The Do's and Don't's of Disc Brakes

Disc brakes have been around for a while but for many – especially those returning to cycling or who haven’t ridden in a while, disc brakes are a world away from the rim brakes of years gone by. Disc brakes are commonplace nowadays, and it’s safe to say they’re the industry standard. Initially developed to deal with the increased demands of mountain biking, disc brakes have become the go-to option thanks to their increased stopping power, reliability, consistency in all weather, and control across most disciplines of cycling.

Disc brakes consist of three components: a calliper, a brake lever, and a rotor. The calliper houses your brake pads and when actuated by the lever, exerts a force on the rotor, in turn slowing you down. There are two types of disc discs: hydraulic and cable. Hydraulic disc brakes are actuated via hydraulic fluid, and cable disc brakes via cable. Hydraulic disc brakes are found on most bikes over about $800 and feature better stopping power, more control, and generally less servicing than cable brakes. Cable disc brakes are still a huge upgrade over rim brakes, and in some cases (like bikepacking) can actually be more desirable than hydraulic as parts can be easily carried and the brakes can be serviced in remote locations.

Disc brakes require special tools and skill to service and being that they play such an important role in keeping you safe we don’t recommend attempting to service them at home unless you know what you’re doing. There are a few things you should know and can do though to keep them running their best!

Don’t Clean Your Callipers or Rotors
What we mean by this, is don’t clean them with soap or degreaser. Water is fine! Degreasers can leave residue that can contaminate your pads and rotor, reducing overall stopping power and if unlucky, causing squealing. You can get brake-safe degreasers, but we recommend doing your best to avoid them or using brake cleaner should you need to wash them

It can be tempting to play around with screws and adjusters when things don’t work as they should. With disc brakes, especially hydraulic, we recommend dropping them off to us and saving yourself the hassle. Bolts on brakes can do any number of things including keeping fluid in the system, securing cables, or securing them to your bike. Undoing a bolt could lead to partial or complete system failure, which is less than ideal and not safe. Leave it to us!

Don’t Touch the Rotors
Whether they’re spinning or stationary, you’ll want to keep your fingers away from the rotors. Tales of people losing fingers to spinning rotors run rampant and are true. Want to keep all your digits? Don’t touch them. Remember how soaps can contaminate your rotors? Well so can the natural oils on your skin. Prevent contamination by keeping your fingers away – easy! If neither of the above are enough of a deterrent, rotors can get extremely hot under use. Just trust us when we say don’t touch.

Don’t Grease Them
Don’t put grease or oil on any part of your disc brake. Grease and oil reduce friction, and friction is the very thing brakes need to slow you down. It may seem like common sense, but if it was as obvious as you think it is I wouldn’t be here telling you not to.

Do Ride Your Bike
Disc brakes work their best when everyone is running smoothly and used often.  Sitting stationary can cause parts to seize, pressure to be lost, and just general poor braking performance. Ride often and if your partner questions why you’re riding so much, just tell them to save money. Win win.

Do get Them Serviced When you Notice Changes in Performance
Disc brakes provide consistent stopping power until something needs replacing or servicing. Failing to get your brake serviced when performance starts to fade can lead to all kinds of issues and all kinds of expenses. Once had a customer who was so desperate to get their absolute money’s worth out of the pads that they wore through the entire pad and backing material, meaning the piston in their calliper was the thing clamping on the rotor. Pistons can’t be replaced, so what would have been about $30 in parts and $30 in labour turned into $200 in parts and $80 labour as the whole brake had to be replaced. Stay on top of your servicing!