Types of Bicycle Brakes: How to choose which one is best for your ride?

by | Sep 29, 2023 | Tips & Guide

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One of a bicycle’s most crucial components, if not the most, is the brake system. Whether you’re speeding down a mountain bike path or weaving through traffic, they keep you safe and provide you control over your pace. 

On bicycles, brakes let you slow down or even stop your ride in a controlled manner. One of the most important components of a bicycle or bike is its braking system.

Bicycle brakes come in a variety of styles, which you have probably seen on different bikes or purchases. Ever wonder why there are so many different types of brakes on bicycles?

The disc brake, caliper rim brake, and V-brake are the three main types of bike braking systems used today.

Now that mountain bikes have switched to disc brakes considerably earlier, the hydraulic disc brake is quickly capturing the scene by storm on road cycles.

This means that v-brakes and caliper rim brakes are becoming more and more common on less expensive bikes, however several elite road teams outside of the World Tour continue to compete using rim brakes.

This article has all the information you need to know about bike brakes, including the many kinds that are available, how they operate, and a brief history of each brake that has ever been made.

Before we go further into the many types of bicycle brakes, allow me to explain how they operate.

Anatomy of a Bicycle Brake

The majority of bicycle brakes are engaged by means of a handlebar-mounted lever.

Bicycles with a flat handlebar, such as mountain bikes, typically include a brake lever that is independent of the gear shift levers.

Although previous bikes featured separate shifters on the down tube and shifters at the ends of the bars, drop-bar road bikes and gravel bikes typically integrate the brake lever and gear changer into one unit (with separate components for the front and rear brakes).

An integrated gear changer is a feature of one brake lever on single-chainring groupsets, sometimes referred to as 1x or “one-by” sets; the other lever is only used for braking.

Because singlespeed motorcycles don’t have gears to shift, their levers only control the brakes.

Depending on how you pull on the brake lever, hydraulic fluid is forced into either a pipe or a cable. There is a physical connection from the lever to the brake caliper in both scenarios.

The distinctions between rim and disc brakes will be covered in depth below, but in all situations, applying the brakes causes the pads to press up against a braking surface, which creates heat and friction that slows or stops the bike.

How do Brakes on a Bike Work?

Friction is applied to the surface of the brake disc to make it work. Hydraulic brakes utilize fluid to engage with their braking pads, whereas mechanical brakes employ wires.

Understanding both of these systems is crucial since it will enable you to choose the ideal brake for your bike following your riding style:

How do Mechanical Brakes work?

To use a mechanical bicycle brake, a rider must pull the brake lever, which in turn pulls the cable, which in turn tightens the Calliper. The Calliper’s braking pads create friction between the brake and the bike’s wheels when they are tightened, therefore slowing and eventually stopping the bike.

How do Hydraulic Brakes work?

The hydraulic fluid inside the airtight stopping hose is put under more pressure when a rider pulls on their hydraulic brake lever. By tightening the calliper due to the compressed braking fluid and increasing friction on the braking surface, the brake pads help to stop the bike by slowing it down.

Regarding the differences between hydraulic and mechanical disc brakes. Mechanical brakes are less efficient than hydraulic ones. We will also discuss the many types of bicycle brakes that are on the market.

Thus, keep reading down to learn about the many types of brakes available for bicycles that suit your riding style.

Different Types of Bicycle Brakes 

Different types of bicycle brakes

There are five primary types of bicycle brakes that are commonly encountered: drum, coaster, rim, and disc brakes. These days, the most widely used and widely regarded brakes are the rim as well as disc brakes. Of the several cycling disciplines, each has a unique combination of characteristics, compatibility, along benefits.

1. Rim Brakes: What is the operation of rim brakes on bicycles?

Rim Brakes

The rim of the wheel serves as the braking surface when using rim brakes, as the name suggests. When the brake levers are engaged, the Calliper’s brake pads, which are attached to the fork or the frame, compress the rim.

Road bikes, budget mountain bikes, hybrid cycles, and city bikes are frequently seen with rim brakes. Rim brakes are commonly seen on road bikes, some hybrids, less expensive mountain bikes, & some city cycles.

