Different Bicycle Brake Types: Understanding How They Works

Which bicycle brake system is the best? It is not easy to answer the question because there are different bicycle brake types. Each brake system has its unique features, which makes them suitable for the bicycle category and the user's riding style. You can tell the best bicycle brake types by reading their characteristics.

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Different Bicycle Brake Types

Knowing the different types of brakes can help you decide which bicycle to buy, or if you already have one, eventually buy a conversion kit to replace the current one.

In order to determine the right brake system, the first step is to determine its characteristics and understand how it works.

There are several types of brakes, and they include the following:

  • Band brakes
  • Caliper brakes
  • Cantilever brakes
  • Coaster or back pedal brakes
  • Disc brakes (Mechanical)
  • Disc brakes (Hydraulic)
  • Hub or drum brakes
  • Roller brakes
  • V-brakes

Band Brakes

  • Wet weather braking capabilities: good
  • Used on: kid bikes, small-wheeled bicycles, and trailers.

Band brakes have been in existence for a long time and are prevalent in countries with wet weather.

A band brake uses a flexible belt of friction material around the rear wheel drum. When you pull the lever on the handlebar, the band around the drum tightens, obtaining the braking action. It is not easy to replace them when they are consumed.

This type of brake is not very common because it is not suitable for slowing down the inertia of a 26" wheel. It is generally used on small-wheeled bicycles or trailers.

Being a low-tech device it is cheaper than other models.

Advantages

It is a cheap and straightforward system.

The braking action is obtained with a light pressure of the lever.

Rainproof (but if water gets into the mechanism, it takes time to dry).

Disadvantages

It is not very common due to certain unreliability.

It tends to overheat.

When the band is worn out, the entire mechanism must be replaced.

Video: Rear Band Brake Removal & installation

Caliper Brakes

  • Wet weather braking capabilities: weak
  • Suitable for: road bikes, racing bikes, touring bikes.

This is one of the oldest forms of brakes, and it was popular in motor vehicles. Sometimes it is called the side pull because of the design. It includes a pair of curved calipers or curved arms, and it moves below the headset bearing.

It comes with friction blocks which move towards one another because of the push bar, pulls rod as well as the flexible cable. If you apply the brake, the friction blocks will cause the bike to stop by squeezing the outer faces of the bike rim.

Caliper brake has lots of features that make it great. Many people like it because it is affordable, and it is light. It does not hinder bike movement because the rotating element is often in place.

The problem with the braking system is that it can be affected by rain, affecting the performance. Because it is not protected, the caliper brake system is also exposed to other elements, such as grease, grit, and oil.

Rim material is another factor that affects the capacity of the braking system. The most suitable are those made from chrome steel materials, because of the durability. It is more effective in the dry season and resents the water.

A suitable type of rim material is Aluminum. This is also durable, but you should not expect the best from it during the dry season. Instead, it can be very effective in the wet season.

The quality of brake, to a large extent, depends on the caliper construction as well as the friction materials. Make sure you get a good quality caliper brake because if you get the poorly made ones, they can distort and even bend when you apply that brake.

Advantages

Not so expensive.

Reliable.

Disadvantages

Not easy adjustment.

It loses efficiency with the rain.

Video: How To Change Your Road Brake Calipers

Drum or Hub Brakes

Wet weather braking capabilities: good

Used on: kids, city, tandem bicycles

Hub braking system has survived for many decades, and it is still used in the bike industry. This braking system works as those of a car, although a cable operates those of bicycles. Hub brakes use an internal expanding shoe technology, and they are more suitable heavy bicycles.

Drum or hub brakes are usually designed with aluminum blocks faced with friction material. This two pivot at one point, and at the same time, they push out to contact the metal.

Advantages

One thing that makes this brake system unique is that the shoes are free from contamination. However, the external and the internal sealing is not perfect. This results in what is known as the grease contamination in the system.

Rain: as mentioned, hub brakes work well in case of rain, but if it is immersed in water, it will need to dry before it becomes effective again.

Disadvantages

This kind of braking system has undergone modifications, and that is why there are different variants in the market today. In fact, unless you use a newer version of this brake, they have the drawback of being heavy.

Another issue with the hub brake is that heat dissipation can become a considerable challenge. In a short time, it cannot become a problem because it can have transferred to the substantial mass into the hub system. If the brake becomes overheated, and this can happen in a short time, such as during descents, it can lead to brake system failure.

Video: Drum Brake Explained

Coaster or Back Pedal Brakes

Wet weather braking capabilities: good

Used on: kids bikes, low-cost bikes, vintage bicycles, and some time on cruise and commuter bikes.

