Snowmobiles legally have to have brakes, but you’d want them for practical reasons even if they didn’t. A snowmobile can move incredibly fast over snow, ice, and other terrain, so good quality, reliable brakes are essential for rider safety.
Most models can reach 120 miles an hour, but high-powered snowmobiles can easily reach 150. How does a snowmobile brake work? Read on, and I’ll explain it in a way anyone can understand.
A snowmobile brake works by using a brake lever triggered by the driver that causes the pistons inside the caliper to press into the brake pads, which in turn press against the rotor, slowing it down, so your snowmobile stops powering itself forward. Snowmobile brakes use friction to stop the gears driving the wheels from turning.
How Do Snowmobile Brakes Work
Snowmobile brakes work because the handle causes a hydraulic or manual system to put pressure on brake pads via a caliper.
The pressure causes friction that stops the forward motion of the track, so the wheels no longer move.
However, it is essential to remember that lack of wheel motion is not the same as a lack of kinetic energy, and you may still slide forward, especially if you are on an icy surface.
Parts Of A Snowmobile Brake And How They Fit Together
Snowmobile brakes are made up of five main components.
These are the brake lever attached to your handlebar, a brake line, a brake caliper with a piston, brake pads, and the rotor that turns to move your wheel track forward.
I’ll explain each part in sequence.
- Brake Levers – Brake levers are attached to the handles on your snowmobile by a bolt and clamp that hold it in place, so it doesn’t bounce and shift as you ride. You engage the brakes by squeezing the brake lever just as you would on a bicycle. This triggers the brake line.
- Brake Line – The brake line is typically hydraulic, but it can be mechanical and use a cable. Hydraulic lines are full of special brake fluid and squeezing adds pressure which activates the caliper. Alternately, that same squeeze pulls a cable inside the brake line taut in a mechanical brake, pulling the caliper tighter. The result is the same. The caliper tightens on the rotor, which slows or stops the movement of the wheel track.
- Brake Caliper and Pistons – As Haynes Explains says, “The brake caliper fits over the spinning rotor and works much like a clamp – step on the brake pedal or pull the brake lever, and the caliper acts like a clamp, pressing the brake pads onto each side of the spinning rotor. The friction generated when the rotor rubs on the pads is what slows you down.”
- Brake Pads – Brake pads sit between the caliper and the rotor to provide padding and friction. The padding keeps metal parts from rubbing on each other, which would cause wear, damage, and loud, awful noises. Additionally, the damage could send out metallic debris to damage other components if the caliper and rotor scrape hard enough. Meanwhile, friction is what causes the rotor to stop spinning.
- Rotor – The rotor is like a big gear that is fixed in place around a rotating hub. The rotor goes around as the hub moves, and when pressure is applied, it slows the hub down.
How Does A Snowmobile Parking Brake Work
A snowmobile parking brake works essentially by locking a moving part in place, so it doesn’t release.
This part effectively holds the main brake in place so you can let go, but the calipers keep pressure on the pads, locking the rotor down.
There is a spring-loaded mechanism in the parking brake lever.
When you squeeze to trigger it, a notch in the metal slots into place and won’t move, it releases again when you add more pressure to move the spring, which lets the stop slide back of the notch in the brake.
The locking mechanism will be on the main brake lever. This is a secondary smaller lever that locks the brake in place.
You can release it by squeezing the brake just as you would normally, and it will release.
How Do You Adjust Snowmobile Brakes
Hydraulic snowmobile brakes are different from their manual (cable type) counterparts because they are often self-adjusting.
A simple adjustment won’t repair the problem if something goes wrong with a hydraulic system.
Instead, you’ll need to bring it in for a brake system bleed-out, or your pads are worn down and need to be replaced.
If the problem is the parking brake, then I recommend following this advice from Rex at Ty4stroke:
“On one of my sleds, the chaincase cover wasn’t quite machined right, and the parking brake couldn’t float properly. This led to a rapidly worn-out parking brake. I’ve also seen worn parking brake pads on a few other of these sleds – even without the chaincase cover issue. I believe these wear when the brake rotor becomes too loose, causing it to rattle against the parking brake pads at speed. To tighten up, the brake rotor shims can be installed under the circlip.”
For mechanical brakes, the adjustment process is straightforward. Anyone can do this with very little knowledge of how snowmobiles or brakes in general work.
Simply follow the steps listed below.
- Follow the brake cable from the handle to the caliper assembly.
- On the bottom of the caliper assembly, there is a bolt with a nut attached to the cable.
- Loosen or remove the nut.
- Tighten down the bolt.
- Replace the nut securely.
Helpful Tips To Know About How Snowmobile Brakes Work
Snowmobile brakes are essential for wintertime safety, just like car brakes are needed for road travel.
Otherwise, you’d have to cut the engine and hope you gauged the distance right every time you want to stop your vehicle. That’s not an efficient or reliable system.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know about how snowmobile brakes work.
- Brake pads have a third, less talked about function that is just as vital as the others. Without brake pads, the rotor wouldn’t stay centered in the caliper. Unfortunately, an off-center rotor could cause damage to other parts, and it wouldn’t get even tension and friction, ultimately affecting the wear and how well your snowmobile stops.
- Parking brakes can be difficult to look up in your user manual because they often go by other names. These may be listed as an emergency brake or e-brake. Additionally, some models of snowmobiles don’t have parking brakes, which can further confuse the issue. However, you typically only need to worry about this if you have an older model.
- If you need to bleed your own hydraulic brakes it’s vital to locate the bleed screw. This is another part that goes by several names, so you may see it called a bleeder valve or bleed nipple. You will find this part (by any name) located at the top of each caliper.
For practical reasons, anyone who rides a snowmobile should learn how their brakes work.
You don’t need an engineering degree to grasp how these simple friction-based stoppers press on moving parts to slow them down.
More importantly, once you’ve seen how your snowmobile brakes function on the inside, it will help you troubleshoot if they aren’t doing the job right.
Having brakes on any moving vehicle can save your life, prevent injuries and help cut down on the damage to the machine itself.
Understanding how snowmobile brakes work and how to adjust them can save you money and time.
Someday knowing how snowmobile brakes may even help you get out of a tricky situation if something goes wrong on the trail.