How Do Bike Brakes Work?

You happen to be riding your bike smoothly along the road. Suddenly, an animal leaps into the lane and stops right in front of your bike. You need to make your decision within a split second.

As a result, you stamp heavily on the brakes. You expect it to stop the bike on time to avoid an accident. However, what gives you the assurance that it will work? Since brakes make use of scientific reasoning, you can be sure science won’t fail you.

What does a bike brake do?

Kids bike. Shock absorber, brake, wheel shown close up.

While riding, the bike possesses some form of energy known as kinetic energy. It is the energy an object has due to its speed and weight. The faster you are riding and more heavy you are, the kinetic energy will be high. That’s fine, as long as you don’t need to make use of the sudden brake. To alter from moving fast to a sudden stop, you need to completely remove the kinetic energy.

Bike brakes decrease the speed of the bike or stop it from moving ahead. It has the same importance as riding forward. Though it’s overlooked at times by the rider, proper control of the brake is a skill that should be attained. For specialized sort of riding like racing, brakes are not always used. However, riding through busy streets in urban areas, brakes are very essential.

Types of Bike Brakes

Though there are various sorts of bike brakes, the main ones are rim and disc brakes. Rim brakes are commonly used but disc brakes are becoming more popular these days.

Rim brakes

This brake uses the wheel rim as the surface for applying brakes. It reduces the speed when the rim brakes are compressed against the brake pads. Commonly used in road and city bikes. The two main rim brakes are: Cantilever rim brakes and caliper rim brakes.

Disc brakes

Instead of the rim, these brakes make use of a metallic circular disc placed on the wheel hub. The disc moves through the caliper that has the brake pads. Pressing the brakes pushes the pads onto the rotor. Disc brakes act as either hydraulic or mechanical.

Working on Rim Brakes

brake disc

While braking, the rim and brake pads encounter thermal heating. Normally this is not an issue. The brakes are applied for a short period with less force, hence the heat will dissolve into the air. Ceramic coating is available for the rims to decrease the wear and tear. This helps to improve the dry as well as wet braking. It also decreases heat transfer to the internal areas of the rim as it has thermal insulation.

Rim brakes need maintenance on a regular basis. The brake pads and rim wear down easily. So, the parts have to be checked periodically. Wet and muddy situations increase the wear and tear.

Note: These days disc brakes have replaced the rim brakes as the standard option. Due to technological advances, disc brakes are popular in cyclo-cross and road bikes.

Working on Disc Brakes

These brakes operate using the brake lever that is mounted on the handlebar. A brake caliper is present at the end of the brake system. Each wheel hub is attached with a metallic circular rotor. The outer surface of the rotor goes through the caliper and acts as the surface for braking.

Though the braking system differs slightly in different models, the principle is the same. The caliper contains many pistons, at the most two. Each one is placed on either side of the rotor where the brake pads are fixed. Pulling the levers causes the piston to move closer to the rotor. This allows the brake pads to come in contact with the ground. The friction that is caused by it makes the bike slow down or come to a halt.

Applying the Brakes Effectively

Bike riding has been a common activity now. However, riders overlook the bike handling skills such as using the brakes effectively. So, let’s have a look at it.

Avoid getting scared of the brakes

Brakes assist in controlling the speed or halting. Practice well by going out with your bike and braking accurately. Search for a calm place, ride at a high speed and try to come to a halt using the brakes. Keep repeating. At each try, check how long and how fast it takes to stop the bike. It’s worth enough to practice well before you take to the highways.

Do you experience skidding? Loose grips? Experiment all these in a street with lesser traffic.

Using front or back brakes

For the front brake, the brake lever is at the right side of the handlebars. For the rear brake, the lever is at the left-hand side. This is the standard set up, if you haven’t made any alterations like no brakes or so. You need to be familiar as to which brake is activated by which lever.

To brake well, the rear brake reduces the pace and the front brake helps you to stop the bike. Around 80% of the power to stop is from the front brakes. Remaining 20 percent is handled by the rear brakes. See to it the brake chains and pads are intact. If not, visit a local bike repair store and fix it. You can also repair it easily on your own.

Want to brake and approach a junction or roundabout? Pull the rear brake first. This will help to decrease the speed and place the bike on a natural line. This will further assist you to use the front brakes easily. In case the road ahead is clear, you need not apply the front gear. You can just use the rear gear and drag along. If there is heavy traffic, then the front brakes have to be applied to halt or slow down. Once you reach the pace you need, you can let go of the front brake and control the speed using the back brakes.

Related Topic: The ‘Ten Essentials and Checklist’ of Hiking That All Hikers Live By


Brakes have the ability to control the speed of the bike. Various options are available based on your bike and the type of riding you prefer. This post assists you to understand how a brake works and how to brake efficiently in a bike.

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