Some of the Best Mountain Bike Brakes are Right Here

Having functional bike brakes is an essential thing that ensures your safety as a cyclist. That’s why it’s imperative that you know which bike brakes to choose when it comes the time to replace them. There are several types of brakes to choose from and once you understand what each of them serves for, it should be fairly easy to purchase the correct item. If you are new to this whole biking thing, you will be amazed to discover the complexity that lies beyond this apparently simple skeleton on 2 wheels.

Top 5 Best Mountain Bike Brakes Comparisons

Brand

Details

bicycle disc brake, bike brake, brake disc

Shimano M820 Saint Disc Brake Set

  • Dimensions: 10 x 9 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 306 grams
  • Calipers: 4-piston calipers
Mountain Bicycle Brake, Bike Brake

Clark's Cable Systems Rear Hydraulic M2 Brake

  • Dimensions: 8.2 x 8.2 x 2.6 inches
  • Weight: 418 grams
  • Calipers: twin piston
disc brake, mountain brake disc, brake disc

Magura USA MT Trail Carbon Disc Brake Set 

  • Dimensions: 11 x 9 x 4 inches
  • Weight: 1.04 pounds
  • Calipers: 4 pistons on the front, 2 pistons on the rear
Mountain Bike Brake, Bike Disc Brake, Brake Disc

SRAM Guide Ultimate Disc Brake

  • Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 1.15 pounds
  • Calipers: 4 pistons
Front Brake, Bicycle Brake, Mountain Brake

Hope Tech 3 V4 Front Brake

  • Dimensions: 8.8 x 8.5 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 1.54 pounds
  • Calipers: 4 pistons

Quick Overview

There are two main categories of bike brakes currently available on the market, but make no mistake: they do have several other subcategories. However, you will generally find that they are divided into rim brakes and disc brakes.

Each of these names hint at the main type of mechanism that lies behind its method of functioning. Rim brakes, for example, will use the wheel’s rim surface, so whenever you brake, the pads are compressed against it. City, road, and BMX bikes often use rim brakes, because their functioning mechanism is quite simple, while the brakes themselves are lightweight. As mentioned before, while there are a lot of subcategories to each of the main two, rim brakes are generally cantilever or caliper brakes. Choosing one of these, of course, depends on your riding style. But both are very important to proper bicycle safety.

Disc brakes, on the other hand, have a metal disc that’s placed on the wheel’s hub. The disc rotates through a caliper, where the brake pads are found. As you press the levers of your break, the pads are compressed against the rotor. In turn, disc brakes can either be hydraulic or mechanical. Hydraulic brakes work based on fluid that helps move the pads and the pistons. Mechanical brakes, on the other hand, have a wire cable that works towards activation the caliper pistons.

Mountain Bike Disc Brakes

Mountain bike disc brake, bike brake disc, bicycle brake

Similar to v-brakes, disc brakes are also activated via a designated lever which is placed on the bike’s handlebars. If you own a mountain bike, you should especially be focused on brakes that provide a lot of stopping power. Hopefully, you’re still with us and we didn’t lose you with terms like “caliper” and “cantilever”, because we’re going to talk about the rotor. The circular metal rotor on your bike is defined by an outer strip that runs through the caliper and acts as the braking surface. Even if individual brake systems have different characteristics, their base mechanisms work it similar manners.

Generally, there is one piston for each side of the rotor found inside the caliper. The brake pads are attached to each of these pistons. When you apply pressure on your brake levers, the pistons will move towards the rotors and have the pads press against the surface. This contact is what slows down and eventually makes the bike stop.

There are many reasons why disc brakes are preferred on mountain bikes. First of all, you have the mud protection. Mountain bikes are often subject to wet and dirty roads, which means that parts of it will inevitably comes in contact with them. Since the braking surface of these types of brakes is moved to the hub-mounted rotor, there is a lot more stopping power when dirt isn’t involved in the equation. As a consequence, your whole braking system has a longer life span, since there is no constant mud friction. Second, disc brakes provide a higher performance, since their stopping power is way better (due to the rotos size, brake type, etc.).

It’s important to know that most disc brakes are now available with very simple attaching mechanisms – you can simply bolt them on and you’re good to go. However, in some cases, hoses are too long and they need to be cut and bled. Bleeding a hose means that you have to eliminate all the air bubbles trapped in the system, to make sure your braking system can function within the normal parameters. This process is different from one brake model to another, so make sure that you thoroughly follow the manufacturer’s instruction to properly bleed your system.

