This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of V-brakes and caliper brakes in relation to one another.
The Advantages Of V-Brakes
- Tire Clearance
Before all, V-brakes are a mountain bike invention. Consequently, they offer greater tire clearance than the caliper brakes normally found on road bikes and old-school commuters.
The extra tire clearance has the following benefits:
a. The rider can install wider tires offering more cushioning and contact area.
b. The accumulation of dirt is less likely to cause problems.
c. It’s easier to install full fenders.
- Compatible With Suspension Frames and Forks
Unlike caliper brakes, V-brakes can be installed on suspension forks and frames provided that the parts have V-brake braze-ons.
Caliper brakes cannot be installed on a suspension fork because they attach to the fork’s crown. When the suspension compresses, the caliper brakes would get below the rim and thus become ineffective.
Conversely, V-brakes connect to the lower legs of the suspension fork and do not move when the fork compresses.
Theoretically, a suspension fork can be made to operate with a caliper brake by reinforcing the fork’s arch and installing the brake on it. But since suspension forks are designed for wide tires, such a combination is deprived of any practical value.
V-brakes are an old MTB component. As such, they tend to cost noticeably less than caliper brakes on average. Even a top-of-the-line model can be acquired for a reasonable sum.
The Disadvantages Of V-Brakes
- Braze-ons Required
V-brakes mount to the frame and fork via brake bosses. This makes the frame and fork production processes slightly more complicated.
Also, V-brakes are tougher looking and thus do not compliment the lines of a “slim bike”.
- Non-compatible with Road Brake-shifters
V-brakes require long pull brake levers. Consequently, they cannot be used with the modern brake-shifters found on road bikes.
That said, there are road brake levers with a long pull adjusted specifically for the use of V-brakes. However, those models do not have built-in shifters. The rider has to use an independent shifting mechanism such as bar-end or downtube shifters.
The Advantages Of Caliper Brakes
The strongest point of caliper brakes and the main reason why they continue to exist is that they satisfy the needs of a road bike while remaining aesthetically pleasing and simple.
Unlike V-brakes, caliper brakes do not require two additional brakes bosses (braze-ons).
Calipers are secured to the bike via a single bolt going through the fork (front brake) and the seat stay bridge (rear brake).
This property of caliper brakes simplifies frame and fork production on a mass scale while also allowing the brakes to flow perfectly with the entire bike.
And since road bikes use fairly narrow tires (e.g., 25mm), the limited tire clearance is not an issue (unless the rider wants to install full fenders).
- Compatibility With Road Bike Brake Shifters
V-brakes offer a greater mechanical advantage than caliper brakes.
Consequently, each brake type requires a brake lever pulling a different amount of cable.
Since V-brakes have greater leverage, they have to be coupled with levers that pull more cable.
If that condition is not met, the brake lever can bottom out (reach its maximum travel) before the brake shoes have grabbed the rim sufficiently to lock the wheel.
Conversely, calipers have to be paired with short pull levers. Otherwise, the brakes would lock the rim before the levers have reached the end of their travel. This would result in poor modulation (control over the braking force).
Note: If the above information sounds complicated, consider reading this post which explains this dependence in far greater detail.
The Disadvantages of Caliper Brakes
- Limited Tire Clearance
Caliper brakes are aesthetically pleasing when installed on a road bike, but they greatly limit the tire size of the bicycle and make mud accumulation a real problem. For that reason, cyclocross bikes use cantilever brakes or disc brakes.
Cantilevers offer even greater tire clearance than V-brakes while remaining compatible with road bike brake-shifters.
- Bending of The Arms
In order for a set of caliper brakes to accept wide tires, the brake arms will have to be longer. The extra length reduces the rigidity of the brake arm and creates an opportunity for twisting. V-brakes have a superior design in that regard.
Nonetheless, there are some long-reach caliper brakes on the market which offer decent performance but still can’t match the clearance of basic V-brakes.
High-end caliper brakes tend to be on the expensive side. A quality set can easily cost USD 100 or more. Part of the reason for that is that caliper brakes are a road bike component.
FAQ: Why don’t road bikes use V-brakes?
Road bikes do not use V-brakes for the following reasons:
- V-brakes require additional braze-ons that aren’t present on road frames.
- Quality caliper brakes provide plenty of stopping power. Thus, the extra leverage of V-brakes is not needed.
- Caliper brakes complement the slim lines of a road bike better than V-brakes.
- Road bikes use narrow tires and thus do not need the extra clearance that V-brakes offer.
- Caliper brakes are “short pull” and are therefore compatible with brake-shifters such as STI.
- Road bikes are already switching to disc brakes which are even more powerful than V-brakes.
- Tradition. Calipers have been used for decades, and there isn’t a solid reason to make a switch to V-brakes.