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Our Guide to Buying: Brakes

 

What are Bike Brakes?


In a nutshell

Brakes provide the stopping power of your bike. It refers to both the levers at the bars and the braking mechanism that stops the wheel from turning. There are many different options available depending on your bike and the type of riding you wish to do. Our buying guide will help you determine the best style of cycle brakes.

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V-Brakes

When V-brakes came onto the scene they revolutionised rim braking performance for off-road bikes, tourers and hybrid bikes. Although increasingly new models of these bikes are being fitted with disc brakes V-brakes still offer fantastic braking. With two long arms providing leverage when the brake cable pulls, there’s plenty of power on offer and the best V-brakes should perform well in all but the muckiest conditions.


How do I set up V-brakes?

V-brakes are easy to install and set up, but make sure your brake levers are compatible – longer cantilever brake levers and road levers can lead to poor performance. Most V-brakes come with cartridge style brake pads, so replacing pads is as simple as can be – remove a small retaining pin or bolt, slide the old pad out and replace with a new – you may need to tweak the cable slightly, though.

Shimano V-brakes are reliable, while Avid’s Single Digit V-brake is a classic. Cyclocross riders looking to improve power should look towards TRP’s offerings, which are designed to work seamlessly with drop bar brake levers.

 

Cantilevers


What are cantilever brakes?

Cantilever brakes mount much like V-brakes, but with a straddle cable between them, which is pulled vertically to actuate the brakes. Cyclocross riders love them because they offer near V-brake levels of performance, without getting clogged up with mud. Cantilever brakes can be a bit tricky to set up but persevere and you’ll get a great set of brakes. Like V-brakes, pads are often cartridge-style – making them quick and easy to change.

If you spend winter weekends getting covered in mud, you may be riding a cyclocross bike with cantilever brakes. The cyclocross scene in the UK has exploded in recent years and whilst many new ‘cross bikes come fitted with disc brakes older models still carry cantilever brakes. Fortunately, at Evans Cycles, we offer plenty of the best cantilever brakes which will provide power and mud clearance.

Mounting points for the straddle cable are getting wider and wider, which offers greater leverage and therefore more power – TRPs Eurox magnesium cantilever brakes might be pricey, but they’re light and powerful, a winning combination. Less expensive, but still effective, are Shimano cantilever brakes.

 

Caliper Brakes

If you have a road racing bike and want to stop a bit quicker and lose a bit of weight, you could replace your standard caliper brakes with something new.

Road bikes rely on caliper brakes to bring them to a stop, although disc brakes are now becoming popular. However, if your frame is built for caliper brakes there are still options to upgrade these. If you’re looking to go quicker, stopping faster will help and a good pair of brake calipers will give you powerful, reliable stopping power in a wide range of conditions.


Regular caliper brakes vs direct-mount caliper brakes – what is the difference?

Most bicycle caliper brakes attach via a single bolt either in the frame or on the fork and come as a single unit. Increasingly, though, bikes are coming with direct-mount caliper brakes – where the brake mechanism pivots, with two bolts attaching the brake to the bike. While regular caliper brakes offer ample amounts of power, direct-mount calipers can offer extra power thanks to the additional stiffness afforded by the two mounting points.

If you’re purchasing new caliper brakes for your road bike, check which version your frame/fork will accept. The Shimano Dura-Ace brakes are a good example of direct-mount calipers that work well. With road tyres getting wider, dropping the wheel out of the frame or fork can lead to the tyre getting stuck between the pads – but most brakes come with a little cam-lever which opens the brake to aid wheel removal – remember to set the cam back in place before you ride off!

 

Disc Brakes


What are the main kinds of disc brakes?

There are two main kinds of bicycle disc brakes. Mechanical brakes use a normal lever connected to the brake caliper by a cable. They tend to be much cheaper as they're less complicated but they aren't as powerful as hydraulic disc brakes and they also need to be adjusted for cable stretch and pad wear. Hydraulic disc brakes use a lever connected to the pistons (or caliper) by a hose containing incompressible fluid, which makes them much more powerful.


What is the biggest advantage of bicycle disc brakes?

Using bicycle disc brakes offers a large number of advantages, foremost of which is that they provide controllable and predictable stopping power regardless of the conditions. Disc brakes are now being fitted across the full range of bikes including road, cyclocross, gravel and hybrid, even on some kid's bikes.


What are the other advantages of using bike disc brakes?

Having disc brakes on your bike means that even when it’s wet, braking power is unaffected. They also offer much improved stopping power as a much higher amount of mechanical force can be applied. Because they use a metal rotor attached to the hub rather than a braking surface on the rim, they don't wear out as quickly and allow you to use lighter weight, disc-specific rims.

Hydraulic brakes also compensate automatically for pad wear, so the only maintenance needed is an occasional change of the braking fluid and new pads. The fluid also serves to take away the heat caused by braking friction, meaning that they offer more predictable power on long descents. The number of pistons also matters. Many downhill brakes, such as Avid Codes use two pairs of pistons instead of one to multiply the force even more, though at a weight penalty.

The rotors have a big effect on braking power. Larger rotors offer much more power but they're heavier and can also make it harder to apply stopping force smoothly. You also need to make sure you get the correct rotor to fit your hubs. Most use a six bolt standard, but some Shimano brakes use a special Centrelock rotor. Your local Evans store will help you get the correct items for your bike.