Hydraulic brakes are gaining a lot of popularity on mountain bikes, although there are riders out there who prefer the light weight and simplicity of rim brakes. Truth of the matter is, v-brakes don’t really provide a cyclist with that many purchasing options. There are, however, a couple of advantages in choosing v-brakes over other types. One of them is the lightweight which, as you know, is very important for people who like to travel at greater speeds even on their bikes. Second, v-brakes are also more affordable, which means they are also cheaper to maintain or repair. However, their main disadvantage is the incapacity to perform well on muddy terrain, since they use the rim as a braking surface and attract dirt where dirt shouldn’t be.

Mountain Bike Disc Brake, Disc Brake, Bike Disc Brake

If you have your heart set on a pair of v-brakes, make sure that the wheels, forks and frame of your bike are compatible with them. The forks and frames on your bike must have bosses, or else there won’t be anywhere to attach the brakes. The bosses are nothing but threaded metal stubs – but in case your bike doesn’t have them, you can purchase some adaptors to fill in the gaps.

What to Buy

As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, disc brakes are hydraulic or mechanical. As you can imagine, each of these types has its own set of characteristics, with advantages and disadvantages for both.

Hydraulic discs are characterized by hoses filled with brake fluid, which facilitates the transitions between the moment you press your brake levers and the actual response of the pistons. As you can imagine, this is translated into more power, but also a deeper control of your bike.

Mechanical discs, on the other hand, are cheaper, because their system isn’t that powerful and complex. They are powered by a steel cable which, in case of any trouble, is easier to fix.

Rotors play a very important role in the whole braking mechanism, as they are meant to dissipate heat in order to make sure that your system will live a long and healthy life. Manufacturers have come up with more and more innovative technologies and patterns that help achieve this by maximizing the airflow. The most expensive rotors are designed in such a way as to make sure they provide just the perfect balance between heat dissipation and lightweight.

Top 5 Best Mountain Bike Brakes Reviews

Shimano M820 Saint Disc Brake Set

  • Dimensions: 10 x 9 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 306 grams
  • Calipers: 4-piston calipers
bicycle disc brake, bike brake, brake disc

Available for both the front and read side of your bike, this braking set provided by Shimano is a favorite amongst people who like to go mountain biking and explore the roads away from the roads. They are a very good choice for people who find themselves racing downhill, because they provide excellent braking power and will make you feel a lot safer.

Mounting a set of these on your bike will make sure that you have just the right amount of braking force, even if you will have to sacrifice lightweight for it. But, as always, there are some downsides to having all this power. Aside from being a tad heavy, the braking force of this system also generated a lot of heat, so you might want to consider some sort of ventilation system (vented pads should do the trick).

Since there isn’t a whole bunch of modulation, you will experience some dead lever travel and might be annoyed by this stand-by point where nothing happens. In all fairness, there are lighter options available which can outclass the Shimano Saint brakes. This might be one of the reasons why this set has such a low price and allowed the products to be tested by some many mountain bike enthusiasts.

Pros

  • Very good braking power.
  • Provides the cyclist with a lot more control over the bike on rough terrain.
  • Extremely affordable price.

Cons

  • Heavy weight.

Clark's Cable Systems Rear Hydraulic M2 Brake

  • Dimensions: 8.2 x 8.2 x 2.6 inches
  • Weight: 418 grams
  • Calipers: twin piston
Mountain Bicycle Brake, Bike Brake

This brake set provided by Clark’s doesn’t really excel in terms of performance, meaning that the braking system is not as powerful compared to the juice provided by other manufacturers. The modulation itself is pretty average, but the long lever compensates for this just a little bit. There is a built-in dial that allows you to adjust the reach, but, sadly, it lacks the possibility to adjust the contact point. These brakes are more suitable for riders who are willing to sacrifice speed in order to get something cheaper. They aren’t recommended for those who like to take on steep downhill descents.

Pros

  • 160 mm disc rotor included.
  • Possibility to adjust the lever reach.
  • Compatible with Shimano pads.

Cons

  • Not that much braking power.
  • Not suitable for steep descents.

Magura USA MT Trail Carbon Disc Brake Set

  • Dimensions: 11 x 9 x 4 inches
  • Weight: 1.04 pounds
  • Calipers: 4 pistons on the front, 2 pistons on the rear
disc brake, mountain brake disc, brake disc

The Magura brakes impressed us the most so far. They provide a great balance between the braking power and the convenient price tag. There is a very short period of response between the moment the pads come in contact, which is excellent in dire situation where you feel you’re losing control of your bike. The small amount of modulation contributes to this benefit, as the second you start pressing the lever, you will feel the bike slowing down.