A coaster brake, also known as foot brake, is a drum brake integrated into the rear hub wheel.

The coaster brake system is common in many parts of the world and is engaged by pushing the pedals backward.

The technology consists of a metal cone housed in the hub, which pushes metal segments into the shell of the rotating hub.

Advantages

Coaster brakes are easy to maintain and, in most cases, does not require any adjustment before you can use it. Compared to most of the models out there, this braking system is more durable, and this means that it can serve you for a very long time.

They are not affected by weather conditions.

Disadvantages

Not recommended for use in hilly areas as it is subject to overheating when descending.

Braking is not easy to regulate, and they are subject to wheel locking, especially if the road is slippery.

They are more complicated to repair than other types of brakes.

Video: Coaster Brake Hub - What's Inside?

Cantilever Brakes

Wet weather braking capabilities: weak with heavy rain

Used on:  cyclocross, older mountain bikes, tandem bikes, touring bikes, electric bikes.

This brake system is one of the best in terms of reliability and braking power.

Similar to V brake, It has a straddle in between, and this can be pulled vertically to activate the brake system when you pull the lever. Indeed, when it comes to performance, cantilevers offer almost the same thing that you get from the V brakes.

It is the most popular choice among the cyclocross riders. If you are not an expert, you may not find it easy to set up this brake, but once well regulated, they perform very well.

Cantilever brake features a cartridge-style pad system like the V brake counterpart. Because of that, it is easy and simple to replace when they are consumed.

Mud is not a barrier with this braking, and it can easily fit into other older brakes models in the industry.

When it comes to cost, cantilevers are one of the most expensive in the market, but again, they are highly reliable.

Advantages

Easy to maintain and light

Excellent braking, even in light rain or mud

Disadvantages

The adjustment is a bit difficult

They are expensive

Not effective with heavy rain

Video: Set Up A Bike's Cantilever Wheel Rim Brake

V-Brakes

Wet weather braking capabilities: weak with heavy rain

Used on: cross bikes, hybrids bikes, mountain bikes, race bikes, fat-tire bikes, touring bikes.

This is one of the most popular choices available in the industry. There are lots of good things that are going for it that make it popular among cyclists. They are very effective in performance, and the brake is light. It is the best user-friendly in the market today.

The major challenge with this braking system is with centering the brake. Another thing is that it can disappoint at a time that you do not expect it. This is because of the many pressure limiting devices available in that system.

When it comes to cost, this is the most affordable in the industry. When it comes to maintenance, this type is simple to maintain.

Advantages

Great braking power

Spare parts are very easy to find

Good braking modulation

Easy maintenance

Very affordable

Disadvantages

Not easy to set up

Not effective with hard rain.

Video: The Basics of V-Brakes - How They Work and How to Adjust

Roller Brakes

Wet weather braking capabilities: very good

Used on: electric city bikes, city bikes

This model is invented by one of the major cycling components manufacturers in the world today, Shimano.

The company does not only invent it, but they also reinvented it as well. It combines elements of the other braking system, such as the disc and drum brakes.

It is effective as it can stop at the spot when you apply it. The common problem with this is heat build-up.

The brake feels some time is woolly, and it can be vague, which means that it is not as effective as one would have expected it to be. There are lots of designs, and most of them are famous for the cooling disc.

Advantages

They require little maintenance

Easy to repair or replace, unlike other drum brakes

They are not affected by the rain

They are typically mounted on the front wheel, so the extra weight provides for greater stability.

Disadvantages

They are subject to heating, therefore not suitable for hilly routes

They are not very effective with heavy loads

Braking is difficult to modulate

Video: Rollerbrake Maintenance

Disc Brakes (Mechanical)

Wet weather braking capabilities: very good

Used on: road bikes, mountain bikes, electric bikes, fat-tire bikes, fat tire e-bikes.

Mechanical disc brakes are controlled through a cable, such as the vast majority of rim brakes. In contrast, hydraulic systems use liquid to transfer the power from the lever into the caliper.

The disc brake is the best that technology can offer at the moment. The system uses a pair of friction pads and that, when required, exert pressure on the two sides of the disc to obtain braking, which can be mild or severe, depending on the pressure made on the lever.

Disc brakes are usually mounted on both wheels.

The pads, in the same way as rim brake pads, wear out, and it is more difficult to replace them. Rotors also need to be replaced periodically, they are expensive but last a long time (or after a lot of mileage).

