Types of Bike Brakes: Understanding How They Work and Differ

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The braking system is an essential part of a bicycle, which can ensure both cycling safety and riding experience.

However, there are a bunch of types of bike brakes, like rim brakes, disc brakes, drum brakes, etc. Each of them also has some subtypes. They are very confusing, especially for the beginner cyclists, aren’t they? 

But no worries. In this post, we will cover all bicycle brake types, both existing and existed, and explain each of them to you as much and in detail as we can.

Caliper Brakes

Caliper brakes are a type of rim brake that use a pair of metal arms to squeeze the brake pads against the wheel rim, effectively slowing down or stopping the bike. You’ll often find caliper brakes on road bikes and hybrid bikes, making them one of the most common types of bike brakes.

colorful caliper brakes

Caliper brakes operate using a cable that connects the brake lever on the handlebar to the caliper on the wheel. When you squeeze the brake lever, the cable pulls the caliper arms together, which then press the brake pads against the wheel rim. The friction between the brake pads and the rim creates a braking force that reduces the speed of the bike or brings it to a halt.

The braking force generated by caliper brakes depends on several factors. The quality and condition of the brake pads, rim, cable, and lever all play a role. Additionally, external factors such as weather conditions, terrain, and riding style can affect the performance of caliper brakes.

There are four main types of caliper brakes: single-pivot, dual-pivot, center-pull, and side-pull. Each type has its own characteristics and performance capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

1. Single-Pivot Caliper Brakes: These brakes have only one pivot point where the caliper arms are attached to the frame or fork. They are simple and lightweight, making them a popular choice for lightweight road bikes. However, single-pivot caliper brakes generally offer less braking power and modulation compared to other types.

2. Dual-Pivot Caliper Brakes: Dual-pivot caliper brakes have two pivot points, one for each caliper arm. This design provides increased leverage and braking power, making them more responsive and suitable for high-performance road bikes. However, they are slightly heavier and more complex than single-pivot brakes.

3. Center-Pull Caliper Brakes: Center-pull caliper brakes have a central cable that pulls both caliper arms equally when the brake lever is squeezed. This design ensures balanced and symmetrical braking force. However, center-pull brakes require more cable length and clearance compared to other types.

4. Side-Pull Caliper Brakes: Side-pull caliper brakes have a cable that pulls only one caliper arm, while the other arm remains fixed. They are easy to adjust and maintain and are commonly found on entry-level road bikes. However, side-pull brakes can be prone to flexing and may not provide as even braking force as other types.

As with any bike component, caliper brakes have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Pros:

  • Caliper brakes are relatively cheap and easy to install, adjust, and maintain. This makes them a popular choice for beginner cyclists or those on a budget.
  • They are lightweight and aerodynamic, which is crucial for road bikes and racing bikes where every gram counts.
  • Caliper brakes offer good modulation and control, allowing riders to finely tune their braking force according to the situation.
  • They are compatible with most types of wheels and tires, as long as there is enough clearance between the brake pads and the rim.

Cons:

  • Caliper brakes may have less braking power and performance compared to disc brakes, especially in wet or muddy conditions.
  • Prolonged use of caliper brakes can wear out the wheel rim over time, affecting its durability and safety.
  • Improper use or excessive braking can cause the wheel rim to overheat, potentially leading to tire blowouts or brake failure.
  • Caliper brakes can be affected by wheel wobble or misalignment, reducing their effectiveness or causing rubbing noises.

Cantilever Brakes

Cantilever brakes are a type of rim brake that are commonly found on cyclocross, touring, and mountain bikes. They consist of two separate brake arms that are mounted on either side of the fork or seat stays. These brake arms are activated by a cable that is attached to a transverse cable, which connects the two brake arms. This design allows for a wide range of tire clearance and mudguard compatibility.

When you pull the brake lever on your handlebars, the cable pulls the transverse cable, which in turn pulls the brake arms towards each other. This action causes the brake pads, which are mounted on the ends of the brake arms, to press against the rim of the wheel. The friction between the brake pads and the rim slows down the bike, bringing it to a stop.

The braking force produced by cantilever brakes depends on several factors. The angle of the transverse cable, the length of the brake arms, and the position of the brake pads all play a role in determining the braking power and modulation.

cantilever brakes

There are several types of cantilever brakes available, each with its own design and characteristics. Here are a few examples:

1. Wide-Profile Cantilever Brakes: These brakes, also known as traditional, center-pull, or direct-pull cantilever brakes, have long brake arms that extend horizontally from the frame. They offer more leverage and power, but less clearance and modulation. The Shimano BR-MC70 is a popular example of wide-profile cantilever brakes.

