This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of using V-brakes and disc brakes on a hybrid.
The Advantages of V-Brakes
V-brakes are a simpler and older technology. A decent V-brake set from the class of Shimano Deore can be acquired for about USD 30. Meanwhile, a disc brake from that class could cost 3 times as much.
The V-brake levers are cheaper too. However, this is the case only when comparing them to the levers of hydraulic disc brakes. Otherwise, V-brakes and MTB mechanical disc brakes use the same levers.
The maintenance of V-brakes isn’t costly either. The brake cable and the brake pad are the only consumables.
Ultimately, the price of V-brakes makes them ideal for budget and beater bikes.
With a little information, even non-professionals can learn how to install and adjust V-brakes for top performance. Meanwhile, a set of hydraulic disc brakes requires a lot more skills for proper maintenance due to the need to bleed the brakes.
V-brakes/rim brakes are lighter than disc models thanks to their simplicity and the absence of a disc rotor. That said, rim brakes require a heavier wheel because the brake track of the rim serves as a braking surface and has to be thicker.
- Easy To Find Replacement Parts
V-brakes are incredibly popular and share a universal mechanism and braking pads. Consequently, it’s easier to find replacement parts when touring. In different, many disc brake parts are brand and model specific. This property makes it harder to repair a disc brake unit when traveling.
- No Interference With Rear Racks
The position of the disc brake caliper often interferes with the legs of rear racks. Hence why there are rear racks designed specifically for disc brakes. While those racks work just fine, there are fewer models to choose from and their price tags are sometimes higher.
V-brakes, on the other hand, do not create this problem thanks to the brake’s positioning.
The Disadvantages of V-Brakes
V-brakes share the main downsides of all rim brakes. Those would be:
- Loss of braking power in wet conditions
In wet and muddy conditions, the rim gets contaminated very fast due to its proximity to the tire and the ground. The extra dirt reduces the effectiveness of V-brakes because the first few spins of the wheel upon initiating braking are done against a slipper and dirty surface resulting in lower traction. Then, the stopping power increases because the pads clean the rim.
Meanwhile, disc calipers grab a rotor that’s much smaller than a regular rim and further away from the ground and the tire. Thanks to its size and location, the rotor has an easier time staying clean. As a result, disc brakes suffer very little braking degradation in wet conditions. Hence why disc brakes are non-negotiable on modern MTBs.
That said, hybrids are designed for the road and their rims do not get as dirty. If the bike is used as intended, a set of V-brakes can turn out adequate even in wet conditions.
- Heavier Rims
Rim brakes require rims with a brake track resulting in extra thickness and weight. Since hybrids aren’t used for racing and aren’t expected to be featherweight, the additional grams aren’t detrimental.
- Rims Become a Consumable
Sooner or later, a V-brake will “eat through” the brake track of the rim. Hence why the rim should be replaced at the first sign of failure (usually a small dot). Otherwise, one is risking an unexpected collapse of the rim. This property of rim brakes makes them inferior when it comes to wheel longevity.
Meanwhile, a disc brake has no such effect on the rim. The user is expected to replace only the rotor which is much cheaper, and easier to mount/dismount.
- Imperfect Wheels Result In Poor Braking
If the wheel gets out of true even slightly, the braking will suffer because one of the pads will grab the buckled section of the rim first. The result is stuttered braking. It feels as if the brake is grabbing the wheel then releasing it and grabbing it again. It usually happens on the rear wheel since it’s the one taking most of the stress.
The only way to fix this issue is to re-true the wheel. If the damage is severe, it may be necessary to completely disassemble the wheel to re-straighten the rim.
Of course, one can also increase the distance between the brake pads and the rim so that the pre-mature rubbing is reduced, but this action will result in slower and weaker braking.
On the other hand, disc brakes are not nearly as affected by the trueness of the rim because they operate in conjunction with an “independent” rotor. Therefore, a disc brake can tolerate a wheel that’s notably out of true. This is advantageous because the rider can use the brake even when the wheel has suffered serious damage. As long as the wheel can spin inside the frame/fork, the brake will stop it.
- Non-hydraulic versions
The vast majority of V-brakes are cable-operated. There are some hydraulic versions, but they’re expensive and of questionable value because the user can simply purchase disc brakes for the same price or less.