This braking system has undergone modification over the years, and that is why it is always changed to meet the demand of the users. It is easy to convert from other brake systems to this one.

Disc brakes are the most reliable in the industry.

Advantages

More braking power.

Good braking modulation.

Braking is excellent in all conditions, dry or wet, and is not affected by temperature. So they are very suitable for long descents.

Mechanical disc brakes tend to be more affordable than hydraulic disc brakes.

Disadvantages

They can be noisy in wet conditions

They are expensive.

Video: How to Replace Brake Pads on a Bike

Disc Brakes (Hydraulic)

Wet weather braking capabilities: very good

Used on: road bikes, mountain bikes, electric bikes, fat-tire bikes, fat tire e-bikes.

A growing number of bicycles utilize hydraulic disk brakes, as they offer more stopping power compared to mechanical disk brakes. With the same force exerted on the levers, greater braking power is obtained because fluids aren't compressible, unlike the cables that still retain a bit of elasticity. Furthermore, you have better modulation of the pad against the rotor.

There are two main reasons why hydraulic disc brakes are preferable to the cable version:

With hydraulic disc brakes, both pads are pushed onto the rotor. In mechanical disc brakes, only one pad is movable while the other pad is fixed.

One of the most important advantages of hydraulic brakes is that both pads maintain the correct distance from the rotor as they wear out, therefore it is not necessary to adjust the brakes as for mechanical disc brakes.

Conversion kits are available to switch to disc brakes, hydraulic or mechanical, for virtually any bike model.

Advantages

More braking power

More braking control

The adjustment of the pads is automatic, while in the mechanical disc brakes, the adjustment must be made manually.

Rain does not affect braking.

Disc brakes are very reliable, even on long descents.

Disadvantages

They are expensive.

Assembly and repairs must be done by an expert or in the workshop.

If air enters the hydraulic system, it must be removed. Air removal is called bleeding.

Disc braking systems are heavier than rim brakes.

They can be noisy in wet conditions.

Video: Hydraulic vs Mechanical Bike Disk Brakes - Which is Better?

FAQs

Do professional cyclists use disc brakes?

Yes. With a change in the regulation, disc brakes were used by professional cyclists for the first time at the Tour de France 2018.

Can a bike be converted into disc brakes?

Yes, there are many conversion kits, although not all wheels are designed for mounting the rotors.

How often should I change the brake discs?

Fortunately, discs last a long time and are relatively inexpensive. The manufacturers provide the minimum thickness for replacement. Shimano, for example, indicates a minimum thickness of 1.5 mm, indicated on the disc with: Min.TH = 1.5.

How often should the disc brake pads be changed?

Pads are quite inexpensive and fundamental for the efficiency of the brakes and should be replaced as soon as necessary. It is possible to see the thickness of the material, which must not be less than 1 mm. The duration can range from 500 to 1000 miles, depending on the riding conditions.

worn disc pads


How can I eliminate the squeaking of my bike's disc brakes?

The noise is caused by dust or debris that accumulates between the disc and the pads. Using a specific brake degreaser - which is free of oil - for the rotors (or even wheel rims for other types of brakes) should solve the problem. It may also be necessary to clean the pads with sandpaper, but if there is grease, it is better to replace them.

Conclusion

Now that we know more about the most common brake systems mounted on modern bicycles, we can decide which ones are best suited to our model, our way of riding and the type of roads we travel every day.

Each brake system has its own characteristics, pros, and cons. What is the best depends on the terrain you want to use them. You can see from the features described above that these are meant for different environments.

For example, we have seen that if you live in a hilly area, and you like to ride uphill and then let the bike run downhill, then a disc braking system is a must.

Indeed, from all indications, the best of the brake systems in the market is the hydraulic disc braking system.

One of the reasons it is the best is that this type of brake effectively dissipates heat build-up.

However, if you are using a road bike, one of the best braking systems is the caliper brake. Though it is one of the oldest forms of the braking system, it is still highly reliable. It can immediately stop this type of bike and is, in fact, the standard braking system that has always been used on road bikes or racing bikes. If you want to ride faster and to stop quicker, then this braking system is still a great option.

Nonetheless, these days, more and more riders prefer to have a disc braking system also on their road bikes.

Another often recommended brake system is V brakes, and a quality set can be as powerful as the 160 mm rotor discs.

On the other hand, brake coasters are the most suitable for kid's bicycles, which must learn to stay in balance without the complication of the levers on the handlebar.

Again, each brake system has its specific intended use, depending on your needs. Still, the cost is a factor that determines the choice of the braking system.