Mechanical disc brakes are a special type of disc brake system used in mountain biking, road biking, and backpacking. In the early days of mountain biking, the initial disc brake systems for these bikes were exclusively cable-actuated. This meant they relied on a straightforward cable tension mechanism to engage the calipers and press the brake pads against the rotors, resulting in deceleration. Cable-actuated mechanical disc brakes are known for their simplicity and high reliability, with few components prone to malfunction. However, it’s worth noting that the cabling in a mechanical system is exposed and may become frayed or stretched when subjected to aggressive use.
One notable drawback of any mechanical brake system, especially cable-actuated disc brakes, is their tendency to experience significant fading during extended and steep descents, as they lack the hydraulic amplification found in other systems. Maintaining the necessary cable tension and caliper pressure demands considerable finger and hand strength. Many riders may find it challenging to exert the required force consistently. When riders are expending their full hand strength and dexterity on braking, they have less capacity left for receiving tactile feedback through the brake levers and handlebars. This reduced feedback can lead to decreased confidence in steering and bike control.
As mountain bike frame geometry, suspension technology, and tire design have advanced over time, riders have increasingly explored steeper and more technical trails. In doing so, they encountered the limitations of cable-operated disc brakes, sparking the demand for the first hydraulic brake systems in the 1990s.
Also See: What are Hydraulic Disc Brakes?
What are the Pros and Cons of Mechanical Disc Brakes?
The pros and cons are as follows:
- Mechanical disc calipers exhibit high reliability.
- Their simplicity makes it easy to repair, maintain, and replace brake pads.
- Replacement cables and levers are readily available, as they are essentially the same as those used for rim brakes.
- Mechanical disc brakes are cost-effective compared to hydraulic systems.
- Many popular models use common brake pad types, simplifying the sourcing of replacements.
- Mechanical disc calipers provide limited modulation, affecting the control of braking force.
- They lack the braking power of hydraulic systems.
- The increased force required can lead to hand fatigue.
- Regular pad adjustments are necessary due to cable stretch.
- Mechanical disc calipers are heavier and result in slower braking performance.