However, among the best types of brakes for road bikes are rim brakes. As a result, bicycle rim brakes are becoming increasingly common on road bikes. There are two typical varieties of it: Caliper and cantilever brakes. Bicycle rim brake types are as follows:

A.  Calipers Brakes

Caliper Brakes

Road bikes with Calliper brakes are often seen on the more affordable and lightweight types of bicycles.

A single bolt that is turned on by a cable is how they primarily fasten themselves to the bike’s frame or fork. Few hydraulic versions exist, but when they do appear, they’re expensive and hard to find. The direct-mount caliper brakes, which employ two bolts and are becoming more and more common, are an addition to the range of single-bolt brakes.

Similar: Top Caliper Brakes Bicycles

B. Cantilevers Brakes 

Common cyclocross bikes employ cantilever brakes, but as bicycle disc brakes perform better in muddy and wet situations, they will soon replace them. When the brake lever is depressed, a centrally located cable that is linked to both of the wheel’s braking arms pulls upward, activating the center-pull cantilever brakes.

C. V Brakes 


Another popular subtype of rim brakes seen on inexpensive MTBs, hybrids, touring cycles, and city bikes is the V-Brakes. Though the cable is positioned on one side, forcing a direct pull in place of the center pull, these V-Brakes have both brake arms linked to each end of the rim.

This indicates that one arm is drawn in the direction of the rim and the other is pushed in that area. With a center-pull variation, both arms are drawn towards the rim.

For everyday city riding, these V-brakes are affordable, easy to use, and provide a respectable stopping force. Regarding performance bikes, however, they aren’t the preferred option because of their inferior braking and lack of adaptability in comparison to other bicycle brake systems.

Related: Best Ranger bicycles equipped with V brakes

D. U-Brakes

It is the type of rim brake that is typically seen on vintage mountain bikes and BMX bikes is called a U-Brake. Since they function as a hybrid of calliper and cantilever brakes, it is important to discuss how they operate.

Two L-shaped brake arms, one on each side of the wheel, are attached to the rim at an angle and then cross over the tire. Both the straddle wire carrier and the arms that are drawn together by the brake cable are dragged in this direction by the cable line from the side.

2. Disc Brakes: How do bicycle disc brakes operate?

Disc Brakes

Nowadays, disc brakes are the standard when it comes to the many types of brakes found on bicycles. Disc brakes on bicycles were first seen on performance-oriented mountain bikes a few years ago. Though they are now fitted on many types of bicycles, including some road bikes, they have become the industry standard.

The most potent brakes on bicycles are disc brakes because they provide superior modularity and optimal braking performance compared to other types, particularly while riding in challenging situations. In the rainy season, they are clearly superior, but their weight prevents the little ones from running into traffic.

Moreover, disc brakes are further classified into mechanical & hydraulic subtypes, despite the fact that both have the same bicycle brake components & function.

The steel disc or rotor that bolts to the wheel location between the pads of the brakes inside the calliper is squeezed by the bicycle brake calliper, which is fastened to the frame or fork.

Similar post: Best Disc Brakes bicycles

A. Mechanical Disc Brakes

“Cable-actuated bike disc brake” refers to as mechanical disc brakes. To engage the calliper and deliver the braking potential, it makes use of a steel cable.

Because these brakes are heavier and require the rider to apply more force to the levers in order to achieve greater stopping power, they have a bad reputation. However, because they are less expensive than the hydraulic variety, you may frequently see them on reasonably priced bicycles.

Only a few of the more basic versions with mechanical disc brakes outperform rim brakes in terms of stopping power due to rotor friction difficulties caused by the sophisticated adjustment process.

B. Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Rather than utilizing a cable, hydraulic disc brakes employ a fully sealed hose that is filled with hydraulic braking fluid. Via the compression and activation of the bike brake calliper, pressing the brake pads in the direction of these rotors, the brake lever of the braking system is depressed.

