Every mountain bike rider knows how important it is to have good brakes. The best mountain bike brakes will not only improve your stopping time, but also the amount of control you have over your bike. This, in turn, can make you a more confident rider, allowing you to ride at higher speeds and over rougher terrain, safe in the knowledge that you can stop the bike quickly and easily when required.
Recent developments and greater focus on brakes in the mountain biking world – particularly in relation to the widespread introduction of hydraulic disc brake – has resulted in brakes that are lighter and more powerful than ever before. Having the best MTB brakes is now an important factor in choosing, improving and upgrading your bike, and one you can’t afford to overlook.
The world of bicycle brakes can be a confusing one, with so many variations and price points available. With this in mind, we’ve put together this list of 10 of the best mountain bike brakes on the market today, to help you find the perfect ones for you, that are suited to your needs and riding style. Never again will you need to worry about your ability to stop in time!
The Best Mountain Bike Brakes
First up on our list of the best mountain bike brakes is Shimano’s Deore XT Disc Brake from their M8000 range (Shimano are one of the leaders in this field, so they’ll be featuring a lot on this list!) These high-tech aluminum bike brakes have been refined for a more lightweight and sleek design, with a narrower clamp to give you more space, and a lever arc that mimics the natural movement of your fingers. The new lever also has an integrated master cylinder. The brake is easy to adjust, with tool-free reach adjustment and a free stroke adjustment.
Servo Wave technology adjusts piston travel according to lever travel to allow predictable modulation. This enables the pads to sit further away from the rotors and reduces drag when at rest. A 22mm ceramic piston in the calipers gives impressive stopping power, and Shimano’s radiator pads with integrated fins reduce fade on dissents and help to dissipate heat. The brake comes pre-bled and can be easily mounted using the split clamps on hinges. It’s complete for either Left/Front or Right/Rear, but you will need to purchase the rotor separately.
Hydraulic mountain bike brakes
Made from aluminum
Sold separately as either Left/Front or Right/Rear
Rotor not included
- Weight1.25 pounds
Coming in at a close second on our list of the best MTB brakes is this Sunlite MX Side Pull Brake Set. This set represents a more affordable option, as it includes both front and rear calipers and rubber pads, as well cables, housing, and right and left levers, for a much lower price than a single Shimano M8000 brake. This set is made from melt forged alloy, and has a reach of 69mm – 96mm. The cable ends are crimped to prevent fraying. The set is available in either a black or silver finish, allowing you to customize the look of your bike.
Users agree that this is a fantastic set of brakes for the price, although there are a few flaws, including the fact that it takes quite a lot of pressure to apply the brake lever – no one finger stopping here. Overall though, as long as you don’t expect professional level precision, the parts are solid and of high quality, and these brakes should significantly improve the average rider’s stopping time.
Made from melt forged alloy
69mm – 96mm reach
Comes with lever, cable and housing
Available in Black or Silver
- ModelMX Side Pull Set
- Weight15 ounces
Next up is another model of bicycle disc brakes from Shimano: the MT200. These hydraulic disc brakes are the new, stronger version of their M315 model, and are designed to offer reliable braking with less rattling noise from the pads. They’re available in either a US or EU version, and with a hose length of either 800mm/1500mm or 800mm/1650mm. The brakes arrive pre-filled and pre-bled and can be installed in less than 15 minutes.
These mountain bike disc brakes are a more affordable and less powerful option than the XT brakes. Users comment that they are smooth and are decent enough hydraulic disc brakes for the price, once you’ve bedded in the pads. One recurring criticism is that there is only one mounting bracket included – although this is contrary to the specification, so you could take it up with the supplier. There are also no rotors included, so you’ll need to purchase these separately. All this aside though, these brakes are a solid option for entry-level riders.
Set of hydraulic disc brakes
Pre-cut, pre-filled and pre-bled with mineral oil
Hose length 800mm/1500mm or 800mm/1650mm
Suitable for entry-level riders
- ModelM315 MT200
- Weight1.8 pounds
We did say you’d be seeing a lot of Shimano on this list! This BR-T4000 Mountain Bike V-Brake is the first rim brake we’ve featured. V-brakes (Shimano’s trademarked name for this type of brake) are an evolved style of traditional caliper brakes. The T4000 is an X-type V-brake with pads, and has a 107mm arch size and a 16mm fixing bolt length. It’s made from aluminum and finished in black.
