Cycling Guides

Disc Brakes or V-Brakes? We’ll Help You Decide.

  • Ninety One
    Team 91
  • 4-minute read
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If you were to buy a bicycle, the options are endless in brands and styles. Once you have figured out your riding requirements and which type of bicycle will match them, you would then identify which model from the numerous available would be perfect for you. One of the many features that you would come across in the description and details of each bicycle would be the brakes.

So, let's discuss the two commonly used brakes to give you an idea of the commonalities and differences, so you can choose the bike with the right type of brake for your specific riding needs.

Before we look at the two types of brakes, let us briefly understand the mechanism of a brake.

Understanding Bicycle Brake System

Simply put, the brake in a cycle gives you the power to reduce and stop your bike in a safe and controlled manner while in motion. The brake system includes levers placed within grasping distance on the handlebar that you have to apply pressure to, a mechanism to transmit that pressure, primarily cables, and the brake mechanism itself designed around a brake pad that creates friction with a braking surface connected to the cycle's wheel. The braking mechanisms for the disc brakes and rim brakes are different from each other.

Rim Brakes and Disc Brakes Braking Process

In rim brakes, force is actuated by a lever mounted on the handlebar. This pull of force results in the connected cable being pulled through the housing and pushes the brake pads against the rim, causing friction between the two. This action slows down or stops the bicycle.

Disc brakes use calipers mounted to the fork in front, and the frame in the rear, and rotors or discs mounted to the wheel hubs. When you squeeze the brake levers, the brake pads inside the calipers squeeze the discs slowing down the wheel's rotation and thereby stoping your bike.

Now let's look at the differences between the disc and rim brakes compared to each other.

1) Weight

Disc brakes are heavier than rim brakes and therefore add to the weight of the bicycle.

2) Cost

Between the two, the rim brake is more economical, making the bicycle's cost better priced.

3) Braking Power

Multiple cyclists have undertaken tests and have come out with similar conclusions. The stopping power in disc brakes is better than those in rim brakes. The difference is marginal in normal conditions but increases while riding on wet and muddy roads. Additionally, depending on the rim material and finish, the braking power of V-brakes can get affected negatively, especially in wet conditions.

Overall, disc brakes are more precise, have more braking power, and have greater control when compared to rim brakes.

4) Wear and tear of the rims and brake pads

Rim brakes use the rims of the wheels as a braking surface, which in the long run may wear the rim down and would eventually need to be replaced. Additionally, the brake pads in rim brakes get worn out after prolonged usage and require replacement. Wearing out of rims and brake pads is not much of an issue with disc brakes.

5) Wheel Misalignment

Disc brakes are all about precision. In case of wheel misalignment, the disc brake will not function as intended. A wheel alignment, however, does not similarly affect rim brakes.

6) Compatibility with other bicycle components

Disc brakes require a compatible hub, wheel rim, frame, fork, and even a mechanism for mounting a rear kickstand. On the other hand, rim brakes only need a compatible fork and frame.

7) The Maintenance and Replaceability factor

Rim brakes are easy to maintain and replace, even on the go, with components readily available. On the other hand, disc brakes need specialized parts and more significant expertise in replacing them

8) Tyres type limitations

You can use wider tires without the limitations of brake calipers when you have disc brakes. Having rim brakes limits the tyre size to some extent.

That's the breakdown of the differences and the pros and cons. By answering or thinking about the responses to these questions, you will pinpoint which of the two types of brakes is the best choice for your bicycle.

Q: Do your bicycle rides mainly take you through wet and muddy conditions?

Then, choose disc brakes that have better performance in wet and muddy conditions.

Q. Is your style to cycle on mountain regions or off-roads?

If yes, disc brakes are better. But if you are going to cycle within city limits on paved roads, rim brakes are sufficient.

Q. Is your interest more in riding wider tires for lower rolling resistance, better handling, and more comfort?

Disc brakes generally allow for greater wheel and tire width as compared to rim brakes.

Q. Is slowing and constantly stopping in your rides like in traffic conditions or during long descents.?

Disc brakes are preferable as you have to apply less force with your hands to slow down. When you use a significant amount of pressure for long periods, your hands are likely to get fatigued.

Q: Are you concerned about the longevity of your rim?

Since disc brakes do not attach to the rim, the rim does not wear from braking, creating a longer lifetime for the wheel. After a considerably long period, you are more likely to need a change of rims if you have rim brakes.

Q. Are you looking to ride long haul across the country or even the globe?

You may be better of with the simplicity, durability, ease of adjustment, and availability of spares that come with V-brakes.

The bottom line is that neither one, disc brake, or rim brake is better than the other. It all depends on your distinctive needs to choose between these two types of bicycle brakes and what you are willing to compromise on.

Do you have experience and a personal opinion on choosing between disc brakes and rim brakes? Please share with us your thoughts by adding a comment in the space below.

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