Mountain bike brakes: MTB disc brakes and brake pads

Good brakes on your mountain bike are very important. They ensure that you can brake quickly and safely in dangerous situations. Mountain bikes often have disc brakes. The brake lever, brake cable (pipe) and calipers together form a system and are also an important part of the MTB brakes. On this page I tell you everything you need to know about MTB brakes.

Mountain bike brakes: disc brakes and braking system

Mountain bikes are nowadays in almost all cases equipped with disc brakes. These are often hydraulic disc brakes. This works as follows: a piston in the brake lever ensures that the brake fluid presses the brake pads against the brake discs via the brake line. This clamps the disc brake, as it were, reducing the speed of the wheel.

However, brake fluid can expand if you use your brakes intensively. For example on a technical route. Thanks to the reservoir at the brake lever, the fluid can expand without blocking your disc brakes. View the brake fluid reservoir in the image below.

mountain bike brakes
The reservoir at the brake lever for brake fluid. © MTBdex.com

The MTB disc brakes are just one part of the braking system. The complete MTB braking system consists of:

  • The brake levers
  • The brake lines
  • The calipers
  • And brake discs

The brake levers, brake lines and brake calipers are supplied in a complete set. This cannot be otherwise, because all these mountain bike parts are perfectly matched to each other.

MTB Disc brakes vs rim brakes

But, why are disc brakes often chosen? Rim brakes do their job well, don’t they? That’s true, but there are a number of advantages of disc brakes that are especially interesting for mountain bikes. I list the biggest advantages:

  • Weather conditions have little influence on disc brakes
  • A blow in the wheel? That makes no difference for disc brakes.
  • You can brake faster than with rim brakes
mtb disc brakes vs rim brakes
MTB disc brakes are a lot more powerful than rim brakes. © MTBdex.com

Different MTB disc brakes

There are many different disc brakes for mountain bikes. For example, they come in different sizes. The bigger the disc brake, the more powerful you can brake. In addition, there are also several confirmations. Disc brakes are usually attached with six screws. However, there are also MTB disc brakes that can be attached with a locking ring.

When buying new disc brakes, it is very important to check whether they are suitable for your mountain bike. For example, disc brakes that are too large can cause problems with your MTB front fork and not all disc brakes can be mounted on all hubs. In some cases you will need an extension, also called a brake disc adapter.

Different MTB brake pads

And then there are also different MTB brake pads. Broadly speaking, there are two types of brake pads: sintered brake pads and organic brake pads. Sintered brake pads have a longer life; organic brake pads are more powerful.

If you buy new brake pads, keep in mind that they need to be braked in.

Bleed MTB brakes

Air can get into the brake lines while mountain biking. As a result, braking can be done less vigorously; this is also strongly felt. To solve this it is important to bleed the disc brakes every now and then. I recommend that you have this done by a bicycle specialist, because special MTB tools are needed for this.

Frequently asked questions about MTB brakes

Why do mountain bikes almost always have disc brakes?

Disc brakes offer many advantages over rim brakes. For example, a blow in the wheel has almost no impact on the braking force and weather conditions have hardly any influence on this type of braking. Finally, they are also a lot more powerful than rim brakes.

When should I bleed my MTB brakes?

Air can get into the brake lines. This reduces the braking power. You can feel quickly enough if air has entered the braking system. It is then time to vent them.

Can I bleed my disc brakes myself?

There are many people who bleed their disc brakes themselves. However, there is no fixed step-by-step plan: for example, bleeding Shimano disc brakes is very different than with another brand. You also need the right tools and resources. My tip: take your bike to the specialist.

Does the size of a disc brake matter?

Absolutely! The bigger the disc brake, the more stopping power you have. Do you want to mount a larger disc brake on your mountain bike? Then check whether your frame and front fork can handle the braking force and whether the attachment is compatible with your mountain bike.

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