Differences Between Rim Brakes and Disc Brakes

Differences Between Rim Brakes and Disc Brakes

Even the most speed-obsessed cyclist would agree that what goes forward has to stop (preferably under control). Knowing the differences between types of bike brakes can help you select the option that's right for your riding style.

There are four types of bike brakes: rim, disc, coaster, or drum. The majority of bicycles today have either rim brakes or disc brakes.

Disc brakes vs. rim brakes: Rim brakes, as their name suggests, stop bicycles by squeezing opposing brake pads together against the rim of the wheels. Near the upper part of the wheels, the brake mechanisms are mounted on the frame. Disk brakes, on the other hand, sit in the middle of each wheel and stop the bike by squeezing a brake pad against a rotor mounted around the hub. Especially in sloppy conditions, they provide superior stopping power. Disc brakes were once only found on mountain bikes and a few road bikes, but are now found on all types of bikes.

A mechanical disc brake differs from a hydraulic disc brake in how the brake pads are controlled at the top end of the performance spectrum. Hydraulic systems utilize fluid-filled brake lines, while mechanical disc brakes (such as rim brakes) use cables to move the pads. The hydraulic brake system provides smoother, more responsive performance than any other system. As the brake pads wear, the system automatically adjusts their position to maintain good contact with the rotor. Non-hydraulic systems require you to manually readjust the pads periodically as they wear out. Hydraulic disc brakes perform more consistently due to the self-adjusting feature.

Consider the following factors when choosing brakes for your bike:

All-conditions performance: Disc brakes are the clear winner, in part because they are positioned farther from the moisture and muck that your wheels can spin up from a road or a trail. Rim brake riders improve performance by lightly tapping the brakes to squeegee off the rims before using full braking power.


Responsiveness: Disc brakes, particularly hydraulic disc brakes, offer a smoother, more consistent feel through a full range of braking force. In addition, rim brakes can overheat if they are applied forcefully for a long period of time, causing the braking power to diminish.


Rim life: Disc brakes are the big winner because rim brakes will eventually wear out your rims. Most commuters go through a set of wheels every few years. Keeping your rims clean will help them last longer-and will improve brake performance at the same time.


Easy flat repair: Though not a huge difference, disc brakes get the nod since you do not have to disengage the brake calipers (metal arms that hold the brake pads on rim brakes) before you can remove the wheel. Furthermore, disc wheels keep their rims cleaner, so your hands remain cleaner as well.

Maintenance: Rim brakes are simpler and less expensive to maintain because disc brakes require routine maintenance on a more rigorous schedule. Moreover, more people are comfortable doing routine maintenance on rim brakes, reducing shop costs even further. Despite the fact that hydraulic disc brakes self-adjust as the pads wear, they still need to be inspected regularly and replaced if necessary. To ensure the lines work properly, they must also be bled regularly to remove air bubbles. So if you have hydraulic disc brakes, bleeding them will be a separate shop (or home) repair job.


Cost: Rim brakes win here, although the main factor is that rim brakes require less regular maintenance.


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