The answer is yes, brake pads can make a huge difference in the performance of your disc brakes.
So who makes the best pad? And why are they so good?
I have tried many different pad companies, many different rotors, and many different brake systems. All 3 of these components play a crucial role in brake performance and a weakness on any one of the 3 can make a good brake perform poorly.
The best brake pad for your XC bike, drum roll please, is the Jagwire Mountain Pro Semi-metallic.
What is wrong with other pads?
The main issue I have found with OE and other aftermarket pads is a nasty thing called glazing. Glazing is when you build up a super hard conglomerate of brake dust and crud on the surface of the brake pad. This makes the pad very smooth and rock hard. This makes your brakes squeal like a banshee, gives poor modulation, and can send paralysing vibrations through the entire bike. The worst examples can be found in Avid and SRAM OE brake pads which become un-useable after a period of time. I have had customers whose Avid pads have glazed over in just a few rides. Regardless of whether you brake them in properly, brake too much, or get them too hot, brake pads should never get so bad as to be thrown out a few weeks into their service life.
I have tried lots of different things to deal with glazing. I have sanded and degreased rotors, installed brand new rotors, installed different types of rotors, and I have physically sanded the glazing off of brake pads. All of these were very temporary solutions or accomplished nothing at all. I had narrowed it down to the brake pad construction and compound. Something needed to be done.
Enter Jagwire! I have found that Jagwire pads NEVER build up a glazing. They are a smart mix of different composites and considered a semi metallic. They give you the best compromise of everything really. They grab hard but have a decently long service life. They are inexpensive and lightweight.
Whether it be Shimano, Avid, Formula, Hayes, I have always found the Jagwire pads to be an improvement over OE compounds.
For the past 4 years I have been converting riders who seem ready to give up on their current brakes due to poor performance.
-consistent performance in most weather
-performance doesn't deteriorate as they wear down
-only last about 3/4 as long as a full metallic
Semi metallic construction with super light weight aluminum backing plates. Yummy
So go out and buy a set of these for your disc brakes and relieve yourself of the crappiness of OE pads.