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Does anyone have any recommendations in favor/opposed to hydraulic disc brakes on a commuter bike? I'm considering building up a new commuter with discs but, as an old-school kinda person, I have no experience with anything other than rim brakes. Specifically, I'm interested in the commuting aspects of this. Is changing the rear or front tire any more difficult?

I don't like the idea of more complicated roadside repairs but I do like the idea of better stopping in wet weather.

Also, can anyone recommend a good disc brake for commuting?

  • Commenting, since this is anecdotal/opinion. I like disc brakes on my commuter, since between potholes and unsprung weight in the panniers, I've broken spokes, and it's nice not having to stop and re-true the wheel in order to ride (and still have brakes). But I'm happy I have mechanical disc brakes, since I've had none of the issues my friends with hydraulic brakes have had; no leaks, no bleeding off, and in a pinch I can do most maintenance with tools I already have on hand. – DavidW Jul 8 at 18:45
  • What problems do your friends have with hydraulic discs? From what I've read, mechanical disc brakes tend to be difficult to adjust and not nearly as good as hydraulic. – user44339 Jul 8 at 20:01
  • I admit that with mechanical brakes it's necessary to tweak the adjustment screws occasionally, but it's actually pretty simple to notice that the travel of the brake lever has increased and to put 1/4 turn on the screws. (I don't usually replace my own pads but I just use that as a trigger to get a tune-up done.) My friends were needing to take their bikes into the shop at least twice a season, and they didn't do nearly as much riding as I did. Like I said, sometimes it was leaks, and sometimes it was needing to have the system bled. (Which I don't really understand, I just know the term.) – DavidW Jul 8 at 20:05
  • Moved from hydraulic to mechanical (bb7) brakes on my commute bike - I had a lot of trouble with hydraulic braked during winter when bike is freezing during the day and then gets back to above zero temperature. There were constant problems with leaks and so on, so last fall I've decided to change them for mechanic. After the winter it's all good, had no problems at all, pads are cheap and sold in every lbs I know – k102 Jul 9 at 11:33
  • I bought a new bike last November, mostly for commute, and did about 4,000 km up to date. One very important thing to me was, that the new bike had disc brakes (actually I got hydraulic ones, but that was less important to me). My primary intention was to ease maintenance, since with rim brakes I tend to wear my rims rather quickly, also the brakes themselves need replacement more often. I didn't regret the choice, since on top of less maintenance, I experience un-/remounting a wheel as more easily, and stopping is more smooth. So, yeah, go for it. – Erik Jul 11 at 13:44
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Hydraulic disc brakes are now available on Shimano's lowest level MTB/hybrid groupsets (Altus, Acera and Alivio) which opens up the possibility of putting them on inexpensive flat-bar commuter bikes.

Hydraulic discs brakes are obviously more expensive, and they are a little heavier than rim brakes. They are going to give better and less variable performance than rim brakes. They do work better in the wet and are much less affected by mud or dirt on the trail or road,

Hydraulic disc brakes require less maintenance. Once you have them set up they just work and keep working without needing continual adjustment. The pads adjust themselves and there are no cables to stretch or get dirty.

Replacement pads are a little more expensive, but are quite easy to change. You do have to remember to pop them out occasionally to check the wear as they are not as visible as rim brake pads.

One downside is hydraulic discs need bleeding periodically, which is a little expensive. How often and how much is costs depends on the make and model.

Wheel removal/reinstallation is straightforward. You have to be a little careful getting the rotor in the caliper, especially on the rear wheel when you are fighting the derailleur but it's not too difficult. You also have to remember to not pull the lever while there is no disc in the caliper (or insert a special block to keep the pads separated).

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    Bleeding is not that difficult - can be done by a reasonably competent DIYer with a $20 kit. Plenty of instructions on the net (although first time you may need to do it more than once and make a mess). In my experience, its not needed as often as some people indicate - I have replace more bottom brackets in the last few years than bleed brakes. – mattnz Jul 8 at 21:24
  • @mattnz Agreed, although SRAM bleed kits are significantly more expensive. – Argenti Apparatus Jul 8 at 21:27
  • I'd disagree that hydro discs require less maintenance. I very rarely have to touch the brakes on my rim brake bikes, but on my (several) disc equipped bikes its a steady stream of bleeding, sticking pistons and warped rotors. – Andy P Jul 9 at 9:34
  • @AndyP I'd be interested to know what model brakes you have. My SRAM Force setup has worked very well for 2+ years. – Argenti Apparatus Jul 9 at 12:53
  • @ArgentiApparatus Avid Juicy (well known for needing to be bled every 5 mins), Avid Elixir5 and 7 (both give piston issues). Also a set of BB7 cable discs. 4 bikes, 4 different brakes, 3 different wheel sizes, mix of quick release and thru axle, and all get warped rotors to some extent within the first 5 rides. – Andy P Jul 9 at 13:02
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In terms of changing the tire, it should not be any harder to remove or replace the wheel than without the disc brakes. The freedom of movement inside the brake assembly is comparable to the amount of play between the pads of a loosened caliper brake, and the axle has to be aligned to the drop-outs to mount the wheel anyway.

I have a commuter bike with disc brakes, a touring bike with v-brakes, and a road bike with caliper brakes, and there's no significant difference in how hard it is to remount a wheel. (Except for the part where I have to replace the noodle in the v-brakes with the rack brackets in the way. Which is mostly a problem with my fat hands anyway. :)

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