It is great fun going fast on your mountain bike, but stopping and slowing down is actually a good idea. A decent set of mountain bike brakes make a difference to how your bike handles and how you control it. In fact, they help you go faster, as they instil confidence in your bike’s and your capability.
If you are even semi-serious about mountain biking you should have a bike with disc brakes. They are far more superior to the old style rim brakes. They even look good, therefore, if you are looking to make some upgrades to your bike, a decent set of mountain bike brakes is a good option. However, as usual, there are a few things to consider before you buy some new stoppers.
The mountain bike brakes of your choice should fit your bike. Therefore, you need to check that sizing and mounting types of the new brakes are compatible with your bike.
There are two different standards IS (International Standard) and the Post Mount. You may find that some bikes use both standards. Usually, it will be IS on the rear and Post on the front. However, this should not put you off buying the brakes you want, as you can get adapters to ensure the proper fit.
Discs and Calipers
You need to make sure your new discs and calipers are compatible. Therefore, you need to check that the width and the diameter of the discs can be accommodated by the calipers.
Size of your Discs
The size of your discs (also known as rotors) is mainly determined by the IS. However, big brands such as Shimano and Hope, use their own sizing, which reduces your options and is more expensive.
Type of Riding
As with most components, what type of riding you do will determine your choice of mountain bike brakes. This is because they are designed for different uses. There are a few different types of mountain bike, but for the purpose of choosing mountain bike brakes, we can narrow it down to two categories.
1. Trail Riding
This is pretty much any riding that involves riding terrain that consists of going both up and down hill. Therefore, we include cross-country in to this category. For this type of riding, most people will want to balance the weight of their new braking system with stopping power. Lightweight components make it easier on those long rides, but good feel and power give you the control you need when riding technical terrain and single track.
2. Downhill Riding
This is where you are not too bothered about the weight of the components, but you want all the stopping power possible. You also want progressive feel to the brakes, but more importantly constant power. Mountain bike brakes with more pistons than usual brakes, will still give you lots of braking power when the brake fluid is boiling. Reliability is a big priority for downhill mountain bike brakes, as the heat build up can lead to brake fade when the disc heat up.
Types of mountain bike brakes
There are two main types of mountain bike brakes, hydraulic and mechanical. They both have their advantages, but hydraulic are the most preferred type.
Hydraulic braking systems on mountain bikes work on the same principal as the brakes on a car. They have good progressive feel to them and they are easy to modulate, thanks to the fluid.
Mechanical brakes are much simpler, making it easier to fix them when you are out in the trail. However, they are heavier than hydraulic brakes. When you pull the lever, the brakes are applied to the disc by a metal cable. They are not as powerful as hydraulic mountain bike brakes, but they are easy to set up and are cheaper.
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Your choice of brake pads will also have an effect on your braking power. In short, there are three type of brake pads. Organic, semi-metallic and metallic.
Organic pads are made from natural materials and a heat-resistant resin. They are a good all round pad and provide good modulation. However, they are not great for downhill riding as they do not perform well at high temperatures.
Semi Organic pads are the most common type of mountain bike brake pads. They have good stopping power and last longer than organic ones.
Metallic pads need a bit of heat in them to get working, but when they do, they provide lots of stopping power. Therefore, they are ideal for downhill riders. They are also very durable, but also noisy.