Buying an e-bike requires you to consider some essential factors. There are numerous components on an electric bike that determine the overall performance. One of the major components is the type of brake the bike comes with. Most braking systems seem alike, but they are not.
The braking system you choose will determine how fast the power-assisted bike slows down and how steady it comes to a stop. It also determines where the bike stops and some other crucial riding elements. The performance of a typical brake setup varies with different brands. Among the different types of bike brakes, there are two basic categories for electric bicycles. They are the mechanical brakes and e-bike hydraulic brakes.
These bicycle disc brakes serve different purposes, and they come with traits that make them better suited to various tasks. The differences between these two brakes are complex. This guide aims to help you understand these braking systems and their critical differences. That way, you can make informed decisions when buying an electric bike or changing out its brakes.
Mechanical Disc Brakes
Also known as cable disc brakes, mechanical disc brakes are the first kinds of disc brakes to debut in the cycling world. These brakes come with a simple setup that involves only a cable, brake lever, and a mechanical disc. This open design makes it easier to repair and maintain the brake. All it takes to maintain the brake may only be to change its cables and tighten the levers when necessary.
However, the open design requires some more maintenance on your e-bike. If dust, small objects, and debris accumulate in the braking system, it may lead to some challenges. These include reduced stopping power, lesser control, and decreased braking smoothness.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
These types of brakes come with an upgraded mechanism and superior braking performance. They offer complete control over your bike and its speed. Optimal stopping power and efficiency are more benefits to enjoy from. However, these advantages also come with added costs.
Hydraulic bike brakes use a wholly sealed fluid-filled braking system. The fluid serves as the replacement for regular steel cables. With these brakes, you won’t suffer from reduced control, braking power, or speed, even in unfavorable conditions.
One thing mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes have in common is how they function. They both have the same effect on how an electric bike works, especially in its braking. Both types of brakes come with a brake lever which is connected to a brake caliper. Every e-bike has its brake caliper at the center of the wheel.
The caliper works by applying resistance to the wheel when you press it into the rotor. This makes it harder to turn the bike, thereby slowing down the tire. The caliper applies more pressure to the rotor the harder you press the brake lever. Therefore, there is more excellent resistance, leading to added braking power.
When compared to the conventional rim brakes, these disc brakes do not apply resistance to the rims. Instead, they focus more on the bike’s rotor. This way, disc brakes can perform better with very minimal friction, making them popular on moped bikes.
Differences Between Mechanical and Hydraulic Disc Brakes
While both brakes ensure quick stopping of your e-bike, they have their weaknesses and strengths. Here, we will compare mechanical vs. hydraulic disc brakes.
1. Stopping Power
Hydraulic disc brakes tend to produce better stopping power than their mechanical counterparts. This is due to their increased efficiency. A hydraulic brake multiplies the force you apply to squeeze the lever. That is, hydraulic bike brakes creates more braking power than you put in the system. Moreover, the brake fluid from this disc brake also produces very little friction. Hence, the energy loss in the system is much lesser.
On the other hand, less force makes it from a mechanical brake lever to its caliper. The cable that runs through the brake’s housing causes friction. Some of the force applied to the brake lever helps to overcome this friction. Therefore, there is a loss of energy in the system. You may not be able to create the required stopping power. In that case, the stopping distance will be relatively longer.
Mechanical brakes are cheaper than hydraulic disc brakes. Their cost of maintenance is also significantly lesser. Cables only cost a few dollars. Also, you only need to know very little about basic bike tools to perform the necessary repairs or maintenance. You don’t need to visit any expensive bike shops.
Buying hydraulic disc brakes or bikes that use them is more expensive. They come as pre-bled components which are ready for use or installation. Maintaining a hydraulic disc brake is also more costly. You’ll need to bleed the brake and replace its fluid, requiring high-end tools that increase expenses.
3. Control and Precision of Braking Force
A hydraulic disc brake ensures that you have greater control over your bike’s braking force. This advantage is due to the little effort needed to apply the brake. All you need to do is squeeze the lever gently for the desired amount of braking force. You won’t have to lock up the wheels before stopping faster.
However, a mechanical disc brake requires more pulling force on the brake lever, making it a little hard to control the braking force. You will need to squeeze hard on the lever, making it difficult to move your hand accurately. It is possible to shed more speed at this point, translating to inefficiency.
4. Parts Availability
It is easier to come by spare mechanical brake parts than hydraulic brake parts. This is because mechanical disc brakes utilize the same levers and cables as the conventional rim brakes. You will find their levers and cables in pretty much any bike shop you visit, including those in remote regions.
On the other hand, it is a bit harder to come by spare parts for hydraulic bike brakes. Finding replacement calipers, lever, brake fluid, brake lines, or maintenance tools may prove difficult. It may even be impossible for riders who live in remote regions. You may have to get to high-end bike shops before getting the necessary parts.
5. Operation Smoothness and Braking Consistency
The operation of hydraulic disc brakes is smoother and more consistent. Nothing in the hydraulic brake system hangs or snags up. Thus, it will always feel smooth whenever you squeeze the lever. Also, the closed system hardly gets contaminated with dirt or debris. Therefore, you can be sure of a more predictable and consistent braking force.
When the cables of mechanical disc brakes run through the housing, some form of friction occurs. Since it is an open system, contamination of the housing with dirt is more likely. There is resistance created, and the brake may feel a little less smooth. Overcoming this resistance will require you to apply more force than usual. Hence, lesser consistency in braking.
With this said, when you have a clean and well setup mechanical disc brake, its operation is very smooth and consistent. It only takes some more effort on your part.
Which Brake Should You Get for Your e-Bike?
Before deciding which one is the brake for your electric bike, there are some essential factors you must consider. These factors include:
If the pricing matters most to you, then mechanical brake has lesser expenses upfront. You also tend to pay more to maintain a hydraulic brake setup. The primary thing to consider is whether you are more comfortable paying lesser upfront or lesser over time. Upfront payment favors mechanical brakes. However, frequent brake maintenance may build up costs over time.
Type of e-Bike/Riding Conditions
Your choice of the best bike brakes will also depend on your type of bike. This is the other vital factor to consider when making your decision.
- City Commuters– A commuter electric bike often comes with hydraulic brakes or mechanical ones. City riding will require you to keep up with traffic. You will also want to ride through town without performing brake adjustments or maintenance on the road.
- Mountain Bikes– These types of bikes typically feature a mechanical brake setup. Mountain bikes tend to require more overall maintenance. Also, you may need to do some repairs on the mountain. Since it is easier to repair and maintain mechanical bikes, they are the better options. So, you may want to go for a mechanical brake setup as a heavy-duty trail or backcountry rider.
- Cruiser Bikes– If you’re riding across the neighborhood, boardwalks, beaches, and similar casual locations, then you will be fine with mechanical disc brakes. These brakes come standard of cruiser e-bikes. There is no need for much stopping power, and the functional lifespan is good.
- Racing Bikes– The focus here is on speed. These bikes require increased stopping power for emergency braking. Because of this, e-bike hydraulic brakes are a lot more popular on racing bikes. Although the difference is minor, racing cyclists tend to find electric bicycles with hydraulic brake setups offering better performance.
Each of these brake systems has its unique characteristics and advantages. They are better suited for different situations. Therefore, the choice lies with every cyclist. When choosing between hydraulic and mechanical brakes, you should consider budget, riding conditions, maintenance, and feel, among other factors. Many times, you are well off with the brakes that come with your e-bike.