Choosing the Right Brakes for Your Bicycle

It’s exhilarating, pushing on those pedals and making your bike go faster and faster, but it wouldn’t be if you weren’t sure that you can reliably bring it to a stop when the time is right. That’s why it’s important to make sure that your bicycle has a quality set of brakes and that they’re always in tiptop working order. Bike manufacturers employ several different types of brakes on bikes and which one is best really depends on the type of riding you’re doing.

There are essentially three different types of brakes: coaster brakes, rim brakes, and disc brakes. The coaster style brakes are more common on kid’s bikes and BMXs, while the other two are used in different circumstances on adult bikes. Each has its own advantages and we’ll look at them individually. Disc brakes are a relatively new addition to the brake family for bicycles.

Coaster Brakes

Coaster brakes are probably the simplest type of braking mechanism as they’re activated by simply pushing backwards on your pedals. As I discussed elsewhere on this site, I like these type of brakes for children’s bikes because they’re less complicated and are easier for the child to apply evenly. The big problem with coaster brakes is that they’re really only applied to the back wheel and if you apply them too quickly they can make the bike begin to slide to one side or another.

Rim Brakes

There are actually two different types of rim brakes that are commonly used on bicycles. The first type is called a cantilever brake and it employs a wire that runs directly from the brake triggers on your handlebars to the caliper and pads on your rims. When you apply the hand brakes on your handlebars the wire then tightens, causing the caliper and pads to close on your rim and stop your bicycle. This type of braking system has been very popular for years and does a great job, but its braking ability can be affected negatively in extra muddy and dirty conditions.

The second type of rim brakes are called V-Brakes; to the untrained eye they’ll look very similar to cantilever brakes. The main difference is that the cable on one of these brakes does not have to be anchored above the wheel, which makes it less likely to get in the way of the suspension forks. These brakes were designed primarily for use on mountain bikes where suspension forks are an essential component to ensure a smooth ride.

Disc Brakes

If you’re a mountain bike enthusiast you’ll probably want to strongly consider looking for a bike with disc brakes. As the name implies, this type of braking system employs a set of disks in the center of your rim that close together to stop the wheel when pressure is applied using the hand brake. In many cases the system is hydraulic and uses fluid for a smooth stopping sequence. The great advantage of these brakes is that they operate in a closed environment and are less prone to being affected by wet and dirty conditions. If you’re riding down the trail and have to cross a stream, after you come out the other side you don’t have to worry about whether your brakes will still provide you the stopping power you need.

The other great advantage of disc brakes is that they’re not affected as easily if your rims get a little bent out of shape when navigating a particularly difficult section of trail. The disc brakes will always be applied evenly, and while they may be a little noisier than traditional systems it’s worth it for such a reliable braking system. They’re not necessarily ideal for road bikes, though, due to their bulky nature.

Different Brakes for Different Folks

If there’s one thing you should take out of this article it’s that there is no one best type of braking system for a bicycle. The types of brakes that work best for children are very different from the type of brakes that work best for adults – so consider your choice carefully. It’s also important to remember that disc brakes are great on mountain bikes, but in most cases traditional caliper-type brake systems are better for road or touring bikes. As always, choose the bike that fits best for you and the braking system that makes the most sense for the type of riding you do.

Find the Perfect Bicycle for You!

Checkout our reviews to find the best bike to suit your needs.