Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes on Electric Bikes: A Comparison Guide

Electric bikes are becoming more popular as a convenient and eco-friendly way of transportation. However, choosing the right e-bike can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to the type of brakes. 

There are two main types of disc brakes on electric bikes: mechanical disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes. 

In this blog post, we will compare both types of brakes and discuss the pros and cons of each type. It will help you decide which one suits your needs and preferences better. 

Read on to find out more about the differences between mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes on electric bikes.

A Brief Overview of Disc Brakes

Disc brakes work by using the brake lever to press the rotor (or disc) that is attached to the hub. This is very different from rim brakes that use brake pads to squeeze the rim of each wheel. 

The main difference between mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes is how they move the brake force from the brake lever to the brake rotor. Let’s explore that further.

What are Mechanical Disc Brakes?

Source: Montague Bikes

Cable actuation was the only option for the earliest disc brakes on mountain bikes. This meant that a cable pulled by the lever would move the calipers and squeeze the brake pads against the rotors, slowing down the bike. 

Mechanical disc brakes with cable actuation are easy and very dependable. They hardly ever fail – at least in theory, but the cables are exposed and can wear out or lose tension with rough use.

The biggest problem with any mechanical brake system is that without hydraulic assistance, cable-actuated disc brakes can lose power quickly on long and steep downhill sections. 

To maintain the cable tension and caliper pressure, you need a lot of stamina in your fingers and hands. Most riders don’t have enough hand strength for that. 

If you are using all your hand power and skill to brake, you have less ability to feel the levers and handlebars. That could affect your steering and bike control.

As mountain bikes improved with better frame shapes, suspension systems and tire designs, riders explored more challenging and technical trails. They realized the limitations of cable-operated disc brakes, which led to the development of the first hydraulic systems in the 1990s.

Pros and Cons of Mechanical Disc Brakes

Here are some pros and cons of mechanical disc brakes:

More Affordable Price
Mechanical disc brakes make electric bikes cheaper than hydraulic disc brakes. This difference is an advantage for e-bike owners who are not rich. This is crucial for some, so when they want to buy new electric bikes, they choose e-bikes with mechanical disc brakes to save money.

Easy to Replace
You can get these brakes from any car shop and install them on your electric bike without trouble. Hydraulic disc brakes are harder to change than mechanical disc brakes because of the technical issues that can happen. 

Simplicity
Mechanical brakes are easy to maintain. You can usually adjust and fix them with normal tools, and they are not very fussy for DIY lovers. A 5mm hex wrench is all you need for most mechanical disc brakes (but some might need a 4mm or 6mm, depending on what you are doing and which model you have).

If you ride far or travel a lot – or you don’t have many bike tools at home – it is very handy to be able to repair your brakes with tools that are easy to find.

Modulation
Mechanical disc brakes have less modulation (the ability to adjust the braking force) than hydraulic brakes, but they are still good enough for most riders who are not very technical or competitive.

Mechanical disc brakes may not bother you if you don’t ride on mountain bike trails or in races often. However, for more advanced riding, especially mountain biking, hydraulic brakes have more modulation, which is a useful feature.

The tip is to begin the removal from the easiest bolt to the toughest ones. Many commuter bikes have mechanical disc brakes because they are simple to keep.

Heavier Weight
Mechanical disc brakes add more weight to electric bikes than hydraulic disc brakes do, so lifting them can be hard. To deal with the weight, you can ride your electric bike on terrain you know well and only lift it when you have to.

Tougher to Ride
Mechanical disc brakes require more hand pressure to brake on an electric fat tire bike. This does not affect the braking performance; it only causes a slight delay before the brakes respond compared to hydraulic disc brakes.

More Maintenance
Mechanical disc brakes need more care and regular inspection after using your e-bike for a while. This is more challenging than maintaining electric bikes with hydraulic disc brakes. But the good thing is that it keeps you updated on the service status.

Overstretched Brake Cable
Using the brake cable for a long time makes it loose. This means you have to press harder to stop the bike. But you can easily change the brake cable when it is too loose.

What are Hydraulic Disc Brakes?

Source: Heybike

Hydraulic disc brakes give you a lot of power and control with your fingers and they are much better than cable-actuated brakes in terms of modulation and feedback. The fluid under pressure in the system greatly increases your finger force and leverage on the brake lever. 

In fact, for some beginner riders, the best way to learn how strong a hydraulic disc brake system is, is to try it on a grassy area at low speeds.

Hydraulic disc brakes have amazing stopping power and fade resistance, but they are not cheap and we are not just talking about the price tag. 

