Disc Brakes vs Rim Brakes

Welcome to the South Bay Cycle blog. Today we're going to break down the differences between to the two most common types of brakes (see what we did there?), disc brakes and rim brakes. Is there a right or wrong? Spoiler: you get to decide for your own riding style!  


What are they? They're those little metal sort-of-plate but sort-of-ninja-star-looking things you see at the center of the wheel. The same technology has been used on cars and motorcycles for the better part of a decade, and to significant effect!  

They provide more stopping power. But how? Because the braking surface isn't the rim, engineers have become more informed about how the materials interact with each other. Not only does that result in a more efficient brake (think faster-stopping), but one that's is more consistent. The braking system is far from the ground (instead of on the rim, which is an inch away from the ground); disc brakes are at the middle of the wheel, making them nice and protected!  

Disc brakes do come with their share of downsides. Disc brake systems are more expensive to manufacture, maintain, and replace. Making friends with your local shop (free food works) and staying on top of your own maintenance will help keep you rolling smoothly.  

They're also a little more sensitive to being thrown out of whack. Your braking system is further out of harm's way. Still, when it is altered (bumping into something), it can be pretty irritating to adjust. Make sure you're careful with your bike and you'll be good to go!   


The "OG" brake system. Rim brakes use a little lever, actuated by a cable, to squeeze the rim and slow the bike down. Easy enough, right?  

Rim brakes are cheaper, easier to work on at home, and easier to get fixed if you're out on a ride. 

Contrary to the disc brake, because the brake squeezes onto the rim, there might be dirt or water, or road sludge that gets on the braking surface. This happens and is totally normal and totally fixable. The only downside is that the debris from the road can affect the efficacy of your brakes! Your breaks will work, but they might take a little longer to "grab" or "stop" the wheel as they would when your rim is clean. 

Another downside to rim brakes is that, on road bikes, where you find them mostly, they will limit the maximum size of your tire to roughly 28mm. If you intend on riding mostly on the road, great! Ride free! But if you're interested in the road less traveled, I.e., gravel, going with a disc brake bike might offer the flexibility you need.   


  • Get disc brakes if you ride in the rain and want the same braking performance as in the dry.   
  • Get rim brakes if you want the cheapest system that will work for 99% of riding.  
  • Get disc brakes if you want the newest, latest, and greatest thing.  
  • Get rim brakes if you want something that is easy for you to work on at home.    
  • Get disc brakes if you want something that won't limit your tire size.

There is no right or wrong, and while most bikes these days are being built with disc brakes, that's not to say that rim brakes are to be thrown to the side. But of course, if you have questions just give us a call!  


Don't forget to check back every Tuesday for our South Bay Cycle Blog!