Along with the technological progress recorded in the last years also came the progress of products in the bicycle industry. Mainly, it concerned the use of new materials, such as carbon, or the refinement of technological processes, all these generating lighter, more durable and generally more performant parts and bikes. With the opening of such new possibilities, even components that were at a level considered sufficient and consistent with top-level products started to be upgraded or developed in different directions. Maybe the best example in this case are the road brakes, which not so long ago were anything but manifold, and now they became available in a wide range of types and concepts.
If the beggining of the ’90s saw iterations of rim brakes emerge, like Shimano Dura-Ace’s dual pivot brake, or complicated but lacking in efficiency concepts like Campagnolo’s Delta brakes appear, currently one can choose between a lot of brakes of different types, that offer functionality and quality levels to match one’s needs, desires and budget. In the following, we will list the main types of brakes used for road bikes nowadays, along with a short description of them, own assessments, and pros and cons.
Mechanical road bike rim brakes
Without the fear of being wrong, we will say that these are the most widespread type of brakes that currently equip road bikes. And it’s no wonder since they are light, easy to mount, easy and cheap to service, generate almost no extra drag in terms of aerodynamics, and, in the case of mid- and top-level products, ensure very efficient braking. However, the numeros versions in which they are manufactured also contributes to their wide dispersion, thus ensuring compatibility with several types of bicycles. Mainly there are 4 types of mechanical road bike rim brakes that the industry employs: single pivot, dual-pivot, direct mount and integrated. Noteworthy is also the fact that much of their efficieny and stopping power lies in correctly allining the brake pads so they press on the braking surface of the rim when actuated, and in choosing the pads with the compound most suited to the material of the rim.
Mechanical road bike single-pivot rim brakes
If simple is what you’re looking for, then single-pivot brakes are the answer for you. Based on a simple principle, these brakes use a single axle both for mounting and as a pivot axis for their movement. As brakes gradually developed, this type can nowadays be found on entry-level bikes, even if in a not so distant past different models of this type reached more than decent braking power.
Pros: easy to mount and service, very affordable price, low maintenance cost
Cons: the models currently available on the market have reduced braking power
Mechanical road bike dual-pivot rim brakes
First introduced somewhere in 1990 (that was the first year they featured in the Shimano catalog, included in the Dura-Ace groupset), the dual-pivot concept represented a big step forward. Now, the brakes were attached to the frame by an axle, while the pivoting movement of the calipers was executed around another one, found on the side of the brake. Therefore, the brakes became firmly attached to the frame, being impossible for a bent rim to modify their position since the axle could be tightened to its fullest without influencing the actual braking process. This added extra grams, but allowed for a finer adjustement of the brakes, since the responsible mechanism was on its own now. Also, their efficieny proved undeniable and they were shortly embraced by the entire professional peloton, and a further proof that these brakes were and still are a great concept is the fact that they are still in use, even if they suffered different modifications.
Pros: easy to mount and service, low maintenance cost, very high braking power and low weight in the case of high-end models
Cons: they lose power in wet conditions, high-end models come with a price
Mechanical road bike direct mount rim brakes
These are nothing more than an interesting and, at least marginally, more efficient version of the dual-pivot brakes. The concept on which they rest is using two mounting points, which allegedly leads to a higher stiffness and improved power. The manufacturers that put their money on this concept also claim that these are more aerodynamic brakes, and that’s the reason why currently we can find them almost exclusively on aero road bikes. While the gains exists, even if marginal, the main problem in this case remains compatibility, since they too are mounted directly on the frame and fork which have to be especially designed for this type of brakes.
Pros: higher braking power, better aerodynamics, easy to service, low maintenance cost
Cons: loss of power in wet conditions, currently available only in mid-level and top-level groupsets, require special fork/frame
Mechanical road bike integrated rim brakes
The old V-Brake makes a comeback in the shape of integrated road bike rim brakes. With some slight modifications in order to fit the frame as tightly as possible, the integrated rim brakes are a concept that appeared along with the aero road bikes. The manufacturers of such bikes intended to reach a compact bike, with the lowest drag possible and therefore integrated the brakes directly into the frame/fork or at least placed them in „hidden” positions. The V-Brake, which had already proved its performances in the mountain bike world, was the ideal candidate since it mimicked the shape of the components where it was to be mounted. Also, these types of brakes are usually developed directly by the bike manufacturer in order to reach perfect integration.
Pros: high braking power, easy maintenance, frame/fork integration leads to improved aerodynamics
Cons: compatible only with frames/forks especially designed for them, very often produced only by the bike manufacturer, complex installation process
Road bike hydraulic rim brakes
Even though they have been around for some time now, the hydraulic rim brakes weren’t that well received by road enthusiats because despite their huge braking power, they represented a complex system, more difficult to service, that delivered much more power than actually needed. In fact, it’s very likely that the maintenance process played a big part in this story, given that pro teams already have bikes with a lot of mechanism that require clockwork functioning, and another one would be one too many, while end users probably preffered something plain and simple, even more so as mechanical rim brakes delivered enough performance as they were. However, we cannot overlook the advantages of the hydraulic system, with emphasis on the braking power that can backfire if you abuse it, but can be a trustworthy ally if you master the fine modulation that gradually releases all that power. The fact that a hydraulic system is a sealed one is of great use when dealing with wet conditions, since the only thing that can disrupt braking power is the filth that gets on the pads and the rim. But even this can be compensated through the by now notorious power with which the calipers can press on the surface of the rim. For the moment it seems that the cons outweigh the pros, so one can find such brakes in a limited offer, often reserved to those that don’t consider price as a criteria.
Pros: huge braking power, fine modulation, wet conditions do not reduce the braking power
Cons: Complex mounting process, demanding maintenance, require special levers, costly
Mechanical road bike disc brakes
It’d would be a great challenge for us to name the reasons why disc brakes for road bikes appeared so late given that necessary technology was already there, and an even more daunting task would be for us to be as enthusiastic about them as their manufacturers are. Concerning mechanical disc brakes, we can only hope that they will get better in time, a position of ours consolidated after using Shimano’s BR-CX77. To put it briefly, this type of brakes don’t surpass mid-level mechanical dual-pivot rim brakes in terms of performances, while the extra time and skill needed for mounting and servicing them, as well as the squeaky noises and extra weight don’t tip the balance in their favour.
Pros: decent braking power, easy to adjust, not as demanding in terms of servicing as hydraulic disc brakes
Cons: extra weight, braking power compatible only with under-mid-level bicycles
Hydraulic road bike disc brakes
The same first phrase as before goes for the hydraulic disc brakes, with the mention that these ones actually get closer to their true braking potential. However, only recently have they started to offer the expected power and can be considered true high-end products. As in the case of the hydraulic rim brakes, these also do their job dutifully, but not perfectly, and when the extra grams, costs and maintenance come into play, then it’s up to each one to decide for themselves if the hydraulic disc brakes are of good value. In the meantime, we have to give the brakes credit for their fine modulation and high-quality materials that they use, since they currently belong to high-level groupsets. Also, braking power is not reduced as much in wet conditions, and dust, dirt or other such things will not ruin their capabilities. All in all, there are no absolute reasons for buying or not buying this type of brakes, so it’s down to what users can afford and want.
Pros: Huge braking power, fine modulation, high-quality materials, works like clockwork in any conditions
Cons: Extra weight, high price, complex installation and servicing, require special levers