Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes

Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes – Which is Right for You?

When choosing a mountain bike, there are a whole lot of options to consider. Perhaps one of the most important is the choice of Disc Brakes or Rim Brakes. So, which one is better?

The truth is that it depends on what kind of riding you're going to be doing. So let's take a look at both options and weigh the Pros and Cons.

Disc Brakes:

Disc brakes are overall the more consistent and reliable option. Quality disc brakes will stand up in even the toughest conditions, and can stop faster, even in wet or muddy conditions (an important consideration in off-road biking). They come in both cable and hydraulic varieties, both of which work reliably well.

Disc brakes require less force and work even if the rim is bent or wet. They'll stop your bike even if the rim or wheel is thickly coated in mud or dirt.

There are certain drawbacks to disc brakes, however. The biggest issue is that they're simply heavy. A mountain bike can be a pretty hefty piece of equipment no matter what, so the additional weight of discs is something you'll notice. Depending on the bike and brakes, they often add anywhere from 100 to 400 grams – not huge, but enough to make a difference.

Additionally, disc brakes are more expensive than rim brakes. As with all things, you pay for quality and reliability.

Rim Brakes:

The major pro for rim brakes is their weight. If you're trying to rig up the lightest possible bike, rim brakes are a must-have. In basic conditions (road or very light trail riding) rim brakes are fine. They'll stop you when you need to and shouldn't cause problems. Also, they're considerably cheaper than their disc cousins. Rim brakes are especially good for cheap or beginner rigs.

However, they simply don't have the durability of disc brakes. Should your rim get bent or damaged, even slightly, you'll notice a drop-off in rim brake performance. Similarly, wet or muddy rims can severely hamper their effect. Even worse, if you're doing a lot of riding, rim brakes slowly wear the rim down and can even puncture it completely, causing a potentially dangerous blowout.

Bottom Line:

Per our recommendations, if you're serious at all about mountain biking, you should go with disc brakes. What they lack in lightness they easily make up for in reliability and performance.

Need to know more?  Check out what Wikipedia has to say about the performance of disc brakes.