MTX Gold & Red Label Brake Pads
Experimenting with brake pads is not for the faint of heart. There is no room for braking error around these parts. From wheel-eating holes to trails so steep you’d have to rappel down with the bike on your back if you decided to not to ride a feature. I took upon myself to experiment with 3rd party brake pad makers in my Shimano XT M8120 calipers couple of years ago. I conducted a non-scientific, but fairly consistent test of 4 different pads including OEM Metallic pads from Shimano. The thickness of the pads and absolute stopping power was discussed and also one of the most important parameters of brake performance; the NOISE!
The correlation between braking performance and pad noise could be a university minor on its own these days. At least one at of those online universities where you answer a few multiple choice questions to get a degree in pdf format. NSMB College rolls off the tongue nicely..
Hear me out
Imagine a peaceful misty ride through the forest with popping greens and browns from a recent rain. The ferns are arching into the sky with open arms for more water and the moss is so soft that you just want to take a nap on it. The dirt feels incredible with the right amount of water saturation. You lean into corners and the tires just stick to the ground like velcro, and not the old fuzzy kind but the new age high tech shit. You grab a little bit of front brake to kill some speed coming into a chute and "YYIAAAAAOOOOOOOWWWWWAWA" reverberates through the serene rainforest. Your brakes make a sound you’ve heard a million times before that resembles Chewbacca’s mating call. You immediately lighten your grip on the lever just to silence the damn things but your speed is too much for the chute. You grab more brake and they go "YIIAAAAOOOOOWWWWW" for the next 45 seconds… Yeah we’ve been there and we are heading in that zone at galloping speeds as the all time fall time slowly morphs into Screecher Winter...
I like my brakes quiet but I like my brakes powerful even more. I don’t need to stress out about being able to stop or control speed just to have quieter brakes with resin pads. Generally, unless overheated, resin pad compounds do a great job keeping braking quiet. The problem is they don’t offer the stopping power metallic, sintered or ceramic compounds offer in demanding conditions. Not to mention the rates they wear out at in the wet weather. If your wet dream is riding in the quietest setup possible maybe because you are evading police choppers in Marin County, stop reading this now and get yourself a set of resin pads and be done with it. If your riding season is just starting and you own $2000 worth of GoreTex rain gear, carry on reading.
MTX has been making brake pads for your favourite brake calipers since 2019. Starting in the Moto sector, where you’d be laughed out of the track if you are running OEM pads, Kevin Gorzny asked his wife’s permission to sail into the uncharted waters of the high performance MTB brake pad industry. Wether thought he was crazy is her story to tell, but Kevin set out to make brake pads for mountain bikes regardless. Once a dirt bag's and outcast's past time in the woods, 2-wheeled offroading has become a multi billion dollar industry and if there is one thing we can't get enough of, it's stopping power.
I received a set of Red Label race and Gold Label HD pads in both Shimano and Sram variants and have been running them on my Orbea Rallon with XT brakes and the Canyon Spectral:ON E-MTB with the Code RSCs for the last 6 months and have come away with some good info. I wanted to test the RED and the GOLD compounds at the same time. The RED compound is a ceramic base with copper flakes added for an increased friction coefficient. The GOLD compound, advertised as E-Bike or heavy duty, has a similar construction with a visible increase in Copper flakes. On the Orbea, the Shimano XT brakes with OEM D02s pads have been mostly trouble free. Mated to 203mm XT rotors front and back, the combination offered acceptable levels of stopping power in most conditions. In the dry I had no second thoughts about my brakes, and on the colder wet days, the stopping power would be sufficient after the initial screams of kinetic energy being turned to sound. It made sense to put the RED compound in the front calipers and the Gold in the rear. This way, I could increase the modulation of the Shimano brakes for crawling down slippery rocks and add to the absolute stopping power of the rear wheel in steep situations. The bedding in process was simple; I sanded the lightly used rotors with a 100 grit sand paper to a cross hatch pattern and cleaned them with isopropyl alcohol. A couple of pulls on the brakes later on a slightly slanted road and the brakes were good to go. I would however recommend fresh rotors if yours have any discernable grooves worn in.
One of my riding buddies is a diehard Magura fan, with MT7s on his bike. He seemed to enjoy quiet descents down hidden stuff without getting noticed. My OEM pads on the other hand were like fog horns that were advertising our location to the loam hungry trail zombies around us. More than embarrassed about advertising my location, I went on this brake silencing operation while potentially increasing stopping power as well.
