Here are the ones I'm aware of:

Center Pull Cantilever

  • Slightly better braking than side pull brakes.
  • No recentering problem.
  • Relatively rare


  • Cheap to produce.
  • Similar in braking power to center pull brakes.
  • Relatively short service life before the resetting springs fail.

Cable Disk Brakes

  • Second best stopping power available.
  • Same kind of technology in automotive brakes, these work in wet or oily conditions.
  • Require stronger rims, forks, and tires to be used.
  • Relatively heavy.
  • Expensive.

Hydraulic Disk Brakes

  • Stronger braking than cable disks.
  • More complicated; more parts to break.
  • More expensive than cabled disk brakes.

Have I missed any pro or con, or any brake types here?

  • This would be better formatted as a brief CW question with several answers.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 12, 2011 at 16:08
  • @Chris: Feel free to do that. Unfortunately it requires a moderator to set the CW bit so there's not much I can do about it. Jun 12, 2011 at 16:33
  • Has been wiki-o-matic-ated. Jun 12, 2011 at 16:41
  • 1
    This question has already been somewhat answered by the OP, although the answers could do with expansion. Feel free to take stuff from the question and expand on it. Jun 12, 2011 at 16:43
  • Also, am removing all images from this post, but we should be able to find Creative Commons/public domain images for all of these. (These are all hotlinked images from external sites. Copyright issues aside, hotlinked images tend to go away in time, and also steal bandwidth from the external site.) Jun 12, 2011 at 18:32

5 Answers 5


Here's a more complete list, arranged roughly in increasing TYPICAL stopping power, with pictures:


Rod Brake


Coaster Brake

  • Include 'Back-Pedal' Brake
  • Generally not very powerful
  • Very low heat produced for extended periods of braking, used in freight bicycles for example
  • Isolated from the external environment (rain, mud, etc.)
  • Very low maintenance
  • Braking force transferred through spokes like disc brakes (Can't use radial spoking)

Side Pull Caliper

Side Pull Caliper

  • One of the weaker brakes out there for Mountain/BMX use
  • Somewhat common on older cheap bikes
  • Note the single pivot point
  • Sometimes used on road
  • Light weight
  • Cheap
  • Simple

Dual-Pivot Side-Pull Caliper

Dual-Pivot Side-Pull Caliper

  • Common on road bikes
  • Easily centered so they don't drag against the rim
  • Note the second pivot point on the right arm
  • Light weight
  • Aerodynamic
  • Slightly more powerful than the cheaper calliper brakes

Center-Pull Caliper

Center-Pull Caliper

  • Somewhat common on road bikes
  • Light weight
  • Protrude less from frame/fork
  • Pose a cable pull design challenge for suspension designs (both front and rear)

Center-Pull Cantilever

Center-Pull Cantilever

  • Better braking power than calliper brakes
  • Require Cantilever/V-Brake mounts on fork/frame (below rim)
  • Inexpensive
  • Protrude from frame/fork very extensively, so not used much in BMX / Trials bikes
  • Pose a cable pull design challenge for suspension designs (both front and rear)
  • Center better than Caliper brakes

Delta Brakes

Delta Brake

  • Found on some older road bikes, now uncommon
  • Aerodynamic
  • While they look like center pull calipers, they have a few mechanical linkages internally that change mechanical advantage and other qualities
  • Heavy
  • Variable Mechanical Advantage (not desirable)

Side Pull U-Brakes

Side Pull U-Brake

  • Common on some BMX Bikes, older mountain bikes
  • Common for trick bikes that route the front brake cable through the steerer tube
  • Require U-Brake mounts on fork/frame (above rim)
  • Somewhere between caliper and V-Brakes for stopping power*
  • Very little protrusion from the sides, so very little to catch your leg/pants on

Center/Dual Pull U-Brakes

Center/Dual Pull U-Brake

  • Common on some BMX Bikes, older mountain bikes
  • Require U-Brake mounts on fork/frame (above rim)
  • Even less protrusion than side pulls
  • Again, between caliper and V-Brakes for stopping power*

    • Note on U-Brake power: I have a type of center pull U-Brake that uses a wedge that forces the pads into the rim and stops with more force than any V-Brake I've ever used, and has crushed rims for me. The TYPICAL U-Brake design would be between TYPICAL caliper and TYPICAL V-Brakes.

