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I am thinking of a new bike but the downside is it has mechanical hydraulic disc brakes whilst I am used to hydraulic disc brakes - will I notice a big difference??

19 comments

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StoopidUserName [700 posts] 5 months ago
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Hi. I notice a significant difference between my full hydraulic and semi hydraulic brakes...so yeah, I think you will tbh

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alansmurphy [2287 posts] 5 months ago
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Seconded

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Glen C [57 posts] 5 months ago
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You’ll definitely notice a big difference - I have both and I don’t think that mechanical discs provide much different performance to rim brakes. Hydraulic discs, as you probably recognise already, are much better. For me the lack of hydraulics would be a deal breaker on a new bike.

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Canyon48 [1147 posts] 5 months ago
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Glen C wrote:

You’ll definitely notice a big difference - I have both and I don’t think that mechanical discs provide much different performance to rim brakes. Hydraulic discs, as you probably recognise already, are much better. For me the lack of hydraulics would be a deal breaker on a new bike.

Yep.

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Zermattjohn [347 posts] 5 months ago
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Mechanical disc brakes are miles away from hydraulic in terms of modulation, feel and reliability. You'll have to faff at least every few weeks trying to get them to work like they did when you first got the bike, constantly adjusting the pads to get the bite point set in. Every 6 months to a year you will have to replace the brake cable, because grit and water will corrode them. Within a few years you will have spent the difference in cost between mechanical and hydraulic brakes in cleaner, New cables and pads.

There is a good reason why even the cheapest mtbs come with hydraulic brakes. They work.

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Smartstu [21 posts] 5 months ago
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Can you test ride the bike and get a feel for it?
I've got shimano mechanical discs on my road bike and I've never struggled to stop! They may be a bit spongy compared to hydraulic - but does anybody get back from a bike ride and say - "I really enjoyed my braking today"? All this 'modulation' guff is over played. I didn't struggle to stop with rim brakes either or v's or even cantis come to think of it! Maybe I'm too slow...

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cyclesteffer [421 posts] 5 months ago
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Yes, mechanical are shit by comparison. I've wondered what it would be like if you started out road riding on a bike with hydraulic brakes, but then had to swap to rim brakes or mechanical. I reckon you'd be loads slower on downhills or approaching junctions

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StoopidUserName [700 posts] 5 months ago
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Smartstu wrote:

Can you test ride the bike and get a feel for it?
I've got shimano mechanical discs on my road bike and I've never struggled to stop! They may be a bit spongy compared to hydraulic - but does anybody get back from a bike ride and say - "I really enjoyed my braking today"? All this 'modulation' guff is over played. I didn't struggle to stop with rim brakes either or v's or even cantis come to think of it! Maybe I'm too slow...

I got back from many a bike ride a few years back and thought "these brakes are shit, I need a new bike with discs" though.

Not much in it if you mainly ride in the dry. For an all weather bike...yeah you will benefit from hydraulic discs in a big way

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BehindTheBikesheds [3322 posts] 5 months ago
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It'll be different, but then so will any other different bike with different rims, brakes, tyres, frame etc. 

With all due respect If you can't swap between bikes/braking systems and adapt very quickly and be safe then you clearly aren't understanding safe riding/road use properly. You should be nowhere near the maximum of the braking power and in fact your braking is still limited by tyre grip along with your own understanding of safety/hazard perception/reading the road that are far more important/relevant than outright power and/or 'modulation'.

This should be a non question frankly for anyone with even a couple of years cycling experience. 

People who have only started cycling in the last decade or so should go ride a bike with chrome steel rims and leather pads, learn how to brake, how to read the road properly, learn how to anticipate, learn to moderate your speed for the conditions and relearn about why thinking time/distance is important, why relying on ultimate power (of your braking system) is bollocks with respect to safe riding.

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Mungecrundle [1568 posts] 5 months ago
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I regularly ride my 2 road bikes, one with rim brakes and the other hydraulic discs. I love them both but they are different enough in performance to require different riding styles and that really is all there is to it, a change of style.

The hydro discs are definitively better though.

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thehairs1970 [48 posts] 5 months ago
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It's interesting that a couple of years ago these forums were full of roadies being anti-disc brakes and now the same forums are weighing up the benefits of different discs!

I've had both types. Cable discs are less powerful. That's why you won't see them on any MTB that could be considered decent these days. Touring bikes, however, seem to be real fans. And if they can stop a fully loaded tourer, I don't think it should be a problem for a 'normal' roadie (if there is such a thing).

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mike c [9 posts] 5 months ago
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I believe hydraulics more reliable and more powerful. hydraulics seem to get more attention and seem to be on professional bikes.

