Mechanical vs. Hydraulic Disc Brakes – What’s the difference and What Should You Get?


Are you curious about these two types of disc brakes and are wondering which of them you should be getting? Of course, you are; that’s why you’re here. Well, you’ve come to the right place; we’re here to break it down for you by talking about the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each. 

After analyzing both systems, what we can be certain of is that there isn’t one answer to the question of which is better, because it will all depend on your biking needs, preferences, and of course, budget. 

Basically, a mechanical braking system operates the same way a hydraulic one does; both systems activate pads, squeezing them against the discs of a bike to make it stop or slow down. The main difference is in the way each system activates those pads. 

Brake Efficiency

A mechanical braking system uses cables to activate the brake pads, while a hydraulic braking system uses fluid to do the same. And because these two systems use different methods to send a force from the lever to the brake pads, the efficiency with which that force is transmitted can vary. The cable implementation used on a mechanical system, for instance, requires the force used to squeeze the lever to be greater than the force transmitted to the calipers. While in a hydraulic system, which uses fluid to transmit power from lever to caliper, the opposite is true. This means that a hydraulic braking system requires less effort to stop a bike, as well as offers more braking power than a mechanical one.  

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Requiring less effort to stop a bike and offering more braking power, however, is not all that matters–at least for some people. Because a hydraulic braking system is fully enclosed (it’s a fluid-filled system, after all), this means it is close to impossible to fix on the fly. If anything in the system breaks while you’re in the middle of a bike trail, then you can expect to be carrying that bike all the way back. Whereas if you find yourself in the same situation with a bike that uses a mechanical braking system, then it won’t be difficult to have it fixed in a jiffy (granted you’re sufficiently competent about such things). In either case, a mechanical bike is infinitely easier to fix on the fly, which might be a fact worth considering when deciding which system to use. Also, given the fact that a hydraulic system is more complex than a mechanical one, it is thus more expensive to maintain. 

So, in a nutshell, as far as maintenance is concerned, mechanical systems are both easier and cheaper to maintain. 

But there are also upsides to the closed design of a hydraulic braking system, and they may very well offset the downsides mentioned above depending on one’s needs and preferences. For one, the closed design of a hydraulic system makes it more impervious to the buildup of gunk inside the system. Because of a hydraulic system’s closed design, dirt and grime don’t get into the system as easily as they do on a mechanical one, which means maintenance won’t be needed as frequently. Indeed, one of the biggest advantages of a hydraulic braking system over a mechanical one is that it requires much less maintenance. 

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If you’re the type who frequently wades their bike through muck and mud, then you’re safer with a hydraulic braking system, which won’t clog up as easily as a mechanical one.

Comfort and Feel

Anyone who’s tried both systems will testify to the fact that a hydraulic system simply feels better. It requires less force from the lever to stop the bike, and modulation of the bike’s speed is a much smoother experience. Those two advantages alone assure a more comfortable and confident biking experience. 

But there’s another reason why a hydraulic braking system feels better than a mechanical one, and it is because the latter system is typically less heavy than the former, which means the latter will also require less effort to ride, especially on steep hill-climbs.

Which One Should You Get?

If you need a good bike and have enough budget to get one that uses a hydraulic braking system, then, by all means, do so. In fact, it is what we’d recommend. A hydraulic braking system simply beats a mechanical one in almost all respects. From braking efficiency to overall comfort and confidence, you can’t go wrong opting for a bike using a hydraulic braking system if you can afford it.

But if your budget is limited, are fine living with the disadvantages of a mechanical system, and would rather have a bike that is both cheap and easy to maintain, then go for a bike with a mechanical braking system. There are many good ones out there. Indeed, there have been many advancements in mechanical braking systems that one who isn’t an absolute stickler for performance can’t go wrong opting for it, either.

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By Jacob

When I was a child, one of my favorite things to do was a cycle. One day while looking around at all the people who didn't know how their bikes worked or where they should go if something broke on them - many were getting ripped off by shady mechanics charging too much for repairs that really weren’t necessary- it became clear what needed to be done! So here at VolataCycles, I help you to keep your bike in great condition, and to show you that cycling can be fun, practical, and affordable - all at the same time!