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Bike Brakes: How works your bicycle brakes ?

How works the Bicycle Brakes?

The bike brakes are essential to give you peace of mind and control over your ride. Rarely does one have a real perspective of the important role they play until, for some reason, they fail or simply stop working. Stopping your gear then becomes a wild and desperate race against distance if you are involved in a situation that poses a danger to yourself or others. But what can influence whether the bike brakes lose efficiency or fail, what types of brakes are there in the market and which are the best? Questions like these are often asked but at the same time not much attention is paid because ordinarily, one always assumes that the brakes are a mechanism that will always be available and as long as it serves the function of stopping the bicycle, it will be fine.

The first thing we need to understand is what is the basic operating principle of any bike brake mechanism. It is known by our school education that energy cannot be eliminated, only transformed. This concept is important to be understood and internalized from now on so that the rest of the reading is as clear as water. But what does this concept mean in practical terms? We will explain it to you below.

For example, the electrical energy that is stored in a battery, if you want to consume it, you can connect a light bulb and it will be transformed into light and heat energy until the battery is completely depleted. At that point what you have done is that the electrical energy contained in the accumulator is released by transforming it into two different types of energy, light and heat.

bicycle brakes

Bicycle Brakes

Different kinds of bicycle brakes for different needs

Transforming the Energy

How does this example relate to our topic related to bike brakes? That’s something we’ll explain next. When you pedal a bicycle, your body is consuming calories to be able to push the pedals that will turn the wheels and therefore generate energy of movement. Once you stop pedaling, the bicycle still maintains the inertia of the movement and if what you want now is to stop it, you must transform that energy into movement in another. On the principle of friction, the parts of the brake, when applied, rub against the moving wheel in the same way as if you with your hand tried to grab the wheel to make it stop. This process generates heat and therefore the moving energy will now be transformed into heat energy.

Then, to stop a moving bicycle, you need to transform moving energy into heat. Yes, and for this we use the principle of friction in which two materials with different velocities of movement, having contact with each other, rub each other until their velocities are equal. Since the friction component of the brake is static, the moving wheel will eventually come to a stop and a quantity of heat will have been produced in the process.

hydraulic bike caliper

Bicycle Brakes

Hydraulic Brakes system. Today the most efficient bicycle brake.

How brake materials affect braking performance?

The friction components that equip the bike brakes are made of a material that can withstand high temperatures and not lose their properties, i.e. not to soften, crystallize or wear quickly. If a component has better temperature resistance properties, it will be able to do its job better than another component that is quickly fatigued. This is the reason why some brakes of the same type, in one bicycle work very well and in another similar one, have a poor performance. It will be good to mention that better designs and materials will cost more.

Apart from the materials, there is the efficiency of the mechanism that allows two processes to be carried out properly, the first is the principle of friction, that is to say that it can allow exert more pressure on the friction material and The second principle is that it can easily dissipate heat to avoid overheating.

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.

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.

1. V-Brakes

V-Brake or Caliper Brakes. This type of brake is mounted on most bike ride or city bikes. It is low cost, has minimal moving parts, is very efficient for low speeds and very simple maintenance. The principle resembles a clamp that is operated manually from the handlebar through a steel cable. When the caliper is closed, the brake shoes, which are the friction materials, are pressed against both sides of the wheel, forcing it to stop moving.

Due to the shape of its construction, its inspection and maintenance is very easy to carry out. With a couple of tools and basic skills, you can regulate the system whenever necessary. As the service hours accumulate, the brake shoes will gradually wear out, so the brakes will become “longer”, meaning that the handlebar travel for the brake to be effective will be longer. 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, are well regulated and perceive that the braking is very poor, the first thing you could do is to try changing the brake pads for a high quality compound in brands such as Ashima, Aztec, Swiss Stop, Shimano, and so on. We are sure you will find a very noticeable difference. But keep in mind that this also depends on the type of use. For higher speeds, greater load and brake demands, a V-Brake design may not be the right one.

brake shoes
vbrake bike brakes

Typical V-Brakes

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 the one 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 bicycles. The mechanism is not visible and is assembled inside the drum, where 2 semicircular shoes are operated manually from the handlebars, using a steel cable. This will cause them to be clamped against the inner edge of the drum, which rotates in solidarity with the wheel.

This type of brake is very efficient for city bikes. As it has a larger friction surface, less effort is required on the handlebars. The downside is that its maintenance requires knowledge and technical skills on the subject. It is also more difficult to visually access the wear materials to check if it is time for any replacement. Having more components involved, the cost is higher and impacts directly on the final retail price, which is why its use is generally involved with electric bicycles to improve the performance of a V-Brake system on the front wheel.

Drum Brakes

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 going around 20mph (32kph). It has relatively simple operation, simple components and a level of maintenance, not as simple as the V-Brake type, but definitely within reach of anyone with the ability to work with a couple of tools.

The main operation consists, by effects of friction, pressing the brake pads, by means of a lever operated by the handlebars, towards the brake disc which rotates in solidarity with the wheel, due to the effect of friction. The advantage is its simplicity of operation, construction with few moving parts and accessible cost. For all these reasons and due to its efficiency, it is widely used in bicycles with good performance.

The brake discs, with grooves or perforations, substantially improve the grip of the pads and the variety of compounds that there are to improve performance. Better factor of resistance to the temperature, they can give to the driver a beautiful sensation of control even being a mechanism of mechanical operation.

mechanical disc brake
disk brake

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 brake systems mounted on commercial bicycles in the market. Initially focused on extreme sports because of their enormous grip efficiency, they are now available to be installed on any city or off-road bicycle.

The principle is exactly the same as its mechanical drive part but the difference is that they are driven by hydraulic pressure. In the previous case, from the brake handlebar to the mechanism in the wheel, there is a steel cable that connects them and with which pressure can be exerted to brake the bicycle. In the case of hydraulic brakes, the handlebars have a small master cylinder containing hydraulic fluid (which does not lose its properties with pressure and heat), and from this point travels to the wheel drive mechanism through a hose. In the wheel is the caliper which is the part that carries the brake pads, but instead of these being clamped against the disc or rim by means of a lever, the function is performed by pistons activated by hydraulic fluid from the handlebars.

The braking firmness obtained even with commercial compounds is excellent, if you choose materials in the pads of high quality and temperature resistance, you will have to hold well to the handlebars each time you use the brakes. This feeling definitely gives you the confidence to be able to drive knowing that, in emergency situations, the brakes will respond as they really have to.

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 v-brakes
hydraulic brakes

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:

1. Sintered.

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.

mountain bike
sintered bike pads

Sintered Pads

2. Organic

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.

bicycle beach
organic bike pads

Organic Pads

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.

racing bicycle
semi metallic bike pads

Semi Metallic Pads

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.

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