How works the Bicycle Brakes?
Bicycle brakes are essential to give you peace of mind and control over your ride. Barely does anyone have a real perspective on the important role they play until, for some reason, it fails or just stops working. In that situation, stopping your bike becomes a wild and desperate race against the distance if you are involved in a dangerous situation for yourself or others. But what causes bicycle brakes to lose efficiency or fail, what types of brakes are available on the market and which are the best? Questions like these are often asked, but at the same time, people don’t pay much attention because brakes are generally supposed to be a mechanism that will always be available and will serve the purpose of stopping the bike.
The first thing we must understand is what is the basic operating principle of any bicycle brake mechanism. Our school education tells us that energy cannot be eliminated, only transformed. This concept is important to understand the working principle. How is this concept explained in practical terms? We will explain it to you below.
For example, the electrical energy stored in a battery is consumed connecting, for example, a light bulb and this will transform it into light and heat until the battery is completely depleted. What you have done is transform the electricity accumulated in the battery by converting it into light and heat, two different ways from the first.
Different Kinds of bicycle brakes for different needs.
Transforming the Energy
How does this example relate to bicycle brakes? When you pedal a bicycle, your body consumes calories to generate energy in the muscles that will operate the pedals that turn the wheels and therefore generate movement energy. Once you stop pedaling, the bike still maintains the inertia of movement and if what you need now is to stop it, you must transform that energy of movement into a different one. According to the principle of friction, the brake parts, when applied, exert pressure on the moving parts of the wheel. This process generates heat, and therefore the moving energy will now be transformed into thermal energy.
How brake materials affect braking performance?
The friction components that equip the bicycle brakes are made of a material that can withstand high temperatures and not lose its properties. It should not soften, crystallize, or wear out quickly. If a component has better temperature resistance properties, you can do your job better. This is the reason why some brakes of the same type, on one bicycle work very well and on a similar one, they perform poorly. It is good to mention that better materials cost more.
In addition to the materials, there is the efficiency of the mechanism that allows two processes to be carried out correctly: the first is the pressure on the friction components and the second is the ability to quickly dissipate heat to avoid overheating.
Hydraulic Brakes system. Today the most efficient bicycle brake.
Different Technologies for Different Braking Needs
Commercially on the market there are currently four types of brake that are mounted on the vast majority of production bicycles: The V-Brake type (Caliper Brakes), Expansion Shoes, Mechanical Brake Disc and Hydraulic Brake Disc.
V-Brake or caliper brakes. This type of brake is mounted on most city bikes. It is low cost, has minimal moving parts, very efficient for low speeds and very simple maintenance. The principle is a clamp that is manually operated from the handlebar using a steel cable. When the caliper is powered, the friction materials are pressed against both sides of the wheel, forcing it to stop moving.
Due to the shape of its construction, inspection and maintenance is very easy to do. With a couple of basic tools and skills, you can regulate the system often. With use, the brake shoes will wear so the brakes will become “longer”, which means that the brake actuation will be less effective. The quality of the brake pads will have a tremendous influence on the efficiency of the brake. If you have equipped this type of brake on your bike, it is well regulated and you perceive that the braking is very poor, the first thing you could try to do is change the brake pads for a high quality compound in brands like Ashima, Aztec, Swiss Stop , Shimano, etc. We are sure you will find a very noticeable difference. But note that this also depends on the type of use. For higher speeds, higher load and brake demands, a V-Brake design may not be correct.
Simple design, fewer parts, good efficient. It’s the most popular brake system mounted on a bike.
2. Drum Brakes
Drum brakes. This type of brake resembles that mounted on small urban motorcycles. It can be mounted on the front wheel, but it is more common to see it on the rear wheel of some electric bikes. The mechanism is not visible and is assembled inside the drum, where 2 semicircular shoes are manually operated from the handlebar, through a steel cable. The expansion of the mechanism will make the friction material inside, press the inner face of the drum, which rotates jointly with the wheel.
This type of brake is very efficient for urban bikes. Since it has a larger friction surface, less effort is required on the handlebar. The downside is its maintenance. Requires technical knowledge and skills. It is also more difficult to visually access wear materials to verify if it is time to replace them. By having more components involved, the cost is higher and directly impacts the final retail price, so its use is generally involved with electric bikes to improve the performance of a front wheel V-Brake system.
