What Are The Different Types Of Bike Brakes?

Cycling is a lot of fun, and it can vastly improve your fitness and bring you into social circles you might not have had the opportunity to be involved with before. Bikes are made up of many parts, and all have a very important job to do. One vital part of the bike you are not going to want to be without is brakes.

Without brakes getting downhill is not only going to be scary but also pretty dangerous. What a lot of cyclists don’t know is there are many different types of bike brakes available. In this article, we’re going to tell you about the main types of bike brakes and the pros and cons of each.

Rim Brakes

bike brakes
photo by Viktor Bystrov

The first type of brakes to mention, and one you would have seen before, is the rim brake. The rim brake has been used on all types of bikes and comes in many different forms and shapes. On road bikes, you had small caliper brakes, and on off-road bikes, you had cantilever brakes. Essentially they all work on the same principle.

Rim brakes are unique in the fact that when you want to slow down, you pull the brake lever, which pulls a cable. The brake pads come together and grip the side of the rim, which creates the friction to slow you down.

Rim brakes are lightweight, excellent for aerodynamics, simple to use and maintain, and very cheap to buy. They come with some disadvantages, such as the braking power in wet conditions is poor, they can wear your rim down to the point they need replacing, and they can overheat in extreme cases.



Easy to work on and maintain




Damages rim over time

Weak in poor weather conditions

Can overheat

Disc Brakes

bike front wheel with brake
photo by Viktor Bystrov

Disc brakes in the past decade have become the most popular type of brakes you will find on the cycling market. They come on all kinds of bikes, and many companies now have come away from the rim brake as disc brakes are a much better option.

Disc brakes work very differently from the other types of brakes. They come in both cable and hydraulic systems, and when the lever is pulled, the brake pads grip a disc rotor which is attached to the wheels on the bike.

Disc brakes are very powerful, and they are great in all weather conditions. They dissipate heat excellently and don’t cause any harm to your wheels over time. The hydraulic versions of these brakes are much better than the cable versions. The drawback being they can be much more expensive, and the hydraulic brakes can be quite difficult to work on.


Very powerful

Work great in all conditions

Excellent heat dissipation

Don’t damage the wheel



Slightly heavier than rim brakes

Hydraulics can be challenging to work on

Heavier than other brakes

Related: Does Hanging a Bike by the Wheel Damage It

Coaster Brakes

Coaster brakes are not seen very much in modern times but still are a feature on many bikes you might be interested in owning, like a cruiser bike. They make a bike look super clean, and many people ask if the bike even has brakes as they are so well hidden.

Related: Cruiser Bike vs Hybrid Bike

Coaster brakes work in a special way. Instead of having a lever, you pull to slow down. You actually pedal backwards. The brake expands in the rear hub, and it slows you down. It can be challenging to get the hang of and does take some practice.

The coaster brake looks incredible because it’s well hidden. It means you don’t have to use a lever and are very aerodynamic. The drawbacks are they easily overheat, are a big learning curve to get used to, and also, they can skid easily if you’re not careful.


Looks clean

Very aerodynamic

Simple to use

Quite fun


Overheat easily

Easy to skid

Tough to learn

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes are not seen on modern bikes, but you will see many of them if you are interested in classic bikes. They are similar to the coaster brake, but you use a lever instead of pedaling backwards.

Drum brakes are located in the hubs of the bikes. They can come on the front and the rear and work using cables. Drum brakes are fully enclosed, and when the lever is pulled, the pads create friction with the inside of the drum, slowing you down. They work on the same principle of old car brakes and share a lot of similarities.

Drum brakes are great because they are easy to use, very reliable, and work excellently in poor conditions because they are fully enclosed. There are many drawbacks to drum brakes. They aren’t really available to buy now and are prone to overheating, very heavy, and not very good.


Great in poor weather

Easy to use


Overheat easily

Poor performance


Not easily available to buy

What are the best bike brakes?

The best bike brakes you will find are hydraulic disc brakes. They are incredibly powerful, work in all conditions, and don’t need much maintenance. The majority of modern bikes are made with disc brakes now, and we feel in time, this will be nearly all bikes as they are just so good.

Can I upgrade my bike’s brakes?

Unfortunately, you will very much struggle to upgrade your bike’s brakes. This is because bikes, when designed, can typically only use one type of braking system. For example, if you buy a bike with rim brakes, it won’t be possible to upgrade to disc later. You can upgrade your brakes by using bigger rotors and performance brake pads and also keeping on top of cleaning your bike and servicing.

photo by Yulia Chinato


Brakes are very important on your bike, and you are going to want to make sure what you are using is good. Hydraulic disc brakes are by far the best you will currently find. Before buying a new bike, we highly recommend considering the brakes that come with it.