Least-Annoying Road Disc Lever / Caliper / Pad / Rotor Combination

If something was to happen to my rim-brake bike, I’m hesitant to go the disc brake route because I hear local riders with disc brakes squealing from a mile away, and some report that they go through pads / rotors at an astonishing rate. That being said, rim-brake bikes could ALSO have the same issue if they aren’t properly maintained, or have the wrong brake pads installed, or misaligned, etc.

So, what is the most reliable, trouble-free, durable setup for road disc brakes these days? I’m about 170 lbs / 77 kg and rarely see a descent last for more than 5 minutes, although I do descend rather aggressively, and I ride about 20,000 Km / year. Shimano Ice-Tech seems to be getting some negative reviews, people say Sram hydraulic lines are difficult to bleed, etc. I usually build up bikes starting with a frameset instead of getting a complete bike, so I want to choose parts that will work well together should I need to.


I’ve got a couple of full Shimano set ups (not the latest generation) and they’re fine. Easy to put together and bleeding is also a piece of cake.

Never been such a big fan of SRAM, always thought that using toxic DOT fluid in the system wasn’t a good idea but I have a SRAM hydro bike and it’s also fine but trickier to bleed.

I’d say a lot of squealing comes from contamination and giving the rotors a quick clean with the right stuff sorts it out.

It’s a bit harder to quickly check a pad but I wouldn’t say I replace them that often and my rotors last a long time. Pad changing is certainly much quicker than on a rim brake bike and it’s great not having to change pads depending on using carbon/alloy wheels anymore. For reference I ride similar sounding terrain to you and am 5kg lighter so pretty similar.

Just changed the front pads on my gravel bike which does a lot of heavy braking, a lot more than on the road and those pads lasted 6 months. They were organic ones as well.

I’m a fan of Gorilla brake pads, much cheaper than the official Shimano/SRAM ones but just as good and many compound options. I just use standard rotors from the same company who make the brake calipers.

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Hey Dave, firstly I feel an urge to pinpoint that the brakes have no reason to squeal if the pads and rotors are clean. contaminated brake pads are sadly very common among riders and usually the rider contaminates them themselves with improper maintenance and cleaning routines such as spraying some nasty lubricants all over the place and/or not using disc brake cleaner at the end of the routine. The only exception is riding in wet and using rare incompatible pad/rotor combination (so far I experienced just one – shimano icetech rotor and galfer race compound pad).

I wouldn’t recommend the shimano ice tech rotors since they are sometimes difficult to straigthen due to sandwich construction and the “cooling” fairings giving you resistance in wrong places. It’s not impossible but it takes more time and often requires two straigthening tools instead of one. I also have a personal problem with the “cooling” technology itself which is more marketing than function but yes they look cool.

As for the brakes itself I love to work with ultegra r8000 and newer/better tier shimano brakes. They offer easiest bleeding procedure, offer plenty of power and bite early. There is also enough space around the rotor, especially in the newer R8100/R9100 brakes which also offer a convenient reach adjustment. I don’t like the 105 lever/brake combo as it has a long lever travel even when bled correctly. king of the hydraulics is the shimano GRX in my opinion, it just works soo good.

Sram hydro brakes offer more adjustment options but that’s often the cause of bleeding being so complicated. I kinda like the prescribed bleeding procedure but it takes double the time in comparison to shimano/campagnolo and sometimes it’s necessary to do it two times to achieve the perfect behaviour of the brakes. AXS tier levers/brakes offer pretty much same power and bite as shimano does, lower tier sram brakes are usually a little bit spongy and have a longer lever throw.

campagnolo calipers offer the least amount of space around the rotor, the original pad/rotor combo tend to hold the squeal after wet riders even when cleaned but as it goes with campagnolo, if you want it, you want it and there’s never enough reasons to change your mind since it’s an emotional purchase. their brakes are ok and the lever offer great reach and throw adjustment, which is a good thing.

I work with galfer pads and rotors in my workshop, don’t have much experience with other brands except the oem sram/shimano stuff but the general rule is to match the rotor and pad manufacturer to achieve the most troublefree braking.


In my experience Shimano road rotors warp when they get hot. This leads to a minute of godawful rubbing after descending. Swissstop rotors seem not to have this issue. I’ve seen some suggestions that campag. rotors are also better than Shimano in this respect.

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I have had to build more torsional rigidity into the left chainstay for Shimano brakes to work compared to Campagnolo. Can’t say for SRAM, I’ve never used them.

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why is that, because of closer tolerances between pad and rotor with Shimano?

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have you found that Galfer rotor/pad combos work at least as well as Shimano rotor/pad combos with Shimano road systems?

Left field caliper option would be a flat mount Magura mt8/4. Magura spec 2.0mm rotors instead of 1.8mm Shimano for dealing with heat so using a 1.8mm rotor you’d have plenty of pad clearance.


sounds like that would increase lever throw. don’t know what’s worse, that or some rubbing…

This is interesting discussing the issues with kinetic/overheating issues of road disc brakes and throw at the lever relative to the calipers.

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not personally as I ride mechanical discs but three of my colleagues ride Ultegra Di2, Dura Ace Di2 (not the latest semi-wireless iteration) and Dura Ace mechanical. two of them are on galfer rotors and the third on original dura ace ice tech rotors and all are satisfied with the standard black galfer pads. From my limited experience with their bikes during workshop test rides everything works great and I have countless customers on galfer and I never heard a complaint except the one rare case where I eqquipped a customers bike on ultegra ice tech rotors with the race compound galfer pads and oh boy they do scream.

