Rim Brakes vs. Disc Brakes

All mountain bike brakes operate by the same general principal. A lever is pulled on the handlebar which causes a cable or fluid to compress brake pads against either the wheel rim or a rotor to slow down or stop the wheel. The left brake lever always operates the front wheel brake and the right lever operates the rear wheel.

1. Rim Brakes

With rim brakes, the brake lever is pulled and brake pads are compressed against the rim of the wheel. There are several different types of rim brakes, including v-brakes, u-brakes, cantilever brakes, or direct pull brakes, but you mostly see v-brakes today.
V-brakes are often found on entry-level mountain bikes, but sometimes advanced riders prefer them over disc brakes.

Advantages of Rim Brakes:
  • Lighter than disc brakes
  • Less expensive than disc brakes
  • Mechanically very simple to maintain
Disadvantages of Rim Brakes:
  • Do not work well when the rim gets muddy or wet
  • Less stopping power than disc brakes
  • Braking performance is affected by bent, damaged, or dirty rim

 2. Disk Brakes

Disc brakes have become the standard on most mountain bikes today. With disc brakes, the brake lever is pulled and brake pads press against a rotor that is attached to the wheel hub. The brake pads are located inside a caliper that is attached to the frame or fork.

Advantages of disc brakes:
  • Respond consistently in all riding conditions
  • Braking effectiveness is not impacted by mud, rain, and snow because the pads and rotors are near the center of the wheel
  • Better stopping power than rim brakes
  • Require less force to be effective so easier on the hands
Disadvantages of disc brakes:
  • Heavier than v-brakes
  • More expensive than v-brakes
  • More complicated to set up and maintain than v-brakes