We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are the Different Types of Bicycle Brakes?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
WikiMotors is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WikiMotors, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Bicycle brakes are used to slow or completely stop a bicycle and fall into three different categories: rim, drum, and disc. All three types function by applying friction to part of either or both wheels with a static, rider operated braking mechanism. Bicycle brakes are typically applied with cable or rod actuators operated by the rider via handlebar mounted levers or pedal controls. The friction applied to the wheels generally comes courtesy of sets of rubber or composite material pads which are pressed up against the wheel rim, a hub mounted disc, or the inner surface of a hub drum.

The most common, and one of the oldest, braking systems used on a wide range of different bicycle types is the rim brake. This brake variant relies on a set of brake shoes mounted over the wheel on a caliper. When activated, the caliper closes and presses the brake shoes, typically heat resistant rubber blocks, up against the wheel rim. The friction caused by the contact between the shoes and rim bleeds energy off the moving bicycle, thereby slowing and eventually stopping it.

There are a wide range of different caliper designs used on rim bicycle brakes including cantilever, center pull, and side pull designs. The calipers are typically actuated by a Bowden type cable operated by a lever on the handlebars. These brakes are simple to adjust and repair and fairly effective although they do tend to loose efficiency when the rim is wet.

The second commonly used braking system is the drum brake, either as dedicated braking or braking and free wheel types. Operated by rods, cables, or back pedal pressure, these brakes press a set of brake shoes up against the inside of the wheel hub much like the drum brakes on an automobile. Free wheel bicycle brakes are unique drum brake arrangements allowing the rear wheel to "free wheel" while coasting down hills and supplying braking via the pedals. When the rider pedals forward, the hub turns the wheel. When the pedals are kept static, the rear wheel runs free, and when the pedals are pushed back they activate the drum brake. Also known as back pedal brakes, this type of braking system is widely used on the ubiquitous roadster cycles common in Asia and Africa.

The third type of bicycle braking system also obtains its design from automobile brakes. Disc bicycle brakes feature a flat disc attached to the wheel hub which travels through a co-mounted caliper. The caliper features one or more sets of piston actuated brake shoes which may be mechanically or hydraulically operated. When activated, the piston pushes the shoes against the disc, thereby applying braking forces to the wheel. While very effective, these brakes require several modifications to conventional wheel designs which add weight and cost to the bicycle.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Reminiscence — On Feb 24, 2014

@Phaedrus, I remember those coaster and BMX bikes with the back pedal brakes. When the first ten speed bikes came out, many of us had to learn how to use caliper brakes mounted on those curled handlebars. It was a steep learning curve. Braking with caliper brakes meant applying pressure on the rear tire first, then gradually applying pressure to the front caliper brakes. If a rider locked up the front wheel first, the rest of the bike would flip forward. We'd have to go to the local bike shop every few months and buy new rubber pads for the caliper brakes, I remember.

By Phaedrus — On Feb 23, 2014

Most of the coaster-style bikes I had as a child used back pedal drum brakes. They were ideal for doing stunts like wheelies and spin outs. When the back wheel was locked, the rider could stand up on the pedals and balance the bike on one tire. Drum brakes were also good for controlling the bike's speed down a steep hill.

WikiMotors, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WikiMotors, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.