How Do Bike Brakes Work: Learn The Science Behind Getting A Safe Stop

Brakes are an important component of your bike, allowing you to stop in a flash and avoid accidents. How do they work? Let us find out!

Bicycle brakes work by converting your bike's kinetic energy into heat, slowing your speed and stopping you. Applied brakes are either compressed or pulled against the rim, creating friction that slows you down, just like when you rub your hands together to warm them up.

To get the best bike brakes, it's important to keep them in top shape. In addition, you should inspect your brake pads regularly to ensure they are not completely worn out and causing accidents!

The brakes on a bicycle are one of a bike's most important safety features, and they are designed to stop both wheels of the bike, which can move at different speeds.

The main function of brakes is to reduce or stop the rotation of a wheel. This is done by bringing frictional material to the spinning wheel, creating friction and heat. The heat transfers some of the wheel's kinetic energy to the brake pad, slowing or stopping its rotation.

A brake pad can withstand high temperatures for an extended period while generating enough friction to slow a rotating wheel. By operating a lever on one of the handlebars stems, calipers push one or two brake pads against either side of the spinning tire. Brakes are commonly found on bicycles used for racing and mountain biking.

Types of bicycle brakes

The most common bicycle brakes include cantilever brakes (caliper brakes), disc brakes, and V-brakes. Cantilever brakes are the oldest and are still used on many bicycles today.

Disk brakes are becoming more popular because they offer better-stopping power than cantilever brakes. On the other hand, v-brakes are a mix of cantilever and disc brakes and are becoming more popular because they provide the best of both worlds.

What are the different types of disk brake systems?

Three types of mechanical disc brake systems are Cantilever, V-brake, and dual-pivot brakes. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages.

Cantilever brakes have one brake pad per side of the disk. The advantage is that no additional bracket is required. However, this type of brake can only be used with wheels that have a single spoke hole. It also requires more maintenance, as the brake pads tend to wear unevenly.

V-brakes have two brake pads per side of the disk, allowing better braking performance. The downside of this is that your brake pads will wear unevenly if you do not use the same hand every time you ride.

Dual pivot brakes have two separate mounts, so you can choose to use both brakes on each side of the bike. However, the braking system can only handle small loads. If you want to use a cantilever brake with a larger load capacity, you need to add another set of calipers.

V-brakes have two pads per side of the disk so that you can use both brakes at the same time.

Bicycle brakes are most commonly found as a cantilever brakes. A cantilever brake consists of a pair of brake arms mounted on opposite sides of the hub flange. These arms act as levers that pull the brake pads toward the center of the wheel. The brake arms are attached to a pivoting lever connected to the brake cable. When the rider applies pressure to the lever, the arms pull the brake pads away from the rim.

The cantilever brake was invented in 1894 by German engineer Heinrich Zschokke. He patented his design in 1896 under U.S. Patent No. 623,904.

A typical cantilever brake includes:

  • A caliper housing.

  • A pair of brake arms.

  • A pivoted lever.

  • A couple of brake pads.

  • A pair of brake shoes.

The brake shoes are usually made of steel and are attached to the brake arms. The brake pads are typically made of rubber and are attached to the ends of the brake arms. Finally, the pivoting lever is connected to the brake cable and operates the components.

Typical cantilever-brake work is as follows:

  • The rider places his foot on the pedal.

  • The rider moves the lever forward, causing the brake arms to rotate outward.

  • The brake arms move the brake pads inward toward the rim.

  • The brake pads touch the rim and slow down the wheel's rotation.

  • The rider takes his foot off the pedal and releases the brake arms.

  • The brake arms return to their original position.

  • The brake pads continue to slow down the tire's rotation until gravity overcomes the friction created by the brake pads.

  • Once the brake pads reach the end of their travel, the brake arms return to their original position. The brake pads then slide off the rim and rest on the ground.

  • The wheel continues to rotate freely.

  • The driver lifts his foot from the pedal.

How do bicycle brakes work?

Bicycle brakes most commonly use a so-called cantilever brake. It consists of two brake levers on either side of the front fork. These levers compress the brake pads when you pull one lever and release the other.

Most cantilever brakes also have a mechanism to adjust the braking force applied to the wheels. These mechanisms usually move the brake pad closer or further away from the rim.


Some newer bikes have a braking system known as V-brakes. With V-brakes, two brake arms compress the brake pads. One arm is near the wheel's outside edge, while the second arm is near the inside edge. The arms are connected to a pivot in the center of the frame. V-brakes are sometimes called "cross brakes" because the arms cross over each other.

When using V-brakes, push down on the lever to open the arms. The brake pads are pulled away from the rim when the arms open, the arms close again when you release the lever, and the brake pads are pressed against the rim.

If you want to stop quickly, push the lever down. Then you can easily take your foot off the pedal without worrying about accidentally releasing the brakes.

