This is the most comprehensive comparison between mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes.
So whether you’re an aggressive rider who wants to upgrade from rim to disc brakes or you’re an entry-level cyclist who prefers disc to drum brakes, you’ll love this guide.
In fact, we’ve thoroughly tested the two variations front to back on smooth and rough terrains.
And we’re confident that our experience, as explained in this article, will give you enough insights to help you choose the right kind of disc brake for your bike.
Just How Popular are Bike Disc Brakes?
We like to think that disc brakes were once a reserve for professional cyclists. Whether we’re right or wrong on this is obviously subject to questioning.
What we do know for sure is that they’ve now become essential arsenals for bike riders.
Designed for better performance even under minimal friction, disc brakes are far much better than the spoon (rim) models that first appeared in cycling history.
In fact, cyclists no longer treat them as a luxury because they’ve become a necessity – or so we think.
Disc brakes aren’t as powerful as drum brakes. But they offer better performance than spoon brakes ever will.
How Do Bike Disc Brakes Work?
You’ve already seen disc brakes on mountain bikes, road bikes, electric bikes, or even hybrid bikes. But you probably don’t understand how they work, right?
Here’s the thing:
The working mechanism of all brakes is more or less the same regardless of the type.
A rider presses the brake levers on the handlebar, the brake system applies friction to a braking surface, and the resistance brings the bike to a stop.
The more pressure the rider applies on the lever the more the chafing applied on the braking surface. Hence, more braking power.
Unlike spoon brakes, disc brakes don’t apply friction on the rims. Instead, they force the pressure in a small rotor at the center of the wheel.
Combined with grips on the tires, the applied resistance slows down the bike and eventually brings it to a halt.
You get the drift, don’t you?
Hydraulic And Mechanical Bicycle Disc Brakes Comparison
Now, mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes belong in the same class of braking system. But they’re difference in design and function.
Before we look at each type, check out the summary table to understand the difference between the two.
Mechanical Disc Brakes
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Less sensitive, requires more force to come to a stop
More sensitive, efficient
What are the Differences between Mechanic and Hydraulic Bicycle Disc Brakes?
1. Mechanical Bike Disc Brakes
Mechanical brake have been in the market for as long as we can remember. They also happen to be the first type that we tested.
Also known as cable-actuated brakes, mechanical disc brake work exactly like rim (spoon) brakes.
However, the only difference is the point of contact. Instead of the braking pad applying friction on the rim, it does so on the rotor, bringing the bike to a stop.
The setup is quite simple. It includes a brake lever, a cable, and the mechanical disc.
How Mechanical Bicycle Disc Brakes Work
With a mechanical disc brake, you pull the brake lever to activate a steel cable.
This creates a motion that creates friction between the system’s brake pad and the rotor. It’s this resistance that eventually stops your bike.
That’s basically how it works.
But there’s more.
If you’ve used rim brakes for as long as they’ve been around, then you already know just how dirty they can get after a few hundred miles of cycling. It’s the same case with mechanical disc brakes.
Because of their open design, mechanical disc brakes tend to collect dirt and debris, which clog the system over time.
These results in less smooth brakes, which mean that you get less stopping power to control the speed of your bike.
In our testing, mechanical disc brakes proved to be easier to use and maintain. All we had to do was change the braided-steel cable, tighten the brake lever if there was the need, and done.
We were good to go. In fact, to us, this was easier than bleeding, which required more hassle to get hydraulic disc brake to the best condition possible.
One of the things we loved about hydraulic disc brakes in our testing was how easy it was for us to use. And that’s what it is exactly, an easy to adjust system that even an entry-level cyclist can operate.
We simply didn’t need a learning curve to get our heads around mechanical disc brakes.
In fact, it didn’t take us more than 2 hours in testing to realize that they’re much like the rim brakes we’ve used since we started cycling and writing about it on Bikes Haven.
Mechanical disc brakes require frequent maintenance, which we found quite tedious. Cleaning and adjusting the brake pads and lever simply took up a lot of our time during testing.
Advantages Of Mechanical Bike Brakes
- They’re simple in design, and they’re very easy to use
- Mechanical disc brakes are inexpensive, so consider them if you’re on a (tight) budget
- Because there’s no learning curve required, mechanical disc brakes are beginner-friendly and good for entry-level cyclists
- The parts are inexpensive and readily available for purchase
Disadvantages Of Mechanical Bicycle Brakes
- They’re heavier than hydraulic disc brakes
- Mechanical disc brakes are somewhat difficult to maintain
- They can damage easily and may demand tons of repairs
- With mechanical brakes, you must apply more pressure to stop your bike
- They’re not as responsive or sensitive as hydraulic disc brakes
2. Hydraulic Bike Disc Brakes
Hydraulic disc brakes are an upgrade of the mechanical types. And although they’re expensive, their braking performance goes a long way to justify the price.
Remember, power efficiency is key when it comes to bike’s speed control. You want to have the full control of your bike by having all the stopping power possible.
That’s what hydraulic disc brakes give you.
How Hydraulic Bicycle Disc Brakes Work
Here, manufacturers get rid of the steel cable and use a sealed fluid-filled system instead.
You press the brake lever, the fluid forces the pads against the rotor, and the resistance created between the two objects stops the bike.
As you can see, the working mechanism is completely different. And from our experiment, hydraulic disc brakes performed better than the mechanical model that we first had.
From a performance standpoint, the hydraulic disc brakes do well than mechanical models because the fluid in the braking system is not compressible.
This means that the pressure applied to the rotor is far much higher than the one you apply on the lever.
In other words, you don’t have to push the lever hard to create a more sensitive responsive. A simple push with two fingers is enough to give you more stopping power.
One thing we love about hydraulic disc brakes is their closed design. This prevents foreign materials, like dirt and mud, from entering the system and interfering with the braking performance.
So even when you ride your bike in wet and muddy conditions, you still maintain the braking power you need to control the speed of your bike.
Advantages Of Hydraulic Bicyle Disc Brakes
- Because hydraulic disc brakes are smooth and responsive, they give you more stopping power with less force
- They give you what we like to call a fine grained control with less pressure from the brake levers
Disadvantages Of Hydraulic Bike Disck Brakes
- The biggest deal breaker of hydraulic disc brakes is that they’re complex and difficult to adjust
- They’re expensive, so they may not appeal to riders on a (tight) budget
So Which One Should You Choose?
Now let’s agree on one thing:
Hydraulic and mechanical disc brakes do the same thing. At the very least, they give you the stopping power you need to maneuver different terrains at different speeds. And, as we’ve already seen, they have their pros and cons.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which version to install on your bike. This will depend on your budget and the kind of cycling you do.
In other words:
- If you’re into complex, high speed, technical cycling, we suggest that you go with hydraulic disc brakes
- If you’re not on a budget and you’re willing and able to pay for a performance efficient brakes, choose hydraulic disc brakes. We recommend these hydraulic Bike Disc Brakes.
- Cyclists who’re on budget should consider mechanical disc brakes. After all, they’re cheaper and very easy to use.
- Entry-level riders who don’t want to break their bank should go with mechanical disc brakes instead of hydraulic systems
- If you have a commuter bike, or you use your road or MTB bike simply for daily commutes, then mechanical disc brakes should work fine for you. We recommend these General Mechanical Disc Brakes.
Now that you know the difference between mechanic versus hydraulic disc brakes, not to mention their pros and cons, it should be easy for you to choose a version to use with your bike.