Differences between disc brake-specific wheels and how to tell them apart

Posted at: Feb. 13, 2022

Disc brakes require a special wheel. In this article, we will discuss what is the difference between disc brake-specific wheels and rim brake-specific wheels. What is the difference between a disc brake wheel and a rim brake wheel? Or rim brake only? When selecting a wheel, it is important to know how to tell the difference.

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The difference between disc brake-specific wheels and rim brake-specific wheels

There is no silver (the part that contacts the shoe) on the rim

While rim brakes decelerate by rubbing the brake shoes against the rim of the wheel, disc brakes decelerate by sandwiching the rotor between calipers.

Wheels designed specifically for rim brakes have a rough silver aluminum surface to increase the frictional force when the brake shoes rub against the rim, but wheels designed specifically for disc brakes do not have this part.

Characteristic bare aluminum part of the rim brake special wheel

Note, however, that some models of rim-brake-only wheels, such as some carbon wheels, do not have the silver part, so it cannot be said that “no silver = disc brake”.

There is a rotor mounting adapter on the hub

In the case of disc brake wheels, a disc called a rotor is mounted on the hub of the wheel and sandwiched between calipers mounted on the fork or frame. Therefore, an adapter to attach the rotor to the hub of the wheel is always required.

Disc brake-specific wheels have rotor mounting hardware.

For this reason, wheels designed specifically for rim brakes cannot be used with disc brakes.

Thru-axles are more common

For rim-brake-only wheels, the main method of fastening the wheel is the quick-release type, mainly for road bikes and other sport bikes, but for disc-brake-only wheels, the through-axle type is becoming the main method.

Thru-axle is structurally completely different from quick release.

Thru-axles cannot be installed directly on quick-release wheels and forks.

Way of distinguishing

How to tell the difference by product name

If you want to tell by the product name whether a wheel is for disc brakes only or rim brakes only, check if it has the word “Disk” or “DB” (short for Disk Brake) in it. Many disc brake-only wheels contain these words.

Overseas manufacturers often use the name “DB” to shorten the product name, so be careful even if the product name does not include the word “disc.

On the other hand, if the wheel is for rim brakes only, these words are not included.

If you want to distinguish by appearance, you can use the “rim circumference color” and the “rotor mounting adapter on the hub

When distinguishing a wheel by looking at the wheel itself or a picture of the wheel, if the outer circumference of the rim is silver, there is a pretty good chance that it is a rim brake only wheel. Also, disc brake-only wheels often have a uniform rim color, so that is another point to distinguish, but be aware that there are exceptions such as carbon rim brakes.

The left one looks like it's for disc brakes, but it's actually for rim brakes. The disc-only one is on the right.

The mounting area for the rotor is also a major feature of the appearance of disc brake wheels. The shape of the adapter varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but if the front wheel hub looks large or if the hub design is different on the left and right sides, there is a good chance that the wheel is designed specifically for disc brakes. (The wheel on the right in the photo above also has a large front hub)

Let’s just check the spec list for the final decision

As we have seen, disc brake-specific wheels and rim brake-specific wheels are so incompatible that it is no exaggeration to say that they are “completely different.

If you buy the wrong one, it is almost impossible to install it, so make sure you are absolutely sure.

If a wheel is purchased by mistake, it is almost impossible to install, so make sure you are not mistaken. If you think a wheel is for disc brakes only because of its appearance or name, and you receive a wheel for rim brakes only, you will not be able to see it.


We have explained the differences between disc brake-specific wheels and how to tell them apart.

Now that you understand this, check which of the three wheels in the first image on this page is dedicated to each brake.

The answer, from left to right, is “rim brakes, rim brakes, and disc brakes. Did you get the correct answer?

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