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Campagnolo has the best disc brakes I’ve ever used (and I’ve used Shimano post mount, flat mount, SRAM flat mount, and Hope RX4+). No squeal. Works great with Shimano IceTech and SRAM Centerline rotors. Pads retract better than Shimano so there’s no annoying ting-ting-ting after a hard descent. Great power and modulation.
If I ever went back to Shimano shifters I’d keep the Campy calipers and void the warranties by connecting the two.

My mechanic did Trans Cordilleras in Colombia last month. He rode Ekar and came back raving about the brakes’ performance. He was using Campy rotors—when he was talking with me about it, he pointed out there was no heat discoloration even though the descents were long and steep.

And as others have pointed out, mineral oil is much friendlier to deal with than DOT fluid.


While “mineral oil” is definitely friendlier than dot fluid, you don’t want to drink that either :sweat_smile: :innocent:

Just like Joe, I’ve been using Shimano brakes for a couple of years and they’ve been fine. Any noise I’ve experienced was all caused by contamination.


Agreed Joe. My SRAM setup is definitely more challenging to bleed…in my opinion, it’s not necessarily hard, but more finessed.

My current setup is SRAM HRD hydraulic calipers w/ Shimano Ice Tech rotors, and I’ve been really impressed. After many years riding across iterations of Shimano and/or SRAM setups, this one is my favorite. Limited brake fade on the descents (we have many out here in BC that are long and steep), zero rotor warping, and minimal screaming with proper maintenance and mindful initial bed-in processes.

Iirc Campag worked with Magura on them, which if Campag are good then MT caliper with Shimano sti should also be good.

Not tried shiguras but do run full Magura on the MTB and love them.

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One of the problems with organic chemistry is that one compound can have several names. The scary sounding 2-6 di tert butyl cresol in that fomulation is usually known as butylated hydroxytoluene or BHT, commonly used as an antioxidant in oily foods and the packaging for same.

Similarly triaryl (triphenol) phosphate is a very common flame retardant.

The major effect of drinking this fluid would be a case of the squits: paraffin oil is a traditional treatment for constipation.

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“In my experience Shimano road rotors warp when they get hot.”

I’ve run a wide range of Shimano rotors on my road bikes using different pad compounds, and have found that it’s the cheap, one-piece, solid metal rotors are the worst. After heavy braking, they warp and result in ‘chirping’ against the pads until they cool, whereas the Ice-Tec ones dissipate heat better and stay true.

“I wouldn’t recommend the Shimano ice tech rotors since they are sometimes difficult to straighten due to sandwich construction and the “cooling” fairings giving you resistance in wrong places”

Sure, you can’t straighten the sandwich rotors like you can the el-cheapos, but you have to make a choice as to what’s more important to you… a few bucks or better braking.

Also, on your front brakes pads, don’t be a cheapskate… get the finned versions, as they run cooler and help with heat dissipation. You can skip having finned pads on the rear.

I wrench in a shop and mostly work on the high end road and gravel bikes. I will concur that SRAM is a a bit more of a pain to bleed and dial in than Shimano. We always use the 2 syringe push-pull when we set them up. We also see a bit more iffy levers but that could just be production standards during Covid. I personally own a 3yo gravel bike with a GRX-810 group (I know its not road) that has been rock solid. I do a lot of my riding in Vermont where we can have 15-18 percent grades on the gaps and I have never warped a rotor or had heat fade. I do come from the school of thought the cycling is about going not stopping though! Still have a bike with the famous Campy “speed modulators”, have to luv um.

This winter I built up a Shimano DuraAce 12 speed and the tolerances on the calipers were tight as have been on all the bike of this flavor I have seen. You really need to set the pistons properly. Because of the tolerances we have had to mill a lot of posts to get the calipers aligned. Thats a frame problem but if the posts are not properly milled you will never get the caliper dialed in. You mentioned you are going to build up the bike yourself. Any good shop should be able to check this and mill them if needed. Once set, the feel is great on the Shimanos. While the SRAM stuff is great I personally don’t find I can dial in the the feel the way I like, but that is most likely personal preference. I have been out on EKAR a bit and it was fantastic and being an old Campy guy was impressed but I haven’t been able to work on it much.

I agree with the statements around you get what you pay for with rotors and pads. If you don’t wrench your own bike (or at least the hydro bits) if you have a good shop, that sees a lot of bikes you should be fine with all three. Over time seeing all the issues is important and hard if you are your own tech. My experience is what comes in with problems is the result of poor setup and can be easily resolved. One thing to note is SRAM highly recommends an annual flush of the DOT 5.1 fluid. Lots of reasons why, take at look mineral oil vs. DOT 5.1 and the hydrophobic characteristics of mineral oil. We have seen issues where someone has used old DOT where it has been sitting around and been contaminated with water. Edge condition but can happen.

Dont’ fret the brand, buy the best you can afford, get is set up right and go ride.


If I was to get disc brakes on my next bike I’d definitely go with Campagnolo too.

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A few people have mentioned Galfer rotors, one issue I’ve had with them is that they’ll sometimes require trueing before use due to being slightly warped. It’s a 5 minute job with the right tool but still an extra annoyance.