide’s facelift, which will include changes that range from functional to the frivolous and fashionable). Over time, brake discs wear thinner and each has a manufacturer-set minimum thickness that should be checked by periodic measuring. In so doing, it was clear that the time was up on the Glide’s old disc set.

Going W8less
With brake rotors right at the top of the list of needed new components, we turned to the folks at W8less Rotors for a set of state-of-the-art brake discs. We had talked to Ray C. Wheeler, the company’s international sales representative, about the W8less product. Ray, who has done his share of motorcycle drag racing, knows a thing or three about both going fast and stopping safely.

He referred us to the company website to learn that this product uses materials known as metal matrix composites (MMCs), the same materials that can be found in jet fighters and racing engines. Ray says they are currently available for Harleys 1984 and later that use an 11.5″ rotor (12-inchers are coming soon). The W8less rotors are paired with special brake pads that apply a transfer film to the rotor surface.

According to Wheeler, “Research proves that we may be the only composite rotor that has passed the DOT compliance testing.”

Loading the new rotors and pads in the Geezer Glide’s tour pack, we headed down to see Mike Fahey at Grumpy’s Motorcycles in Sonoma, California. An experienced motorcycle drag racer, expert bike mechanic, and builder of customs, Mike agreed to install the W8less rotors for us. Along the way, he agreed to provide us with some installation tips and ob-servations about the new product.

With a floor jack under the Glide, the front wheel was dropped and Mike carefully cleaned the calipers before in-serting the new brake pads. Mike advised that careful attention needed to be paid to selecting the correct discs for front and back. The old rotors were removed from the wheel and the W8less discs installed using Blue Loctite. Because W8less claims its rotors are 60 percent lighter than OEM discs, Mike carefully weighed both. True enough, the OEM rotors came in at near five pounds and the W8less at under two. We were eager to evaluate how the reduction in un-sprung weight, less rotating mass, and reduced centrifugal force would affect the Glide’s handling.

But before we could do a road test, we had to get the front wheel back on the bike and change out the rear as well. Here, we hit a slight snag. In trying to fit the stock H-D calipers with the special brake pads back over the new W8less discs, we found there was not enough clearance to allow the wheel to spin free. After consulting by phone with Wheeler, Mike pulled out the new pads and carefully removed some of the backing material. That did the trick and, knowing ahead of time what had to be done, the change of the disc and pads at the rear wheel went smoothly.

The initial road test was in late April when we headed from Sonoma down to Santa Cruz. This involved surface streets, two-lane highways, and freeways so we had a good chance to test the various properties of the W8less rotors. And while coming to a full stop required a more vigorous lever/foot pedal action than previously, the rotors and pads were very quiet. Most impressive, however, was the positive effect of the reduced weight on the bike’s handling.

Equipped with a pair of the W8less rotors out front, the FLHT steering became much lighter and noticeably more responsive. Fully loaded and banking through the curves on California’s Highway 1 was a real joy. Without really noticing it at first, the Glide’s speed crept up and then up again. Who would have dreamed that new brake components could actually make one’s bike go faster?

Major test number two came during a trip in May from Sacra-mento over Donner Summit and into Northern Nevada. Two-up and piled high with gear, we encountered blowing snow, hail, and heavy thundershowers. Once out of the mountains, we even had an in-town emergency stop opportunity (watch those changing traffic lights). Through it all the W8less rotors performed like champs.

Although the W8less rotors seem to be more about function than fashion, color centerpieces and buttons are available. At press time, W8less rotors and pads were priced at $269.95 but buyers should either check the company website or call 888.500.5567 for the current price and a roster of dealers nationwide.


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