Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

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flat tyre
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Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby flat tyre » 14 Jun 2019, 8:38pm

I'm considering a new bike purchase. Intending to use it for long distance day rides and looking at disc brakes. I've got 2 bikes with hydraulic disc brakes already, but interested to know what experience people have with either, what are the pos and cons?

AMMoffat
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Joined: 1 Dec 2007, 1:05pm

Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby AMMoffat » 14 Jun 2019, 8:56pm

Depends on where you're cycling. I sometimes mountain bike alone in remote areas of Scotland where there is no option of getting recovered by a vehicle in case of breakdown and where lack of working brakes could be very dangerous indeed. Having experienced a hydraulic disc brake failure in such a location, I have replaced the hydraulic disc brakes on both my mountain bikes with cable discs. Short of a bent rotor there is little that can't be fixed on cable discs with minimal tools when off the beaten track.

If I was sticking to roads or less remote areas it wouldn't bother me which I had. I can't say I've noticed a difference between the types. When working either will stop my bike.

mattsccm
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby mattsccm » 14 Jun 2019, 9:19pm

I'll counter the above. :D
a. Lack of brakes will never stop you getting home. 1 will almost always do and in the very few circumstances where it won't, you can walk down. In the UK it can't ever be far.
b. Hydro brakes almost never break. Never so much had even a trivial failure . Pad wear doesn't count. That's nothing to do with hydros . Its poor maintainence.
C. Hydro brakes are universal on anything above budget bikes. They gave been accepted because they work. Sticking with cables because of their supposed ease if fixing is the same as running a Series 1 Land Rover. Yes you can mend it with a hammer but why not drive something that won't need fixing.
d. Hydro's are more effective. Better stopping power. Silly arguments such as "my properly set up BB7s outbrake my worn out cheapo hydro's" are pointless.

Maybe the OP wants to be able to strip the brake to the last circlip on the top of a mountain in which case I'll give you cables but realistically? Come on. Millions of hydro users cannot be wrong.
All based on, admittedly, short period of time on hydro's . Bit of a Luddite so I didn't convert to discs until the mid 90s. On the dropped bar bike it wax very recent. About 2008 so maybe I should defer to those who have really used them.
Short answer, close the worm can and try them all. :D

rmurphy195
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby rmurphy195 » 14 Jun 2019, 9:37pm

When my son did his downhill racing some years back, he used Hydraulic disc brakes - Hope on his original bike, not sure what afterwards. They needed the same sort of maintenance as on my car - occasional bleeding, fluid replacement, seal inspection/replacement and so on and were expensive and complicated but very very good. I tried one of his bikes downhill and the brakes needed no effort at all, 2-finger operation and very little pressure required, just what you need when you've got the brakes going all the time, and of course the power in them was complemented by the big, grippiy tyres.

I now have brakes on my tourer - cable ones. Not as powerful as the hydraulic brakes, but are less expensive and need less maintenance, just keep an eye on the cables and the adjuster. With the road tyres, and very little need to keep the brakes on for long periods of time I feel no need for the massive power of the hydros.

Neither do I have the hidden expense of hydros - that is, having bought your expensive brake fluid and changed the fluid on the bike, by the time next year comes around the bottle of left-over fluid is no good!

My son, and his friend who are both ex-downhillers both agree with my assessment, having ridden the tourer. Horses for courses.
Brompton, Condor Heritage, creaky joints and thinning white (formerly grey) hair
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Eyebrox
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby Eyebrox » 14 Jun 2019, 9:44pm

I use both hydraulic and cable brakes. Prefer hydraulic. Cable brake maintenance is a constant. Hydraulic has been fit and forget. Cable are never as powerful either, especially at the back. Look after your hydraulics, use a proper bleed kit and keep an eye on the seals, and you'll be proud of your stopping power.