This mountain bike brake is reasonably priced, and has good stopping power. Not only that, but it’s simple to install, even by self-confessed amateurs, and the brake shoes are easy to position and tighten – and they don’t squeal. One online user does mention that you need a hex nut to adjust the brake pads, which is not included. If it’s a quality V-brake you’re after though, you can’t go far wrong with this one.
X- type V-brakes
Made from aluminum
107mm arch size
16mm fix bolt
- Weight3 pounds
This Sunlite Side Pull Brake Set is another affordable, entry-level option for replacing your brakes and improving your stopping time. This set comes with front and rear brakes, and includes levers, cables and housing. The cables reach from 61mm – 79mm. The brake recoil needs to be properly adjusted in order to prevent them pulling towards the cable side.
There are mixed reviews regarding the quality, with some users commenting that the nuts and bolts are cheap, the levers are flimsy and the rear brake cable was missing on arrival. However, there’s also plenty of positive feedback which praises these bike brakes for being easy to install and having good stopping power, as well as being perfect for kids’ bikes.
Side pull brakes
Includes front and rear brakes
Comes with levers, cables and housing
61mm – 79mm cable reach
- Weight1.7 pounds
This Wake Mountain Bike V Brake Set includes front and back brakes, which are made from a combination of aluminum alloy and plastic. They have a 110mm arch and 55mm brake pads. The manufacturer state that they will fit 99% of V-brake bikes (check whether your bike has a V-brake installation hole prior to purchase).
This is a high quality brake set with strong and smooth springs, that’s easy to install and adjust. Some users mention that the included brake pads are soft, and wear down quickly, whilst others report that they squeal. We recommend replacing the brake pads with a higher quality alternative. Considering the price bracket though, you can’t complain too much, and these brakes are great for occasional use or those on a tight budget.
Aluminum alloy and plastic V-brakes
55mm brake pads
Includes mounting bolts
- Weight7.2 ounces
Included with these Bell Binder Bicycle Brake Pads is a single side-pull caliper brake, brake lever, cable and housing. They can be used for front or rear cantilever brakes, and are designed to fit bikes of 20” and 24” (although some users have used them successfully for a 16”). The included instructions are not the best, but if you’re copying an existing set-up you shouldn’t struggle too much.
Lots of users seem to have employed these as an inexpensive replacement for their original, worn-out brakes, or for children’s bikes. They are easy to install and adjust, and are a good beginner’s option. It’s worth noting that only one brake is included, so you’ll need to purchase two to replace both the front and back brakes.
Caliper side-pull brake
Fits 20” and 24” bikes
For front or rear brakes
Includes caliper, lever, cable and housing
- Weight11.8 ounces
This T610 Deore Mountain Bike V-Brake by Shimano is a great option to replace your cantilever brakes. It’s made from all aluminum in a black finish, and has a 107mm arch. It’s easy to install and set up, and the brake is activated by the softest of pressure on the lever.
Many users have replaced their old cantilever brakes with this Shimano option and are blown away by the difference in stopping time. One review mentions a disparity in the diameter of the arm’s pivot between this and their original cantilever brakes – the pivot size on this one is 8.25mm – which might cause them to be a little loose, although doesn’t affect braking performance.
Made from aluminum
This M2 Hydraulic Brake from Clark’s Cable Systems is the perfect affordable replacement for your rear brake. It has twin piston calipers with lever reach adjustment and a 160mm disc rotor, and requires mineral oil fluid. It’s designed to bring high level braking performance to mountain bike and hybrid riders, for an entry level price, and is reliable in all weather conditions.
There aren’t many reviews, but the ones that there are indicate that this brake succeeds in providing excellent stopping power, without breaking the bank. Some users also appreciate the long cable, which makes it suitable for large mountain bikes. General consensus is this is a high-quality option for a reasonable price.
2-piston hydraulic brake
For real wheel
Lever reach adjustment
160mm disc rotor
- BrandClark’s Cable Systems
- Weight1.25 pounds
Finishing up our list of the best mountain bike brakes is this M6000 Disc Brake Set from Shimano. These brakes have a heat-insulated dual piston design, and come with levers, calipers, hoses and mineral oil. Best of all, they arrive pre-assembled and pre-bled, ready to easily install on your bike and improve your stopping power (if you need to shorten the cables, you may need to bleed the brakes yourself at the lever first).
