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Here are the ones I'm aware of:

Center Pull Cantilever

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

V-Brakes

  • 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?

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  • 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

6 Answers 6

29

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

Rod

Rod Brake

Coaster/Drum/Hub

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"

V-Brake

  • 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
4
  • [quote]•Can easily crush most single walled rims[/quote] Wow Jun 7, 2013 at 19:32
  • Yeah they're pretty intense: lp1.pinkbike.com/p4pb5394446/p4pb5394446.jpg
    – Ehryk
    Oct 19, 2016 at 3:58
  • 2
    Roller brake (ie Shimano BR-IM 70) ommited :)
    – krzyski
    Oct 19, 2016 at 11:19
  • There seems to be an error in the pictures: the centre pull U brake photo doesn't look any different to the canti photo
    – Chris H
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:21
4

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!

4
  • 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
  • On road bikes the weight distribution puts hard limit on stopping power. Once the rear wheel lifts, more braking power isn't that useful and sidepulls can already do that.
    – ojs
    Nov 4, 2022 at 9:29
4

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.

3

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)

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  • 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
2

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.

  • The system works completely without cables or hydraulics, and is thus very easy to service.
  • Breaking will reduce tire longevity

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

enter image description here

1

Center Pull Cantilever

What's that? There are center pull brakes, that are today obsolete. There are cantilever brakes, that are still used in some non-suspension forks in situations where the cable pull ratio has to match road bike pull ratios (for example due to using STI shifters). But I have never heard about center pull cantilevers.

Rim brakes

Rim brakes are the lightestweight and cheapest form of brake: they reuse the rim as a giant brake disc. So in automotive terminology, rim brakes are actually one form of disc brake. They have linear braking like all disc brakes, and the brake disc size with rim brakes is the largest possible, which is good in some ways (effective braking when dry), but bad in some other ways: in wet weather the brake disc becomes wet, and cycling braking forces are so small the water requires about two wheel revolutions to be removed with aluminum rims, so an unexperienced cyclist can be surprised by poor braking, although an experienced cyclist pre-heats the brakes when anticipating the need to maybe stop in wet weather.

Ideally rim brakes are only used with aluminum rims. Steel rims have very poor braking in wet. Aluminum rims only reduce braking force for two wheel revolutions when wet, but they suffer from a wear problem. Good brake pads having iron oxide (rust), that are rust-colored, somewhat but not fully reduce the wear problem. The only form of brake pad with iron oxide, as far as I know, is Kool Stop Salmon.

For people with wheelbuilding skills, rim wear isn't a problem but for others getting a rim replaced may be costly. So it's understandable that wet weather riders may prefer other brakes than rim brakes today.

Rim brakes require manual adjustment using barrel adjusters.

Sidepull

Sidepull brakes are ideal for road bike tire clearances. Their drawbacks become apparent in two cases:

  1. If you want to run really wide studded tires for example riding on snow, you can't usually fit these because sidepull brakes limit tire clearance
  2. Because everyone demands "stiff braking", the situation with sidepull brakes has developed to the point where a typical sidepull brake offers no clearance at all. If you want to run any tires wider than 23mm (or run mudguards), most likely you can't, and don't ride that 23mm tire in mud since there is no mud clearance!

The (1) is an inherent problem in the design that limits tire clearance. Problem (2) however is due to everyone demanding "stiff braking", at the expense of reducing the tire clearance to absolutely nothing. Sidepull brakes can perfectly well take 35mm tires with fenders, you just need sidepull brakes you can't easily find anymore, and forks with brake reach you can't easily find anymore.

One problem with sidepull brake is the faulty centering. They have a centering spring that's centered not at the brake bolt, but mid-air. This spring causes sliding contact where it contacts the brake arm ends. Due to unpredictable friction in that interface, a condition can develop where nonequal coefficient of friction can result in unequal left/right centering. The solution is to clean that contact point and put a drop of oil there, but you may need to do that so often that it could become annoying. A solution is not to re-center the brakes -- you can spend hours doing that and it won't be fixed if you don't do the cleaning/oiling trick.