Since the lever itself is pretty long, it should be more comfortable to press, as well. You can easily use two fingers to brake, if you find it more comfortable. You can also adjust the lever reach if need be, but you will need the proper tools to do so.

The magnetic backing that’s present on the brake pads is a nice feature, as it allows you to snap them into position. The length of the hoses is more than enough and you will probably have to shorten them to keep them out of your way.

Pros

  • 5 year warranty period available.
  • Levers are long enough to ensure comfortable pressing.
  • Fast response due to the small amount of modulation.

Cons

  • Hoses may need shortening.

SRAM Guide Ultimate Disc Brake

  • Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 1.15 pounds
  • Calipers: 4 pistons
Mountain Bike Brake, Bike Disc Brake, Brake Disc

To set things straight right from the start: this is not a brake set for the low-budget shoppers. You will have to pay a pretty penny to get your hands on this hydraulic system that should fit snugly on every mountain bike. But if you so spring the extra bucks, you can rest assured that you’ll buy the best combination between performance and adjustability.

However, this purchase is not justified unless you’re a real mountain bike enthusiast that often find him/herself on complicated and bumpy trails. Since it integrates 2 sealed bearing, the lever is easily adjustable and smooth to operate. Due to the great modulation, you will have absolute control over your bike’s brakes.

But one of the true beauties of this braking system is the open caliper design that prevents overheating of the components with the help of a heat shield. Thanks to the titanium bolts that used in the system’s construction, you are able to benefit from a lighter product. Oh, and if you’re interested in regularly bleeding your system, you’ll be happy to know that these SRAM brakes integrate the Bleeding Edge technology.

Pros

  • One of the best choices for endure brakes.
  • Open caliper design, meant to prevent overheating.
  • Easy bleeding process.  
  • Very good balance between power and bike control.

Cons

  • Quite expensive.

Hope Tech 3 V4 Front Brake

  • Dimensions: 8.8 x 8.5 x 3 inches
  • Weight: 1.54 pounds
  • Calipers: 4 pistons
Front Brake, Bicycle Brake, Mountain Brake

A common feature of most Hope brakes is the single aluminum body that’s anodized in order to make sure the surface color doesn’t lose its shine and won’t easily get scratched. The performance of the V4 is quite consistent, as it should be considering how much you pay for it.

While we do like the fancy look on this particular braking system, we don’t like the fact that there is no mean to cool down the mechanism, as there is no technology integrated to prevent overheating. If you match this set up with a 200 mm rotor, you should be able to get just the right amount of brake power, in order to make sure you stop your bike in time. However, it is not the best performance we’ve seen to this day. You are free to customize the contact point and reach as you please, so that the lever will provide quite response and very little delay.

Pros

  • Aluminum body with anodized finish, scratch-resistant.
  • Contact point and reach can easily be adjusted.

Cons

  • Not the best braking set considering its high-price.
  • Open-reservoir bleeding is a tad more complicated.

The Bottom Line

With mountain bike brakes, it’s always important to consider modulation, contact point and reach adjustment, but also the bleeding system. Modulation is important because it determines how much you are in control of the braking force. When you press the lever, you should be able to feel if there is more or less modulation. Both the reach and the contact point are adjusted with the help of a screw or a dial that allows you to determine the exact point of lever pressure when the pads come in contact with the disk. This feature is not available on all types of brakes.

The bleeding system is the replacement of the brake fluid. In time, prolonged braking can lead to overheating of the caliper which, in turn, makes the brake fluid boil. As you can imagine, high temperatures will lead to the creation of air bubbles that considerably reduce the brakes performance over time. You need to pay attention to how the brake manufacturer that thought of this process, as it can take anywhere between 5 minutes to “I don’t want to do this anymore”.

Oh, we almost forgot one very important thing. No matter which mountain bike brakes you opt for, make sure that you bed them in before taking them on more serious rides. Bedding in is a process that ensures the cyclist that the brakes are functioning as they should. After installing them, take them for a spin down the street. Ride your bike on a flat surface by pedaling at a normal speed and then force the bike to come to a halt using your new brakes. Do this about 15 times in order to make sure that the rotor and the pads are compatible enough to provide you with all the stopping power you need.

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