bicycle brake types

Beginner's Guide to Bicycle Brakes

Don’t put the ‘brakes’ on your next adventure

Brakes are one of the most important parts of your bike. Whether mountain biking or road biking, picking the right brakes can protect you from injury and prevent nasty falls or accidents. But what brakes are good for what bike? We’re going to look at the different types of bicycle brakes from rim brakes to disc brakes and look at the pros and cons of each to help you decide what brakes are right for you.

How Bicycle Brakes Work: Road bikes vs Mountain bikes

How bicycle brakes work? Brakes give you control of your bike. Whether coming to a complete stop or just slowing yourself down for a tight bend, the brakes are a vital part of your bike setup. When buying brakes we look at the whole mechanism and how it slows the wheel down. Depending on the use; commuting, road racing, or mountain biking you may be after different brakes. Here are the main things to look out for depending on what bike you use.

Road bikes most often employ rim brakes. Usually set up in calliper or cantilever forms, these brakes clamp down on the rim of the wheel to provide friction and slow down the bike. Rim brakes are usually lightweight and simple in their construction making them perfect for the lightweight frame of a road bike.

Mountain biking is more of a stop-start hobby and as such the brakes required need to work on MTB tracks that are technically challenging. Add to this different types of surfaces like mud and gravel, and plenty of elevation change and it’s easy to see how rim brakes might not do the job. Instead, mountain bikers prefer to go with disc brakes.

Much like a car, disc brakes use a circular metal disc mounted on the wheel hub to apply friction and slow down the bike. When you squeeze the brakes, brake pads squeeze around the disk’s rotor to slow down the bike.

Disc brakes are preferred to rim brakes as they reduce the weathering on your wheel’s rim and apply a more even braking. Mountain bikes are also often caked in mud and dust and moving the brakes to a disc away from the spray gives you a more even and effective braking mechanism. As a result, these brakes have become the default for most mountain bikers and are well worth investing in if you fancy going on the trails yourself.

Different Bicycle Brake Types


V-brakes are a modern form of rim braking that is most often found on hybrid bikes and tourers. These brakes use two long arms to provide added leverage to the braking mechanism. This gives riders a powerful braking system that works in almost all conditions.

Cantilever Brakes

The callipers on cantilever brakes are connected using a straddle cable. When you squeeze the brakes, the cable pulls up vertically to apply the brake callipers. This system relies on a much smaller rig than V-brakes and as a result, is favoured for acute braking and its reliability in muddy and wet conditions. Cantilever brakes can be tricky to install yourself but once fitted using the same ‘brake pad cartridge’ system seen in V-brakes. This means that you can easily replace worn pads on the go.

Calliper Brakes

Calliper brakes can be found on-road and off-road bikes. These brakes mount to the frame of your bike above the wheel and are made in different styles; regular calliper brakes and direct-mount calliper brakes.

Regular calliper brakes use a single pivot or double-pivot attached to the frame to apply the brakes to the frame. These are commonly found on road bikes and commuter bikes.

Direct-mount brakes, by comparison, have a lower profile and are more drag resistant making them popular with cyclists who want to shave seconds off their best time. Due to the low profile, these brakes are highly specialised and usually only found on specific frames and fork mounts.

Calliper brakes can be tricky to choose between so if you’re interested in updating your bike’s brakes make sure you consult an expert on what brakes fit what frames, and if it’s worth changing to a more modern set-up.

Disc Brakes

Finally, we have disc brakes. Disc brakes fall into two broad categories; namely mechanical brakes and hydraulic brakes. Mechanical brakes use the traditional wire and lever system to apply the brakes to the disk. Hydraulic disc brakes are usually more expensive and use pistons connected to a hose of incompressible fluid to apply the pressure. Hydraulic brakes are usually more expensive but they do offer a much more powerful form of braking and control.

Whichever bicycle brake types you go with disc brakes offer an extra level of control over slowing and stopping your bike. These brakes, by using a disc, avoid issues like pads slipping on wet or muddy rims making them ideal for mountain biking. However, while they are predominantly used in MTB circles, disc brakes can be fitted to all types of bikes. If you’re looking to upgrade then consider disc brakes. The disc system ensures even braking in wet weather and improved stopping power. These brakes are also made for long term use and usually last longer than traditional rim brakes.

As you can see there are plenty of considerations when it comes to bicycle brake types. Whatever your budget or needs, it’s worth talking through your options with your bike shop to find the system that works for you. If you need a hand getting your new and improved bike to an exciting trail or road route, then trust Pendle Bike Racks to get you there safely.

Our bike racks and trailers safely carry your bikes to wherever you want to explore. Built to last, Pendle’s roof racks, towbar-mounted racks, or bike trailers are designed to keep you, your family, and your bike safe on the road. You can find out more about our bike racks by exploring our store or contacting us directly.

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