2. Low-Profile Cantilever Brakes: Also referred to as low-profile, angle-pull, or V-type cantilever brakes, these brakes have shorter brake arms that angle downwards from the frame. They provide less leverage and power, but offer more clearance and modulation. The Avid Shorty 4 is a well-known low-profile cantilever brake.

3. Linear-Pull Cantilever Brakes: These brakes have straight brake arms that run parallel to the rim. They offer increased power and modulation compared to other types of cantilever brakes. However, they require special brake levers and cable routing. The Tektro CR720 is a popular example of linear-pull cantilever brakes.

Still, cantilever brakes have their pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages:

  • Lightweight and easy to install and adjust.
  • Good clearance for wide tires and mudguards.
  • Compatible with most brake levers and rims.
  • Inexpensive and durable.

Disadvantages:

  • Tricky to set up and maintain, especially for beginners.
  • May have poor modulation and power in wet or muddy conditions.
  • Can cause brake shudder or fork chatter, resulting in vibrations or noise.
  • Prone to cable stretch and friction, which can impact braking performance.

V-brakes

V-brakes, also known as linear pull brakes, are a type of rim brake that use two arms mounted on the fork or frame of the bike and a cable that connects them to a brake lever on the handlebar. The arms are shaped like a “V,” hence the name. When the brake lever is pulled, the cable tightens, pulling the two arms together. This causes the brake pads to contact the rim of the wheel, generating friction and slowing down or stopping the bike.

The basic mechanism of V-brakes involves the cable pulling the two arms together, which brings the brake pads into contact with the rim. When the brake lever is squeezed, the cable tension increases, causing the arms to move inward. The brake pads, which are attached to the arms, then press against the rim, creating friction and generating braking force.

The amount of braking force depends on several factors. The length and angle of the arms, as well as the tension and alignment of the cable, play a role in determining the effectiveness of the brakes. Additionally, the quality and condition of the brake pads and the rim can affect performance.

v brakes

To ensure your V-brakes are performing at their best, there are a few adjustments you can make:

1. Cable tension: Cable tension affects how much force is required to pull the brake lever and how responsive the brakes are. Use a barrel adjuster on the brake lever or on the noodle (a metal tube that bends the cable at an angle) to adjust tension. Turning the barrel adjuster clockwise increases tension, while turning it counter-clockwise decreases tension.

2. Pad alignment: Proper pad alignment is crucial for even and effective braking. To adjust pad alignment, loosen the bolt that holds the pad to the arm and move it until it is parallel to the rim surface. Ensure there is no gap between the pad and the rim when the brake is applied, and also make sure there is no overlap between the pad and the tire.

3. Pad clearance: Pad clearance affects how quickly and smoothly the pads contact the rim when the brake is applied. Use a spring tension screw on each arm to balance the spring force that pushes them apart. Turning the screw clockwise increases clearance, while turning it counter-clockwise decreases clearance. Make sure there is enough clearance to prevent rubbing and noise, but not too much to cause delayed braking or poor modulation.

4. Pad wear: Regularly check the condition of your brake pads. Look for grooves, cracks, or uneven surfaces on the pad material. Replace the pads when they are worn down to the wear indicator line or when they lose braking power or make noise.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of V-brakes on a bicycle?

V-brakes offer several advantages that make them a popular choice for many cyclists:

  • Easy to install, adjust, and maintain: V-brakes are relatively simple to set up and require minimal maintenance compared to other brake types. This makes them a convenient option for riders who prefer to do their own bike maintenance.
  • Inexpensive and widely available: V-brakes are affordable and widely available, making them a popular choice for entry-level bikes or riders on a budget.
  • Good braking power and modulation: V-brakes provide ample stopping power for most riding conditions. They offer good modulation, allowing riders to apply varying amounts of braking force depending on the situation.
  • Compatibility with most wheels and tires: V-brakes are compatible with a wide range of wheel sizes and tire widths, making them a versatile option for different types of bikes.

Despite their advantages, V-brakes do have a few disadvantages to consider:

  • Less effective in wet or muddy conditions: V-brakes can be less effective in wet or muddy conditions as the rim gets dirty or wet. This can reduce braking performance and require more force to slow down or stop the bike.
  • Increased wear on the rim: V-brakes can cause more wear and tear on the rim compared to other brake types. The brake pads scrape against the rim surface, which can lead to accelerated wear over time.
  • More hand force and lever travel required: Compared to disc brakes, V-brakes require more hand force and lever travel to apply the brakes. This can be a consideration for riders who prefer a more immediate and responsive braking feel.
  • Compatibility limitations: V-brakes are not compatible with some types of suspension forks or frames that lack mounting posts. If you have a bike with unique frame or fork features, it’s important to check compatibility before choosing V-brakes.

