Choosing the right brakes for you

When purchasing a new bike it can be difficult to know what components are right for your needs and cyclists often wonder about the advantages and disadvantages of different types. 

Two of our own (Repair and Service Mechanics Doug, and Cycling Friendly Employer Coordinator Robin) have put together this handy guide on different types of breaks and their uses. 

Types of brakes

There are two main categories of brakes; rim or caliper brakes and disc brakes. The caliper is the arm of the brake. 

Rim brakes

V-brakes or linear pull brakes
  • V-brakes are preferable for commuting because the brake pads are more readily available and they are easier to maintain. 
Road brakes or side pull brakes
  • Road brakes, sometimes called just caliper brakes, come in single and dual-pivot designs. 

Single pivot means that the pivot is in the same place as where the brake mounts to the frame. Single pivot brakes are now less common on new bikes, where dual-pivot calipers are favourable. 

With dual-pivot brakes, each caliper arm has a separate pivot. Having two pivot points doubles the leverage, giving a more controlled powerful braking force. As the name suggests, these are great for clean road conditions but may become clogged off-road. They are slightly more complex to adjust than v-brakes, but easily mastered once you find the centring screw! For more guidance on adjusting dual-pivot brakes, check out this video.

Cantilever brakes
  • Cantilever brakes are great for mountain biking or touring because they provide good mud and mudguard clearance. However, maintenance can be more tricky as the pads require 4-way alignment.

Disc Brakes

There are two types of disc brakes – hydraulic and mechanical / cable disc brakes.

Disc brakes have greater stopping power and perform better in bad weather but are harder to set up and maintain. It can be difficult to fit mudguards and pannier racks because there are often fewer mounting points. It’s important not to contaminate the rotors, so avoid spraying or touching them. The rotors should be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol or disc brake cleaner. When storing a bike with disc brakes it’s important to avoid bashing the rotors as this can cause distortion and rubbing between the pads. It is possible to re-true the rotor but it’s a bit of an art form!

Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Hydraulic disc brakes provide more power and can mean less maintenance but do need bleeding once a year, which requires specialist equipment. 
Mechanical or cable disc brakes
  • Maintenance of mechanical or cable disc brakes is simpler and similar to rim brake maintenance. The parts are also more readily available making mechanical disc brakes preferable for cycle touring adventures. 

Hub brakes

Hub or drum brakes are common on folding bikes, for more information please see this Sheldon Brown article


As always, choosing your brake type comes down to personal preference but we hope these tips provide some helpful guidance. 

Brake Maintenance

If you’d like help maintaining your brakes please come along to one of our maintenance classes (currently online). We also run monthly guided maintenance sessions for women and non-binary people. Alternatively, we recommend checking out Park Tools bike maintenance videos on rim brakes and disc brakes. If you’re still not sure what kind of brakes you have check out this video.

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