On average, hydraulic disc brakes cost two or three times more than a mechanical system. And on top of the higher initial cost, hydraulic disc brakes also need regular maintenance, which adds to the ownership cost.

Even the best hydraulic brake systems will sometimes get air bubbles or dirt in them. That makes the brake lever feel inconsistent and reduces the braking power over time, especially on those long and steep trails or rocky sections where disc brakes are most useful.

Pros and Cons of Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Hydraulic disc brakes have different pros and cons than mechanical brakes. These are some of the characteristics of hydraulic disc brakes:

More Durable
Hydraulic disc brakes are more expensive than other types of brakes, but they also make electric bikes more reliable and long-lasting. Electric bikes with hydraulic disc brakes are ideal for electric hunting bicycles. If you want to invest in the future and not just the present, you should choose an e-bike that has this kind of brake.

Less Maintenance
You don’t have to worry about regular maintenance or daily checkups if you have an electric bike with hydraulic disc brakes. These brakes require less servicing and maintenance than other brakes. You can enjoy riding your bike for a long time without any hassle.

Power and Precision
Hydraulic disc brakes have more advantages than just being durable and easy to use. They also have better braking power and accuracy. 

Hydraulic brakes need less pressure to work, and they spread this pressure more smoothly to the rotor. This results in a powerful braking effect with a gentle pull on a hydraulic brake lever.

You can brake with just one finger on your hydraulic disc brakes, and keep more fingers on the handlebars for more stability. The enhanced braking power can also help with heavier e-bikes or electric cargo bikes, especially when you have extra weight.

Better Modulation
Compared to mechanical brakes, hydraulic disc brakes have better modulation. This means they give riders more control over how effectively they stop in different situations. This is especially helpful for mountain biking or riding on rough surfaces.

However, if you are a casual rider who doesn’t go too fast in technical terrain, you probably don’t need to care much about the subtlety of brake modulation.

More Brake-Stopping Power
Hydraulic disc brakes give you more control over your speed if you like to ride fast and have fun. You can stop your bike at any time and your brake will react quickly. Don’t forget to wear your helmet. 

Cost Implications
As the saying goes, quality comes at a price. Hydraulic disc brakes make electric bikes cost more than those with mechanical brakes. But this brake type is more reliable and user-friendly. In the long run, you will get your money’s worth.

Complex maintenance
Hydraulic disc brakes need less maintenance, but sometimes it is necessary, and when it is, it is much harder than mechanical brakes. You need a professional to do some technical steps, which can be a problem if there are none around.

Oil Spillage Complexity
Complex routines also include dealing with an oil leak, which is often difficult and dangerous. The motor and brakes usually have a moderate amount of lubricant in a safe place. But if you ride on rough roads, there could be a leak, which is hard to repair.

Similarities and Differences

Working
Both mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes work in a similar way. They affect the function of an electric bike in the same way, especially when it comes to braking. 

E-bikes have both kinds of brakes with a brake lever connected to a brake caliper. The brake caliper of each e-bike is in the middle of the wheel. The caliper works by applying resistance to the rotor as you press it against the wheel. 

This makes it harder to turn the bicycle, slowing down the spinning of the tire. As you put more pressure on the brake lever, the caliper applies more force to the rotor. This means that the increased resistance gives better braking power.

Disc brakes are different from conventional rim brakes, because they do not create resistance on the rims, but on the rotor. Disc brakes are common on mopeds because they have less friction and work better.

Brake Power
The force from the brake lever is weakened in the mechanical brake system before it gets to the caliper. The cable inside the brake housing causes friction. Some of the force from the brake lever is used to overcome the friction. 

It means that there is less energy in the system, and you may not have enough braking power. This will make the stopping distance much longer.

Hydraulic brakes are better at stopping than mechanical brakes because they are more efficient. A hydraulic brake increases the force from the lever. The braking power is greater than the input force in the system. Also, the brake fluid in the disc brake has very little friction, which makes the system lose less energy.

Control and Precision
A mechanical disc brake makes it hard to control the braking force, because you need to pull the brake lever harder. To use it properly, you need to put a lot of pressure on the lever. Also, more speed and weight make it less efficient.

A hydraulic disc brake is light and lets you control the braking power of your bike easily. You can apply the brake with little effort, and you can get the right amount of braking force by lightly pressing the lever. You can stop faster without locking the wheels.

Maintenance
Mechanical brakes can lose their braking performance when they get dirty or gritty. Cleaning mechanical disc brakes is simple if you know how to clean rim brakes.