These are premium mountain bike hydraulic brakes – they are strong and smooth, and can be activated with one finger – for a great price. One user points out that these are fitted to bikes in the $3000 – $4000 price range as standard, so if your bike is from a lower price bracket, they should provide a noticeable upgrade.
Hydraulic disc brake set
Comes pre-assembled and pre-bled
Includes levers, calipers, hoses and mineral oil
Resin brake pads
Rotor not included
Best Mountain Bike Brakes Buying Guide & FAQ
Still feeling overwhelmed by the amount of bicycle brakes out there? Hopefully our buying guide and FAQ will help you decide which ones are best for your bike.
What to Consider When Buying MTB Brakes
- Type of brake
The two main types of mountain bike brake you need to choose between are disc brakes (hydraulic or cable), or traditional V-brakes. Disc brakes use a cable or a hose with hydraulic fluid to transmit pressure from the lever onto a rotor on the wheel (via pistons and pads), which creates friction and causes the wheel to slow down. V-brakes, or rim brakes, work by pinching the rim of the wheel between two pads, again slowing it down. There are advantages and disadvantages to both – check out our FAQ below for more on the differences between them.
- Type of riding
The type of riding you do will affect the type and components of brake that are best for you. Broadly speaking, mountain bike riding can be divided into two categories: trail, which includes cross country riding, or downhill/gravity, which includes free-riding). Stopping power is particularly important for downhill riders, as they travel at high speeds and build up a lot of heat. You’ll probably want to choose brakes with a larger rotor, four or six pistons instead of two, and metallic brake pads. Think also about the level you ride at; if you’re a professional, you’ll need higher-quality brakes than those of a novice.
- Brake pads
Brakes pads are either metallic (sintered) or organic (resin). Organic pads are made from natural materials such as rubber, with a resin to bind them. They are versatile, provide good modulation and are cheaper than metallic pads. If you want the best stopping power though, you should choose metallic. Metallic pads are more durable, and suitable for wet-weather and downhill riding.
Disc brakes apply friction to a rotor to stop the wheel. Your rotors need to be the right size for your wheels, as well as being compatible with your calipers (or you can use an adapter). Not all mountain bike disc brakes include rotors (we’re looking at you, Shimano!), so you may need to purchase these separately. The most common sizes of rotor are 160, 180 and 200mm, with larger rotors offering the most stopping power. The material of rotor is made from can also affect its performance. Some are made purely from stainless steel, whilst others are riveted to aluminum, making it lighter and less prone to warping – and also more expensive.
Modulation refers to the amount you can control the force of the brakes. Increased modulation means more movement in the lever between the time you first apply the pads to the disc, and the time the wheel locks up. Modulation varies between brakes, as some riders prefer more than others. Shimano brakes tend to have very little modulation.
- Reach adjustment
Reach adjustment on a brake means you can alter the lever spacing to fit your hand, making braking more comfortable and avoiding hand strain over time. The Shimano XT M8000 at the top of our list has tool-free reach adjustment that makes it super easy to alter the lever.
Consider how easy the brakes are to maintain. Hydraulic disc brakes will require regular bleeding, in order to replace the brake fluid which has accumulated air bubbles with new fluid. The process of bleeding brakes varies between manufacturers, and can be a quick DIY job, or a more complicated procedure for which you may need to take your bike to a mechanic.
As when making any purchase, you should consider the cost and value for money your brakes offer you. As well as shopping within your budget, think about the price bracket of your bike – if it’s a $3000+ model, you’ll want appropriate quality brakes. If it’s an entry-level model, one of the more affordable brakes on this list may be sufficient.
Types of Brakes
- Disc brakes
There are two types of disc brake, hydraulic and cable. Hydraulic disc brakes are by far the most common type of mountain bike brake these days, and are the sign of a decent quality bike. They feature a brake lever, connected to a hose filled with hydraulic brake fluid. This connects to a caliper, which houses the piston and brake pads. When the lever is pressed, the brake pads contract around a rotor disc on the hub of the wheel, creating friction and slowing the wheel down. A cable disc brake is much the same, except the force is carried by a cable, instead of hydraulically.