AMMoffat
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby AMMoffat » 14 Jun 2019, 10:16pm

mattsccm wrote:I'll counter the above. :D
a. Lack of brakes will never stop you getting home. 1 will almost always do and in the very few circumstances where it won't, you can walk down. In the UK it can't ever be far.
b. Hydro brakes almost never break. Never so much had even a trivial failure . Pad wear doesn't count. That's nothing to do with hydros . Its poor maintainence.
C. Hydro brakes are universal on anything above budget bikes. They gave been accepted because they work. Sticking with cables because of their supposed ease if fixing is the same as running a Series 1 Land Rover. Yes you can mend it with a hammer but why not drive something that won't need fixing.
d. Hydro's are more effective. Better stopping power. Silly arguments such as "my properly set up BB7s outbrake my worn out cheapo hydro's" are pointless.
:D


My views are based on experience :). I agree that lack of brakes will not stop me getting home but I'd rather avoid a 15 mile walk if I can, which is what it would be for the downhill parts of some of the locations I've been, in this country, if I had non-functioning brakes and I am by no means an extreme mountain biker. It is perfectly possible in this country to face a very long walk home and in poor weather conditions.

I have experienced a hydraulic brake failure in such a location which had nothing to do with worn pads, poor maintenance or cheap brakes. It may not have happened to you, or indeed anyone you know, but it does happen as I can testify :?. Whilst that may be rare, I'd rather avoid the possibility. As for "silly" arguments about one outbraking the other, I expressed no opinion on that other than to observe that as far as I'm concerned both stop my bike when required if working properly and that's all I need.

As the OP is buying a bike for long day rides then my requirements are not the OP's but experience was requested so I've provided mine :).

Brucey
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby Brucey » 14 Jun 2019, 10:42pm

My two-pennoth; Hydro brakes have better modulation and (usually) better power too. They are mostly fairly reliable, also. But they can of course still suffer from all the same problems that can happen between the pads and disc (e.g. glazing, wear, contamination, etc etc), plus some others. Different to cable discs, certainly, but 'better'? -it depends on your perspective.

What you are unlikely to do with cable operated discs is wear your pads out without noticing; you need to adjust the brakes as the pads wear and this reminds you to examine the pads too; with a good cable system you know how far you can adjust the barrel adjuster before the pads are done, so it is fairly easy. However with hydro brakes there is no clue that the pads are wearing; the brakes self-adjust. Pad wear rates can vary enormously with the conditions; a single day's riding in the wet can put as much wear into the pads as month's worth of dry riding. It is easy to be caught out.

Some other points to note are that

- DOT fluid brakes ought to be bled out and filled with clean fluid at regular intervals if you wish to maintain performance; the fluid is incredibly hygroscopic and absorbs moisture from the air, so even a 'dry stored/used' bike can end up with degraded fluid (with a lower boiling point) in it.
- any hydro brake can potentially suffer a boil-up on a long descent, especially if maintenance of the hydraulic circuit is neglected. A 1000' descent can be enough, so at least half the counties in the UK might include routes where this is a concern.
-if you get a small leak (eg nick a hose) and lose even a small amount of fluid you have no brake
- In foul weather use (eg commuting) many common types of hydraulic calipers have shown themselves to be prone to corrosion in the caliper bores and this causes oil leaks. Normally this doesn't immediately result in 'no brake at all', just one that (at first) still feels like a brake but that doesn't work because everything is contaminated with oil. Some commuters and other all weather riders report that they expect not to go more than 18 months between failures. Caliper replacement (and a new disc if the oil residue is baked on) is the only reliable cure.

Mechanical calipers can suffer with corrosion too, but maintenance is less like mysterious plumbing and more nuts and boltsy; some folk prefer one to the other. Some folk are happy enough to put up with hydraulic systems even if they prove to be unreliable, since (they say) between breakages they work better and don't require much routine fiddling with.

A few days ago I helped someone with their spongy (shimano road) hydraulic brakes; they wanted to learn so I let them get on with it mostly (I was in the middle of something else) but intervened when needed. They hadn't done this job before but were basically mechanically ept; they'd read the manual and borrowed all my tools but it took them about two hours to bleed the brakes and work out there was still a problem; the brakes still squealed like crazy and didn't work that well either. The worst brake was too new and had only seen dry use so to have developed a small leak was unlikely; the best hypothesis was that there had been some external contamination and/or the pads were glazed . Needless to say in the time taken it would have been possible to overhaul a cable operated disc system completely, or a rim brake system (including re-rimming the wheel....).

