Discs or rim brakes?

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For a commuting bike, are disc brakes or rim brakes best?

This is a question we often get asked, and there is no simple answer, but there are several considerations to take into account before making your own decision.


The advantages of rim brakes (whether V-brakes or calipers) are their simplicity, their lower overall weight, and their lower purchase price compared to discs. The disadvantages are their slightly lower power in wet weather (although this is much less of a problem than it used to be in the days of chromed steel wheel rims), the need for fairly frequent brake pad replacement, and the fact that over time rim brakes will wear out your wheel rims. There is also the danger with rim brakes that a worn or misaligned brake block can come into contact with the tyre, quickly wearing a hole in the sidewall.


The advantages of disc brakes are their high power, their reliability in all weathers, and (usually) their low running costs thanks to long-lasting pads and the fact that they don't wear out your wheels. The disadvantages can include their higher initial purchase cost, their susceptibility to contamination by oil or dirt, and the fact that many are harder for the average user to repair if anything does go wrong - this is especially true of hydraulic disc brakes.


The conclusions we've come to are these:

  • Cheap disc brakes are awful, so for any bike with a purchase price (when new) below about £600 we'd recommend a model with V-brakes or calipers instead of discs. A £300 or £400 bike will be supplied with either cheap and nasty disc brakes, or good quality mid-range V-brakes or callipers - and I know which I'd prefer!

  • For an average distance commute on an average bike, rim brakes are probably best. If you're not doing a huge mileage the brakes probably won't wear out your rims for several years, and although you will need new brake blocks more often than with disc brakes, these aren't expensive. Rim brakes are also easier to adjust and maintain than discs for the average user.

  • For a high-mileage commuting bike, disc brakes can make good sense. They should be cheaper to maintain in the long run, thanks mainly to not wearing out your wheels rims. The potential disadvantages are contaminated brake pads and the possibility of costly repairs if the brakes are ever damaged (especially for hydraulic models), but generally reasonable quality disc brakes should be 'fit-and-forget' apart from changing the pads every few thousand miles, and eventually replacing the disc rotors if they wear thin.

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