Wonder how V-brakes differ from the cantilever brakes in detail? You can check this guide of ours.

U-brakes

U-brakes are a type of rim brake that you might have heard about, especially if you’re into BMX riding. They’re also known as 990 brakes or direct-pull brakes, and they have a unique design and functionality that sets them apart from other types of brakes.

U brake

They use two arms that pivot on the frame or fork and pull a cable to squeeze the brake pads against the rim. This design allows for effective braking power and modulation. The arms are connected by a cable that runs through a straddle wire or a yoke. When you pull the brake lever, the cable pulls the arms inward, causing the brake pads to squeeze the rim and slow down the wheel.

One of the cool things about U-brakes is their U-shaped design, which allows them to be mounted on the underside of the seatstays or fork legs. This positioning protects them from dirt and mud, making them a great choice for off-road riding. To install U-brakes, you’ll need a special brake mount called a 990 mount, which has two threaded holes on each side of the frame or fork. Some frames and forks have 990 mounts built-in, while others require adapters for installation.

U-brakes offer several advantages that make them a popular choice, especially in the BMX world. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits:

1. Clearance for wider tires and fenders: U-brakes provide more clearance for wider tires and fenders compared to other types of rim brakes. This allows you to customize your bike with larger tires for enhanced traction and stability.

2. Power and modulation: U-brakes offer excellent braking power and modulation. The dual-arm design and cable-pull mechanism allow for precise control over your braking, giving you the confidence to navigate technical terrain.

3. Easy adjustment: U-brakes are relatively easy to adjust compared to other rim brakes. You can fine-tune the brake pad position and cable tension to achieve optimal braking performance without much hassle.

4. Durability and reduced noise: U-brakes are known for their durability and reduced noise. The shorter arms and less cable friction make them less prone to squeaking, providing a smoother and quieter braking experience.

5. Compatibility with brake levers: U-brakes have a similar cable pull ratio to V-brakes, making them more compatible with different types of brake levers. This gives you more flexibility when it comes to choosing brake levers for your bike.

While U-brakes have their advantages, they also come with a few drawbacks. Here are some things to consider:

1. Availability: U-brakes are less common and harder to find compared to other types of rim brakes. This can make it challenging to source replacement parts or upgrade your brakes if needed.

2. Mounting complexity: Installing U-brakes requires special mounts or adapters, which adds weight and complexity to your bike. If your frame or fork doesn’t have built-in 990 mounts, you’ll need to purchase adapters separately.

3. Wet weather performance: U-brakes can have reduced braking power and performance in wet conditions compared to disc brakes. If you frequently ride in rainy or muddy environments, you might want to consider other brake options.

4. Rim wear and damage: Improper alignment or lack of regular maintenance can lead to increased rim wear and damage with U-brakes. It’s important to ensure that your brake pads are aligned properly and replaced when necessary to prevent unnecessary wear on your rims.

Mechanical Disc Brakes

Mechanical disc brakes are a type of brake system commonly found on mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes, touring bikes, and some road bikes. They consist of a metal disc, known as a rotor, attached to the wheel hub, and a brake caliper that squeezes the rotor to slow down or stop the bike. Unlike rim brakes, which apply pressure to the wheel rim, mechanical disc brakes use the rotor as the braking surface.

mechanical disc brake

Mechanical disc brakes work by using a brake lever on the handlebar that pulls a steel cable. This cable runs through a housing to the brake caliper on the wheel. When the lever is squeezed, the cable tension moves one or both brake pads against the rotor, creating friction and slowing down the wheel.

The brake pads, which are made of metal, resin, or semi-metallic material, are held in place by a spring that returns them to their original position when the lever is released. The rotor is attached to the wheel hub by bolts or a center lock system, while the caliper is mounted on the frame or fork by an adapter or a direct mount system.

There are two main types of mechanical disc brake calipers: single-piston and dual-piston.

Single-piston calipers have only one brake pad that moves when the cable is pulled. This pushes the rotor against the fixed pad on the other side. Single-piston calipers are cheaper, lighter, and easier to install and adjust. However, they offer less braking power, can result in uneven pad wear, and are more prone to rubbing and squeaking. Examples of single-piston calipers include Avid BB5, Tektro MD-C500, and TRP Spyre.

On the other hand, dual-piston calipers have both brake pads moving when the cable is pulled, squeezing the rotor from both sides. Dual-piston calipers provide more braking power, offer even pad wear, and are less prone to rubbing and squeaking. However, they are more expensive, heavier, and harder to install and adjust. Examples of dual-piston calipers include Avid BB7, Tektro MD-U510, and TRP HY/RD.

Mechanical disc brake levers come in two main types: linear pull and drop bar.