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John Smith [272 posts] 5 months ago
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Yes. 100%. My XC bike has hydraulic brakes and my road bike mechanical disks. If I could afford it I would swap my road bike to hydraulic in a heartbeat, but unfortunately at the moment a new group set and wheels would cost about the same as either of the bikes.

 

Anyone who says it’s not worth it is either a Luddite or deliberately contrary. The confidence difference is huge. It’s like the people 20 years ago who bemoaned ABS in cars and 10 years ago on motorbikes. My first car had drum brakes and no ABS. My first motorbike was the same (well, rear drum). Can I use both? Yes. Did I die before things changed? No. But would I ever go back? No way in hell.

 

The qualities of hydraulic brakes are important on a mountain bike, as controlled decent at low speeds and the ability to finely control the levels of breaking are vital. For a commuter these are also important qualities. For a road bike, for someone who is tapping out hundreds of miles, it is a lesser concern, but it is still a huge difference when you do need it.

 

This, however, is hydro vs cable, NOT disk vs rim. You can get rim hydro brakes, which are also far superior to cable rim brakes, but much less common. The hydro vs cable is to me is not even a question, there is only one answer, as long as you can afford to do it. If you can’t then cable breaks will do the job, but they will forever be an irritant after using hydros. 

 

Rim vs disk is far less clear on a road bike, and depends on if you ride in the wet or dry, the size tyres you use, and the type of wheels. However it is more dictated by the avalability than anything else.

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shutuplegz [85 posts] 5 months ago
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You will probably notice the difference but you would adapt to this difference very quickly. Just like the difference between disc brakes and rim brakes, you can lock up a wheel with either type of brake but the modulation and feel will be different and you would probably adapt to this difference after the first braking action on the ride.

 

When you say ".....mechanical hydraulic disc brakes whilst I am used to hydraulic disc brakes..." do you just mean that the new bike has cable actuated mechanical calipers or is it the TRP HY/RD setup (or similar) where a traditional cable is used to actuate a hydraulic caliper with all the hydraulics located at the caliper? I suspect you mean the former, i.e. just a traditional cable actuated mechanical caliper.

 

I think the answer depends on what sort of riding you will be doing, how big you are, what conditions you will be riding in etc. Also, whether or not you like to do your own maintenance on a regular basis or if you just leave it til something breaks/falls off!?

 

I have both types on road bikes and although the 'lever/finger force' required for hydraulics is less than mechanical discs, and I prefer the light lever feel on hydraulics, I actually chose to fit cable operated discs to my commuting bike which gets used in absolutely all weathers, all year-round. This is because after years of using hydraulics in all weathers I found them to be fairly high maintenance with sticky pistons, seal failures, corrosion issues, moisture absorbtion into the hydraulic fluid leading to the system gradually over-filling, and of course with hydraulics you can't adjust the pad clearance. Since moving to cable discs on the commuter I have had none of these maintenance issues and they have been 'fit and forget' for thousands of miles except for pad replacement. Much less hassle than hydraulics in similar conditions and the ability to increase pad clearance easily with a 3mm hex key is a major bonus so I do this between winter and summer riding conditions.

 

Having said all that, I still prefer the silky smooth feel of the hydraulic discs on my 'weekend' bike even though the 'feedback' isn't as good as a cable system - your brain adapts very quickly to this and the modulation required for a given braking effort. I think for many people, their only experience of  cable operated disc brakes is of very low end systems on poorly specced bikes so they naturally associate cable discs with poor performance but there are some really nice cable systems like TRP Spyre/Spyre SLC and Avid BB7s (and no doubt others but these are the only ones I have used - TRP even do a nice compact flat-mount version of the Spyre and Spyre SLC brakes now). I think with cable discs the performance difference between a basic setup and something higher end is fairly big, much like cheap rim brakes versus high-end rim brakes, whereas with hydraulic brakes usually even the cheap stuff works really well but is maybe just a bit heavier. So I think people are put off cable disc brakes because they haven't actually tried a good set-up.

 

So personally,  I don't think you should let cable disc brakes put you off if the rest of the bike is what you want. You could easily upgrade to higher spec cable disc brakes if the ones fitted aren't up to much and for most road riding, for most riders, cable discs are at least as good as any rim brake and won't trash your rims.  For me, for high mileage riding in all weathers cable discs still have the edge over any other system.

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CXR94Di2 [2732 posts] 5 months ago
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Dont do it, buy a bike with hydraulic or be prepared to spend changing shifters and brake system to hydraulic.

 

I bought a Genesis Day One with mechanical disc brakes, knowing they wouldnt be as good as my other bikes, but they were so bad I bought a complete hydraulic setup after One Day  4

Other than that bike was perfect

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cyclesteffer [421 posts] 5 months ago
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Yes you will massively notice, and probably hate the mechanical disc, or rim brakes.

