Mountain bike disc brakes are a lot less popular than rim brakes but it’s a mistake to dismiss them. Smaller rotors allow the brake to have a much lower profile, which can help with maneuverability on longer rides or when carrying a rear rack.

The most unique feature of disc brakes is the ability to move the brake pads to follow and minimize the tendency of the rotor to wobble. Disc brakes were very expensive to introduce to mountainbikes, but they are the best option for mounting a wheel with a hub.

They are much more powerful than rim brakes, more stable than road brakes, and easier to adjust than V-Brakes. With that in mind, we decided to test 10 different disc brakes to see which ones are the best.

We tested 10 mechanical disc brakes, and gave them a rating of 1 to 5. The 1’s were terrible, the 5’s were the best.

Are you looking for new mountain bike brakes? Ten popular hydraulic disc brake systems were pitted against each other in our selection of the finest mountain bike disc brakes.

You can travel quicker if your bike has excellent brakes. Isn’t it an oxymoron? It’s possible, but it’s true. You’re more inclined to let your speed creep up into the red zone if you feel you can get it under control quickly and effectively. You improve your speed and control as a rider.

You want not just power, but also good modulation of that power, so little changes in lever force result in a far more controlled braking force than an on/off sensation.

You’ll be able to avoid accidental sliding and the resulting loss of braking force and control. You’ll need the accuracy to go right to the edge of breaking traction, where you’ll receive the most stopping force.

Four-pot calipers were formerly exclusively considered by gravity riders, but as trail bikes get more competent, they need more powerful brakes to keep them under control.

Four pistons provide greater braking force and better heat dissipation, so they’ve gradually creeped into the mainstream, becoming the preferred option of an increasing number of riders, both as factory-installed components and aftermarket replacements.

Two-pot units, on the other hand, still have enough of power, so don’t dismiss them if you want a simpler arrangement with fewer pistons to get stuck or malfunction, less weight (though this is minor), and a cheaper cost.

Adjustability is beneficial for efficient control and reducing hand fatigue. Riders with smaller hands will benefit from a shorter lever reach, which most sets have as standard. However, the option to modify the bite point of the brake may also help you get it in the sweet zone where your fingers have the greatest leverage.

In practice, you want stoppers with minimal maintenance needs, which hydraulic systems often provide (save for the odd bleed), and simple brake pad changing when the time comes.

With this in mind, we strapped on 10 sets of brakes, each with a 200mm front rotor and a 180mm rear rotor, and tested power, feel, fade, modulation, and dependability on descents.

Before the final head-to-head shootout, there was a lot of bike switching in the midst of downhills to directly compare settings, as well as lots of fitting and disassembly sessions.

NOTE: The weights and pricing shown above are for a single brake (front caliper, hose and lever, but no rotor or adaptor, unless indicated otherwise).

Our professional testers have ranked the finest mountain bike disc brakes.

  • Cura Formula 4 costs £150 / $295 AUD.
  • £175 / €220 / $220 / AU$350 for E4 Hope Tech 3
  • £75 / $103 Deore M6000 Shimano
  • £240 / €270 / $245 / AU$350 RSC SRAM Code
  • 1 Clark’s Clout: £25 (rotor included).
  • £155 / €195 / $195 / AU$320 X2 Hope Tech 3
  • £265 Ultimate SRAM G2

Formula Cura 4

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

There’s a lot of power here, but it’s even more remarkable how it’s delivered in a seamless, gradual manner. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Four pistons
  • Mineral oil as a fluid
  • 246g in weight
  • Adaptations: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £295 (£150)

We tested the Cura 4 with minimal expectations, having had little experience with Formula brakes in recent years. Fitting and bleeding were a little tricky, with tight pad clearances making a rub-free outcome difficult to obtain, and the set hose angle at the caliper made hose routing a little messy, but once addressed (or accepted), the sleek lever and caliper were very nice. The weight (second lowest on the test) is also satisfactory.

There’s enough of power, but the manner it’s delivered is even more remarkable, making it simple to reach that magical “just below” pressure before losing traction.

There is no bite point adjustment, but we didn’t think about it after we set the reach (with an Allen key).

Hope Tech 3 E4

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

The Tech 3 E4 brakes from Hope are strong, well-modulated, and adjustable. Immediate Media / Andy McCandish

  • Four pistons
  • DOT 5.1 fluid
  • 256g in weight
  • TF (reach), bite point (adjustments) (TF)
  • £175 / €220 / $220 / $350 / AU$350

We chose the Tech 3 lever with the four-pot E4 caliper from the Hope line of levers and calipers that can be mixed and matched.

The Tech 3 is somewhat heavier (by approximately 40g) than the Race, but what it lacks in weight and titanium hardware it makes up for in on-the-fly adjustability through tool-free reach and bite-point knobs.

To reduce handlebar clutter, it’s compatible with Shimano I-Spec A shifters, and other industry standards are available as optional upgrades. This is a well-made, industrial piece of equipment that will last a lifetime.

