TerrainLab vs First-Party Laboratory Testing
In our industry we often see companies that do “in-house” testing and present the gathered data as empirical data. For example, think about how every wheel company you've ever heard of makes the most aerodynamic wheelset. Or how every time a new aero product is presented it is 12% faster than the previous one. Can you imagine getting 12% faster year over year for a decade? You’d think that roadies would be wearing full face motorcycle helmets by now to feel safe with all that speed.
This week AB released a collection of brake pads that apparently are the best thing since brake pads were invented. I usually support companies in our market coming out with something new, because I’m a bike nerd and love progress.
For example, Making an aerodynamic derailleur cage, putting a big Danish flag on it and have half the Tour de France peloton use them in your home country? Genius! Personally I'm not a fan of the optics of said cage today, but maybe we fix that once I figure out a way to make aero derailleur cages strong enough for enduro mountain bikes. I consider it good business ethics and friendly competition for companies in the bike industry to push each other to improve the user experience for consumers over time.
I digress, back to the brake pads
AB's website product pages show the comparative testing they did between their pads and Shimano, Swissstop and Kogel. Let’s say the other brake pads, including Kogel, did not do so well in their test. (I’m speaking in understatements right now). According to the test, Kogel parts are so bad I would not feel safe installing them on my personal bikes.
Numbers can say anything you want and tests can be designed retroactively to support those numbers, which is why Kogel typically does some basic lab tests before testing our parts with the World’s best riders in the environments they are intended to be used. Let’s dive deeper into AB's testing protocol.
Laboratory testing brake pads
Two tests were published on AB's website: 1) a constant brake force test and 2) an interval brake test. Both were run in a lab, presumably, on a machine that generates wind and momentum to simulate real world riding. So far so good.
Constant brake force test - The first consisted of 600 seconds (ten minutes!) of constant brake dragging. Who holds a brake lever for a constant ten minutes without ever feathering or releasing the brake?
Interval brake test - The second consisted of 20 second braking intervals (20 seconds on / 20 seconds off).
In these test protocols we find the major problems. Everyone that has ridden a road or mountain bike for more than two weeks knows to not drag the brakes; let alone for ten minutes. Since these brake pads cost $120 for a single bike upgrade, I can only assume the target market is enthusiasts, not first time riders.
Brake force reality
I’m a big fan of real world testing, so I went out on my local Sunday loop. I could not find a straight road to drag my brakes constantly for 10 minutes, but I have access to a 6.5 km road with lots of turns and traffic and an average 7% decline.
I cannot remember applying the brakes for more than four or five seconds at a time. The brake pattern is similar whether getting stuck behind a car on an open road, or in a race scenario where you open up on the straight, then slam the brakes to dump as much speed as fast as possible before a turn.
Point is: AB's lab tests do not represent real world scenarios and are presented to make one company’s product look good compared to all other products in the test.
Sciency graphics FTW!
Constant brake force test
Below are the results of AB's 10 minute brake dragging test. According to the graphic below, the company’s pads start with their highest friction and after about 30 seconds of consistent dragging they lose braking power and settle at about 3 out of 6. This is consistent with organic based pads glazing over due to heat build up.
According to the graphic below Kogel pads build up heat and friction consistently until 400C and slightly decline up to 500C. This is consistent with sintered pads that have a higher heat tolerance than organic pads. I don’t even know what the rest of that graph means, but it looks spectacular! After eight minutes of consistently dragging your brakes, the brake force jumps up from 0 to 10 every 1/10th of a second.
Interval brake test
AB’s idea of intermittent braking consists of 20 seconds on and letting loose for 20 seconds. I cannot think of a cycling scenario where this makes sense. Even world cup downhill racers might be on the brakes for a stretch of extremely steep terrain, but holding the brakes for 20 seconds does not get you to the finish line first.
Cross country, road cycling, gravel… I’m not sure where this kind of braking happens frequently. It looks to me like the test was run according to different scenarios and this particular execution worked best to show the results they were after.
I love good graphics! Let’s have a look at the below ones involving a 100kg rider on a 12.5% slope. That could be me if I skip breakfast in the morning. Let’s go!
According to the above lines, the brake force stops the flywheel from 25kph to 0 (blue line) with everything except the lowest brake force (yellow line). Exactly what you expect from your brakes. Well done!
Changing pads to Shimano, arguably the most common brake pads on high end bikes, one needs more power to stop the bike. The bike does not come to a full stop on the first six intervals. Surprisingly, adding more brake force every 20 seconds leads to less heat build up (red line).
Now have a look at the graph of the Kogel pads below. Applying more and more pressure on the brakes leads to more heat. That is to be expected. Interestingly, applying the brakes does not cause ANY change in speed (blue line)!
Since the introduction of the Kogel line of brake pads earlier this year, we have sold thousands and thousands of sets. Yet never have we heard of customers going straight in a hair pin or slamming into the back of a bus because applying the brakes made no change in their rolling speed. Hmmm.
Thermal imagery anyone?
Let’s get more silly, shall we? Have a look at these thermal images. If you’re not familiar, these are thermal images of a brake caliper and rotor, presumably under load. Light colors (white, yellow) means hot and dark colors (purple, black) means cold.
The Shimano system is on the right. The rotor is glowing up well because of the test and looking at the fins they are about the same temperature, dissipating the heat into the air as they should.
AB's rotor on the left is white hot as well, but the fins are purple and black. Cold! Where did the heat go?? In order for the fins to cool down the pads and rotor, they need to be piping hot themselves. It’s magic!
Let’s stop here
AB's website says that all their testing was done on a one-of-a-kind machine. Maybe that is for the better.
Add to this that according to the product pages, almost all brake pads except the company who did the test come from the same factory in Taiwan. It makes me wonder why the people in our brake-pad production facility always answer the phone with ‘Bonjour’. Strange.
With all that said, I wish AB all the best in their future endeavors. If it wasn’t for bike companies trying new things, we would still be riding around on wooden tires. After all, Kogel is only here to improve the cycling experience for riders around the globe. One tiny detail at a time.
If you’re still concerned about the superior performance of Kogel brake pads. We’d love to hear from you. And if the information presented by AB strikes the fear of God into you, we’ll gladly take back your pads and apply a credit to another future purchase.
Ride your best ride!