Linear pull levers, also known as flat bar levers, are designed for flat or riser handlebars. They have a long lever arm and a short cable pull. Linear pull levers are compatible with most mechanical disc brakes, offer good leverage and modulation, but they may not fit some handlebar shapes or sizes without special adapters or converters. Examples of linear pull levers include Shimano Deore BL-M6000, SRAM Level TLM, and Avid Speed Dial 7.

Drop bar levers, as the name suggests, are designed for drop or road handlebars. They have a short lever arm and a long cable pull. Drop bar levers fit most drop or road handlebars, offer a more ergonomic and aerodynamic position, but they may not be compatible with some mechanical disc brakes without special adapters or converters. Examples of drop bar levers include Shimano Tiagra ST-4700, SRAM Apex 1, and TRP RRL.

So as a whole system, does the mechanical disc brake have its pros or cons?

Advantages of Mechanical Disc Brakes:

  • Better performance in wet or muddy conditions: The rotor is less affected by water or dirt than the rim, providing consistent braking power.
  • Less wear and tear on the wheel rim: The braking force is applied on the rotor instead of the rim, resulting in fewer rim replacements.
  • More consistent braking power: The rotor does not heat up as much as the rim, maintaining its shape and alignment over time.
  • Easier to adjust and maintain: Cable tension can be adjusted by hand or with a simple tool, and brake pads can be replaced without bleeding the system.
  • Cheaper and more widely available: Mechanical disc brakes use standard cables and housing, and do not require special tools or skills to install or service.

Disadvantages of Mechanical Disc Brakes:

  • Heavier and bulkier than rim brakes: Mechanical disc brakes add extra weight and space to the wheel hub and the frame or fork.
  • Less powerful and responsive than hydraulic disc brakes: They rely on cable tension and friction instead of fluid pressure and sealed pistons.
  • More prone to cable stretch, corrosion, or damage: Regular lubrication and inspection are necessary to maintain optimal performance.
  • More affected by cable routing and housing quality: A smooth and direct path from the lever to the caliper is crucial to avoid friction and drag.

Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Hydraulic disc brakes are a type of brake system that uses brake fluid to transfer the braking force from the brake lever to the caliper, where the brake pads squeeze the rotor (or disc) attached to the wheel hub. This hydraulic system provides a reliable and consistent braking performance, even in wet and muddy conditions.

Let’s dive deeper into how hydraulic disc brakes work. The basic principle is simple: fluid pressure is used to apply force to the brake pads, which then create friction against the rotor, slowing down or stopping the wheel. The main parts of a hydraulic disc brake system include the brake lever, master cylinder, brake hose, caliper, brake pads, and rotor.

hydraulic disc brake

When you squeeze the brake lever, a piston inside the master cylinder (located in the lever body) pushes brake fluid through a hose to the caliper (located near the wheel hub). The brake fluid creates pressure inside the caliper, which activates another set of pistons that push the brake pads against the rotor. This friction between the brake pads and the rotor slows down the wheel and brings the bike to a stop.

When you release the brake lever, a spring inside the master cylinder returns the piston to its original position, allowing excess brake fluid to flow back into a reservoir. A rubber seal around each piston helps to retract the pistons and pads away from the rotor, preventing any drag or noise.

Now that we understand how hydraulic disc brakes work, let’s explore their advantages. One of the biggest benefits is their superior braking performance and modulation, especially in different weather and terrain conditions. Hydraulic disc brakes offer consistent and reliable stopping power, even in wet or muddy environments, making them ideal for off-road riding or commuting in unpredictable weather.

Another advantage of hydraulic disc brakes is their low maintenance requirements. Unlike mechanical disc brakes or rim brakes, hydraulic disc brakes are self-centering and self-adjusting. This means you don’t have to constantly fiddle with adjustments or worry about wear on the brake pads or rim surface. Additionally, hydraulic disc brakes tend to have longer pad and rotor life due to less heat buildup and more even wear.

Hydraulic disc brakes also offer more power and control, with less hand fatigue. The hydraulic system allows for precise modulation, meaning you can easily control the braking force applied to the wheel. This results in a more confident and controlled riding experience, especially during steep descents or sudden stops. In fact, hydraulic disc brakes can provide up to 25% more braking power than mechanical disc brakes and reduce hand fatigue by up to 40% compared to mechanical disc brakes.

Furthermore, hydraulic disc brakes are compatible with different wheel sizes and tire widths, making them versatile for various types of bikes. Whether you’re riding a road bike, mountain bike, or gravel bike, hydraulic disc brakes can provide consistent and reliable braking performance across different setups.

While hydraulic disc brakes offer many advantages, they do come with a few drawbacks to consider. Firstly, the initial cost and installation complexity are higher compared to other types of brakes. Hydraulic disc brake systems require specific components and expertise to install and maintain, which can be more expensive and time-consuming.