In practically every way, hydraulic disc brakes are superior to mechanical ones. They cost more, but they have more stopping power, excellent modularity, and are considerably simpler to tune.

Occasionally, the braking system must be bled to eliminate air bubbles, which is the single drawback of disc brakes. Multiple riders can bring their bikes in for servicing at once, but it becomes messy and requires some specialized gear.

Read More: Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brake: Which is Better?

3. Coasters Brakes 

Only city bikes and single-speed cruisers have coaster brakes. With little upkeep required, they are the simplest to use.

To engage the coaster brakes, press the pedal backward and force the brake shoe against the rotating mechanisms located within the rear hub. Each component of the coaster brakes is contained within its hub. This prevents the hub from ever spinning, causing the bike to gradually come to a stop.

Despite being inexpensive and adaptable, coaster brakes are not very modular and readily latch onto the back wheel. Because of this, the tire skids, shorten stopping distances and lessen braking efficiency.

4. Drum Brakes

Bicycles can also have drum brakes, which are a type of hub brake that stay at the center of the wheel and work by increasing friction on the outside drum with the help of the internal brake shoes. This reduces speed and stops the bike.

Since its invention in 1902, drum brakes have been a popular choice for automotive brakes. They were also frequently seen on bicycles worldwide. Nowadays, disc brakes are the standard along with rim brakes on all new cycles since they are dependable and simple to maintain.; drum brakes are no longer present on any new bikes. 

5. Spoon Brakes

Spoon brakes were the preferred stoppers back when penny farthings with solid tires were the pinnacle of bicycle technology. Although they employed the tire’s outer diameter as a braking surface, spoon brakes were essentially the same as rod brakes. It is basically just a fancier way of squeezing your expensive shoes between the frame and the wheel. With grace, vanished and forgotten.

6. Roller cam Brakes

A interesting design, roller cam brakes resemble center-pull calipers & Cantilevers but activate the brake arms using a triangular cam that slides over rollers (thus the name). This design eliminates the need for a straddle wire.

Since it might be difficult to visualize, we advise you to watch this video, which illustrates how the brakes work. This idea is intriguing since the braking qualities can be changed by modifying the cam’s form.

7. Rod Brakes

With rod brakes, the inner diameter of the rim was struck by pulling both sides of a braced caliper upward using steel rods rather than cables.

You’ve probably either stolen a bike from outside a butcher shop or like to play around with stationary steam engines if you ride a bike with these brakes.

Which is a More Effective Brake: Disc Brakes or Rim Brakes?

When comparing disc brakes vs rim brakes, how much aware are you on the specifics of each type? This is a frequently asked question by riders who are unsure which option to choose. We hope that this comprehensive summary of the key differences will assist you in selecting the option that best suits your unique needs.

1. Stopping Force

When opposed to rim brakes, bicycle disc brakes provide the braking system a lot more potential. Mainly because disc brakes are known to have brake pads with a bigger surface area and more force applied to the rotor. Even in gloomy and rainy conditions, they can quickly and effortlessly stop the bike.

Requiring less hand effort to engage the bicycle brake callipers & slow down or even stop your bike is another benefit of disc brakes over rim brakes.

2. Adjustment or Management / Modulation or Control

In terms of modulation or control, disc and rim brakes are very different. This phrase describes your ability to regulate the amount of braking force you want to apply to the callipers.

Compared to rim brakes, disc brakes are easy to apply pressure to—lighter, harsher, or anything in between. Better speed control will follow, which is crucial while executing this maneuver since it will allow you to drop or corner more quickly.

3. Mass

Disc brakes do offer more potential than drum brakes. When compared to rim brakes, they typically weigh a few hundred grams more. The main users of this are bikers & climbers who are performance-oriented, therefore it might not be a major problem for recreational riders.

But even with their weight disadvantage, disc brakes are still used by professional cyclists competing in the Grand Tour Pelotons. Choosing rim brakes is incredibly crucial since a difference of roughly 200 to 300g may make or break your ride.

