This is where it gets confusing. Fundamentally there are three types of brake pad compound, although some manufacturers confuse things by using new buzzwords or sound-alike terminology.
The three fundamental compound types are: sintered, organic and semi-metal.
Sintered pads are sometimes called “metal” or “metallic”. Organic pads are sometimes called “resin”.
Each of these three compounds has their own benefits and disadvantages. There is no perfect brake pad for every rider or type of riding.
Pros and cons to each compound
- They last the longest.
- The pad material can withstand very high temperatures.
- They don’t glaze over.
- They have lots of power at the ultimate top-end power (sustained high speed DH stuff).
- They take ages to bed in.
- High temperatures can cause mineral oil systems to fade on very long sustained descents.
- They lack initial bite feel.
- Can be noisy.
- Quick to bed in.
- Very good initial bite feel and modulation.
- Less noisy.
- They don’t pass as much heat into mineral oil systems.
- Not as long lasting as sintered, especially in wet conditions.
- Less power at the ultimate top-end power (sustained high speed DH stuff).
- Can glaze over.
- Most of the best bits of sintered and organic compounds. They’re basically organic pads with sintered stuff added to them.
- Good ultimate top-end power.
- Good bite feel and modulation.
- Good durability.
- Can glaze over.
- Not all semi-metal compounds are the same ie. different brands will have different sintered-to-organic mix ratios.
- Usually a bit more expensive.
Which sort should you buy?
One thing we would say is that you don’t have to run the same pad compound in both your brakes.
A lot of experienced riders run a sintered pad in the rear brake and an organic pad up front. The rear brake requires less power and feel so it makes sense to prioritise durability. The rear caliper also seems to get more filth flung through it so a harder-wearing sintered pad makes sense. The organic pad in the front brake offers good power and feel, where it is needed most. The trade-off in durability is well worth for most riders.
If you want an easy life and only want to buy (and carry) one sort of pad, then go for semi-metal pads. Tempting as sintered pads are – due to their durability – the reality is that they lack power up front and take far too long to bed in on the trail.