V-brakes are found on high-end mountain bikes and road bikes. However, they are not common on road bikes.

Disk brakes

A disc brake is similar to a V-brake, except instead of two arms, it has one large disk attached to the axle. When applying the brake lever, the disk spins and applies pressure to the brake pads, and disk brakes are usually much stronger than cantilever brakes.

Because they create more friction between the brake pads and the rim, they provide better-stopping power than cantilever brakes. However, they require more maintenance than cantilever brakes, especially if you ride in wet conditions.

Disk brakes are most common on mountain bikes and BMX bikes. They are less common on road bikes.

A simple look at the function and maintenance of your bike's disk brakes

Bicycle brakes include caliper brakes (also known as cantilever brakes), V-brakes, and disk brakes. Caliper brakes are found on road and mountain bikes, while V-brakes are often on hybrid bikes. Disk brakes are typically found on road bikes and BMX bikes.

Maintenance tips for your bike brakes

Brakes need to be cleaned and lubricated regularly to keep them working properly. Here are some tips to help you maintain your brakes:

Clean your brakes regularly. Dirt and grime settle over time and can affect braking efficiency. To clean your brakes, you should first remove all cables and hoses. Then, wipe down the brake pads with a rag dampened with brake cleaner.

Use an old toothbrush to scrub the rims. Finally, spray the entire brake system with a brake cleaner. You can also use soap and water if you do not have a brake cleaner.

Lubricate your brakes regularly. Be sure to lubricate your brakes before every ride. Apply a small amount of grease to the inside of the brake levers. Then place your two fingers on the brake pads and pull them away from the rim. Rotate your hand back and forth until the brake pads contact the rim. Repeat this process for each brake pad.

If you notice rust forming on your brakes, try using brake cleaner instead of brake oil.

We have what you need if you want something other than a standard brake. Take a look at our selection of custom brake kits that include everything you need to upgrade your brakes.

How Hydraulic Disc Brakes Work

The hydraulic disc brake system uses pressurized fluid to actuate the brake mechanism. It works by forcing oil through a series of small holes drilled into the brake pad surface.

As the oil flows through the holes, pressure builds up in the caliper housing. This forces the piston outward and presses the brake pads against the rotor. When the pads rub against the rotor, friction is created that converts the kinetic energy of the moving parts into heat. This heat is dissipated quickly so that you can brake without getting burned.

Hydraulic disc brakes are generally considered better than cable systems. Cable systems work with a cable that connects the lever to the calipers. The cable is pulled tight, causing the caliper to press the brake pads against the wheel.

In contrast, hydraulic disc brakes use pistons to push the brake pads against the rotors. In addition, the hydraulic disc brake system provides a more consistent braking force because there is no tight cable.

Hydraulic disk brakes are much stronger than traditional cable systems. A cable system relies on tension to hold the brake pads in place. If the cable breaks, the brake pads fall off the rotor. The pistons provide additional support to keep the brake pads from falling off in a hydraulic disc brake.

Disk brakes are also easier to adjust than cable systems. The brake pads must be moved around the rotor with cable systems to change their distance from the rotor. Adjusting the pads requires loosening several bolts and then repositioning the pads. In contrast, you only need to turn one knob to adjust the hydraulic disc brake pads.

Disk brakes are generally designed to operate at higher temperatures than cable systems. Cable brakes are usually aluminum because it has less mass than steel, and aluminum heats up faster than steel, so cable brakes typically wear out more quickly. Disk brakes are often stainless steel because they can withstand high temperatures.

How mechanical disk brakes work

Bicycle brakes are most commonly mechanical-disc brakes. It consists of two metal disks on each side of the rear wheel hub. To brake, you operate the lever attached to the handlebars. In the brake caliper, pads press against disks when pulling the lever back, creating friction and slowing you down.

Mechanical disc brakes have been used since the early 1900s. Today, they are still the most popular option for road bikes. Mechanical disc brakes offer good performance and durability. Nevertheless, they are not as effective as hydraulic disc brakes, so many cyclists prefer both brakes.

Mechanical disc brakes consist of two main components: the caliper and the brake pads. The caliper holds the brake pads in place and applies the brakes. As the brake pads are attached to the caliper, they are held in place by springs in the caliper.

When you pull the lever back, the caliper moves toward the center of the rims. This pushes the brake pads against the wheels, creating friction and slowing you down until you release the lever.

When you push the lever forward, the spring-loaded caliper moves away from the rim's center, allowing the brake pads to slide past the rims and release the brakes.

How do BMX brakes work?

BMX bike brakes work much like mountain bike brakes, and however, BMX riders use their feet instead of levers to operate the brakes. BMX brakes can be classified into three categories: cantilever, V-brake and dual-pivot.