The advantages of hydraulic brakes are easier braking (less strength required to trigger the brakes) and more braking power (not always).
- Reduced Tire Clearance and Mud Accumulation
Like all rim brakes, V-brakes encompass the rim and thus limit the tire clearance. Conversely, disc brakes do not create this issue and permit the user to install a tire as big as the rim and fork can accommodate.
Another issue that V-brakes create is mud accumulation near the seat stay bridge. However, since a hybrid isn’t designed for extreme off-road, this won’t be a problem if the bike is exploited as intended.
The Advantages of Disc Brakes For Hybrids
- High Stopping Power In All Conditions
As already mentioned, the braking power of disc brakes does not decrease dramatically in wet conditions because the rotor is less prone to contamination than the rim.
If the hybrid is going to be used for “hardcore” commuting in rain and snow, then the rider would have a strong incentive to go for a set of quality disc brakes if the budget allows it.
- The Rims Aren’t a Consumable
Disc brakes grab the rotor and do not affect the longevity of the rim. Consequently, the rider can use the same rim forever as long as it doesn’t experience external damage due to a hit or a fall.
The rotor, however, will have to be replaced as thin rotors result in subpar braking performance.
The procedure is fairly simple because most rotors connect to the hub via bolts. Meanwhile, rim brakes require re-lacing of the wheel when the brake track of the rim wears down. To perform a “rim transplant”, the user will need wheel-building knowledge as well as some extra equipment such as a truing stand.
If those conditions aren’t met, the only other option will be to pay a professional mechanic to perform the procedure. The labor costs are essentially an additional fee that comes with rim brakes.
That said, a decent-quality rim will operate just fine for a very long time before requiring a replacement. How much depends on the thickness of the rim wall and the exploitation of the brakes. If the bike is used for deliveries, and the rider makes many stops throughout the entire day, the rim will wear down faster.
- No need for perfectly true wheels
The trueness of the wheel does not impact braking because the calipers are grabbing the rotor. The rotor itself, however, can deform when riding or transporting the bike. Hence why there’s a special tool for straightening a bent rotor. That said, a bent rotor is a lot easier to re-align than it is to re-true a wheel.
The Disadvantages of Disc Brakes
Disc brakes not only cost more, but they increase the overall price of the bike too. That’s not necessarily a negative because the complexity of the brake and the improved performance in wet conditions explain the extra cost. However, in some cases, disc brakes are presented as an ultra-premium feature and thus raise the price of the entire bike to a point that doesn’t reflect the class of the remaining components.
Or in other words, it’s possible to get a better brake but less of a bike.
Disc brakes are more complex and operate with a rotor. Consequently, they weigh more.
- Interference With Rear Racks
As already mentioned, a disc brake could interfere with the installation of a rear rack.
Hydraulic disc brakes are much more complex than V-brakes. They’re also more difficult to maintain and repair when needed. The extra effort may become tedious if the user doesn’t care about the main benefit of disc brakes (solid braking in wet conditions).
One of the ways to counter this phenomenon is to go for mechanical disc brakes. They’re much simpler, cheaper and easier to maintain than hydraulic versions. Some long-distance cyclists purposefully avoid hydraulic disc brakes because they cannot be repaired on the side of the road. But if the hybrid in question is used for city commuting, this won’t be much of an issue because the user can simply take the bike to a mechanic or repair the brake at home.
When To Go For V-brakes?
V-brakes are a good choice for hybrids when:
- The user is on a budget or simply wants to build a beater bike that’s simple and yet fully efficient.
- The user doesn’t want to deal with complicated hydraulic brakes.
- The user does not plan on using the bicycle in extreme weather. In dry conditions, a quality set of V-brakes provides a stunning amount of braking power when adjusted properly.
- The user wants to use a standard rear rack that is non-compatible with a disc brake frame.
- The user wants to minimize the weight of the hybrid.
When To Go For Disc Brakes?
Disc brakes are a good choice when:
- The user wants maximum stopping power regardless of the weather.
- The user wants to brake with minimal physical effort (hydraulic brakes allow one-finger braking.)
- The user does not want to deal with rim replacements and plans on using the current rims for as long as possible.
- The user does not consider the extra grams added by the disc brakes a problem.