Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes: What to Pick?

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While there are plenty of different brake types on the market, there are two that seem to catch the attention of serious cyclists more than any other; mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes. Since we know that there are a few people out there who aren’t 100% sure of the difference between these two brake types, we figured that we would pit mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes. We are hoping that the information on this page will give you more of an idea about which option is going to be right for you.

Remember, as we talk about the difference between mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes, both options are decent. Well, as long as you ensure that you’re purchasing rim brakes from a quality manufacturer.

While one of the options when it comes to hydraulic versus mechanical disc brakes is clearly ‘better’, if you can’t afford to go down that route, the second choice is still good. You’ll see what we mean shortly.

Comparing Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Here, we want to go through the various differences when it comes to hydraulic vs mechanical brakes. For each of these differences, we are going to highlight what the better option is. This should, hopefully, make any purchasing decision you’re trying to make that little bit easier.

How the Brakes Work

While both of these systems are disc braking systems, the way they work is completely different.

Mechanical braking systems will likely be the system that you’re most familiar with. When you pull the brake lever on a mechanical braking system, a wire will be ‘pulled’, and this tension pulls the brake pads toward the wheel, slowing the bike down.

There are no wires with a hydraulic braking system. Instead, hydraulic fluid takes the place of the wire. When the brake lever is pulled, a piston is activated. This piston forces hydraulic fluid up toward the brake caliper.

As the fluid starts to build up, pressure is placed upon the brake pads, forcing them to tighten against the wheel, slowing the bike for rail trails down. It may seem like a complicated process, but all of this happens exceedingly quickly.

Price

It wouldn’t be a fair mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes comparison if we didn’t point out the fact that hydraulic disc brakes are exceedingly expensive in comparison to their mechanical counterparts.

This is because there’s a lot more going on with them. If price is a huge concern, then you could save a lot of money by opting for mechanical disc brakes.

Braking Performance

When it comes to braking performance, hydraulic brakes are nigh on unbeatable. With hydraulic brakes, you’ll have a lot of control over your braking. All it takes is a light touch of the brakes to start slowing the bike down.

This is fantastic if you’re doing something that may involve a lot of braking i.e. riding downhill a lot, or perhaps traveling off-road. The lighter touch means that there’s less pressure on your hands. The whole experience is a lot smoother.

With mechanical brakes, you have to squeeze pretty hard to slow down. It isn’t going to be the gradual slowdown that hydraulic brakes offer either. It’s going to be a quick stop. It isn’t the smoothest experience in the world.

Performance Off-Road

If you’re planning on taking your bike off-road, then hydraulic disc brakes will be the best choice for you. Because hydraulic disc brakes are a closed system, you don’t have to worry about mud, stones, and whatever else getting into the braking system. This means that your braking performance won’t falter.

With mechanical bike brakes, you do have that problem. A few stones and some mud getting trapped in the braking system may stop them from working effectively. If you have mechanical disc brakes and are doing a lot of traveling off-road, then you’ll be forever cleaning them.

Weight

Hydraulic disc brakes do weigh a lot more than your typical mechanical brakes. As a result, it’s rare that you’ll find hydraulic braking systems used on two-seater bikes that have been built for speed. For most people, this probably isn’t going to be that much of a concern.

Mechanical brakes are only going to allow you to travel a fraction faster. The rest of the time, you won’t even notice the extra weight from the hydraulic brakes.

Maintenance

Depending on how you look at it, there’s no real ‘loser’ when it comes to maintenance. When you pit mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes in this category, both have their pros and cons.

Hydraulic brakes tend to require very little in the way of maintenance. Even if you wanted to maintain them, you couldn’t. The system is completely closed. Any maintenance would have to be carried out by a professional.

With mechanical disc brakes, they will need regular adjustment and fine-tuning to ensure that they stay in top condition. However, this maintenance should be pretty simple to carry out. All it takes is a quick YouTube video and you’ll be a pro at adjusting everything that you need to adjust.

Hydraulic brakes with their lack of maintenance are a clear winner here, right? Yes. The problem does stem from the fact that hydraulic brakes are tough to maintain if they need it. If you’re out there in the middle of nowhere and your hydraulic brakes go, then you have no choice but to wheel your bike back home.

The cantilever brakes can’t be repaired or fixed. This isn’t going to be an issue when it comes to mechanical brakes. If they break while you are out and about, then you should be able to do a decent enough repair job to get home safely.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes, there’s almost no competition here. In everything but price, hydraulic disc brakes are a clear winner.

So, if you can afford a set of hydraulic brakes, then put them on your bike. We promise you, it will be one of the smoothest breaking experiences that you have ever enjoyed.

James Mattis

James Mattis

James is a passionate bicyclist who has done about every kind of biking there is. He loves the wind in his hair, the sun over his shoulder and maybe even the bugs in his teeth. No, just kidding about that last item. He isn’t crazy about road burns, either, but acknowledges that to have the good there is the occasional tumble. James feels that his bike is the place where he can unwind, leave troubles alongside the road, meet new people, go new places, and live the life of adventure that he loves. He is ready to share the ride with you.

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