Additionally, hydraulic disc brakes are slightly heavier and bulkier than rim brakes, which may not be ideal for weight-conscious riders or competitive cyclists. However, the weight difference is minimal and unlikely to significantly impact your riding experience.

Another potential drawback of hydraulic disc brakes is the possibility of leakage or air bubbles in the system. This can affect the braking performance and require bleeding the system to remove air or replace the brake fluid. While this maintenance task can be daunting for some, it can be easily learned or outsourced to a reputable bike shop.

Lastly, finding replacement parts or service for hydraulic disc brakes might be more challenging in remote areas or certain countries. However, with the growing popularity of hydraulic disc brakes, accessibility is improving, and carrying spare brake hose, fluid, and a bleed kit can help in emergency situations.

Wonder how hydraulic disc brakes differ from mechanical disc brakes with more details? Please check this guide of ours.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes are a type of brake system that use a metal drum attached to the hub of the wheel and a set of brake shoes that press against the inside of the drum to slow down or stop the bike. They are commonly found on cruiser bikes, city bikes, cargo bikes, tandem bikes, and other types of bicycles.

There are two main types of drum brakes: single-sided drum brakes and double-sided drum brakes.

1. Single-sided drum brakes: These are the most common type of drum brakes found on bicycles. They have one set of brake shoes that press against the inside of the drum. Single-sided drum brakes are typically easier to install and adjust compared to double-sided drum brakes.

2. Double-sided drum brakes: As the name suggests, these drum brakes have two sets of brake shoes that press against the inside of the drum. Double-sided drum brakes provide more braking power and better heat dissipation, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications. However, they can be more challenging to install and adjust compared to single-sided drum brakes.

bicycle wheels with drum brakes

Now that we know the different types of drum brakes, let’s dive into how they actually work.

Drum brakes use a cable or a rod that connects the brake lever on the handlebar to the brake arm on the drum. When you squeeze the brake lever, the cable or rod pulls the brake arm, which in turn pushes the brake shoes against the inner surface of the drum. The friction between the brake shoes and the drum creates a braking force that slows down or stops the wheel.

Drum brakes offer several advantages compared to other types of bike brakes:

  • Durability and low maintenance: Drum brakes are enclosed in a sealed drum, which protects them from dirt, water, and wear. This makes them more durable and low-maintenance compared to other brake systems.
  • Consistent braking performance: Drum brakes provide consistent braking performance in all weather conditions. They are not affected by rain, mud, or snow, making them a reliable choice for riders who cycle in various environments.
  • Easy to use and adjust: Drum brakes have a simple mechanism, making them easy to use and adjust. Unlike some other brake systems, drum brakes do not require frequent tuning or bleeding, saving you time and effort.
  • Compatibility with different types of bikes: Drum brakes are compatible with most types of bikes, including road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, cruiser bikes, and even electric bikes. This versatility makes them a popular choice among cyclists.

While drum brakes have their advantages, they also come with some disadvantages:

  • Weight and bulkiness: Drum brakes add extra weight and size to the wheel and hub of the bike. This can make the bike feel heavier and less agile compared to bikes equipped with lighter brake systems.
  • Heat dissipation: Drum brakes have poor heat dissipation compared to other brake systems. The enclosed drum traps heat, which can lead to overheating or fading under prolonged or hard braking. This can be a concern for riders who frequently ride downhill or require intense braking power.
  • Braking power and modulation: Drum brakes generally have lower braking power and modulation compared to other brake systems. They require more hand force to engage and may offer less control and feedback to the rider. This can affect the overall braking experience, particularly for riders who prefer a more responsive brake system.

Coaster Brakes

What are coaster brakes, you ask? Well, they are a type of brake system that is activated by pedaling backward on a bicycle. Also known as backpedal brakes, pedal brakes, or foot brakes, coaster brakes have a unique mechanism that sets them apart from other types of brakes.

How do coaster brakes work? Let’s dive into the details. Coaster brakes rely on a clutch mechanism inside the rear hub of the wheel. When you pedal backward, this clutch engages and applies pressure to the brake shoes, which rub against the inside of the hub shell. This friction slows down the wheel, bringing you to a stop.

Coaster brakes were invented in the late 19th century and were widely used in Europe and America until the mid-20th century. They were particularly popular on single-speed bikes such as cruisers, BMX bikes, and kids’ bikes. However, with the rise of multi-speed bikes and hand-operated brakes, coaster brakes started to decline in popularity.

That being said, coaster brakes still have their advantages, which make them worth considering for certain types of riders. Here are a few benefits of coaster brakes:

1. Simplicity and Ease of Use. Coaster brakes are incredibly simple and easy to use, especially for beginners or children who may not have enough hand strength or coordination to operate hand brakes. By simply pedaling backward, they can control their speed and come to a stop.

