Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: Are Hydraulic or Mechanical Better?

Mountain bike disc brakes and rim brakes are the 2 major types of mountain bike brakes seen today. Disc brakes may be hydraulic or mechanical. Which type of brake is best depends on your riding needs and finances. Below are strengths and weaknesses of each type of brake to help you decide which type is best for you.

Enough talking...go straight to the hot deals on best brands of disc brakes!

Are Mechanical or Hydraulic Disc Brakes Better? Got tips on which brakes are best and which ones to avoid? Tell us about it here...

Rim Brakes vs. Disc Brakes

All mountain bike brakes operate by the same general principal. A lever is pulled on the handlebar which causes a cable or fluid to compress brake pads against either the wheel rim or a rotor to slow down or stop the wheel. The left brake lever always operates the front wheel brake and the right lever operates the rear wheel.

Rim Brakes


With rim brakes, the brake lever is pulled and brake pads are compressed against the rim of the wheel. There are several different types of rim brakes, including v-brakes, u-brakes, cantilever brakes, or direct pull brakes, but you mostly see v-brakes today.

V-brakes are often found on entry-level mountain bikes, but sometimes advanced riders prefer them over disc brakes.

Advantages of Rim Brakes:

  • Lighter than disc brakes
  • Less expensive than disc brakes
  • Mechanically very simple to maintain

Disadvantages of Rim Brakes:

  • Do not work well when the rim gets muddy or wet
  • Less stopping power than disc brakes
  • Braking performance is affected by bent, damaged, or dirty rim

Disc Brakes


Disc brakes have become the standard on most mountain bikes today. With disc brakes, the brake lever is pulled and brake pads press against a rotor that is attached to the wheel hub. The brake pads are located inside a caliper that is attached to the frame or fork.

Advantages of disc brakes:

  • Respond consistently in all riding conditions
  • Braking effectiveness is not impacted by mud, rain, and snow because the pads and rotors are near the center of the wheel
  • Better stopping power than rim brakes
  • Require less force to be effective so easier on the hands

Disadvantages of disc brakes:

  • Heavier than v-brakes
  • More expensive than v-brakes
  • More complicated to set up and maintain than v-brakes

Mechanical vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes:

If you have decided that you want disc brakes, the next step is determining whether you want mechanical or hydraulic mountain bike disc brakes. There is a lot of controversy on which type is better. There are very good brands of both types.

Mechanical Disc Brakes

With mechanical mountain bike disc brakes, a tensioned steel cable activates pistons that cause the brake pads to compress against the rotor when the brake lever is pulled.


  • Easier to set up and maintain mechanically
  • Less expensive than hydraulic disc brakes


  • Can not modulate amount of brake force as easily as hydraulics
  • Have to apply more pressure to brake than hydraulic brakes

Hydraulic Disc Brakes

With hydraulic mountain bike disc brakes, instead of a steel cable, hydraulic fluid pushes pistons inside the caliper, which compress the brake pads.


  • More precise control and sensitivity, which is good for technical riding
  • Don't have to use as much pressure to brake
  • Have a crisper feel than mechanical brakes


  • More complicated mechanically to set up and maintain
  • Can not fix on the trail if they fail because of the special equipment that is needed

Reputable Brands of Disc Brakes

PopShops™ affiliate stores There are some really great brands of mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes on the market today. Avid, Shimano, Formula, and Hayes are all great companies that make mountain bike disc brakes.

Avid makes fantastic brakes in both mechanical and hydraulic types. I currently have Formula R1 brakes on my bike. I love the way these brakes perform, especially for more aggressive riding. the only complaint I have about them is that they can be noisy. I had Hayes disc brakes on my old mountain bike and never had mechanical issues with them. They had great modulation and stopping power. Shimano is always a good bet. I personally liked the XTR Race version that I demoed, but the XT performed well also. I have not tried the XTR Trail version.

Mechanical vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes: You Tell us Which are Better

Are hydraulic disc brakes better than mechanical disc brakes? They are more expensive and difficult to service. Are these disadvantages worth it for the performance or are today's mechanical brakes the way to go?

Got a sweet set of Avid BB7s that you want to brag about? Got information about which brakes should be avoided? Tell us about them out your fellow riders!

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What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see what types of brakes other mountain bikers recommend or do not recommend...

mechanical disc brake. Not rated yet
I see them as the development of the rim brake. and they are quick to stop..and safety on the sudden stopping condition...I like them..9 out of 10.

Mechanical/Cable brakes are better. Not rated yet
Mechanical/Cable brakes are better. - Mechanical brakes are so much easier to maintain. Hydraulic brakes are so, so, so incredibly much more difficult …

Avid BB7 Not rated yet
I ran hydraulic maguras and Avids in all extremes of temperature and mud. Significant amounts of time went into maintenance. Reliability was always a worry …

avid elixir 5 2012 Not rated yet
They came with my 2013 santa cruz sl29 and i believe these brakes are too common to almost all mid-class built bikes on famous brands. Anyway,the problem …

Avid Not rated yet
I heard that Avid's DOT tech oil jams easily. Also I have used both SRAM's XX Avid brakes and Shimano Deore XT brakes. XT has a crisper feel although XX …

hydraulic Not rated yet
I have shimano hydraulic disk brakes. They work well, but I've found when wet they do not function as well as dry braking. Also, the rear system is a …

Mountain Bike Disc Brakes Recommendations Not rated yet
Have them on both my bikes. Easy to install and setup. Excellent modulation and cheap.

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