I will try to draw a picture of my findings on the Sram Code RSC brakes on the Canyon Spectral:ON E-bike: A 50 lb tank that tends to get away from you on the steeps if the brakes are not up to snuff. The stock metallic pads on the Codes were OK. They came in soft and built up gradually to full power, but the absolute power was just not great on the heavier bike. Now there are ton of big dudes out there riding Codes and having great results. I'm not saying they aren't powerful. Comparing back to back with my Shimanos, I wanted a little more bite earlier in the lever throw. With MTX Red Labels up front and Golds out back, using a similar bed in process, the brakes were happy again. What I wanted out of SRAM brakes was somewhat different to what I wanted from the Shimanos, which needed more modulation and silencing while the SRAMs needed more power and equal amounts of volume adjustment.
Shimano XT brakes with their instant engagement, welcomed the Red Label MTX pads up front. Gone was the fear of over squeezing the front brakes while creeping down off camber, moss laden, slabs. The absolute power is maintained with the Red Labels but the delivery comes on more gradually, not unlike SRAM Codes with OEM metallic pads. There were far fewer incidents of front wheel lockup in the dusty days of the summer. The autumn was dryer than usual so I had to wait untill late November to really put the brakes through the snow and negative digits on the thermometer. Once the temperatures dropped and moisture arrived, Red Labels on the 203 Shimano rotors performed beautifully. There was no brake squeal past the first 5 to 10 seconds of downhill and the stopping power was there when I needed it. The Gold Labels in the rear were noisier for slightly longer. Not to the extent of OEM pads but longer than the Reds. The initial bite is similar to the Shimano pads in lever feel but the actual power didn't come on until the pads and the rotor were up to operating temperatures. This was not an issue in summer days and the power was immediately available from the first meter into the descend. The brakes never faded in the rear. Even after 10+minutes of steep downhill bashing, there was enough power to skid the rear wheels for this 165lbs rider.
I definitely loved the way Gold Labels delivered the power through their lever stroke range; Instant but smooth power that never went away or changed. I swear there was even less lever pump with the Gold labels in the calipers. 6 Months later, the pads still look like they have atleast 50% of their life left. These are the longest lasting pads I've ever tested.
In the dry months, for steep trails, there is no reason for me not to run Gold Labels front and rear, which is what I will do. In the winter, I do enjoy the lack of sound and excellent modulation of Red Labels on the North Shore.
Sram test on the Canyon Spectral:ON
I had similar findings with this setup. However, I found the Red Labels to not have the absolute power when mated to Code Calipers and CenterLine 200 mm rotors. The Gold Labels in the rear had no trouble bringing the 2.6" tired e-mtb to a skid on demand. The E-MTB rated pads did what they promised on the box and tamed the inertia hungry beast both uphill corners (sometimes you need to drag brakes uphill on eMTBs) and the steepest trail on the North Shore.
A set of gold labels deserved to be on the front of this bike and I have since replaced the Reds that were on there for many months. They are similar in wear just like the Shimano versions and will continue their service until rotors are torched probably.
There was a day where the rear brakes on the Orbea started acting strange, losing power, gaining it back just to lose it again on the same ride. There was snow on the top of the ride and the shuttle up was flinging brine and sand on to the wheels continuously. I washed the bike and the brakes with hot water in the yard (no soap) and found a mirror like surface on the Gold Label pads. Obviously they were glazed. My guess was that they got contaminated on the drive up and I had to drag my brakes for the entirety of a 1000m descend. A quick sand on the 100grit sand paper and washing of the rotor in dish washing detergent brought them back to life.
They have been consistently powerful since.
To summarize the whole experience; both the Sram and Shimano's OEM metallic pads work really damn well. There is no questioning their manufacturing tolerances and batch consistencies. You can walk into any bike shop and find yourself replacements easily. If the noise is a bother to you, MTX pads in Red Labels will help you in that regard while outlasting the OEM products by several months.
If you want more stopping power than your OEM options, Give the Gold Label brake pads a go and you'll be happy that guys like Kevin took a leap of faith and started making products that offer a noticeable performance increase.
For the Americans amongst us, the MTX availability is really good either directly from MTX or a LBS.
In Canada the distribution is increasing and many bike shops are stocking the pads. The shipping can be deal breaker for items that go across the border, 20 CAD shipping for 47 CAD pair of pads. Get a few friends together for a group purchase and the cost is a little more palatable.