2. Low Maintenance and Durability. Coaster brakes require minimal maintenance and are built to last. As they are protected from dirt, water, and wear by the hub shell, they can withstand the elements and keep functioning smoothly for a long time.

3. Affordability and Lightweight Design. Compared to other types of brakes, coaster brakes are relatively inexpensive and lightweight. They don’t require additional cables, levers, or calipers, which means you can save money and shed some weight on your bike.

4. Aesthetically Pleasing. Coaster brakes offer a clean and clutter-free look to your bike. Since they don’t require extra components on the handlebars or the frame, you can maintain a sleek and minimalist appearance.

However, coaster brakes also come with a few disadvantages that should be taken into consideration:

1. Less Effective and Responsive. Coaster brakes are generally less effective and responsive compared to other types of brakes. They rely on the speed and direction of the pedals, which may not always match the rider’s intention or the situation at hand. This can result in delayed braking or difficulty in controlling speed precisely.

2. Limited Modulation. Unlike rim brakes or disc brakes, coaster brakes have only one level of braking force. This lack of modulation means you can’t easily adjust the intensity of braking, which may be problematic on different terrains or at high speeds.

3. Safety and Reliability Concerns. Coaster brakes may be less safe and reliable than other types of brakes. Overheating, slipping, or jamming of the clutch mechanism can lead to brake failure or malfunction. It’s important to regularly inspect and maintain coaster brakes to ensure they are in good working condition.

4. Compatibility and Versatility Limitations. Coaster brakes limit the choice of gears, tires, wheels, and frames that can be used with them. This lack of compatibility can be a downside if you’re looking for customization options or if you want to switch to a different type of brake system in the future.

Hydraulic Rim Brakes

Hydraulic rim brakes are a type of bike brake that utilize hydraulic fluid to apply pressure on the brake pads, which in turn squeeze the rim of the wheel to slow down or stop the bike. Unlike other types of bike brakes, such as mechanical rim brakes, disc brakes, or coaster brakes, hydraulic rim brakes have a sealed system of hoses and pistons that transmit the hydraulic fluid from the lever to the caliper. This unique design offers several benefits and sets them apart from their counterparts.

Hydraulic rim brakes operate based on a fundamental principle called Pascal’s law. When you squeeze the brake lever on the handlebar, pressure is created in the hydraulic fluid inside the hose that connects to the brake caliper on the wheel. This pressure causes the pistons in the caliper to move outward, pressing the brake pads against the rim. The resulting friction slows down or stops the wheel from spinning.

The beauty of hydraulic rim brakes lies in their modulation capabilities. By adjusting your grip on the lever, you can control the amount of pressure and force applied to the brake pads, giving you a greater level of control over your speed. This modulation is crucial for maintaining stability and preventing wheel lock-up or skidding.

SRAM Force22 shift and hydraulic rim brake

Advantages of hydraulic rim brakes:

  • Braking power and modulation: Hydraulic rim brakes offer superior braking power and modulation compared to mechanical rim brakes. With hydraulic rim brakes, you can stop your bike effectively and smoothly with less effort and more control.
  • Durability and low maintenance: Hydraulic rim brakes are less affected by dirt, water, or wear compared to mechanical rim brakes. They are also self-adjusting, which means they require less frequent maintenance and tuning.
  • Compatibility: Hydraulic rim brakes are compatible with most types of bikes and wheels, as long as they have suitable rims and frames that can withstand the high pressure and heat generated by the braking system.

Disadvantages of hydraulic rim brakes:

  • Cost and weight: Hydraulic rim brakes are more expensive and heavier than mechanical rim brakes. Additionally, they require special tools and skills for installation and service.
  • Potential issues: Hydraulic rim brakes can be affected by air bubbles or leaks in the system, which can reduce their performance or cause them to fail. Regular bleeding is necessary to remove any air or contaminants from the system.
  • Overheating: Hydraulic rim brakes can overheat if used excessively or in hot conditions, leading to a loss of effectiveness. Adequate cooling vents or fins on the calipers are essential to prevent overheating.

Roller Brakes

Roller brakes are a type of drum brake that uses small metal rollers inside a metal drum to create friction and slow down the wheel. They are commonly found on city bikes, commuter bikes, cargo bikes, and electric bikes. Unlike traditional rim brakes or disc brakes, roller brakes are enclosed and protected from dirt and water, which makes them low maintenance and less prone to damage.

They are activated by a cable that pulls a lever on the drum, which in turn pushes the rollers against the inner wall of the drum. This friction creates resistance, effectively slowing down the wheel. The braking force is distributed evenly around the drum, resulting in consistent braking performance.