Cantilever brakes are similar to those found on mountain bikes, and V-brakes combine cantilever and linear brakes. Dual pivot brakes are similar to cantilever brakes but have an additional pivot point.

Cantilever brakes are the simplest type of BMX brakes. They consist of a single brake pad that attaches to the frame near the bottom bracket. Instead of moving linearly, cantilever brakes rotate around the axle. You push the lever, and the brake rotates toward the bike's front. When you pull the lever back, the brake rotates backward.

How do single-speed bicycle brakes work?

Single Speed (SS) bicycle brakes differ from regular brakes because they do not have cables or levers. Instead, SS brakes use a ratchet mechanism to activate and deactivate the brake. Ratchet mechanisms were first introduced in the 1970s and are now commonly used on fixed-gear bicycles.

Pull the chain off the sprocket and onto the cassette to activate the brake. Then shift into the smallest sprocket. Next, put the chain back over the small sprocket and tighten the shift lever. Now the brake engages and keeps you from spinning.

To release the brake, shift down the gears and release the shift lever. The brake is then no longer activated.

How do MTB brakes work?

MTB brakes are similar to mountain bike brakes and consist of a pair of brake pads attached to the frame. However, MTB brakes can be adapted to different riding styles, unlike mountain bike brakes. For example, some MTB brakes have a quick-release system that allows you to remove the brake pads when they wear out easily. Other MTB brakes have a cable adjuster to fine-tune the braking force.

MTB brakes come in a variety of configurations. Some MTBs have only one set of brakes, while others have multiple sets. Some MTBs have one brake, a rear brake, and a front brake, and others have a front brake and a rear brake. And still, others have both a front brake and a rear brake.

The most common configuration is the so-called cantilever brake. It consists of two brake pads attached to the frame. One brake pad is located on the bike's front, and the other on the rear. To activate the brakes, you press the lever. Unfortunately, this causes the brake pads to move toward each other, creating friction that slows you down.

Why disc brakes are more efficient

The most common type of brake used today is called a caliper. It consists of two metal plates connected by a spring. When the brake lever is applied, the spring pushes the plates together, creating friction between them plates. By friction, your bike's kinetic energy is converted into heat, causing you to slow down.

A caliper uses a single set of brake pads to create friction with both sides of the wheel. This means that you do not need to adjust the brake pads. Instead, you only need to turn the lever to control the distance between the plates.

A caliper is also more durable than a cable system. Unlike cables, there is no play in a caliper, making it more difficult for the brake pads to slip off the wheel during emergency braking. In addition, the parts of a caliper are much smaller and lighter than those of a cable system, making the brake caliper more efficient.

Adjusting the mechanical braking power

If you notice wear on your brakes, you should adjust them before they fail. The most common way to adjust your brakes is to use a brake adjustment tool, and these tools are available at most bike stores and online.

You should also consider replacing worn brake pads. Regular riders might want to invest in new pads. There are several brands of brake pads available, and be sure to choose the right pads for your riding style.

You can also adjust your brakes manually. However, some people recommend readjusting your brakes every time you change your brake pads, and others say this is unnecessary and is only necessary if you change your brake pads frequently.

How do electric bike brakes work?

Electric bike brakes are a great way to keep your bike safe. It works by using a small motor that converts the power of your pedaling into electricity. This then drives a series of small motors that turn the rear wheel. Once you slow down, the electric brakes automatically kick in.

Electric brakes have been around for quite some time, and many bicycles have already been equipped with them. Nowadays, however, many manufacturers are including them in their product range. So what exactly does an electric brake do? Let us take a look!

Electric brakes are pretty simple. But first, you need to know that they convert the force you apply to the pedal into electricity. The electricity then drives a series of tiny little motors that set the wheels in motion. Once the wheels start to turn, the brakes come into play.

As soon as you lose momentum, the electric brakes are activated and slow you down. This helps prevent falls and makes cycling safer.

Types of electric bikes and their brakes

There are three main types of electric bikes:

1) Pedelecs - Bikes use pedals but no human power. Instead, they rely entirely on battery-powered motors.

2) E-bikes - Bikes combine pedal power and electric power. They usually offer more torque than pedelec bikes.

3) Moped/Scooters - These are motorcycles with a top speed of 40 km (25mph). They are equipped with a throttle and handlebars.

Braking systems for electric bikes

There are two primary braking systems used on e-bikes today. One uses a traditional hydraulic braking system, and the other uses a linear motor system.

Hydraulic braking system

Hydraulic brakes are still widely used on e-bikes today. They work well because they are easy to maintain and repair. They are also quite inexpensive to purchase.

However, they are not ideal for all riders. The biggest problem with hydraulic brakes is that they require maintenance, including regular cleaning and lubrication. In addition, they do not provide much braking power.

Linear Motor Brake System

A linear motor braking system works by turning the rear wheel through gears. The gear ratio determines how fast the wheel turns. As the wheels spin faster, the harder the brakes will pull on the wheel.