4. Cost

Compared to bicycle disc brakes, rim brakes are significantly less costly. The fact that hydraulic disc brakes are more expensive does not change the fact that disc brakes are extremely sophisticated. This is the only justification for the widespread availability of low-priced road and hybrid bikes with rim brakes as opposed to disc brakes.

High-end rim brakes provide more stopping power while lasting longer than cheaper disc brakes, making them a good option for those on a limited budget.

5. Resistance to Weather

The weather dependence of these two types of bike brakes, notwithstanding their ability to endure natural occurrences, is the final noteworthy distinction between them. When it comes to snow, mud, and rain, disc brakes are often more dependable than rim brakes.

A decent set of hydraulic disc brakes may make all the difference in the world if you routinely ride in rainy circumstances or off-road on a muddy track.

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Origins of Bicycle Brakes

We can trace the history of bicycle braking mechanisms back to the velocipede. A brake shoe was created by Karl von Drais to reduce the speed of the bicycle’s back wheel.

The spoon brake from the early 1800s was the first bicycle brake that influenced a contemporary design.

Like modern bicycle brakes, this braking mechanism was engaged by a handlebar lever.

The Laufmaschine, Karl Von Drais’s first automobile, was completely devoid of brakes!

Even with its shortcomings, spoon brakes were employed for a number of years with early bicycles until Browett and Harrison’s invention of the lightweight and effective caliper brake in 1887.

Perhaps the most noteworthy brake development throughout the years was the disc brake used on current bicycles, which was modeled after comparable motorcycle brake arrangements.

Bike Brakes Adjustment Procedure

It’s crucial to correctly adjust your bike’s brakes in addition to selecting a high-quality model that meets your demands. The method of adjusting your bike brakes might vary in complexity depending on the model you have.

Here’s how to modify a few of the most popular types of bicycle brakes.

Related: Upkeep and Cleaning of Bicycle Chains

Adjusting Cable-Activated Rim Brake

The barrel adjuster or the caliper are the two locations where most cable-actuated rim brakes may be adjusted.

By tightening or by loosening the barrel, you may change the tension in the cable at the point where it enters the brake lever. This device is called the barrel adjuster. This works well for little changes.

At the caliper, more substantial modifications are accomplished by drawing the cable to increase the system’s tension and releasing the bolt holding it in place.

The brake pads should ideally be a few millimeters from the rim so that they don’t scrape against it as you ride. Before attempting to readjust the brakes, you should replace your worn-out brake pads.

 Adjusting Mechanical Disc Brake

The process of adjusting mechanical disc brakes is a little more involved than that of rim brakes. Additionally, the procedure varies according to whether your disc brakes are dual- or single-piston.

First, you should swing your bike upside down or place it on a maintenance rack.

To ensure that the movable (outside) pad of your single-piston brakes is as near to the rotor as possible (1-2mm), you should first release the nuts holding the brake caliper in place. After that, tighten the bolts. Next, position the stationary pad as near to the rotor as feasible by turning the pad adjuster screw on the other side of the caliper, being careful not to crank it so close that it rubs against the rotor. Similar to the cable-actuated rim brakes above, more adjustments may be performed with the barrel adjuster or the cable.

The inner and outer pad adjusters on dual-pivot brakes should be turned all the way out first. After that, apply pressure to the brake lever, remove the bolts holding the caliper to the frame, and tighten the bolts again. The caliper will then center itself over the rotor. In order to ensure that there is no rubbing and you have enough braking force, use the inner and outer pad adjusters to move both pads as near to the rotor as feasible.

Adjusting Hydraulic Disc Brakes

The simplest disc brakes to modify are hydraulic ones. Actually, all you have to do is align the caliper correctly over the rotor; they will self-adjust.

All you have to do to accomplish this is undo the bolts holding the caliper to the frame or fork. Next, while you tighten the bolts back, push and hold the brake lever. Now that your brake pads are adjusted, your brakes ought to be operating smoothly.

It is likely time to change the brake pads or replenish the brake fluid in the system if you feel like the levers are sinking and your stopping power is reduced.

Best Brake Types based on Bike Type

As you may have already realized, different bike sports require different types of bicycle brakes. 

