Different Types of Brakes
Rim vs Disc Brakes
Although rim brakes once dominated the bike market, disc brakes are now preferred due to their superior stopping power and have quickly become the new standard. Mountain bikes first adopted this new style of brake, but it didn’t take long for road bikes, hybrids, and even e-bikes to start implementing them. Today, disc brakes can be found on just about every kind of bike imaginable.
The reasons for the near ubiquity of disc brakes in the modern day are numerous, but they essentially boil down to their superior performance and durability. While both rim and disc brakes utilize friction to stop a bike by applying pressure to a part of the wheel, they differ in where on the wheel this pressure is applied. As the names might suggest, rim brakes apply braking force to the wheel’s rims and disc brakes apply it to the rotor (or disc).
Mechanical Disc Brakes vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Within the category of disc brakes, there are two types that can be found on bikes - mechanical disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes. The biggest difference between these two subcategories lies in how brake force is transmitted from the brake levers to the brake calipers. Mechanical disc brakes use a steel cable to connect the lever to the caliper. Hydraulic disc brakes, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated in that they rely on the pressure of a fluid-filled system to transfer braking force from the lever to the caliper. Because the brake line is filled with fluid and fluid can only compress so much, pressure can be built by squeezing the lever as it will cause more fluid to be pushed into the brake line. This pressure is transferred to pistons that are inside the brake caliper. These pistons force the brake pads against the rotor, resulting in the rotor slowing and, with it, the wheel.
So, technical stuff aside, which is better?
Both types of disc brakes have their pros and cons which should be taken into consideration when deciding on the bike for you. Ultimately, mechanical disc brakes are more cost-efficient, require more force to stop, and tend to be easier to maintain and repair while hydraulic disc brakes feature better stopping control, higher braking sensitivity, less frequent maintenance, and more stopping power in general.
You can also find a super helpful chart below listing the most major pros and cons of mechanical versus hydraulic disc brakes.
Mechanical Disc Brakes
|Offers more stopping power than rim brakes||Less stopping power than hydraulic brakes|
|Usually more cost-efficient||Tends to need maintenance and adjustments more often|
|Easier to repair and maintain, so average riders can often service the brakes themselves||Braking is not as gradual of a feel as hydraulic brakes|
|Parts are simpler to find whenever a replacement is required||Requires more force to stop|
|Can be more reliable on long rides||May need to be cleaned more often due to dirt and debris|
|Can be repaired more easily with basic tools when on the go||Brake pads can wear out more quickly due to more force needing to be applied in order to stop|
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
|Offers more stopping power than rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes||Can be less cost-efficient|
|Not as much maintenance required||More difficult to repair - requires professional servicing whenever maintenance is necessary|
|More of a gradual braking feel than mechanical disc brakes||Can experience leaks which require professional servicing|
|Requires less force to stop||Not as feasible to repair on the road or a trail due to needing more specialized equipment|
|Closed system, so not as much cleaning as mechanical brakes||Can be more difficult to find the proper parts whenever a replacement is required|
|Can handle slightly worse conditions due to being sealed against the elements|
|Brake pads tend not to wear out as quickly since less force is needed to stop|