Roller brakes were invented by Shimano in the late 1980s as a variation of their coaster brake design. Initially marketed as Nexus roller brakes, they were later rebranded as Inter-M roller brakes. These brakes were specifically designed to be compatible with Shimano’s internal gear hubs, such as Nexus, Alfine, and Di2.

Shimano offers four types of roller brakes: C3000, C6000, C7000, and C8000. Each type has different models with varying features, such as brake arm length, cooling disc size, brake shoe compound, and brake cable type.

Here’s a breakdown of the main differences between the types:

1. C3000: The basic type, suitable for light use and low speed. It has a short brake arm, a small cooling disc, a standard brake shoe, and a standard brake cable.

2. C6000: The intermediate type, suitable for moderate use and medium speed. It has a medium brake arm, a medium cooling disc, an improved brake shoe, and an improved brake cable.

Shimano BR C6000 roller brakes

3. C7000: The advanced type, suitable for heavy use and high speed. It has a long brake arm, a large cooling disc, a high-performance brake shoe, and a high-performance brake cable.

4. C8000: The premium type, suitable for extreme use and high speed. It has a very long brake arm, a very large cooling disc, a premium brake shoe, and a premium brake cable.

Advantages of Roller Brakes:

  • Low Maintenance: Roller brakes are enclosed, which means they are less exposed to dirt, debris, and water. This makes them more reliable and requires less maintenance compared to other types of brakes.
  • Consistent Performance: Roller brakes offer consistent braking performance in all weather conditions. They are not affected by wet or muddy conditions, ensuring reliable stopping power.
  • Quiet and Smooth: Unlike rim brakes or disc brakes, roller brakes do not rub against the rim or disc, resulting in a quiet and smooth braking experience.

Disadvantages of Roller Brakes

  • Weight: Roller brakes add weight to the hub and wheel, which can affect the overall performance and maneuverability of the bike.
  • Braking Power: Roller brakes have lower braking power compared to rim brakes or disc brakes. They rely on friction and heat dissipation, which may not be suitable for high-speed descents or heavy loads.
  • Overheating and Fading: Roller brakes can overheat and fade, especially during prolonged braking or when subjected to heavy loads. This can affect their overall effectiveness and require riders to exercise caution in certain situations.

Rod Brakes

Rod brakes are a type of bicycle brake that use metal rods to transmit force from the brake levers to the brake pads. They are simple and straightforward, relying on mechanical connections rather than cables or hydraulic systems. This makes them one of the oldest and simplest types of bike brakes, dating back to the late 19th century.

Rod brakes consist of four main components: brake levers, rods, stirrups, and brake pads. The brake levers are mounted on the handlebars and have a curved shape that fits comfortably in your hand. The rods, made of sturdy metal, connect the brake levers to the stirrups. These rods run along the top tube or the down tube of the bike frame.

The stirrups, which are metal brackets, hold the brake pads. They are attached to either the fork or the seat stays of the bike. When you squeeze the brake levers, the rods pull the stirrups inward, causing the brake pads to contact the rims of the wheels. This contact generates friction and slows down or stops the bike.

rod brake

Rod brakes have some advantages that make them suitable for certain types of bikes and riders:

1. Simplified Maintenance: These brakes are incredibly simple and easy to maintain. With fewer moving parts and no need for cables, hoses, or fluid, they require minimal upkeep.

2. Durability and Reliability: Rod brakes are known for their durability and reliability. They can withstand harsh weather conditions and rough terrain without losing effectiveness.

3. Affordability: If you’re on a budget, rod brakes are a great option. They are usually found on older or low-cost bikes, making them widely available and affordable.

4. Compatibility: Rod brakes are compatible with most types of rims and tires. They don’t require any special features or modifications on the wheels, which means you can easily fit them on your bike.

While rod brakes have their advantages, they also come with some drawbacks:

1. Limited Braking Power: One of the main downsides of rod brakes is their limited braking power. They don’t generate as much friction or control as other types of brakes, which can make it difficult to stop quickly or smoothly.

2. Poor Wet Weather Performance: Rod brakes lose effectiveness when the rims or the brake pads get wet or dirty. This can be a significant disadvantage if you frequently ride in wet conditions.

3. Limited Clearance and Adjustability: These brakes have limited clearance and adjustment capabilities. They cannot accommodate wide tires or fenders, and they cannot be fine-tuned for optimal braking performance.

4. Aesthetic and Ergonomic Concerns: Another downside of rod brakes is their aesthetic and ergonomic issues. They can look outdated or unappealing, and they can interfere with the rider’s comfort or safety.