Complex Design, Good efficient. Mounted in some electric bikes.
3. Mechanical Disk Brakes
Mechanical disc brakes. This is the most commonly used type for bikes with good performance, which are capable of traveling around 20 mph (32 km / h). It has a relatively simple operation, simple components and a maintenance level, not as simple as the V-Brake type, but definitely within the reach of anyone with the ability to work with a couple of tools.
The main operation consists of pressing the brake pads, by means of a handlebar, towards the brake disc that rotates in solidarity with the wheel. The advantage is its simplicity of operation, construction with few moving parts and affordable cost. For all these reasons and due to its efficiency, it is widely used on bikes with good performance.
The brake discs, with grooves or perforations, substantially improve the grip of the pads. The variety of good compounds that exist to improve performance make it very popular. Better temperature resistance factor, can give the driver a beautiful feeling of control, even being a mechanical operating mechanism.
Disc Brakes by Wire
Simple design, fewer parts, good efficient. It’s the most popular disc brake system mounted on a bike.
4. Hydraulic V-Brakes and Disk Brakes
Hydraulically operated, they are currently the top of the commercial bike mounted brake systems on the market. Initially focused on extreme sports due to their enormous grip efficiency, they are now available to be installed in any city or off-road bike.
The principle is exactly the same as its mechanical drive counterpart, but the difference is hydraulic fluid drive. Whereas in the previous mode, from the brake handlebar to the wheel mechanism, there is a steel cable that connects them and transmits the pressure to apply the brakes. In the case of hydraulic brakes, the handlebar has a small master cylinder containing hydraulic fluid (which transmits and multiplies the pressure surface), and from this point it travels to the wheel mechanism through a hose. On the wheel is the caliper, which is the part that carries the brake pads, but instead of actuating them against the disc by means of a lever, the function is performed by hydraulic pistons activated by the fluid coming from the handlebars.
The braking firmness obtained even with commercial compounds is excellent, if you choose high quality and temperature resistant pad materials, you should hold the handlebars well every time you use the brakes. This feeling definitely gives you the confidence to drive knowing that in emergencies the brakes will respond the way they really should.
While changing brake pads as a normal maintenance procedure is as simple as a mechanically operated one, maintenance services are more complex and require prior technical knowledge and specialized tools. Not to mention the higher cost of the system itself.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Very Complex Design, Many parts, High efficient. Mounted in High Performance Bikes
Different Pads Material
Among the compounds for the brake pads we have them mainly in three types:
This type of brake pad has a compound in the friction material which combines metals such as copper, bronze, iron, etc. This makes the compound more durable against friction wear. Excellent performance in extreme conditions such as humidity, sand or mud.
On the other hand, due to its resistance to wear, it takes some time to mold perfectly to the disc and, in the process can emit whistles that are annoying. When twinned with the disc, the latter has a tendency to wear faster.
The materials in this type of pads are aramid, graphite, etc., organic composite materials combined with others of the inorganic type such as glass, carbon, etc. They are joined together by means of special resins. They do not have the same duration as sintered brake pads, but they adapt quickly so they have a better initial grip and a performance almost always absent of annoying noises. Once molded, the braking efficiency is lower in power and heat resistance compared to the sintered type.
Their durability is lower and they are also prone to being “burned”, i.e. the friction material is overheated as a result of continuous intense braking.
3. Semi Metallic.
This type of bike brakes pad is the “ideal” combination between the two previous materials. A quick settling period is obtained, with a good initial grip and silent operation as in organic pads but, at the same time, the wear resistance and temperature resistance of the sintered pads.
However, in extreme conditions of use, the compound can wear quickly or decrease braking efficiency. They tend to crystallize the surface especially during the initial stage of installation and therefore require controlled conditioning.
Additionally, while it has temperature resistance properties from the combination with sintering technology, it is a fact that for extreme use, it will not have the same response.
In relation to the best type of bike brakes, it will depend on your riding style. While most bicycles come with a braking system calculated for the use they will be given, some users may want to step forward to demand the best performance and take advantage of everything their bicycles have to offer. In that sense, this guide will be useful to understand a little more the relationship between the different types of brakes, commercially speaking, in the market. How they work and what you can expect from each. What to choose and also if you want to improve safety while driving, which options you can choose.
Semi Metallic Pads