Because the sidepull brake designers recognised the centering problem, they usually make the brakes have a fairly low mechanical advantage to give enough room for unequal centering to not rub on rims. By fixing the faulty centering spring to be centered at the brake bolt, the centering problem could be fixed and sidepull brakes could use a reasonable mechanical advantage, so they could be as strong as V-brakes for example, and have room for 35mm tires with fenders. However you never have the MTB style tire clearance with sidepulls.

One benefit of sidepulls is that as the pads wear, they don't move towards the tire or rim; they stay exactly at the same position. So pads can be very thick from new to worn, and they still don't develop position error.

Traditional sidepulls have 1:1 mechanical advantage.

Centerpulls

Centerpulls are an obsolete brake type that was advertised often as stronger, using false claims. They may however have slightly better centering than sidepulls, but as a drawback they require cable stop at the fork/headset and at the frame, like canteilevers do. The brake mechanism is somewhat spongy, so with lots of braking force it flexes maybe too much. As pads wear, they move towards the tire, and in extreme cases can cause a tire blowout unless the pads are re-adjusted. They aren't usually found anymore.

Dual pivot sidepulls

Dual pivot sidepull is an example of bicycle engineers failing to find a true cause of a problem, solving it in an incorrect way instead. The engineers added forced centering instead of solving the faulty centering spring problem. While forced centering solves the issue, it requires one of the brake arms to be pivoting not at the mid brake bolt, but at another pivot point (hence the dual pivot name), and in that other brake arm, when pad wears it develops position error, moving towards the tire like in centerpulls, potentially causing a tire blowout.

Dual pivot sidepulls generally have higher mechanical advantage than normal sidepulls (1.6x as opposed to 1x), because the centering problem was fixed (although in an incorrect way). Also today most dual pivot sidepulls due to the 23mm tire trend can't accommodate 25mm tires, or fenders, so they are not useful at all.

Cantilever

Cantilever brakes are an old form of brake with lots of tire clearance and peculiar properties.

Cantilevers don't suffer from the centering problem of single pivot sidepulls. Cantilevers require a cable stop like centerpulls, which makes their use hard on suspension forks or bikes. The adjustment possibilities are their gift and curse: an experienced bike mechanic can adjust the mechanical advantage, but an inexperienced bike mechanic can set up the brakes in a manner that mechanical advantage is too high or too low, without realizing how the situation could be fixed. As pads move towards the rim and wear, mechanical advantage lessens, and also as pads wear, they move downwards towards the rim. Because of these two issues, generally cantilever pads are thin and long. If on the front fork the straddle cable falls on a knobby tyre (because of the main cable breaking), it will lock the front wheel, sending the rider over the bars. This can be fixed by using a link wire instead of a straddle cable, or by having a fender or a cable catcher between the tire and the brake.

Cantilever pad are bit hard to install because they have so many degrees of freedom for adjustment. However, some pads are holders: you install the holder only once carefully with lots of effort, and then can slide old pads out and new pads in.

Cantilever brakes are usually adjusted to have mechanical advantage compatible with sidepulls and dual-pivot sidepulls, and generally can't be adjusted to have V brake like mechanical advantage. Usually this means about 1.5x.

Good cantilevers are very stiff, so they offer lots of braking force assuming the rider has finger strength, and if the fork isn't stiff, a brake booster can be installed to prevent the fork from flexing.

V brakes

V brakes solve several issues of cantilever brakes: the hard but possible mechanical advantage adjustment of cantilevers (V brake mechanical advantage can't be adjusted), the hazard of straddle cable falling on the knobby front tire, the difficulty of having cable stops on suspension bikes and forks, and the reduction of mechanical advantage as pad wears or moves towards the rim.

