Pros and Cons » Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes in Cycling

As more and more professional cyclists are shifting to disc brakes, they are becoming increasingly popular to the point that they are about to replace rim brakes. But, there are still some cycling experts who speak highly of rim brakes. 

The main difference between disc and rim brakes lies in the point where brake pressure is applied. Bikes have disc brakes, which use a rotor (disc) positioned on the wheel hub to apply braking pressure. In contrast, a rim brake applies braking pressure directly to the wheel rim.

If you’re looking to get a new bike, I’m going to lay out the pros and cons of both disc and rim brake bikes, so you may easily make a decision.

(Disclaimer: Rim brakes are going away!)

Difference Between Disc Brakes and Rim Brakes

Disc BrakesRim Brakes
They are relatively expensive to maintain, and their components are not easily available.They are super simple to maintain, use and transport.
They have stronger stopping power.The rims take time to slow down a bike.
They are dangerous for riders because their rotors get hot and can cause cuts and burns on riders.They are safer for cyclists because they do not have rotors that could cause burns and cuts during accidents.
The disc brakes last longer than rim brakes and are resistant to wear and tear.The rim brakes need frequent cleaning and repairs as compared to disc brakes.
They work best in both wet and dry weather conditions. They get inefficient in muddy and rainy areas.

This table shows the differences between disc brakes and rim brakes.

Which Is Better For Me: Disc or Rim Brakes?

Rim brakes are preferable to disc brakes mostly because they are lighter. Disc brakes feature a level of adjustment that enables you to tune the brakes and apply them softly, firmly, or anywhere in between. When it comes to braking performance, discs beat rims big time.

Rim brakes do frequent upkeep, but the maintenance on disc brakes is way more expensive and costlier than rims.

If you like a hassle-free life, then rim brake’s your thing.

However, if you want better braking performance, you should go for disc brakes. 

» You can also read my post: How to Stop Bike Brakes Squeaking?

Disc Brakes in Bike

There are two types of disc brakes: mechanical and hydraulic. The mechanical ones are cable actuated — relying on a cable attached to the brake levers to activate braking. Hydraulic disc brakes are devoid of the cable and use a fluid in a fully sealed line. When you press the brake, pressure is applied on the caliper, which presses pads against the disc, stopping the bike.

A disc brake consists of a metal disc/rotor attached to the front and rear wheel hubs. Its calipers are attached to the frame/fork.

The calipers contain pistons on either side of the disc behind the brake pads. The calipers are attached to the brake levers by brake lines. 

When you brake, pressure is applied to the piston, which engages the pads around the disc. As the pads drag against the disc on the wheel, the bike is slowed. 

Most disc rotors are made of stainless steel and range in diameter from 140mm to 180mm.

There are holes in the discs of road and gravel bikes, so water and debris can get out from under the brake pad. 

They have become massively popular because they work best in both wet and dry weather conditions. 

Rim Brakes in Bike

There are three basic types of rim brakes. They are all actuated with a cable and mounted on top of the frame/fork. Once you press the brakes lever, the cables are activated, and they press against the wheel rims, making the bike slow down. 

The first one is a caliper-style brake which is mounted on most road, path, and pavement bikes.

There are two types of caliper-style breaks as well: dual pivot and single pivot.

The second one is V-brake/linear pull which is found on most mountain bikes. And the last one is a cantilever-style brake, which is similar to the linear-pull brake.

The rim brakes have been here for 100 years, but the hydraulic disc brakes seem to have taken over them. 

Pros of Using a Disc Brake

Here, I have mentioned the benefits of using a disc brake in your bike:

#1 Better Brake Performance

When it comes to brake performance, disc brakes are a clear winner.

As I said, discs have holes in them that easily slide out the water and debris, ultimately offering better braking performance. They do well in both dry and wet weather conditions. 

Water and mud significantly reduce the braking performance of rim brakes, and the riders have to tap the rims to improve their full braking power.

#2 More Stopping Power

Disc brakes are more efficient than rim brakes because they slow you down faster than their counterparts.

Their hydraulic mechanism allows the calipers to apply more pressure to the braking surface. The rotors have more surface area for the brake pads to grip onto, which makes the entire braking smooth. 

On the contrary, rims overheat after frequent brakes are applied to them, which leads to recurrent wear and tear. 

#3 Better Life

Disc brakes are not prone to wear and tear, ultimately giving a better and longer life than rims that get damaged quickly.

The disc brake pads are stronger and do not abrade quickly, so they require infrequent maintenance. 

Research tells us that regular disc brake pads last 100-200 miles longer than rim brake pads.

They can last even longer if they’re organic or sintered pads.

Note: It’s time to replace disc brake pads when there’s a 1mm braking surface left on them. 

#4 Better Safety

Disc brakes slow you down faster than rim brakes. So if you encounter an emergency, you have better chances of saving yourself from an accident with disc brakes.

They have more efficient braking power, which lets you slow down quickly, helping you save yourself and others from a mishap.

» Read my blog post about: How To Remove Grips From Handlebars?

#5 Works Without Trued Wheels

What’s cool about disc brakes is that they work perfectly on wheels that are not aligned and are wobbly (the ones that are not trued).

If you have wobbly wheels, you may have to go easy on the rim brakes, but disc brakes will work completely fine in this situation. 

#6 More Tire Clearance

Wider tires have more clearance in them, which gives them better and faster speed and performance on the ground.

More and more bikes are shifting towards wider tires, but rim brakes only allow so much width.

Therefore, disc brakes have an advantage as they have more tire clearance and better road performance. 

Cons of Disc Brake

Here are some drawbacks of disc brakes for bikes:

#1 Requires More Maintenance

Rims brakes are easier to maintain, transport, and use, while disc brakes require frequent maintenance and bleeding (you could do it at home or a repair shop).