Roller Cam Brakes

Roller Cam Brake

  • Shown here on U-Brake Mounts
  • Smooth feel
  • Somewhat rare

Direct-Pull Cantilever Brakes / "V-Brakes"


  • Most common brake for Mountain bike use
  • Require Cantilever/V-brake mounts on fork/frame (below rim)
  • Generally more powerful than non-disc brakes due to the mechanical advantage
  • Require different levers than the other rim brakes (the levers pull more cable and have less mechanical advantage than the others)

Hydraulic Cantilever Brakes

Hydraulic Cantilever Brake

  • Relatively New
  • Increased stopping power over non-hydraulic cantilevers, but lighter and more aerodynamic than disc brakes

Cable Disc Brakes

Cable Disc Brake

  • Don't heat the rim or use it as a braking surface
  • Will run fine on bent/cracked rims
  • Aren't as affected by mud/water as rim brakes
  • Increase load on hub/spokes/rim eyelets because the braking force is transferred through them. Shouldn't use Radial spoking with them.
  • All this is true of other hub/coaster/drum brakes as well.

Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Hydraulic Disc Brake

  • Same as cable disk, but...
  • Stronger braking than cable disks.
  • Better feel / less input force
  • More expensive

Hydraulic Rim Brakes

Hydraulic Rim Brake

  • Common on rear brake of trials bikes and somewhat in Europe, also used extensively for unicycles.
  • Most stopping power of any brake type
  • Provide the most 'lockout' - a stiffened disc brake will still allow flex from the hub and spokes, where this will not
  • Can easily crush most single walled rims

Side Pull Cantilever

  • Not generally used anymore.
  • Found on older bikes.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Can be knocked off center, requiring readjustment.

There is also a Self-Centering variety:

  • Same as the side pull cantilever, but has 3 major brake levers in the caliper, which (somehow) cause the brake to recenter itself whenever it is used. Everything that Side Pull has minus the centering problem.
  • Most road bikes today are sold with these.

Self-centering side-pull cantilever brakes: Side-pull cantilever brakes

(Image credit)

  • Taken from the answer, moved here. Please feel free to modify; I'm fairly certain that my brakes are side-pull cantilever, and the bike is not a cheap one. They're also the most powerful rim brakes I've ever used. Jun 12, 2011 at 18:39
  • Looks good to me. Note that the ones you have there are the self-centering type. When I say side pull brakes are cheaper, I'm not saying they're bad -- most of the more expensive brake designs offer better stopping power, but also higher weight and complexity. Jun 12, 2011 at 18:50
  • @Billy - re: cheap - Got it, no offense assumed or taken. Also, these brakes do not self-center well, but that's probably because of how Bike Friday attaches them: They share a mount with the fenders. How do you know if these are not self-centering? I'll search out a picture for that. Jun 12, 2011 at 20:51
  • The number of pivot points. See how there's a big bolt on the right side which unscrews? That's the pivot for the left brake pad. The pivot for the left pad is the mounting axle. The ones in Matthew's answer have a single pivot (the mounting axle) and are not self centering. Jun 12, 2011 at 20:59
  • Note: There's a similar picture on this question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/q/4635/1636 Jul 4, 2011 at 4:13

enter image description hereSelf-Energising Cantilever brakes were a Suntour innovation in the early 1990's. The brake arms moved on a spiral or coarsely threaded boss such that the braking force pushed the arm onto the thread in a way that increased the braking force. This was helpful for people with poor grip strength but that the disadvantage that if the rim was damaged the brake tended to lock up on the point of damage - the increased braking force when the brake pad hit the damage fed through the positive feedback system sometimes damaged the bike. Either by spreading the seatstays at the back, bending or breaking the brake mounts, or crushing the damaged rim. That uncontrolled positive feedback could be triggered in other ways, locking up the affected wheel until the bike was stopped and the wheel rotated backwards to clear the fault.


You'll be needing the Wikipedia page on bicycle brakes for this as they have everything covered, including history and the rare types that are no longer in general circulation.

As for your assertion that sidepull brakes aren't up to much, these exquisite beauties will stop anything with modulation and feel that no MTB has ever had:

Look how beautiful!

  • When I say "aren't up to much" I'm referring to raw stopping power, not necessarily feel or ease of use or maintenance. Disks are king in raw stopping power, but there are plenty of good reasons to use side pull or other kinds of rim brakes -- low weight is a big one there. This is CW for a reason -- if you're saying the "feel" of side-pulls is better please edit that in. Jun 12, 2011 at 18:53
  • While I'm as much a fan of vintage Campa gear as any roadie, I'd very much argue your point. No road brake has ever had the combination of power and modulation tat even an average quality hydraulic disc brake has. And while the modulation on those Super Record? brakes was excellent, the stopping power leaves a great deal to be desired.
    – zenbike
    Jun 20, 2011 at 8:49
  • There have been several rim brakes with as much or more stopping power than disk brakes. Roller-cam and self-energising brakes are two of them. The self-energisering braks were known for turning dents in rims into completely destroyed rims.
    – Kohi
    Apr 3, 2012 at 21:57

I just have to add this ingenious piece of brake engineering, mainly for its curiosity value...

Spoon brake

(see on Wikipedia)

--> The brake which applies force directly on the tire.

Was for example on the official Swiss Army bike produced from 1905 to 1988 (!)...

enter image description here

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