Its a different type of riding, with mechanical discs or rim brakes, you have to anticipate so much more in advance, learn how well the brakes work, and ensure you have enough stopping distance.

Because Hydraulic is so much better, and you can stop very quickly, you can leave braking so much later, pull up at junctions last second, and end up "feeling" the grip of the tyres. e.g. the brakes of hydraulic will definitely lock up the wheels and stop them turning, so you end up "feeling" the limit of the tyre grip instead.

You will definitely find them a step backwards. Since I've bought a bike with hydraulic discs, I wouldnt buy a rim brake or mechanical disc bike.

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workhard [444 posts] 5 months ago
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I'm well used to hydro discs from years of using them on mtb's (in fact I even had hydro rim brakes at one time) and have had mechanical discs on several of my road bikes for years, being an early adopter of Avid BB5 and BB7. To date I've generally stuck with mechanical discs so as to be able to use cross top levers but have ridden hydro discs. (I note shimano have just changed the game in the hydro cross top space).

The biggest difference is drop bar and drop bar levers vs flat bars and flat bar levers, and not the brakes themselves.  The mechanical disc brakes, once 'dialled in' work fine, and adjusting them for pad wear takes a few minutes; I enjoy fettling. I can stop just as quickly on properly set up mech discs, and leave my braking just as late, as on hydros.

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shutuplegz [85 posts] 5 months ago
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workhard wrote:

I'm well used to hydro discs from years of using them on mtb's (in fact I even had hydro rim brakes at one time) and have had mechanical discs on several of my road bikes for years, being an early adopter of Avid BB5 and BB7. To date I've generally stuck with mechanical discs so as to be able to use cross top levers but have ridden hydro discs. (I note shimano have just changed the game in the hydro cross top space).

The biggest difference is drop bar and drop bar levers vs flat bars and flat bar levers, and not the brakes themselves.  The mechanical disc brakes, once 'dialled in' work fine, and adjusting them for pad wear takes a few minutes; I enjoy fettling. I can stop just as quickly on properly set up mech discs, and leave my braking just as late, as on hydros.

 

^ agree with this - I can stop just as quickly on my mech disc bike (with 140mm rotors too) as I can on my hydraulic disc bike, and also just as quickly on my rim brake bike - the only caveat to this is when it is raining and the rim brake bike rims are extremely wet, you might have to allow a couple of milliseconds to clear the water from the rims but this rarely happens in reality. It has to be pretty wet.

Between mech discs and hydro discs I don't change my riding style, I don't have to anticipate anything further in advance to ensure I have enough stopping distance - if i did I'd be worried that I had set them up completely wrong or contaminated the pads/rotors. You automatically adapt to the slight change in lever force required within seconds. If I have been riding a hydraulic disc road bike for weeks, then change to a mech disc bike for a while, quite literally at the first junction/stop I come to, on the first ride, I will remember 'ahh yes slightly more lever force required here' and after that you will think no more of it!

Its like changing between well worn shoes. You wear a pair of shoes for weeks on end and then change to another well-worn pair of shoes that you have worn many many times before - when you first put the 'familiar' shoes back on they feel weird, like you have never worn them before, but by the time you have taken a few steps you have forgotten all about it!

I don't know what people have against mechanical/cable discs really, and I do say that as someone who prefers the feel of hydraulic discs, but for many people/situations/bikes cable systems might be a better choice plus you get a wider range of 'brifters' as you can use normal road shifters.

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flimflamvanham [6 posts] 4 months ago
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Interesting post above about commutng year round and preferring cable to hydro.  I may learn this the hard way after probably last 9 years on some version of drop bar mech disc and going to hydro shortly.

I also have a hydro roadie.

Even with compressionless housing on the mech bike and the braking being very impressive even in the wettest conditions, it is so crude in function compared to hydro and one can definitely feel the cable friction relative to the super easy lever of hydro.

The one thing that drive me nuts about cavle disc on the commuter is the rear brake line inevitably getting water in it.  The caliper is chainstay mounted, like on most all recent disc bikes, thus water has a nice little entry point and downward path into the housing.  This is all fine until the temp drops below 0C/32F, when the cable will eventually freeze in there rendering the rear brake useless.  It happens to me every year and every year I vow to go to hydro on the commuter. But then it warms up....

I'd prefer a frame with a seatstay mounted caliper but do get why manufacturers put the caliper on the chainstay (strength; tidiness; rack mount access) for last many years.

Given the choice, and given the high price of buying hydro systems a la carte, I'd opt for the extra spend at time of purchase and get a hydro bike.