- Rim brakes
There are lots of different variations of rim brakes (also called linear pull brakes or V-brakes). They work by pinching the rim of the wheel between two pads when the lever is pulled. This creates friction and causes the wheel to stop turning. This is the traditional type of bicycle brake that was used almost exclusively prior to the introduction of hydraulic disc brakes.
- Drum brakes
Drum brakes are a less common type of bike brake, usually found on utility bicycles in countries such as the Netherlands. Drum brakes are hub brakes; they feature a lever attached to a cable, which when compressed, presses two brake pads outward against the inside of a drum on the hub.
How to Install Your Mountain Bike Brakes
Exactly how you should install your mountain bike brakes depends on which type and model you’ve chosen. For this reason, you should always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. It can also help to have an existing set-up to copy. To install hydraulic disc brakes on your bike, you should take the following steps (assuming the brakes come pre-assembled and pre-bled, and the hose does not need to be shortened):
- Bolt the rotors onto your wheel hubs.
- Install the rear lever onto your handlebars, and feed the hydraulic hose through to the mounts on the rear of your frame.
- Attach the caliper mounting bracket to the frame, and loosely bolt on the caliper.
- Install the front lever, and feed the hose through to the suspension fork.
- Mount the front caliper bracket and loosely attach the calipers.
- Secure the hoses onto the mounts on your bike’s tubes and the suspension fork, making sure to keep them away from the wheel spokes.
- Adjust the brake levers to make sure they’re positioned correctly and comfortable for you.
- Adjust the position of the calipers so that they are clear of the rotors when the wheel spins. Bolt them securely in place.
Best Mountain Bike Brakes FAQ:
Q: How do disc brakes work?
A: Hydraulic disc brakes feature a line filled with hydraulic fluid, which connects the brake lever to the calipers with the piston and brake pads inside. When the brake lever is squeezed, the hydraulic fluid compresses the piston and causes the brake pads to pinch the rotor on the wheel. This creates friction, causes the wheel’s movement to slow down and stop. Disc brakes need to be bled as part of their maintenance, with the hydraulic fluid being replaced when needed.
Q: What is the difference between V-brakes and disc brakes?
A: V-brakes are the traditional type of mountain bike brakes. They feature a lever attached to a cable, which when depressed, causes pads on either side of the wheel to pinch the rim, resulting in friction which slows the wheel down. In contrast, hydraulic disc brakes feature a rotor disc which is positioned on the hub of the wheel, not the rim. When the brake lever is pulled, brake fluid inside the cables pushes the pistons and brake pads onto the rotor, which again creates friction and slows the bike down. Disc brakes require less pressure on the lever to stop the bike than V-brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes also offer more stopping power, increased modulation, and are more suited to downhill riding. For this reason, most modern mountain bikes have hydraulic disc brakes.
Q: Why do my brakes squeal?
A: Squealing brakes are fairly common, and can be caused by a variety of factors. This includes worn out brakes, new brakes that haven’t bedded in yet, misalignment of brakes, or oil or grease on the brake pads, rotor or other components. Squealing on rim brakes can also be caused by your brake pads not connecting with the wheel rim at the correct angle (also called incorrect ‘toe-in’) – the leading edge should hit the rim first. To combat squealing brakes, you should make sure they are in good condition, and that they are set up and aligned correctly (you may wish to take your bike to a professional mechanic to confirm this). You should also regularly clean your calipers and brake pads with a degreaser, as well as whatever surface they come into contact with (either the wheel rim with V-brakes, or the rotor with disc brakes).
Our Top Pick
There are some brilliant brakes on this list, but our pick of the best mountain bike brakes has to be Shimano’s M8000 Deore XT Disc Brake. This professional-level aluminum bike brake has a lightweight and sleek lever design that is intended to free up space on your handlebars and move with the natural movement of your fingers. The brake itself is easy to adjust, with tool-free reach adjustment, and Servo Wave technology to adjust piston travel and allow predictable modulation and reduce drag when at rest. It has impressive stopping power with one finger activation, and comes pre-bled and ready to mount – which should only take you minutes. It’s certainly not the cheapest on our list, but if you want the best, it’s worth ‘braking’ the bank a little for!