There are several components that determine the overall performance of an e-bike, but one of the most important is the braking system. Although it may seem that all braking systems are the same, they are not the same and different braking systems determine how fast you slow down and how stable you are when you come to a stop, among other key riding factors.
While the performance of brakes varies from brand to brand, most braking systems fall into two categories: mechanical disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes.
Hydraulic disc brakes are usually more expensive than mechanical disc brakes, but the differences between the two are complex and it would be incorrect to say that hydraulic brakes are always better than mechanical brakes; rather, they each have different uses. Each type of brake has its own characteristics that make them more suitable for different types of rider and our aim is to help you understand the key differences between the two systems before you buy an electric bike or change your brakes.
If you have any questions or suggestions after reading our article, we welcome you to leave a comment at the end of this post.
What are the similarities and differences between mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes?
Mechanical disc brakes
Hydraulic disc brakes
Firstly, before we explain the differences between these two brakes, let's give you a quick overview of what mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes have in common. In short, both setups function in the same way, they consist of a brake lever attached to a caliper located at the centre of the wheel. When the caliper is pressed against the rotor (usually with a pad) it applies resistance to the wheel, making it harder to turn and as a result slowing your tyres down, causing the harder you press on the brake lever then the more pressure is applied to the rotor, causing more resistance to be created as a way of gaining extra braking power.
Although there are common functions between the two, there are also significant differences between mechanical disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes - how do these two systems connect from the brake lever to the caliper? There is a difference in the way they are connected.
Mechanical disc brakes rely on a cable that pulls on the caliper, which requires a strong pull to fully apply enough braking force to stop the wheel. Hydraulic disc brakes, on the other hand, rely on a fluid-based system where pulling the brake lever causes the fluid to push the caliper against the wheel rotor, bringing it to a stop. Although the braking resistance of these two braking systems does not seem to differ greatly, the results are not quite the same, so we have provided you with a detailed introduction to make it easier for you to understand.
Advantages of mechanical disc brake systems
Mechanical disc brakes are the simpler of the two systems, so they are usually much less expensive than hydraulic disc brake systems. Mechanical disc brakes are also easier to repair and once it has worn out, it can be replaced more easily than hydraulic disc brakes.
For riders who like to adjust their braking systems in different situations, mechanical brakes are easier to operate and adjust, which is why many riders prefer mechanical brakes. Whereas hydraulic disc brakes do provide more braking power, the pulling of the lever often feels overwhelming and this leaves the rider somewhat unsure of how much braking power they are applying, but with mechanical disc brakes you have to apply the brakes harder and then you get a more forceful feedback response so you know exactly how much braking power you are applying.
Advantages of mechanical disc brakes.
- Less expensive
- Easier to fix
- Easier to replace
- Easier to adjust
- More flexibility in getting braking feedback
Advantages of hydraulic disc brake systems
Hydraulic disc brakes are more expensive up front, but their value will be greater because they last longer and require less maintenance over their functional life. Everyone's electric bikes are destroyed when they get old, and hydraulic disc brakes are harder to damage or shatter than most mechanical disc brake units, and thus last longer.
Hydraulic disc brakes use fluid to push the caliper pads into the rotor, rather than simply pulling them off with a cable. Hydraulic disc brakes provide more stopping power than mechanical disc brakes, so you can pull the brakes less hard to slow or stop your e-bike, and you can also adjust your levers and brakes more widely for a more personalised riding experience.
While you may not have as many caliper adjustment options, hydraulic disc brakes are considered the more versatile of the two options because they have a self-adjusting design that automatically fixes the position of the brakes when riding over different terrain.
Advantages of hydraulic disc brakes.
- They last longer
- require less maintenance
- More durable
- Greater stopping power
- Less lever pull required
- More lever adjustment options
- Self-adjusting calipers/pads
Which braking device should you buy for your e-bike?
We will give you examples of which brakes should be better suited to different models, but the first thing you should consider when choosing your brakes is your budget, if you are on a budget then mechanical disc brakes will cost less upfront, but if you are a professional rider then hydraulic disc brakes will last longer than mechanical disc units.
If you choose a mechanical disc brake set up then you will have to replace it sooner than a hydraulic disc brake. There is no accurate statement as to which will be more cost effective in the long run. So let's go on to give you a list of which braking device should be better suited to different models.
Mountain e-bikes are usually equipped with a disc brake, but if you find that there is a hydraulic system this is also normal. Mountain e-bikes are more prone to damage than any other type of e-bike, so they tend to require more maintenance and may occasionally require you to carry out repairs on the mountain.
Mechanical disc brakes are significantly easier to maintain and repair, however, when you have a hydraulic system leak you will have to wheel your e-bike to a specialist repair shop to have it repaired. For this reason, trail riders will usually stick with a mechanical disc brake setup rather than a hydraulic disc brake setup.
Urban commuter e-bikes
Hydraulic brakes are more common on urban commuter e-bikes than mechanical disc brakes, and while urban riding may not require as much braking power, it is vital to keep up with traffic or ride through town without stopping for brake maintenance.
In addition, the overall buying power of urban e-bikes tends to be lower, so commuter e-bike manufacturers often emphasise improved braking systems as a result. You can use a mechanical disc setup, but many commuter e-bikes will have a hydraulic disc brake setup.
Racing bikes / off-road e-bikes
Both racing and off-road e-bikes are more speed conscious and they need strong stopping power for sudden stops in emergency situations. For this reason, hydraulic brakes are preferred over mechanical disc brakes on racing e-bikes because of their strong braking power.
In addition, hydraulic disc brakes are usually lighter and less obtrusive than mechanical disc brakes in terms of overall design and wind resistance, and although the difference may not be significant, according to feedback from more racers, electric bikes equipped with also disc brakes perform slightly better than standard mechanical disc brakes.
Due to their size, family and cargo e-bikes should be set up with hydraulic disc brakes, mainly because mechanical disc brakes are often overwhelmed by the added weight, especially when trying to stop on a downhill slope. So if you want to buy a family or cargo e-bike then you should choose an e-bike setup with a sound and powerful hydraulic disc brake system. Here we present to you a model GP-C1 cargo e-bike from GreenPedel that offers the perfect hydraulic brake system.
If you like to ride at the beach, on the boardwalk, around the community or in other recreational locations, you can use the mechanical disc brakes that come standard on cruiser bikes.
You don't need as much braking power and mechanical brakes reduce costs so that manufacturers can improve their e-bikes in other ways, as cruiser e-bikes rarely use their brakes, so mechanical disc brakes are sufficient.
Conclusion: Different brakes have different preferences
If you don't already know how to choose, hydraulic disc brakes on e-bikes will be preferred over mechanical disc brake setups in terms of market demand, however, they actually both have unique advantages and features that make them suitable for different situations.
If you are considering changing your e-bike brakes then you should carefully consider budget, feel, maintenance, riding conditions and other factors. Most e-bikes are designed with their braking system explicitly in mind, so with very few exceptions we recommend that you stick to the brakes fitted to your e-bike.
If you have any questions about a particular brake system, we'd be happy to have an interactive chat with you, so feel free to leave a comment!