Had that bike turned up in an LBS, they'd probably just have replaced the caliper, pads, and disc and charged an hour's labour or so; at workshop rates it is quicker and cheaper to replace stuff if there is any doubt. In the same vein the whole shooting match (MC, hose, caliper, disc, pads) often goes in the bin if it is a MTB system that has gone bad; the parts are not that expensive and otherwise you run the risk of a large labour bill and no adequate resolution to the problem. The cost of hydro STIs makes it worth trying to keep those unless there is an obvious problem with them.

So you might be lucky and not have any problems, but if you do they might be expensive and take longer to sort out than you expect them to, especially first time around. I have bikes with both types of system on them BTW, and have used hydro discs for over twenty years. I've not got any plans to have hydro discs on a road bike any time soon.

cheers
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hemo
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby hemo » 14 Jun 2019, 11:59pm

HDB all the way for me and all six of my e-bikes have them, no stretching cables or adjusting and no poor brake performance.
Better still they all use the same BO1S Shimano pad and I bought about 10 pairs of pads for £1.05 a pair from China and they work as well as genuine pads. In my kit I alweays carry a couple of spare pairs with me to chnag eon route if need be, in the winter on the S/Downs the chalky claggy/grinding paste can ruin pads in less then 30 miles of use.

iandriver
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby iandriver » 15 Jun 2019, 1:00am

hemo wrote:HDB all the way for me and all six of my e-bikes have them, .

I so want to see your kitchen :D

Seriously, if you get decent quality hydrolic or cable discs, set up well, you'll get very acceptable performance out of them. If you are going for flat bars, you have a huge amount of choice. For a dropped bars, less so.

What type of bike are you thinking of?
Supporter of the A10 corridor cycling campaign serving Royston to Cambridge http://a10corridorcycle.com. Never knew gardening secateurs were an essential part of the on bike tool kit until I took up campaigning.....

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Spinners
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby Spinners » 15 Jun 2019, 6:38am

Whilst all of my bikes are now rim brakes I've had good experiences with cable disc brakes (BB7's on a Specialized AWOL) and hydraulic disc brakes on a Giant MTB I had a couple of years ago (I can't remember if they were Tektro or Giant but they were bloomin' good).

I'm quite content with rim brakes on my road bikes but if I had to choose between cable disc or hydraulic disc I'd go for the latter.
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flat tyre
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby flat tyre » 15 Jun 2019, 7:44am

Thanks for the replies. I feel as if I'm teetering on the edge of an abyss here as all my other four road bikes are rim brakes. I'm looking at a bike for long road rides in all weather (well, wet weather certainly). At present the only thing pushing me to jump into the disc brake abyss is the dreaded rim wear, I'm not bothered by braking performance, as I've managed perfectly with rim brakes for 55 years! At 8,000 miles a year I find I'm going through rims fairly frequently, particularly as I live in the south downs area with plenty of braking required and ideal rim grinding paste conditions.

LittleGreyCat
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby LittleGreyCat » 15 Jun 2019, 9:10am

I'm on my first bike with disc brakes.

Cable TRP Spyres.

The braking meets and I think exceeds my modest needs but for a touring bike I would prefer disc to rim.
We shall see how soon I have to replace parts.

I have no experience with hydraulic discs, but I think Brucey has put it nicely into context.

reohn2
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby reohn2 » 15 Jun 2019, 10:28am

mattsccm wrote:.........d. Hydro's are more effective. Better stopping power. Silly arguments such as "my properly set up BB7s outbrake my worn out cheapo hydro's" are pointless.......

