Types and Differences of Brakes for Sports Bicycles

Posted at: Nov. 28, 2021

Sports bicycles are equipped with various types of brakes. Here is a summary of each brake, its features and differences, advantages and disadvantages, and which brake bike you should buy in the future.

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Types of Bicycle Brakes

Disk brakes

Disc brakes marked by rotors.

Disc brakes are becoming more and more mainstream in the racing scene.

The disc rotor mounted on the wheel is sandwiched between calipers mounted on the frame and fork for braking. The advantage of disc brakes is that they allow for more clearance on the tire, so both thin and thick tires can be used.

In addition, while V-brakes can provide fine braking like caliper brakes, they also have the advantage of not being clogged with mud and not losing braking power even in the rain, since braking is done near the wheel hub, where the mud raised by the tire has less effect.

In a way, disc brakes have both the good points of V-brakes and the good points of caliper brakes.

With conventional brakes that clamp onto the wheel rim, when the wheel rim wears out, the wheel needs to be replaced, but with disc brakes, it is the disc rotor that wears out, so the disc brake can be used for a long time without replacing the wheel.

Disc brakes seem to have all the advantages, but the biggest disadvantage is the cost. Disc brakes have more parts than conventional brakes, and they are inevitably more expensive because you need to prepare the corresponding frame, fork, and wheels.

In fact, even for a complete bike of the same model, the price of a caliper brake bike is 10,000 to 20,000 higher than that of a disc brake bike.

Also, due to its structure, the disc brake needs to be adjusted in a few millimeters, and if it is not maintained properly, it may make noise or the disc rotor may rust.

Caliper brake

Caliper brakes arch over the tires.

The current mainstream caliper brake is characterized by the arch shape of the brake itself. This type of brake is used on the front wheels of city bicycles and electrically power assisted bicycles called “mamachari,” and on the front and rear wheels of road bicycles.

They are used on the front and rear wheels of city bicycles and electrically power assisted bicycles called mamachari, and on road bicycles.

Although the stopping power is weaker than that of the V-brake (see below), it is still the most common type of brake on road bikes because of its superior braking power.

In addition to the loss of stopping power when the rim gets wet, there is a limit to the weight reduction of “aero wheels” with high rims.

Direct-mounted brake

Direct mount brakes installed 'directly' on the frame

A direct mount brake is similar to a caliper brake in shape and a V-brake in mechanism.

While caliper brakes are usually installed by fixing a single bolt from the brake body to a hole in the frame or fork, direct-mount brakes are fixed to the frame or fork at two points by two bolts from the brake body, and the brake operates at these points.

As a result, the brake is more securely attached to the frame and fork, and the structure of the brake is similar to that of a V-brake, providing a stronger braking force than a normal caliper brake.

However, direct mount brakes cannot be used on all types of bicycles, and can only be installed on special frames that meet the following two requirements. 1.

  1. the frame and fork have holes for it
  2. the rear brake wire routing is towards the direct mount location.

On the other hand, a frame designed for direct mounting will not allow the installation of a regular caliper brake.

V-brakes

As the name suggests, the V-brake is in the shape of a V.

This is the former mainstream brake for MTB and cross bikes. The smaller “mini-V brakes” are of the same type.

Unlike caliper brakes, these brakes do not have an arch, so they can be used with larger tires.

Unlike caliper brakes, V-brakes are not arched, so they can be used with larger tires. The mechanism of a V-brake is the same as that of a caliper brake, since it brakes by clamping the rim, but the V-brake is said to have higher stopping power than a caliper brake, since the caliper has more travel and more leverage.

They are also widely used in MTB and MTB-based cross bikes because of their structural resistance to mud clogging and strong braking force.

Race-grade complete bikes are gradually shifting to disc brakes, which have similar features, but considering the price, V-brakes will be the mainstream for several years in low-cost MTB systems.

Cantilever brake

The triangle between the brake and the wire is the cantilever brake.

The cantilever brake is similar in appearance to the V-brake.

In the past, cantilever brakes were the mainstream of MTB brakes, but nowadays, with the shift to V-brakes and then gradually to disc brakes, there are only a few cases where cantilever brakes are used on new models.

Unlike the V-brake, which has two arms connected by a single wire, the cantilever brake has two wires extending from each arm, which are bundled together and sent to the lever.

A V-brake looks like a V-brake if the wires on the arms are connected in a straight horizontal line and then extend upward, while a cantilever brake extends upward from the arms and then unites them (forming a triangle on the brake).

A cantilever brake is structurally almost the same as a V-brake, but has the disadvantage of not having as much stopping power as a V-brake.

Comparing the different specifications of each brake and their advantages and disadvantages

Next, let’s compare the different specifications of each brake and their advantages and disadvantages.

Types Consumables Compatible Frames Compatible Wheels Advantages Disadvantages
Disc brakes brake pads with disc pedestal for disc brakes only high braking power
no loss of braking power in the rain
can use large tires
can use wheels for a long time
needs special frame and wheels
many components
Caliper brakes Brake shoes With rim pedestal Only for caliper brakes Easy to maintain
Simple construction and inexpensive
Construction does not allow for larger tires
Less braking power in the rain
V-brake brake shoe with V-brake pedestal only for caliper brakes strong stopping power
can be used with large tires
difficult to get stuck in mud
difficult to get fine braking
cantilever brakes brake shoes with V-brake pedestals only for caliper brakes can fit larger tires
harder to get stuck in mud
less stopping power

If cost is taken out of the equation, it is understandable that disc brakes, which are the best of both caliper brakes and V-brakes, will be chosen. Recently, disc brakes have been adopted even in complete bicycles priced at several tens of thousands of yen, and their prices are likely to become lower over the next few years.

On the other hand, caliper brakes and V-brakes also have their merits in terms of ease of maintenance and low cost. Even if disc brakes become the norm in the future, caliper brakes and V-brakes will probably remain to some extent, especially in low-end models.

However, high-end models of sports bicycles are in the process of being converted to disc brakes, so if you want to operate with caliper brakes or V-brakes, you might want to get new or good condition used spare parts now.

If I’m buying a new bike, should I get disc brakes?

If you are thinking of buying a new bicycle, whether to get a disc brake model or not is a point of concern. This is because disc brakes can only be used if the frame and fork have disc pedestals, so when you want to upgrade to disc brakes, you will have to replace the frame and wheels, which will be as expensive as buying a new bike.

However, there is no need to force yourself to choose a disc-brake bike for the future.

New products compatible with caliper brakes and V-brakes will probably be released in the next few years, and after a few years, disc brakes will become more common, and the price difference with caliper brakes may decrease. When that happens, you can sell the caliper brake car you bought used and replace it with a disc brake car that is more affordable.

In this sense, if you want to ride a disc brake car now, you can choose a disc brake car.

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