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This article helps you clarify the differences, pros, and cons between hydraulic vs. mechanical disc brakes.
I used mechanical disc brakes shortly, and now I use hydraulic ones. Below, I share my take on them.
In short: Hydraulic disc brakes are more effective and easier to use because you don’t have to apply as much force on the brake levers. They are also lighter and don’t require as often maintenance. But, on the other hand, they are more expensive than mechanical disc brakes.
Are you keen to learn more?
Let’s dive in.
What Are the Pros & Cons of Hydraulic vs. Mechanical Disc Brakes?
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of hydraulic and mechanical disc brakes.
|Disc brake type||Pros||Cons|
|Mechanical||• More affordable|
• Less difficult to maintain
• Are compatible with rim brake shifters
|• Less effective and consistent
• More difficult to control (require more force on brake levers)
|Hydraulic||• More effective and consistent|
• Easier to control (require less force on brake levers)
|• More expensive
• More difficult to maintain
• Are not compatible with rim brake shifters
The most discussed benefit of hydraulic disc brakes is their performance.
Since the entire circuit is closed and the fluid takes care of the piston movement, frictional losses are eliminated. This means the pistons activate almost immediately when the brake lever is pressed.
At the same time, the brake force is applied more consistently, which results in a more predictable braking effect.
Mechanical disc brakes have a metal cable that’s being pulled when you press the brake lever.
Due to cable bending and friction, you have to apply more force, and the cables wear out quicker, requiring more often maintenance (similar to rim brakes).
Mechanical disc brakes are more affordable. That’s why they are used on cheaper bikes suitable for beginners.
You will have to pay extra for hydraulic disc brakes. This extra charge is variable on the specific brand. However, expect to pay roughly double the price.
Hydraulic brakes are almost maintenance-free. Thanks to the closed circuit, there is no risk of contamination by elements (water, dust, dirt, etc.).
I’ve been using hydraulic disc brakes without active maintenance for more than six months without issues.
On the other hand, the brake pads are closer to the brake rotors (often less than 0.5mm from each side). Thus, there are higher demands on rotor and caliper alignment.
I often test different wheelsets, so I have to adjust the brake calipers to avoid disc brake rubbing. But if you use one wheelset, you don’t need to adjust them as often.
Mechanical disc brakes are easier to repair due to their simplicity (you can get by with basic tools). However, they require more regular adjustments to ensure maximum performance.
Mechanical disc brakes are about 20% heavier on average than disc brakes.
This is not a big deal in mountain biking because we are talking a few dozen/hundreds of grams.
However, road cycling weight weenies will probably choose hydraulic disc brakes for their lower weight.
Hydraulic vs. Mechanical Disc Brakes FAQ
I hope this article has helped you clarify the pros and cons of hydraulic vs. mechanical disc brakes. You will fully appreciate the difference between them once you try both.
Although you may think you don’t need hydraulics now, once you try them, you probably won’t return to mechanical ones.
But remember, one type is not better for all riders. It always depends on your riding style and needs.
If you are a bikepacker who does a lot of riding in remote areas, the simplicity and easy repairability of mechanical disc brakes is the way to go.
Feel free to comment below on what type of brakes you prefer and why.