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Off Road Systems

Over recent years the disc brake has become the most common type of brake for off road riding. However other older forms of brake are still used. Brakes were traditionally operated by cables but technology has made it possible for bicycle brakes to be hydraulically operated, just like on a motor bike or in a car.

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes can be either hydraulic or cable operated. Cable operated brakes are usually the entry level, so are a more affordable way of getting disc brakes for your bike. Hydraulic systems have the benefit of increased power and are sealed from the elements to eliminate the need to change cables frequently. Hydraulic brakes also have a more consistent braking response that is not affected by conditions, and many have a self adjusting mechanism to alter the pad position relative to the amount of wear. The downside to using hydraulics is it generally requires a trained mechanic to make repairs, whereas cable systems can be maintained and repaired by the many riders themselves.

Disc brake systems can vary in performance according to the size and number of pistons. It’s important to pick the correct type of brake for your intended riding. For example a disc brake designed for cross-country can be small and lightweight, with just a single or dual piston arrangement (usually one either side of the disc rotor) and still provide ample stopping power. A downhill brake will be much larger, often with multiple pistons per side, to provide incredible stopping power.

Disc rotors, are drilled and machined in order to dissipate heat, and to increase friction with the pad. A larger rotor size will provide a greater braking force. It is important to know that some forks have a recommended maximum for disc brake size, as the immense braking forces of some can put excess strain on the fork leg.

Pads are easy to replace on most disc brake callipers, much easier than rim brake pads. However they are more prone to being affected by oil and other contaminants and must be kept clean in order to function at their best.

Rim Brakes

The most common type of rim brake in use is the ‘V-Brake’. It is the most cost effective way to have really good, powerful brakes on a bike. The long cantilever arms that are joined together at the top by the cable passing through provide a powerful braking force to a rim, and are lightweight with little maintenance required. Rim brakes have one main downside; the fact that the rim is subject to wear as well as the brake pads. Pads may be relatively straight forward to replace but rims are more difficult and can be quite costly to replace.

Once popular, but now very much in the minority are hydraulic rim brakes. Favoured by trials riders due to the immense amount of braking force they apply. However bear in mind that the greater the braking force the faster the rims will wear too.

The exception for rim brakes off road is cyclo cross bikes, that still use the very old style ‘cantilever’ brakes. These brakes were the predecessor to the V-Brake, and are much less powerful but lend themselves well to being used with road style brake levers and also for mud clearance.

Road Systems

Road brakes have not changed a great deal in principal for many years, as the caliper system is still very effective. Most recent technological advances have been to develop lighter calipers that offer even more stopping power.

Caliper Brakes

Road brake callipers can be single or dual pivot. A dual pivot brake is more powerful as both pads are pulled to the rim in unison. SRAM and Shimano brakes are dual pivot at the front and rear, whereas Campagnolo use a single pivot rear brake to save weight, claiming dual pivot is only really necessary for the front brake. No matter what your choice, the modern designs are very effective and almost maintenance free. Pads are also very easy to replace as many now use a cartridge replacement system, so only the rubber braking material need be replaced, not the entire pad.

Hybrid and Touring

Your choice of brakes on a hybrid or a touring bike depends on what your individual bike is designed for. You find virtually every type of brake used in this category from hub brakes to disc brakes. It is generally recommended that you stick with the type of brakes that your bicycle came with on bicycles of this nature.

This Buying Guide gives our customers general advice on Brakes. It is a guide only and we always recommend visiting one of our stores or contacting one of the experts in our sales team on +44(0)1293 574 900 if in doubt about your needs.
This story was last updated on 16/01/2012