Disc Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes

POSTED BY Andrew Kass||

Disc brakes and cantilever brakes have a lot of differences. There are also differences between braking on a mountain bike, a tandem bike, and a road bike. The short answer to the braking dilemma is that disc brakes or v-brakes are great for mountain bikes and cantilevers are generally preferable for tandem and road bikes. In this blog we will explore the differences between disc brakes and cantilever brakes in an effort to determine which brakes are best for your bike.


Cantilever Brakes

Cantilever brakes are dual pivot brakes in which each arm is connected to a different pivot point on one side of the fork. There is a wider distance between the pads and the mounts, so in general cantilever brakes are preferred for mountain bikes which use wide tires. Cantilever brakes stick out somewhat from the frame of the bike and can interfere with bicycle suspensions, so they are often found on bikes with no suspension.

Benefits of cantilever and rim brakes are plentiful. They are less expensive than disc brakes, and replacement pads are abundant and easy to find. Also, they last longer and when pads do go bad, replacement is relatively easy. Rim brakes are quieter than disc brakes.

Rim brakes can be problematic in wet, muddy, or dirty conditions. Watter, mud, and debric can quickly build up, causing a rapid decrease in braking ability. This can result in weakened braking while you are riding, and no one wants that to happen in muddy conditions. Also, if they are not properly maintained they can cause excessive wear on your rim.


V-brakes or linear-pull brakes are a side-pull adaptation of cantilever brakes but the arms extend further, with the housing on one arm and the cable on the opposite arm. When the cable pulls, the arms come together. V-brakes work well with suspension systems on mountain bikes as there is no separate cable stop on the fork or frame. One potential problem is that V-brakes can suffer from failure when pulled through the stirrup, releasing the power of the brake.

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are made with a rotor attached to the hub and rotates along with the wheel. Brake pads squeeze the rotors and the wheel and bicycle are slowed as the forward motion of the bike is transformed to heat. They are often used on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and touring bikes. Some hydraulic brakes have a mechanism that adjusts the distance from the pad to the disc as the pads wears down over time. Older disc brakes may need to be adjusted as the pads are worn, and this is generally done several times during the pads lifetime.

Disc brakes are often used as they perform well in many different conditions including snow, mud, and water because the braking surface is not near the ground so contaminants do not interfere with it. This also helps prevent mud build-up. Also, there are holes in the rotor, so any debris or water that does get on the pads can easily drain away.

No matter which brakes are on your bike, they will eventually wear and have to be changed. But disc brakes are less expensive and easier to change and replace. Disk brakes also work well with both front and rear suspensions.

Several possible issues can occur with disc brakes. During long rides, especially when you use the brakes often, heat can build up and lead to disc failure. The heat can become strong enough to boil the hydraulic fluid, which results in total brake failure. This generally occurs on bikes that have smaller, underweight discs. Instances of brake failure have occurred during long cycling sessions downhill using such discs.  If the discs overheat but do not fail, they can still warp, which will result in a scraping noise when you ride.

The design of disc brakes can cause problems with the pannier racks, but manufacturers of pannier racks generally have a different version that can be used for bikes with disc brakes. Also, disc brakes are heaving than other brakes, often weighing as much as 2.5 pounds. If you use disc brakes, you should carry extra pads and rotors with you when you travel, as it can be hard to find extras in remote areas.

Drum Brakes

Another possible solution to the braking dilemma, drum brakes, are similar to those in a car. They operate by pressing the pads out against the surface on the interior of the hub shell. These brakes are common in European countries, on freight bikes, and older tandem bikes. Since the mechanism is enclosed, these brakes are great for use in muddy or wet conditions. They are more complex and weightier than other brakes, but also do not require a lot of maintenance.

You should familiarize yourself with the brakes that are on your bike. If you are unsure how your brakes work, consult some online videos or visit your local bike shop. Make sure you replace your pads regularly and that your brakes are kept in good condition. If you have been involved in a crash due to a problem with your brake design or due to the negligence of others, contact a bicycle crash attorney for advice and assistance. The team at Kass & Moses can provide you with an experienced attorney to handle your case. Call for a free consultation at any time!