Brakes certainly take the guesswork out of braking but brake styles can make a big difference in the way you ride.
Sometimes cycling is more about how fast you can stop.
You’ve got everything to get started cycling, like a bike, helmet, shoes, gloves, and clothing but how much have you thought about stopping? Brakes certainly take the guesswork out of that essential action because nearly all bikes have them, but the way brakes work can make a big difference in the way you ride. Disc brakes have extended the limits of what’s possible in mountain biking, while rim brakes have maintained their hallowed place in road cycling. However that’s changing, and even road cyclists have had to admit that in a way, the advantage of disc brakes is less about stopping and more about going (then stopping, like really fast). Rim brakes are here to stay because they have a few benefits that disc brakes can’t compete with. Here’s where we break down the great brake debate of disc vs. rim brakes.
Their name comes from the disc — or rotor — that absorbs braking force. Brake rotors are attached to the wheel and come in various diameters depending upon the bike’s design and braking demands. A set of front and rear disc brakes will contain the following: rotors, callipers, brake pads, brake levers, and either cables and housing for mechanical brakes, or hydraulic fluid and sealed lines for hydraulic brakes. Sound complicated? This is one reason people reach for rim brakes instead.
Heavier e-bikes have had an influence on disc brake designs, which feature thicker rotors for greater stopping power, wider callipers to accommodate thicker rotors, and callipers positioned above the rotor with an open top design to make pad replacement easier.
As the name suggests, the wheel rim absorbs braking force from callipers bolted onto the frame just above the wheels. A set of front and rear rim brakes consists of: callipers, brake pads, brake levers, and cables and housing for mechanical brakes, or less common hydraulic fluid and sealed lines for hydraulic rim brakes. If this sounds almost the same as disc brakes, the difference is in the design, weight, and material composition of the callipers and brake pads.
When you squeeze the brake levers, you transfer that force to the callipers, which then grip the rotor between the brake pads to create friction and slow you down. The rotor has one job, which is to receive your braking force.
Braking action is the same as with disc brakes: you squeeze the levers to transfer force to the callipers. What’s different is that the callipers must be wide enough to accommodate your wheel. The brake pads should be compatible with your rims, which have two jobs: to react to your pedalling force, and to receive your braking force.
While the road crowd continues to ponder the choice between rim and disc brakes, off-road riders put that debate to rest long ago. Now it’d be hard — if not impossible — to find a current mountain bike with rim brakes. The choice is still yours though; here are the advantages of each:
Brakes have one purpose: to stop your forward momentum, which also helps you to stay in control, to avoid crashes, and to ride defensively in the event of offensive road users. You could argue that the ability to stop is far more important than the ability to start (but we’ll ask you that again when it’s cold and overcast outside to see how you feel about starting). Why to stop is a matter of self-preservation, how to stop is a choice that’s up to you.