The hydraulic disc brakes’ pads can be self-adjusted, but they must be replaced once damaged. 

#2 More Expensive

The purchase and maintenance cost of disc brakes is more than rim brakes.

There’s no denying that disc brake pads last longer than rim brake pads, but replacing them is thrice as costly as rims. 

#3 Cannot Be Transferred

You cannot fit disc brakes to bikes that were initially prepared for rim brakes. The frame and wheels for disc brakes are entirely different from rim brakes.

You need to buy a different set of wheel hubs and brake mounts for them to fit onto a bike.

#4 Heavier

Cyclists prefer their bikes to be light as a feather and do not want extra weight added to them.

However, disc brakes are heavier than rim brakes, and they add unwanted weight to the bikes. The rotors weigh around 100-130 grams each.

#5 Parts Not Easily Available

One of the biggest stressors for cyclists is finding components for their bikes when they require maintenance.

Disc brake parts are not easily available, and finding them in a remote region can be all the more difficult.

If your bike breaks down in an underdeveloped country, you may have to look for big bike shops for repair.

Tip: Carry spares with you if you plan on riding your bike in some remote parts of the world; they will come in handy. 

#6 Rotors Are Dangerous

Cyclists have reported incidents of burning and cutting themselves from disc brake rotors.

Riding on bikes for longer hours makes them hot, which can cause burns. There have been incidents where cyclists cut themselves from rotors during accidents. 

Pros of Rim Brake

Let’s discuss some pros of using rim brakes in your bike:

#1 Easier to Repair and Maintain

Rim brakes are pretty low maintenance and easy to keep. They are open and easy to repair. You can easily diagnose a problem, break it open with a multi-tool and fix it on the road.

They are not even delicate, and a quick fix can get them up and running. Disc brakes, however, require every part to be fixed properly.  

» This could also be something for you: How to Remove & Install Bike Pedals

#2 Lighter

Cyclists are all for lightweight bikes and this is why rim brakes are their holy grail — they swear by them.

You can save around 265-450 grams by using rim brakes on your bikes because they don’t use rotors.

But they surely cost a pretty penny.

#3 Easily Available Parts

Rim brakes have been part of the cycling industry for a century now, which is why their parts are readily available in all parts of the world.

If your bike breaks down in the middle of a remote area, you won’t have a hard time finding spares in a small repair shop — you won’t even have to look for big bike shops. 

#4 Cheaper

Those upgraded, technologically advanced disc brakes come with a price which everyone cannot afford.

This is what makes rim brakes a premium choice because they are cheaper and easier to maintain, too. The parts cost 10-20% less than those of disc brakes. 

You can buy pads and calipers for as low as $1 if yours have been damaged — now, isn’t that a steal?

#5 More Aerodynamic

Using rim brakes gives you a minor aerodynamic advantage on flat and downhill parts. Since no calipers and rotors are hanging out to the sides, they don’t produce drag.

The calipers in the middle don’t increase wind resistance in any way. 

Aerodynamics becomes increasingly crucial as you travel faster down the road. Air resistance becomes the dominant force working against you if you’re moving faster than about 10 miles per hour.

#6 Vintage

You cannot go wrong with something that has dominated the market for decades. No matter how advanced or amazing the disc brakes become, bikes with rims will always be classic.

#7 Safer

As I mentioned above, cyclists are prone to accidents, burns, and cuts while riding on bikes with disc brakes.

The rims do not have rotors (which can turn hot in case of discs), so there’s less likelihood of burns and cuts during accidents. 

» Maybe this also could be of interest to you: Why Bike Seats are Uncomfortable and How To Fix It?

Cons of Rim Brake

Rim brakes do have some drawbacks. Here are some of them:

#1 Less Stopping Power

Disc brakes are more efficient and quicker at slowing down a bike than rim brakes because they have more stopping power.

The pads on the rim brakes have a smaller surface area, which is why they produce less friction to stop the bike. 

#2 Rim Pads Are Prone to Abrasion

When using rim brakes rather than disc brakes, you’ll likely get a thousand miles fewer out of your rims.

The abrasion from the pads pressing against the rim walls causes a very small quantity of rim material to rub off with each braking operation.

Rims heat up due to friction caused by rim pads pressing against them. Over time, the rims become weaker due to the cycle of heating and cooling off again and again.

#3 Not Rain Friendly

Disc brakes get the nod here because rim brakes lack efficiency when rainwater enters the rims of the wheels.

Riders need to lightly tap (squeegee) their rims to shake off the water to apply the brakes efficiently.

The squeegee results in inconsistent stopping power during rainy conditions. When it’s raining, you might not be able to stop as soon as you usually can.

When it’s wet, carbon rim brakes don’t work very well. In wet situations, disc brakes are substantially more dependable.

» Read my blog post: How Much Is a Bike Tune-Up?

#4 Get Hot Quickly

Your rims heat up as a result of the friction that occurs between the brake pads and rim during a protracted, steep descent. 

Heat frequently results in an increase in tires’ air pressure.

The tire and tube may experience a blowout if the rim accumulates sufficient heat. You will, at the very least, require a new tube if this occurs. 

#5 Need Regular Cleaning

Your rim and brake pads might become clogged with sand, mud, and grime.

The brake pads press these impurities against your rim when you use the brake. Your brakes may become damaged by this.

If the debris isn’t removed, it will eventually ruin your rims. 

Final Words

This was all about the pros and cons of rim brakes and disc brakes. If you’re someone who’s into buying more tech-heavy bikes, then discs are an ideal choice for you.

However, if you like standard, OG, and vintage bikes, then buy one with rim brakes in them. 

I hope this helps!

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