July 25, 2021

Types of bicycle brakes

To state the obvious, all of the different types of bicycle brakes are designed to reduce the speed of a bike or stop it from moving completely.

At least that’s what they should do when they are working properly.

While you may think that there are only two or three different types of brakes used on bicycles, we are going to quickly go over 8 specific types of brakes and even variations amongst those as well.

There are disc brakes and drum brakes and rim brakes there are coaster brakes and drag brakes and band brakes. So, there are quite a few, although, there are three main types which are, of course, the rim brakes, disc brakes, and drum brakes.

The main type of brake used on a bicycle is the caliper brake which is a type of rim brake. It is a rim brake because it works by clamping onto the metal rim and slowing the bike with that method. It’s a simple design but it is dependable and strong. These days it’s pretty much the regular break on most kid’s bikes or road bikes.

Mountain bikes tend to favor disc brakes and they are definitely the most common on those. But when it comes to road cyclists, they tend to prefer the rim brakes but the different options of the disc brakes are beginning to get more popular.

best types of bicycle brakes
Image by Jean van der Meulen from Pixabay

There are some people that feel disc brakes have more benefits than their cousins the rim brakes. This is due to the fact that they believe they stop you better and give you more control in a much easier manner. With just a single finger you can pull your bike up from high speed and even wet in the rain it pretty much doesn’t change your stopping ability as long as you’re working to the requirements of the tyres that you are using.

As with all brakes, braking will erode the material off of them, and depending on your riding style and conditions is what will determine their longevity.

So then, now that we’ve got that established let’s have a look a bit more in-depth at each of the individual types of breaks and see if we can determine which one is the best kind for your bike and riding style.

Types of Bicycle Brakes

1. Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are more powerful than V-shaped brakes and require less manual force for operation. However, they are heavier.

They are not “rim brakes” because they do not clamp to the rim but on the “rotor” of the hub. Disc brakes require compatible wheels, rims, and frame/fork.

There are two different styles of disc brakes, hydraulic or mechanical with cable (the mechanical cable is shown in the figure above). These brakes are perfect for fast descent on off-road trails.

They can withstand high temperatures by heating the rim like a “rim brake” without damaging the tire. We are talking about descent at 65 mph for 20 minutes, and there are many twists and turns.

Disc brakes are completely immune to road debris, water, and mud. If the rider crosses a creek deep enough to make the rotor wet/muddy, the hard pad will immediately remove water and mud from the rotor with its amazing strength and pressure.

All rim brakes with rubber pads tend to accumulate dust, sand, or mud (relatively soft) on the rubber pads, causing their performance at high speeds to lag slightly.

In short, disc brakes are stronger and more reliable in dirty environments and are not affected by heat (friction caused by use).

Disc brakes are designed to perform at high temperatures and dissipate heat better than most drum brakes.

2. Drum Brakes

Drum brakes are worthy of more than just an honorable mention.

The drum brake is a lever-operated hub brake where the brake shoe is pressed into the cylindrical drum.

Drum brakes are popular in utility bikes in rainy countries; Not so much for recreational and racing purposes where rim brakes dominate and disc brakes are becoming more and more popular.

The larger the diameter of the cylinder, the stronger the drum brake, the heavier and the greater the total heat capacity (best suited for long downhill slopes). The drum brake has the lowest maintenance cost of all systems.

They are not as simple as caliper brakes, but are unaffected by weather conditions and have a long life between service intervals.

The drum does not have the axle lift problem of the disc system, but still has the advantage of zero tire wear. The heat dissipation capacity of the drum is its limitation.

A long mountain descent can cause brake attenuation, but they’re great for urban biking and commuting. The drum brake rarely needs adjustment and friction surface wear is the lowest of all available systems.

Drum brakes work well in cities and towns on the commute and provide low-maintenance solutions for transporting bicycles.

3. Rim brakes

Types of rim brakes:

  • Rod-actuated brakes
Rod Brakes Types of Bicycle Brakes

The “rod brakes” use a series of rods and pivots to transmit the force applied to the handle to the brake. Thus You pull the friction pad up against the inner rim surface towards the hub. Due to their shape, they are often called “stirrup brakes”.

  • Caliper brakes

The caliper brake is a cable brake. The brake is installed at a point above the wheel and theoretically allows the arm to be automatically centered on the rim. The arms extend around the tire and terminate in brake shoes that press on the rim. Although some designs include dual pivot points (the arm rotates on the subframe), the entire assembly is still mounted at one point. As the tires become wider and therefore deeper, the caliper brakes tend to become less effective, reducing the mechanical advantage of the brakes. Therefore, caliper brakes are rarely seen on modern mountain bikes. But they are almost everywhere on road bikes, especially dual-pivot side caliper brakes. The caliper brake works as a unit and is attached to your frame with a bolt that will rotate when the brake lever is pulled. These designs are useful for road bikes because they provide a good balance between the subtle modulation of the braking force and the amount of power you can apply.

  • U-brakes

A U-brake is a rim caliper brake for BMX freestyle bikes and some vintage mountain bikes. Ubrake is mounted on the frame above the rim. There are spring tensions on both sides to pull the pads off the rim.