They aren't "silly arguments" the BB7 cable discs on the three bikes I own(I won't count the tandem with the same cable discs)I can lock up both wheels at will.
How much brake do you want?
+++++++++++++++++
My reasons for using cable discs opposed to hydros are that they stop just a good as hydros,need very little maintenance and can be operated with standard cable levers.
Their only downside is that they need adjusting manually which can also be a plus as the adjustment is a reminder of pad wear.
From a practical POV for the touring cyclist and I fully accept hydros are very reliable:-
a) cable discs can be stripped and repaired roadside if needs be,though extremely unlikely
b)in a spill brake levers aren't anything special and be replaced quickly and cheaply if using flat bars or none STI drop levers*.
c)cables weigh almost nothing,are standard and can be carried.
d)no chances of leaking fluid due to damaged lines or caliper seals
e)no chance of fluid boil with cable discs,admittedly less chance on solos but a very real chance on tandems on long Alpine descents or to a lesser extent on a fully loaded touring bike on similarly descents.


*if drops are used with none STI levers and cross top levers,if the main lever is damaged beyond use the cross top lever can be wired up to be used as the main lever :wink:
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reohn2
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby reohn2 » 15 Jun 2019, 10:40am

flat tyre wrote:Thanks for the replies. I feel as if I'm teetering on the edge of an abyss here as all my other four road bikes are rim brakes. I'm looking at a bike for long road rides in all weather (well, wet weather certainly). At present the only thing pushing me to jump into the disc brake abyss is the dreaded rim wear, I'm not bothered by braking performance, as I've managed perfectly with rim brakes for 55 years! At 8,000 miles a year I find I'm going through rims fairly frequently, particularly as I live in the south downs area with plenty of braking required and ideal rim grinding paste conditions.

We were the same when we were doing between 5k and 9k miles a year on tandems,BB7 cable discs put a stop(sorry)to the wet weather braking problems and rim wear.The other thing was,the bike stayed incredibly clean for much longer,with no coating of grey sludge all over it :)

PS,disc brakes aren't an abyss they're a revelation after winter/wet weather rim brake woes :wink:
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Cugel
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Re: Disc brakes, hydraulic versus cable

Postby Cugel » 15 Jun 2019, 11:17am

reohn2 wrote:
mattsccm wrote:.........d. Hydro's are more effective. Better stopping power. Silly arguments such as "my properly set up BB7s outbrake my worn out cheapo hydro's" are pointless.......

They aren't "silly arguments" the BB7 cable discs on the three bikes I own(I won't count the tandem with the same cable discs)I can lock up both wheels at will.
How much brake do you want?
+++++++++++++++++
My reasons for using cable discs opposed to hydros are that they stop just a good as hydros,need very little maintenance and can be operated with standard cable levers.
Their only downside is that they need adjusting manually which can also be a plus as the adjustment is a reminder of pad wear.
From a practical POV for the touring cyclist and I fully accept hydros are very reliable:-
a) cable discs can be stripped and repaired roadside if needs be,though extremely unlikely
b)in a spill brake levers aren't anything special and be replaced quickly and cheaply if using flat bars or none STI drop levers*.
c)cables weigh almost nothing,are standard and can be carried.
d)no chances of leaking fluid due to damaged lines or caliper seals
e)no chance of fluid boil with cable discs,admittedly less chance on solos but a very real chance on tandems on long Alpine descents or to a lesser extent on a fully loaded touring bike on similarly descents.


*if drops are used with none STI levers and cross top levers,if the main lever is damaged beyond use the cross top lever can be wired up to be used as the main lever :wink:


You make several good arguments for cable-operated disc brakes. I found (from comparing similar in hydro and cable versions) that the hydro-operated disc brakes of good quality have a singular advantage: they can be operated with greater precision and with much less hand strength for long and/or steep downhills where there is a need for continuous or very frequent, sometimes hard, braking.

That may be a small matter for those not living or riding amongst the long and/or steep downhills. Whippersnappers with an immense and tenacious hand grip may also be fine with cable-operated brakes, even going down the 300M bendy-gravelly drop from the top o' Brechfa forest into Brechfa village! For olde gimmers and their slight ladywives the hydros are, I would say, a necessity if one is to avoid hand-twangle; or even a feeble under-brake causing a hedge-bite or worse.

On the other hand, I can get down that bendy steep road on a rim-brake bike albeit with utter concentration on picking the right line and leaning madly on the large, soft and sticky tyres (in the dry). Still, me poor little graspers are all a-tremble at the bottom (along with the rest of me). :-)

Cugel