The actual phrase is “Them’s the breaks” but ‘brakes’ works in this case too. According to Grammarist.com, the phrase means that “sometimes the outcome to a situation isn’t what one wanted or expected, and most especially, that there isn’t much to be done about it so one might as well accept it and move on”.
There’s another phrase that applies to this story too. Back in the 19th century, French playwright Charles-Guillaume Étienne penned the phrase “On n’est jamais servi si bien que par soi-même”. This has widely been translated as “If you want something done right, do it yourself”. The literal translation is “One is never served so well as by oneself”, but I digress.
A recent issue with my Ninja 1000, however, demonstrates that our playwright friend from France does indeed have a point, even if there are plenty of things one should best leave to others to do.
This past Spring I purchased a new Ninja 1000 (leftover 2013 model) from a local dealer. The bike has been great and has had only one issue. A pulsing from the front brakes as one reaches that last 15-20 feet of stopping. I tried changing brake pads after a few hundred miles as the OE pads really felt pretty wooden. The brakes had more bite now but the pulsing was still present.
I didn’t really expect the pad change to correct the pulsing and I suspected a bent or otherwise defective brake rotor. After a few hundred more miles I decided to go ahead and take the bike to a Kawasaki dealer to see if they could look into this. I hoped it would be something covered under warranty, especially if I was right and it was a defective rotor. I had less than two thousand miles on the bike after all.
After leaving the bike for a couple of days I spoke with the service manager. He informed me that they found grease on the back plates of the pads and that they were concerned this grease was causing the pulsing problem. I knew there was grease back there as I always put hi-temp caliper grease on the back and edges of brake pads. This is to make sure the pads can move freely and it also prevents squealing.
Could I have put too much grease on? Maybe, and I’m willing to admit to that. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was how some grease could alternate between reducing friction, then not, then back again over and over as I came to a stop . Still, that’s what they were convinced it was so I let them replace the pads and they cleaned up all of the grease from the calipers. I picked the bike up the next day.
I do want to point out that I did ask if they could simply check the rotors for defect (warped, bent, etc) but they didn’t feel it was needed. What I was told concerning the replacing pads and cleaning the calipers was “This was the easiest and quickest way to take care of the problem”. Really!? That’s what you tell a customer picking up their bike from service? You took the easiest and quickest route to fixing it? Even if that is how you operate should you tell a customer that. Plus, I don’t want my motorcycle fixed in the quickest or easiest way, I want it fixed the right way. If it costs me more or takes a while, OK then. These are brakes on a motorcycle we’re talking about here. A failure can be very dangerous.
The brakes felt a bit weak at first and this was expected. New pads need to bed in a bit and after a a couple of dozen mile and some intentional dragging of the brakes a bit as I rode, the stopping power improved. What didn’t improve was the pulsing. At first it seemed like it was gone but as the braking improved the problem made itself known again.
I really didn’t want to take it back to them at this point. Between the issue I had with their logic of it being the brake pads and the knowledge I now had that “quick and easy” was how the service department ran, returning with the Ninja to this dealer wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t even call them at this point. I was determined to fix this myself. I subsequently ordered a set of brake rotors from eBay. These were not OEM but instead an aftermarket set. I considered getting a used set of OEM rotors but I was afraid they may have the same issue.
I gambled and bought a set that I knew were likely a knock-off of a first tier supplier product. I was hoping that these would at least be straight enough to illuminate that the issue was indeed with the rotors themselves (or not). At least I would save some money versus the OE discs as I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get any warranty help at this point.
Last weekend I removed the front wheel and bolted on the new rotors. They fit well and for all intents and purposes seemed solid enough to feel comfortable taking them out on the street. I had long trip the weekend before and didn’t want to risk new, untested brake hardware for hours on the interstate.
The verdict? Problem solved. The first couple of days riding with the rotors installed required some care as the new rotors (and nearly new pads) bedded in. Stopping power came back and actually felt a bit better than it had with the OE rotors. What’s more is that the feel at the lever improved too. Since I had first gotten this bike the brake lever needed a little more travel that I thought it should to engage.
After about 70-80 miles on the new rotors the lever took noticeably less travel to initiate braking. Not only does this feel better but it also demonstrated of how a bent or warped rotor could be the culprit. A spinning brake rotor that has even a slight run-out issue will push the brake pads further away from the rotor surface as it rotates between the pads. The pistons will end up further into their bore in the brake caliper and this will require more lever travel at the master cylinder to move the pads back into a place where they can firmly clamp the rotor.
There doesn’t need to be much run-out to make this lever difference noticeable. It can likely be to small to see when spinning the disc with the front wheel lifted. I couldn’t see it anyway. What I can feel, though, is smooth stopping and better connection to the brakes with the replacement of the brake discs.
This afternoon I texted the service manager to let him know my findings. I’m not looking for them to do anything more than they have and I’m not trying to shame them by writing this article (I have specifically not named them here). I did want to let them know that they did not solve the problem, if for no other reason, than to make sure that they approach similar issues in the future with a little more care and less “quick and easy”.
Them’s the brakes I suppose.