  • Cantilever brakes

Cantilever brakes are much more effective than caliper brakes. Although the aerodynamics is somewhat worse. These are most commonly used for “cross country” bikes. These bikes are designed for cross country racing where people use road bikes to traverse light cross country terrain. Standard caliper brakes can not provide enough power for Cross-country bikes due to the intense activity. Road bikes require a very specific fork to have these brakes installed on them.

  • Linear Drive (V-brakes)

V-brake is the most commonly used term for this type of brake. They were named by Shimano and so other brake companies label them as “linear drive” or “direct drive” brakes. These brakes are very powerful. They are most common on mountain and cross-country bikes. They have the ability to slow down and stop wet or even muddy wheels, making them ideal for off-road use. They are slightly heavier than cantilever or caliper brakes. These brakes are a type of “rim brake” type brakes that require the frame/fork mount to be connected to the bicycle.

  • Roller cam brakes

The roller cam brake functions as a center tension caliper, but its pivot is connected directly to the frame or front fork. The roller cam brake does not use a cross cable, but a triangular cam. The cam is pulled by a wire connected to the narrow end of the triangular part.

  • Delta brakes

Delta brakes were designed back in the 1930’s and are named in relation to its triangular shape. It is designed to be aerodynamic more than some other brakes but it has also received some negative criticism for being heavy and not having great power to stop. They are a brake that some love to hate but they also still have quite a following. These probably will not be one of the best types of bicycle brakes on your list!

  • Hydraulic rim brakes

Hydraulic brakes have obvious strength advantages over cable-actuated brakes, primarily due to much less power loss caused by complicated cable wiring (standard for aero bike frames), cable stretch, or outer shell flex. The result is a very powerful rim brake with a good feel and modulation. Hydraulic brakes are high-end products that perform better than rim brakes or mechanical discs in almost every respect but are more expensive. The hydraulic system is more efficient than mechanical disc brakes, so it is necessary to apply less pressure to obtain the same level of braking force.

4. Spoon Brakes

The Spoon brake or “Plunger” brakes were pretty much the first bicycle brakes and appeared before the pneumatic tires on bikes! Spoon brakes consist of a leather pad, or metal “shoe” (possibly rubber-coated), that is pressed on top of the front tires. They were used for Penny Farthings with their solid rubber tires. This was in the 19th century and even with the introduction of pneumatic tires they continued to be used in bicycle manufacturing.

5. Duck brakes

The duck brake or duck roller brake was invented in 1897 and uses a rod-actuated by a lever on the handlebar to pull a double friction roller (usually made of wood or rubber) against the front tire. Installed on the axle, fixed by friction washers, and positioned at an angle consistent with the shape of the tire, the roller is forced to bear against the friction washer when it comes into contact with the tire, thus braking the front wheel.

6. Coaster brakes

These are the old school brakes most of us had as kids… A coaster brake is a special rear hub for a bicycle, which performs two functions: It allows the bicycle to roll without forcing the pedals to turn. This is the “coaster” part. And it is also a brake, operated by turning the pedals backwards.

7. Drag brakes

Drag brakes are as the name suggests, a drag. They are constantly on and provide steady deceleration on a long downhill slope rather than providing a stopping solution. Stopping must be done by a separate brake system.

8. Band brake

Band brakes consist of a band, cable or strap which are wrapped around a drum that rotates with the wheels and is then tightened to create friction for braking. Band brakes appeared on tricycles as early as 1884. Band brakes for bicycles are still made today.

Beaks are just one of the elements you might want to tune up. Read on how much is a bike tune-up.

The Best Types of Bicycle Brakes

As for which of these is the best types of bicycle brakes for you? Well, what do you want to use your bike for? Racing, touring, or getting to work and around town?

In general, disc or rim brakes will carry you through your days.

Types of Bicycle Brakes | Cyclorama.net blog
Image by Melk Hagelslag from Pixabay

Disc brakes produce more braking force than standard rim brakes. Bicycles with disc brakes are believed to provide faster riding since the rider will have more confidence in the braking power of the brake disc, they can brake a little later compared to using the rim brake.

The inclusion of disc brakes in the professional group means that more new bicycle frames are being prepared for disc brakes. Disc brakes can also achieve more precise braking and reduce the possibility of wheel locking. In wet weather, disc brakes work better than rim brakes and changing the rotor size allows you to adjust the needed braking power.

Disc brakes provide a better adjustment than rim brakes, which means the rider can more easily and accurately measure out the resulting clamping force. The peak braking force occurs before the locking point, and bicycles equipped with discs can make better use of this advantage.

Although disc brakes may have the shiny new toy effect still going on, more traditional rim brakes on road bikes still have many advantages: rim brakes are lighter than disc brakes, usually up to a pound. Rim brakes are more aerodynamic than disc brakes. Rim brakes are easier to repair.


Pick your goals, what you want to do with your bike, and then pick your brakes to suit. You need to know if stopping on a dime is something that you will regularly need to be doing, or if you are just a cruiser that can stop when you get there.

Take your time, do your homework. We hope this article has helped provide you with the right information, as well as a little walk down history lane as far as bicycle brakes are concerned.

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