The two most well-liked cycling disciplines—road and mountain biking—will be discussed here. 

Disc brakes are generally regarded as the finest braking choice for mountain riding.

For Off-road paths, it is safer to utilize disc brakes because to their superior strength and durability over rim brakes.

Disc brakes reduce the chance of brake slippage on muddy surfaces and overheating of the tires, allowing you to concentrate on the next obstacle.

Best Bike Brake Types for Mountain Biking

For mountain bikers, disc brakes are generally regarded as the finest braking choice.

When it comes to off-roading terrain, disc brakes are far safer to utilize due to their greater strength and durability compared to most rim brakes.

When using a disc brake, you don’t have to be concerned about your tire overheating, your brakes slipping on mud, or your brakes being unresponsive in bad weather.

Excessive or inappropriate braking on lengthy downhill descents can lead to blowouts, which can easily cause injuries when off-roading at high speeds. 

If you observe, you’ll also see that disc brakes are typically used by riders in professional mountain bike events, particularly in enduro and downhill riding. 

Bike Brake Types for Road Cycling

For road bike, there are benefits and drawbacks to both disc and rim brakes.

Road riders who prioritize speed and aerodynamics over other factors are often more inclined to choose a lightweight rim brake over a disc brake.

If you commute on busy metropolitan roads every day on your road bike, you can benefit from having a disc brake for added stopping ability in case of unforeseen obstructions or bystanders.

A disc brake will function in both rain and sun if you want to ride your road bike in both of these scenarios.

You could find that switching to disc brakes on an older bike with rim brakes is more trouble than it’s worth. 

But just like mountain biking, riding with rim brakes can result in blowouts if you ride in the mountains because the rim overheats on lengthy, steep downhill parts.

For myself, I would choose a disc brake.

Common Questions on Different Styles of Bicycle Brakes

1. What makes them known as V brakes?

Because Florian Wiessman, the original German inventor, referred to V brakes as “Wies-brakes,” they got their name.
They were given this name because it has a sound that is somewhat like to the English word “V brakes.”
Not because of the V form of them!

2. When should I repair my bike’s brakes?

You should do routine maintenance on your brakes because they are an essential component of your bike. Seek to get them inspected every three to six months for serious riders. This involves giving them a thorough cleaning, testing them, and looking for wear and tear.
For infrequent riders, once a year ought to be plenty. Since most cyclists take a break throughout the winter, spring is an excellent time to inspect your bike and determine if anything needs to be changed or cleaned. But keep in mind that when you’re riding your bike, one of the most crucial places for safety is your bike. When you suspect a problem, get off the bike and examine them immediately. Learn More.

3. What makes disc brakes superior to rim brakes?

The purpose of rim brakes is to stop the wheels using the brake pads; this becomes difficult when the wheels are wet from rain or mud. On the other hand, disc brakes use disc pads that are positioned in the middle of the wheel to stop the rotor. Learn More.

4. Why are disc brakes absent from road bikes?

Since disc brakes are the most potent types of bicycle brakes system available for bicycles and provide instantaneous stopping force, the majority of road bikes lack them. Because road bikes are so light, have thin tires that have little grip on the road, and accelerate quickly, they cannot be stopped even with disc brakes fitted and deployed.

Conclusion on Types of Cycle Brakes

After reading our article, which highlighted the many types of cycle brakes available for cycles, we hope you have enough knowledge to select the right brake type for your bike.

These days, there are so many different types of bicycle brakes & bikes available, including some quite bizarre ones like an e-bike tricycle hardtail with hydraulic disc brakes (that was my imagination, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was found online). It might be challenging to pick from so many alternatives, but that’s what we’re here for!

In addition to being a popular feature, disc brakes are rapidly taking the place of other braking options on the majority of new bicycles, including road, hybrid, cyclo-cross, and gravel bikes. In the single-speed and cruiser categories, rim brakes will always be a good choice, particularly for recreational riders. Finding a bike with brakes that complement your riding style disc brakes for technical riding and rim brakes for more comfortable riding is ultimately what matters.

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