V brakes still suffer from the movement of pads downwards as they wear, so with V brakes pads are similar to cantilever pads: many degrees of freedom for adjusment (difficult to set up), often the pads are in holders allowing setting holder once and then quickly swapping the pads, thin and long pads so that they don't move too much downwards when fully worn.

V brakes have a different mechanical advantage to cantilevers: about 3.3x for "MTB" models and 2.8x for "road" models (shorter brakes). Neither of these is fully compatible with "road" sidepull/cantilever levers, although the "road" models are less bad when using with "road" levers. So V brakes require specific V brake levers.

A problem of V brakes is the large barrel adjuster range needed. MTB levers usually have acceptable barrel adjuster range, but road bikes don't have the adjuster at the lever, so you may require as many as three barrel adjusters per brake to have enough adjustment range: one SM-CB90, one noodle with integrated adjuster, and one Jagwire Mickey above the noodle. Usually just using the adjuster noodle isn't enough, it has terrible adjustment range.

Drum brakes

Drum brakes suffer from a poor response that is nonlinear. Therefore, drum brakes are generally not good for sporty riding on wet roads, when the cyclist may brake nearly at the limit of friction, and any nonlinearity can cause a misestimation of braking force and a crash.

Drum brakes require a reaction arm to the frame or fork. Therefore, puncture repair is made harder on drum brake bikes.

One benefit of drum brakes is their low maintenance and non-exposure to elements, so with wet they only suffer from nonlinearity and not wet weather reducing brake effectiveness for two wheel revolutions like with rim brakes. Many cheap bikes therefore have a rear coaster brake (which is a type of drum brake operated by pedaling backwards). For non-sporty riding where only rear brake is enough, this may be a good idea because drum brakes can last 100 thousand kilometers. However, for fast riding drum brakes could be bit dangerous due to the nonlinearity.

Disc brakes

Disc brakes in bikes are similar to rim brakes, but with a smaller brake disc. This means there has to be a separate disc, because rim can't be reused as a brake disc. Because of the small brake disc (which would have a terrible braking force with low mechanical advantage), disc brakes need very small pad gaps (necessitated by the high mechanical advantage), and often times a piston in hydraulic disc brakes can become "lazy" and keep dragging on the disc.

As a benefit of the small brake disc, it doesn't generally get wet in wet weather because it's so far away from the road, and if it gets wet, it generally becomes dry immediately when starting braking, and the brake pad compounds used in disc brake pads (as opposed to rim brake pads) are more tolerant of water between the pad and the brake disc, so in wet weather braking doesn't suffer for two first wheel revolutions.

Disc brakes can be mechanical or hydraulic. Most mechanical brakes require frequent adjustment and the adjustment needs to be done using two barrel adjusters and is fairly difficult for such an often-done task. There are expensive models though that can be adjusted with single barrel adjuster, but hydraulic brakes may be a better option since they are automatically adjusting.

Brake discs can easily become bent if bike is stored in a bike rack, or if the brake disc touches something when crashing. Also disc brakes eat pads at a horrible rate if riding in the dry: I get 2000 km pad life from resin pads used only in dry, whereas I used to get 10000 km pad life from rim brake pads used only in dry. This is a problem because disc brake pads are more expensive than rim brake pads.

Mechanical disc brakes are available in short-pull (cantilever/caliper lever compatible) and long-pull (V-brake lever compatible) variants.

One problem of disc brakes is that for heavier riders, they may not offer enough braking force due to flexing of the system. Usually the mechanical advantage is good, but the lever very quickly moves towards the bars when braking, whereas for example a stiff V brake or cantilever setup would not have the lever move so close to the bars, allowing huge braking forces, assuming the rider has the required finger strength.

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  • 1
    Thanks for the comprehensive list. Although not very prevalent in western world, band brakes are still popular in some areas. Covered in that same Wikipedia link are rim band brakes, which I have seen on some bicycles marketed in the USA.
    – karolus
    Nov 5, 2022 at 19:06

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