Progressive Brake Pads – What They Are and Why It Matters

When shopping for brake pads, there are a number of things to consider.  Price, compound, and feel are the most popular things to take into account, and the style or type of one of those criteria will impact the other two. For some of the more die-hard gearheads, that can make shopping for a set of brakes a daunting process.   Since the topic of different brake compounds (semi metallic vs ceramic) is relatively beat to death online, today I want to talk about the idea of a linear brake pad feel vs a progressive brake pad feel.


Whether you are doing canyon runs or racing competitively, sport driving requires an enormous amount of finesse on the brake pedal.  Too much pedal and you’ll lock up your brakes and skid.  Not enough and you’ll find yourself in an guardrail (or worse).  Balancing right on the edge of tire adhesion is a technique known as threshold braking, and being able to master such a technique will make you a faster driver.  It also makes driving on the limit a lot more fun, but in order to threshold brake safely you need to be able accurately modulate the pedal to get as close to the limit as you can without going over.  Check out the graph below.

Linear Brake Pads

An OEM style Semi-Metallic pad is generally a linear style pad, and is what most people are use to their brakes feeling like.  When you push on the brakes, very quickly you will get a decent amount of friction capable of stopping the car from normal speeds.  If you want more, you push harder and if you want a LOT of friction, you have to really push.  Often this will result in very hot brakes fast, and you will become familiar with the concept of brake fade.  With a linear brake pad, it is very difficult to threshold brake because of the large difference in pressure you have to use to get from moderate friction to lock-up.

These Pagid brake pads have great OE bite and will have a lot of friction without much pedal effort.

Genuine and OE brake pads for normal cars (some higher end sports cars ship with progressive brake pads from the factory), Bosch Quietcast, and to some extent Akebono Ceramic all have a linear feel, although many ceramic pads are slightly progressive making them very popular among enthusiasts.  If you are looking for one of these, check out our Brake Kits, which include everything you need to do a standard brake job on your European car!

Progressive Brake Pads

Being close to lockup without going over is called threshold braking, and is extremely important to master in competitive racing.

Most sport and track oriented brake pads have a progressive feel to them, which means that there is very little ‘bite’ when you touch the brakes.  The idea is that as you apply more and more pressure, the stopping power comes up much quicker until you find the limit of the tires.  This is the threshold that I mentioned earlier, and when you are braking into turn 1 or coming in hot on a forest hairpin you want to be able to go from substantial braking to the threshold with very little pedal travel.  Even if you cross the threshold and you briefly lock a tire, you can back off just a hair and be back at max braking pressure.  Being able to apply adequately heavy braking near the threshold makes for a brake pad that is much easier to drive on the limit.

Progressive brake pad materials achieve this quality by requiring a certain amount of heat to be built up before the friction really starts to clamp down.  When the brakes are cool, you won’t get that heavy jerky bite, so you can go ahead and get on the brakes at high speed and not unsettle the car (or motorcycle).  Once the brakes are applied, you can modulate pressure and comfortably feel where you want to be.  Pad temps will quickly shoot up past 800 degrees F as they dig in, and you can ride that wave all the way through the braking zone.  When you let off, they will quickly cool back down again. EBC sport brakes are our popular progressive brake pads, including RedStuff for street use, YellowStuff for heavy street and occasional track, and BlueStuff for full out track driving (not available for all cars).

What makes a sport compound pad

The topic of ‘bite’ comes up a lot when people describes their brakes.  They will often replace their brakes with a sport compound pad, such as an EBC Redstuff or Yellowstuff, but will sound disappointing because they claim the pad doesn’t have the bite they want.  It is a common misconception that a sport compound pad will allow you to stop faster than a normal brake pad, but you have to be careful in getting caught up in what that actually means.  In terms of friction, OE linear pads offer huge amounts of friction for a short time, and slamming on the brakes can easily lead to instant lockup of the tires.

EBC BlueStuff Racing Pads have a progressive feel and are good for threshold braking.

The important part that makes a sport compound pad is the ability to actually take the friction level to the limit and hold it there without locking up.  That’s how you stop faster with a sport pad.  Because of the heat ranges, a sport pad will be able to perform well when very hot, something that a standard semi-metallic pad can’t do.  That means your brakes won’t fade once you’ve gone through a few corners.

If you are shopping for a new set of sport brakes, I hope this information helped.  Manufacturers will often describe their pads using some of the terms above, so keep a look out.  If you specifically are shopping for a set of progressive brake pads, all of our EBC options are progressive.  Thanks for reading, see you next time!



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3 thoughts on “Progressive Brake Pads – What They Are and Why It Matters
  1. Tony

    Interesting article but it never follows up with what materials are used in “progressive” pads – a term that is new to me. Until now, I only knew of semi-metallic style pads and ceramic. However, the article puts some ceramic pads in this “linear” category, so, aside from a pad mfg describing its product as progressive (if they even do), how can one make an informed choice if the desire is to get progressive-style pads?!

    • Adam Goral

      Hey Tony, unfortunately I am no chemist and each brake manufacturer has their own formulations to make a pad behave a certain way. The specific formulations are all proprietary, so there’s a range of sliding scales effecting performance in the categories of heat range, overall friction, and hardness. In general, harder pads will be more progressive, and many ceramics (although not all) fall into that category. Several OE’s make pads that ship on new cars that are ceramic to help in longevity and dust, but are formulated be softer to feel more like a semi-metallic. Semi Metallic pads are generally much softer due to the heavy use of ferrous metal fibers as a bonding substrate, so they will be dustier and generally more linear due to higher initial friction or ‘bite’. Hope that helps answer your question.

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