This braking system is better suited for long-distance riding and provides more power than a hydraulic braking system. However, maintaining it is difficult and requires more parts to function properly.

E-bike brakes safety features

Safety is one of the most important factors to consider when looking at different bike brakes. That's why we have created a guide that will help you learn more about e-bike brakes. Here you will discover the details you need on each type of brake to make the right decision for yourself.

E-bike brakes are great because they keep you safe while cycling. However, if you are worried about getting hurt, then maybe it's time to invest in quality brakes.

In the first place, make sure the brakes are adjustable. Adjustable brakes allow you to change the pressure on the brakes and adjust the resistance.

Adjustable brakes are ideal if you ride in hilly areas where you need to slow down to climb hills. You can also adjust the brakes to suit your personal preferences.

If you prefer a non-adjustable brake, you should opt for a different model. Non-adjustable brakes tend to be less expensive, but you can not fine-tune the amount of pressure applied.

If you ride on rough terrain, you should choose a brake with an anti-lock braking system. Brakes prevent your wheels from locking up when you hit bumps.

Anti-lock brakes help you avoid obstacles without losing control. They are especially useful when you want to drive off-road.

You should also pay attention to the durability of the brake. Some brakes are designed to last longer than others. Look for brakes made of sturdy materials like steel or aluminum.

Besides the size of the brake, you should also consider the design of the brake. Smaller brakes will fit smaller bikes, and larger ones usually only fit larger ones.

How does a coaster brake work?

Coaster brakes are bicycle brakes in which the front wheel turns freely, but the rear wheel does not. Instead, the rider applies pressure to the handlebars to move the pedals forward, causing the rear tire to spin. When the rear tire spins, it pushes against the ground and slows the bike down.

Coaster brakes are ideal for beginners who do not yet know how to properly use other types of brakes. They are also suitable for riders who are unsure how to keep their balance.

Coaster brakes are commonly used on children's bikes and offer a safer option for children who are just learning to ride.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How do I choose the right type of brake for me?

There are two main types of brakes: calipers and discs. Calipers are the most common because they are easy to install and adjust. Disk brakes are commonly used on mountain bikes but can also be found on road bikes. For more information on the different types of brakes, read our article here.

2. Should I use the front or rear brakes on my bike?

Front brakes are generally better for stopping because they are closer to the ground, and rear brakes are better for going uphill because they give you more leverage. If you want to switch between brakes, you must remove one set and install another.

3. What are the symptoms that I need to replace my brakes?

The most common sign of worn brakes is squealing when pushing the lever. This can signify one of two things: Either your brakes are not working properly, or your brake pads are wearing out too quickly. To test your brakes, simply push the levers at different speeds. If the noise gets stronger, you should replace your brake pads.

4. How do bicycle brakes work as levers?

The lever arms of a brake system are called calipers. There are two types of calipers: floating and fixed. Floating calipers are attached to the frame with springs and move freely back and forth along the axis of rotation. Fixed calipers are attached to both sides of the structure and do not move at all.

5. How do bicycle brakes work as levers?

The lever is a mechanical device that converts force into motion. In this case, the force is applied to the brake pad through the handlebars. When you operate the lever, the brake pads move closer to the rim, creating friction and slowing down your bike.

6. Why is a bicycle brake system a good example of a lever?

A bicycle braking system uses levers to convert the energy of your moving bike into heat to slow you down. The levers are attached to the brake pads, which push against the rim to slow you down.

7. Do you use both brakes on one bike?

Yes, you absolutely must use both brakes when riding your bike. This way, you can ensure that both brakes are working properly and that the cables are not sagging. In addition, the brakes are designed to work together to ensure maximum safety.

8. When should you use the front brake on the bike?

When riding downhill, you should use the front brake to control your descent, which will help you avoid falling off your bike. However, if you are riding uphill, you should use the rear brake instead.

9. How does a Shimano roller brake work?

Commuters who want high performance while saving money will appreciate Shimano roller brakes. These brakes are easy to use, require no maintenance tools, and have a built-in cable tensioner that automatically adjusts to maintain proper tension.

10. How does a brake drum work?

Brake drums are made of steel and aluminum. Steel drums are stronger than their aluminum counterparts but also heavier, and aluminum drums are lighter but less durable. Both materials are used to make brake drums in various sizes.


Bicycle brakes are responsible for slowing you down in a hurry or bringing you to a stop in a split second. They are essential equipment for every cyclist. Here we have answered all your questions about how bicycle brakes work. We hope you learned something new!


John D. Archer is a mechanical engineer and writer based on the area of automotive accessories at, A resident expert and professional, John is passionate about all things automotive and loves to share his knowledge. He has good experience in all kind of automotive accessories. He has worked as a chief mechanical engineer in some reputed automotive garage firm.