Spoon Brakes

Spoon brakes, also known as plunger brakes, tyre brakes, or push brakes, are a type of bike brake that was commonly used in the early days of cycling. They consist of a pad or metal shoe, often made of leather or metal with a rubber face, which is pressed onto the top of the front tire by a rod. This rod is operated by a handlebar lever, allowing the rider to apply braking force when needed.

Spoon brakes were initially used on penny farthings, the high-wheel bicycles that were popular in the late 1800s. These early bikes had solid rubber tires, and spoon brakes were an effective way to slow down the front wheel. Even after the introduction of the pneumatic-tyred safety bicycle, spoon brakes continued to be used.

As the popularity of cycling grew, various designs and models of spoon brakes emerged. Notable examples include the Bowden brake, which was invented by William Bowden in the late 1800s and became widely used on bicycles. The Lucas brake and the Raleigh brake were also popular models during their time.

How do spoon brakes work?

Spoon brakes work by creating friction between the pad or shoe and the tire, which slows down the rotation of the wheel and the bike. When the rider squeezes the lever, the rod pushes the pad or shoe onto the tire, creating resistance and slowing down the bike.

It’s important to note that spoon brakes only work on the front wheel. This means that they have limited braking power compared to other types of brakes. Applying too much force to the spoon brake can cause the bike to skid or even flip over. Therefore, it’s crucial to use caution and moderation when using spoon brakes.

spoon brake

Advantages of spoon brakes:

Simple and Affordable: Spoon brakes are relatively simple in design and easy to maintain. They don’t require a rim or hub brake surface, making them a cost-effective option.

Versatility: Spoon brakes can work on any type of wheel, regardless of the rim material or design.

Weather Resistance: Unlike rim brakes, spoon brakes are not affected by wet or muddy conditions. They can provide consistent braking performance regardless of the weather.

Disadvantages of spoon brakes:

1. Limited Braking Power: Spoon brakes have poor braking performance and modulation, especially at high speeds or on steep descents. They may not provide enough stopping power in certain situations.

2. Tire Wear and Damage: The friction created by spoon brakes can wear out the tire faster or even cause punctures. Regular inspection and replacement of tires are necessary to avoid potential issues.

3. Overheating and Bursting: Spoon brakes can generate a significant amount of heat, especially when used for extended periods or with excessive force. This can lead to tire overheating and even bursting.

4. Steering Interference: Spoon brakes can interfere with the steering and handling of the bike, as they push the tire sideways when applied. This can affect the overall stability and control of the bicycle.

Band Brakes

Band brakes are a type of bike brake that use a metal band to apply friction to the wheel hub or drum. Unlike rim brakes that grip the rim of the wheel or disc brakes that squeeze a rotor, band brakes work by tightening a metal band around the hub or drum, slowing down the wheel.

Band brakes have a long history and can be traced back to the late 19th century. They were invented by French engineer Louis Renault and quickly gained popularity, becoming a common braking system on early bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and even trains. However, as technology advanced, more efficient and reliable braking systems, such as rim and disc brakes, emerged, and band brakes fell out of favor. Today, they are still used on some low-end or vintage bicycles, especially in Asia and Africa.

Band brakes work by converting the kinetic energy of the wheel into heat energy through friction. The main components of a band brake system include the band, the lever, the anchor, and the spring.

The band is a metal strap that is wrapped around the hub or drum and has a lining of friction material on the inner side. This lining is often made of steel or other materials that can withstand high temperatures and wear.

The lever, which is usually located on the handlebar, is connected to the band by a cable or rod. When the lever is pulled, it tightens the band around the hub or drum, creating friction and slowing down the wheel. Releasing the lever loosens the band, allowing the wheel to spin freely.

To prevent the band from rotating with the wheel, there is an anchor point on the frame or fork. This anchor acts as a fixed point, keeping the band in place when it is tightened.

Finally, a spring is used to return the band to its original position when the lever is released. This ensures that the brake is ready for the next use and maintains proper tension on the band.

Band brakes are often found on the rear wheel of bicycles, especially those with a coaster brake system. In this setup, the band brake is integrated into the rear hub, allowing the rider to apply the brake simply by pedaling backward.

band brake

What are the advantages and disadvantages of band brakes on a bicycle?

Advantages of band brakes include:

  • They are simple, cheap, and easy to maintain.
  • They are not affected by wet or muddy conditions, unlike rim brakes.
  • They are suitable for low-speed bikes, such as cruisers, city bikes, or cargo bikes.

Disadvantages of band brakes include:

  • They have low braking power and modulation, especially at high speeds or on steep slopes.
  • They can overheat and fade if used continuously or aggressively.
  • They can wear out quickly and need frequent adjustment or replacement.

Over to You

Have you found the bike brake type that you want to know about? Or have we missed some important bike brake types? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And we will update it as soon as possible.

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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