Hydraulic brakes are very easy to maintain because they use sealed fluid that keeps dirt out of the system. However, if there is a leak, hydraulic brakes can be harder to fix because they are more complex.

Operational Consistency
Mechanical disc brakes have cables that are held by the housing, which causes friction. The system is open, so dirt can easily get into the housing. This makes the system less smooth and more resistant. You have to use more force to brake, and the braking quality is lower.

Hydraulic brakes are better because they are smooth and consistent. The hydraulic brake system is closed, so there is no interference or blockage. Also, the system is not likely to get dirty or damaged. With this system, you can trust that you will have steady and strong braking power.

Parts Availability
Mechanical disc brake parts are more common and easy to find than hydraulic brake parts. Mechanical brakes have the same levers and cables as regular rim brakes, so you can get them in almost any bike shop, even far away from cities.

Hydraulic bike brake parts are harder to get. You may have trouble finding new calipers, levers, brake fluid, brake lines, or tools to fix them. This is especially true for riders who live in remote areas. You may need to go to a bike shop that specializes in hydraulic brakes.

Price
Mechanical brakes are cheaper than hydraulic disc brakes. Here is a quick comparison of the cost of mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes on an e-bike.

Mechanical brakes are easy and cheap to maintain. Their cables cost only a few dollars. You can fix them or take care of them with basic bike tools. You don’t have to go to expensive bike shops.

Hydraulic disc brakes or bikes with them cost more. The components are ready to use or install. But the maintenance of a hydraulic disc brake is more expensive. You need to do a brake bleeding process and change the brake fluid. You need special tools for that. These tools can increase the total cost.

Overall, when you compare the cost of mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes on an e bike, your preference matters the most. If you want to save money, then mechanical brakes are better at first. But you have to pay more to keep a hydraulic brake system working. 

The main thing is whether you want to pay less at the start or less over time.

Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes – Which is Best for You?

One thing that is clear in off-road cycling is the need for hydraulic disc brakes. They perform better than mechanical brakes, but they also need seasonal bleeding to keep them in top shape. This is an extra cost that you don’t have with mechanical brakes.

But if you ride a mountain bike on trails, you should not compromise on hydraulic brakes. They give you more safety and control when you have to slow down on technical trail features. Nothing is worse than feeling your fingers tire out as you squeeze a mechanical brake lever and hope to stop in time.

The maintenance cost of hydraulic brakes is a small price to pay for their performance. Imagine you are going to a bike park for a weekend or to the Alps for a mountain biking trip. You need hydraulic brakes to handle the steep descents without losing braking power.

Hydraulic disc brakes also have another advantage: they have a better lever feel and bite-point accuracy. This means you can brake with more confidence and precision on unfamiliar and challenging trails. You can adjust your braking to the terrain and the grip level.

Mechanical vs Hydraulic Disc Brakes – How to Choose?

If you want to save money or have reliable braking in any weather condition, disc brakes with a cable-operated mechanical system are good enough. 

A mechanical system is suitable for you if you can control your braking smoothly and like to ride on remote gravel roads and trails. Where you don’t need to worry about spare parts and repairs.

For adventure bike riders, who pack a lot of frame bags for long trips, the extra speed and weight make hydraulic braking power more desirable. 

In mountain biking, there is no doubt: hydraulic brakes are essential. The maintenance is only once a year, and a hydraulic braking system gives you more confidence.

A final note on the advantage of hydraulic brakes for tough trails and extreme mountain biking. Trail and enduro riders use very large tires, often 29×2.5 inches and heavier than 1000g. That is a lot of spinning mass. 

On steep trails, you can never have too much braking power and hydraulic brake systems show their value with more caliper pistons.

Mechanical brakes have one piston, while most hydraulic brakes have two pistons. Trail and enduro calipers have four pistons. The benefit of more pistons is better pressure distribution between the brake lever and the pad. This results in more power and less brake fade by using more pad surface (where those extra pistons are pushing) for braking.

Conclusion

In conclusion, mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes have their own advantages and disadvantages. Mechanical brakes are cheaper, easier to maintain, and more compatible with different bikes. 

Hydraulic brakes are smoother, more consistent, and more powerful, but they are also more expensive, harder to find, and require special tools. 

The choice between them depends on your personal preference, budget, and riding style. No matter what type of brake you choose, make sure to keep them in good condition and adjust them regularly. This will ensure your safety and performance on the road or trail. 

Thank you for reading this blog post about mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes. We hope you found it informative and helpful.

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