The E4, on the other hand, is a one-piece caliper made of CNC-machined T6 alloy and featuring four phenolic pistons that provide significant stopping power. Top-loading pads make replacement simpler, and the whole DOT fluid system is bled using the old-fashioned open reservoir technique, which is simple once you get the hang of it.

The lever and caliper work together flawlessly, providing enough of power thanks to beautifully designed and tunable components. The lever has a solid feel to it, with maybe a little less feedback than the best of the others, but the smooth, constant action more than makes up for it.

Everything is carefully thought out and simple to modify, from the sturdy, dimpled lever blade to the big, glove-friendly biting point and reach-adjust dials, and fitting and bleeding are also a pleasure.

With a weight of 256g, which compares well to the competition (304g for Shimano XT four-pots, for example), the pricing seems quite fair, so we couldn’t look beyond the Tech 3/E4 combo.

When you add in customization choices like shifter adaptors and a selection of brake pad materials, you’ve got yourself a winner. To really color-coordinate your prized horse, select from the black, purple, red, orange, blue, and silver-anodized finishes, and purchase a matching £45 to £50 floating rotor.

Shimano Deore M6000

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

Shimano crams additional features onto its budget-friendly stoppers. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Two pistons
  • Mineral oil as a fluid
  • 278g in weight
  • Adaptations: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £75 (about $103)

Deore brakes from Shimano have long been our go-to cheap discs. Why seek elsewhere when they function so well for a fraction of the price of others?

Almost every tester on the squad has a bike with Deore brakes in their collection. The M6000 has features that have trickled down from further up the Shimano ladder, such as hinged bar clamps and reach adjustment through Allen key bolts below the lever, so it’s not the simple configuration you would anticipate.

With a nice mix of positive lever action and smooth power feed with increasing lever pressure, power and modulation are more than sufficient. Add in the especially solid-feeling, wide-bladed lever, and you can’t go wrong for the money.

SRAM Code RSC

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

SRAM improves the power and heat resistance of its large weapons. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Four pistons
  • DOT 5.1 fluid
  • 330g in weight
  • TF (reach), bite point (adjustments) (TF)
  • £240 / €270 / $245 / $350 / AU$350

SRAM’s four-pot Code RSC brake offers incredible stopping force as well as great feel and modulation. This makes it an excellent option for larger riders, electric bike users, or alpine descent riders who frequently abuse their brakes.

If the G2 Ultimate isn’t quite up to the task of pure grunt on lengthy descents (and you’d have to be pushing it fairly hard to do so), SRAM offers the Code RSC. It feels more competent, even on less severe terrain, thanks to a beefier caliper, bigger 15/16mm pistons, and sintered pads as standard. It also has a super-positive bite point and strong, smooth lever action. This is due in part to the pivot-bearing minimizing play in the lever, but everything feels firm.

The power is insane, but it’s well-controlled and modulable, and SRAM’s Bleeding Edge technology makes hose trimming a snap. Because the price and weight are so high, it’s worth considering alternatives unless you like intense descent.

Clarks Clout 1

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

Expect a low-key show, but for the price, they’re fantastic. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Two pistons
  • Mineral oil as a fluid
  • 304g in weight
  • Adaptations: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £25 (rotor included).

Clarks deserves credit for making a good hydraulic disc brake at £24.99, or much less if you purchase two (£44.99). A 160mm or 180mm rotor is included in the pricing.

It even includes an olive and barb for cutting the line (the front hose was already too short for our longer-travel trail bikes, but that’s not the intended purpose). The grip must be taken off since the bar clamp isn’t hinged, but the lever is easy to operate and has a good feel for the price.

While it lacks the bite and punch of more costly versions, the Clout performs well. It will be much ahead of what you presently have if you upgrade a basic bike from inexpensive cable-operated discs. Expect a low-key performance, but for the price, it’s a steal.

Hope Tech 3 X2

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

The Lancashire machinists are at it again, this time with single-piece magic. Immediate Media / Andy McCandish

  • Two pistons
  • DOT 5.1 fluid
  • 242g in weight
  • TF (reach), bite point (adjustments) (TF)
  • AU$320 / £155 / €195 / $195 / £155

The X2, a development of the well-known Hope Mini brake, was created to take all of the performance of that well-known stopper and reduce the weight by a few grams.

It’s the lightest on the test, but not at the cost of performance, in our experience. The Tech 3 lever (also used on the E4 reviewed here) is superb, with big glove-friendly controls for adjusting biting point and reach.

Maintenance is also easy, thanks to a rotating banjo-shaped hose connection and top-entry pads.

The only drawback is that you can upgrade to the four-pot E4 for only £20 and 14g extra and receive a punchier power boost. Even though there are twice as many pistons, Hope’s spares and servicing are second to none.

