The brakes found on mountain bikes today have evolved considerably. Today, two main systems are in use: V-brakes and disc brakes. The latter are further broken down into mechanical and hydraulic types.
Lets take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of these different braking systems to find the one that suits you best!
V-BRAKE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
V-brakes are lightweight and easy to use. Mechanically speaking, they are made up of a lever, a cable, and a brake caliper. This system is quite similar to that of a cantilever brake, but the addition of a spring enhances its braking power and progressiveness.
The cost of these brakes is fairly low, much lower than a disc brake system. Maintaining V-brakes is easy—simply change the pads and cables regularly.
On the other hand, this brake system is somewhat less effective in rain or mud. Furthermore it can sometimes result in “clogging”, when mud gets stuck between the frame and the brakes, in such a case stones can scratch your rims.
Our tip in case of jamming: forests are full of small bits of wood which you can use to remove the mud that has accumulated on your brakes.
This brake system is widely used in cross-country riding for portions of route that don’t have too much mud or very long descents. In other cases, the greater braking efficiency of disc brakes is needed for a comfortable and safe ride.
THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF DISC BRAKES
Disc brakes require a breaking-in phase before the brake shoes (pads) reach their full operational potential. This stage is essential if your brake shoes are metal. You can find our tips about this phase in our article on breaking in your bike.
The braking on a bicycle equipped with disc brakes is more powerful and progressivethan any other system. The quality of your braking is no longer impacted by bad weather conditions such as rain or mud.
Another factor: a disc brake does not slow the wheel down by pressing on its rim but rather on its hub, which means braking is not impacted by a wheel that is not true or that skips.
Lastly, you can change the progressiveness and power of your braking by changing the material from which the brake shoes are made or the size of the disc.
There are two types of disc brakes, each with different advantages.
- Mechanical disc brakes
Mechanical disc brakes are a variation of V-brakes since they also use levers, brake cables and housing to slow down or stop your bike.
This system is lighter and cheaper than hydraulic disc brakes. Its braking power is more powerful and reliable than that of V-brakes, but inferior to that of hydraulic disc brakes.
The advantage? The cost of maintenance is also less than for hydraulic disc brakes.
The downside? With use, the brake cables stretch, and the cables and housing are impacted by weather conditions and exposure to water, mud and dust. You should check and replace your cables and housing regularly to maintain effective braking.
- Hydraulic disc brakes
Hydraulic disc brakes are the most expensive and heavier than V-brakes, though the price varies depending on the brand and the material the brake shoes are made from. These brakes ensure effective braking for any cycling discipline.
The downside: these brakes require more maintenance, and in particular, bleeding the hydraulic oil regularly. This maintenance makes them a poor choice for beginner mountain bikers who need simple equipment to get started.
It is also sometimes necessary to change the housing or main cylinder if you notice an oil leak.
Warning: if while bleeding the oil, or in the event of a leak, the brake fluid comes into contact with the brake shoes, you should replace the latter immediately. This is about your safety!
This type of brake is widespread and can be used in all mountain bike disciplines. It is even starting to be used by some road cycling racing teams. During the descent, bigger discs are used, as well as ceramic brake shoes to dissipate heat.
Before selecting brakes for your bike, take your budget, the type of cycling you do, the maintenance required, and your mechanical skills into account. Then comes the time to decide: will it be V-brakes or disc brakes for your mountain bike?