Mountain Bike Brakes Explained (Disc Brakes vs. V-brakes vs. Caliper Brakes)

Mountain Bike Brakes Explained (Disc Brakes vs. V-brakes vs. Caliper Brakes)
Mountain Bike Brakes

Aside from the coaster brakes, we see on many urban bikes, most bikes, whether they are mountain bikes or road bikes, will have some form of braking mechanism. However, there are so many different options to consider when we think of brakes that many people have been yearning for mountain bike brakes explained article.

Which mountain bike brakes should I buy? There are numerous options when it comes to selecting the right brakes for your bike. However, the disc brake is probably the most powerful and popular brake on the market today. These brakes are functional and offer your bike exceptional stopping power when needed.

While disc brakes are phenomenal, they are not the only brake that you can choose from, and this is where we come in.

We have created this article to help you better understand the fundamentals of mountain bike brakes. We will explore some of the ins and outs when it comes to finding the right brakes for your bike.

If you are looking for mountain bike brake pads for safer rides, I wrote a whole article about the top 5 on the market.

What Is The Role Of Brakes On A Bike?

Brakes are some of the most important components when it comes to your bike setup, and they are responsible for regulating the speed of the bike. They are one of the main safety features of the bike and allow the rider to decrease the speed on the bike slowly to ensure that they can come to a stop or simply slow down.

Without brakes, you are a passenger on the bike, and it would take you plenty of time and distance to slow the bike down. Additionally, it might be harder to slow the bike down, and you won’t be able to control the bike to avoid obstacles. Due to this, brakes are one of the most important features of your bike.

4 Different Types Of Brakes Explained

No matter which bike you buy, you will often come across one of four different brakes that would help you slow the bike down efficiently. These brakes vary in popularity and price, with some of them being more common on bikes than others.

In this section, we will break down each of these four brakes to help you choose:

1- Disc Brakes

We should start with the most common brake on modern bikes, the disc brake. The disc brake is one of the newer brakes to be invented, and it is often considered the best brake for stopping your bike when you need to. 

The disc brakes consist of rotors, pads, and calipers, which keep the bike in check. For most bikes, the size of the rotors would vary between 140mm to 205mm, and they tend to be heavier than some of the brake components we will explore. The disc brake slots onto the bike and connect to the rim, with the brake pads making direct contact.

When you pull the brake lever, the unit will send brake fluid down to the brakes, forcing them to contract against the wheel. Once they contract against the wheel, they would start to create friction, which slows the bike down. It sounds almost the same as the caliper brakes, but it works far more efficiently.

When choosing disc brakes, you will need to choose one of the following three brake pads that would offer you stopping power:

  • Sintered Disc Pads: Sintered are the most versatile of all brake pads and work efficiently to stop the bike in bad conditions.
  • Semi-Metal Disc Pads: These disc pads are a combination of the resin disc pads and the sintered disc pads and are some of the most expensive options but offer the best braking.
  • Resin Disc Pads: These organic disc pads are held together by different fibers and are often less squeaky. They offer great stopping power whilst remaining one of the quietest brakes available.

Overall, disc brakes are the most popular of all the brake options, and while they might be some of the most expensive as well, they tend to offer exceptional stopping power and should ensure that your bike stops efficiently.

Mountain Bike Brakes Explained (Disc Brakes vs. V-brakes vs. Caliper Brakes)
Mountain Biker Climbing Hills

2- Rim Brakes (V-Brakes/ Caliper Brakes)

We can almost do an entire series on the rim brake, and this is one of the most popular brakes on some of the older bikes on the market today. The rim brake is lightweight and compact, which helps keep the bike as aerodynamic as possible.

The rim brake works by sending a signal from the handlebar or brake lever through the cable, which would force the brakes to contract. The calipers would eventually come together and clamp on the wheel. The friction it causes would eventually force the bike to slow down and begin turning slower.

There are three types of rim brakes you can choose from:

  • Caliper Brakes: While the caliper disc brake is one of the most common brakes, it is not the most popular for mountain bikes. These brakes are often found on road bikes and have a single and dual pivot option, providing various stopping power levels.
  • V-Brakes: V-brakes feature a much more enclosed design and look similar to the caliper brakes. However, they offer extra stopping power and more stability when the brake lever is pulled.
  • Cantilever Brakes: Cantilever brakes are some of the older rim brakes, and they are designed to work in wet and slippery conditions. These brakes would offer exceptional stopping power and ensure the bike can easily be stopped.

Whilst rim brakes were once the most popular brakes; they are slowly fading into the background with the disc brakes. However, some of the older and less expensive bikes would still make use of the rim brakes.

3- Drum Brakes

The drum brake is a hub brake, which was originally introduced back in 1902 with automobiles. However, seeing these brakes on your earlier bikes of the day also became a common sight. The brakes sit in the center of the hub and use an internal brake show, which applies friction to the outer drum.

Drum Brakes have decent stopping capabilities, but when it comes to the modern era of quick braking and faster bikes, you will rarely see the drum brakes still being used on bikes.

They are some of the older forms of brakes, and while they might not be the best for your bikes, they are some of the most reliable and requires the least maintenance.

4- Coaster Brakes

Even though coaster brakes are rarely used on modern high-end bikes, you still find them on some of the street and casual bikes on the market today. These brakes are unique, requiring the rider to pedal backward when slowing down the bike.

Coaster brakes do not have any levers, and they sit inside the rear hub of your bike. They would perform well for cruising and slow riding in all weather conditions.

However, the coaster brake does not offer the maximum stopping power that disc brakes do.

Mechanical Vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes

If you do choose the disc brake for your bike, you might need to choose whether you want to use a mechanical or hydraulic disc brake. The differences can be immense, and the mechanical disc brake is one of the more traditional options. It uses a disc brake cable that runs down the bike and creates pressure to slow it down.

On the other hand, hydraulic disc brakes are a bit more advanced, and these would use brake fluid to create friction. Remember that hydraulic disc brakes require plenty of maintenance, and you should check them after every ride.

The video below compares mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes.

Which Brakes Are Best For Mountain Bikes?

While all of these brakes might seem useful, the disc brake stands out as the best option for those cycling on a mountain bike. The exceptional stopping power and instant stops would make them the ideal option to allow you to stop the bike on a dime.

Caliper brakes are also a good option, but they lack some of the disc brake fundamentals and might often let you down in wet conditions. The rim brake can create plenty of friction on the tire, and when you are going downhill, this could lead to a tire blowout.

The disc brake is also the choice that many professional riders would use, and this is due to the trusted reputation and how far the development of these brakes has come to offer advanced stopping power.

What to read next:

Wrapping Up

For my first bike, the caliper brakes served me well. However, these brake pads would eventually wear, forcing me to choose something different.

The disc brake seems to be the ultimate braking option. However, we would love to read some of your comments on the disc brakes and if you like them. 


Hello fellow bikers, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind I am a biker and very passionate about reading, sports, and all things outdoors. I hope you find what you are looking for while visiting

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