SRAM G2 Ultimate

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

We can’t say enough good things about how well it handled difficult terrain. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Four pistons
  • DOT 5.1 fluid
  • 268g in weight
  • TF (reach), bite point (adjustments) (TF)
  • Cost: £265

With the title of “most costly on test” by a long by, it’s reasonable to anticipate a lot from SRAM’s Guide successor. Thankfully, it was delivered, although at almost £100 more than the very competent Hope E3, you may find it difficult to justify the additional cost.

Everything about it on the trail is superb, from the raw grunt to the light-touch modulation, and we have nothing but admiration for its performance in difficult terrain. New phenolic pistons can withstand high temperatures.

The gorgeous carbon lever blade and caliper polish, smooth lever pivot-bearing, and ‘rainbow’ hardware may entice some to delve deeper, and we can’t fault the performance. So, if you choose the G2, you will not be disappointed.

Take into account

A4 Hayes Dominion

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

Modulation is excellent, however it takes a long time to reach the maximum braking force. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Four pistons
  • DOT 5.1 fluid
  • 308g in weight
  • Reach (no tools required), biting point (tool-driven)
  • Price: £200 / $230 / $459 AUD

With the Dominion A4, Hayes has concentrated on detail, making the brake simpler to install than normal. After tightening the caliper nuts, use the tiny ‘Crosshair’ grub screws to fine-tune its location relative to the rotor, making it much easier to get everything precisely matched.

The lever’s reach adjustment is equally simple to crank in and out, and the broad range allows you to put the blade in the ideal position for all hand sizes and preferences.

While the power isn’t as strong as some of the other four-pots we tested, it’s enough for 99 percent of riding. Modulation is excellent, however it takes a long time to reach the maximum braking force. The A4 is also very expensive and not particularly light.

MT7 Pro Magura

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

Trail brakes that are both powerful and light. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Four pistons
  • Mineral oil as a fluid
  • 250g in weight
  • TF (reach), bite point (adjustments) (TD)
  • £215 (£189 / $239 / €219)

We were originally enamored with the MT7 Pro because of its light weight, low price, and great customizability. However, we ran across a few difficulties when it comes to installing it.

Following Magura’s directions for trimming the hose and bleeding the system produced a flawlessly positive action on the workstand, however after 15 minutes of trail riding, the lever started to draw to the bar. We had to repeat this procedure three times before getting all of the air out, indicating that the caliper body contains some difficult-to-purge air pockets.

We couldn’t argue with this monster’s power output after it was cleared, as it produces arm-buckling levels of grunt with a little touch of the lever. The biting point is also undeniably excellent.

Some reviewers wished for greater lever travel, while others praised the MT7 Pro’s feel.

Deore XT M8020 Shimano

Best Mountain Bike Disc Brakes: 10 Hydraulic Discs Tested

Shimano XT dependability combined with four-pot power. Immediate Media / Andy Mccandish

  • Four pistons
  • Mineral oil as a fluid
  • 314g in weight
  • TF (reach), bite point (adjustments) (TD)
  • £165 (about $172)

With a claimed 10% greater braking power than its two-pot M8000 brother, the M8020 is the latest in a long series of reliable XT stoppers.

We saw a significant increase in power as well as a more favorable biting point, which gave us more confidence. After a few rides, though, the bite point became inconsistent, straying slightly and prompting us to grasp the lever sooner than normal in case it needed to be pushed farther. However, the impact was modest, and the power remained.

We found it to be a fantastic brake with no set-up problems. Shimano does not provide a full set of replacements, so if your brakes fail, you can only replace the levers or calipers. However, the warranty system is excellent, so you’re covered for at least two years.

When purchasing mountain bike disc brakes, there are a few things to keep in mind

Size of the rotor

Bigger rotors apply more power to the tyre and offer a greater surface area to cool down on long descents, keeping them in top shape, but they’re also heavier.

Adjustment

Most brakes include reach adjustment, which allows you to change the distance between the lever and the bar to fit your hand size. Some models also let you to change the biting point (or free stroke) by adjusting the length of lever-free movement before the pad interacts with the rotor. This may be done without the use of any tools or with the use of tools.

Taking out the pads

If the pads on the top of the caliper are detachable, they may be cleaned or changed without having to remove the wheel first. You don’t have to do this very frequently, but when you do, it’s really convenient and much simpler.

Material for the pad

Organic brake pads consisting of resin, glass, rubber, and other non-metallic materials are used in most brakes. They provide a strong ‘bite’ from the cold, but they may lose power and wear rapidly if overheated. Sintered pads contain more metallic particles in the compound, which may make them sound harsh, but they wear considerably better and are less prone to overheating.

fluid for brakes

The pistons of hydraulic brakes are driven by mineral oil or DOT fluid. DOT fluid is harmful for skin and paintwork and requires more attention than mineral oil, but it is excellent at dealing with water absorption. Both are effective, but for the greatest results, they must be replaced on a regular basis.

Disc brakes are slowly becoming more and more popular among mountain bikers. In fact, the number of discs that are being sold is growing steadily, and the market is becoming more and more saturated with disc brake products. That said, there is still room for improvement.. Read more about mountain bike disc brake kit and let us know what you think.

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