There are two main types of brakes available for bikes. You have rim brakes and disc brakes. Obviously, the purpose of each of them is to help you to slow your bike down. However, they will accomplish that in completely different ways. We want to pit rim brakes vs disc brakes to help you determine which one is the better option for you.
The Differences Between Rim Brakes vs Disc Brakes
Before we start to properly compare a disc brake vs rim brake, it’s probably worth taking a little bit of time to discuss how each of them works. That way, you’ll be able to know the type of brake that you’re looking at.
Rim brakes are probably the brake type that you’re most used to. As you pull the brake lever, the brake calipers pull together and apply force to the rim of the bike wheel i.e. the outer edge.
Disc brakes are pretty noticeable because they have a massive disc in the center of the wheel. When you squeeze the lever, these brake pads will be pulled together. It’s this motion that provides the stopping power for the bike.
Price and Availability
For a lot of people, the discussion between bike disc brakes vs rim brakes comes down to price. Rim brakes are going to be by far the cheaper option.
In fact, if you were planning on building your own bike, then you could easily save hundreds of dollars by opting for rim brakes.
Availability is also going to be a huge concern. While you probably will be able to find disc brakes and rim brakes offered at any decent bike shop, if you’re out there in the wild and your brakes break, then we can almost guarantee that you will have an easier time finding spare parts for your rim brakes than you would for the disc brakes.
If speed is a priority for you, then you should know that disc brakes are going to be a lot heavier. This means that the disc brakes will slow you down fractionally.
In addition to this, disc brakes tend to stick out a little bit more from the side of the bike. This reduces the aerodynamics of the bike. Again, it probably isn’t going to be that much of an issue for many people.
But if you were looking for a bike built for speed and you had to compare road bike disc brakes vs rim brakes, then you would opt for rim brakes most of the time. That is if you were looking to squeeze every last ounce of speed from your bike.
If braking power is your biggest concern, which it probably will be if you’re looking for a set of brakes, then when you put disc brakes versus rim brakes, the disc brakes are the clear winner.
Disc brakes can help you to slow your bike down quickly and smoothly. It often takes a lot less pressure on the brake lever too, particularly if you have opted for hydraulic disc brakes.
This means that if you are in a situation where you are using the brakes a lot i.e. off-road, or even traveling downhill, then disc brakes are going to be the far superior option.
Rim brakes aren’t that sensitive, and often you’ll have to give them a big squeeze to help the bike slow down even a small amount. After doing that for a while, your hand is really going to start to hurt.
Learning how to maintain rim brakes is going to be a whole lot easier. Most people will be able to adjust rim brakes with a small amount of knowledge. This means that if they get knocked out of line, or they need to be switched out, most people with a simple set of tools should be able to accomplish it.
There are a few types of disc brakes, particularly hydraulic brakes, that you would never be able to adjust in the comfort of your own home. You would have to take your bike to a professional.
That being said, disc brakes often require a lot less maintenance anyway. While you may need to regularly be adjusting your rim brakes to ensure that they operate properly, disc brakes will barely ever need any adjustment.
Ability to Work in Wet Conditions
When it comes to rim brakes vs disc brakes in wet weather, disc brakes are the only option.
Due to the way in which rim brakes work, the second they get wet, they lose the majority of their braking power. This means that you’re going to have an even tougher time slowing down.
While disc brakes can fall victim to heavy rain, they aren’t impacted anywhere near as much. If you buy hydraulic disc brakes, then you may not see any impact on the braking power at all.
This means that if you’re planning on doing a lot of cycling in wet or muddy weather, then disc brakes are always going to be the best option for you.
Finally, durability. Obviously, both rim brakes and disc brakes are going to break down eventually. However, it’s going to be happening a lot faster with rim brakes.
Rim brakes wear down quickly. Well, at least in comparison to disc brakes. You will still get thousands and thousands of miles on them.
This means that you will need to replace them far more often than disc brakes. However, as we said before, rim brakes are a quick install, and swapping them out should be dead simple.
Disc brakes will last a whole lot longer, and there is very little that can go wrong with them if you ensure that they are cleaned properly after your cycling adventures.
If price or weight is a factor, then it should be rim brakes all the way. However, if you’re looking for pure braking power and durability under even the most extreme conditions, then disc brakes are what you should be looking for.