Bicycle Brake Types - A brief history

Bicycle Brake Types - A brief history

Bicycle Brakes - another essential item. 

Coming in hot off the press after gears bicycle brakes perform an essential function. Once again we could write a book on this but we won't attempt to ! Instead here's a brief history covering the last 100 years or so. We hope it helps explain it a bit at least.

With the odd exception (we're thinking back pedal coaster brakes on American Schwinn Cruisers) for a very long time brakes on bicycles were rim brakes of one kind or another. 

From the very early pushrod brakes at the turn of the 1900s through to the basic  side-pull brakes on the mass produced Raleighs and Peugeots of the 40's 50's 60's 70's and 80's rim brake pads dominated - although basic they just about worked - not very refined perhaps but in a fairly crude way just about stopped you. Quite often they were working in combination with chrome plated steel rims which were okay in the dry but sketchy at best in the wet.

The 80s and 90s  saw significant advances in touring, mtb and road racing bicycle components and better quality dual pivot side pull brakes were developed for road bikes, cantilevers for tourers and early All Terrain Bikes before eventually Shimano brought out the true parallelogram push V brakes in the mid- late 1990s.  The other really significant change from approximately the mid 1980s was that aluminium wheel rims became pretty much standard and so braking compounds could be produced that worked really acceptably in both the wet and the dry.

The true parallelogram push V brakes were incredibly powerful in their own way but also very prone to wear in the shims of the linkage - so in the end they were abandoned and what dominated MTBs and Hybrid Bikes in the late 1990s through to around 2005ish were instead brakes advertised as V -Brakes but actually truly described as Linear Pull brakes. 

The brand formally known as Avid (who later on were bought out by SRAM) probably were one of the first companies to really refine the linear pull idea and Shimano and Tektro and numerous smaller producers were closely on the tails producing similar. 

Some Dutch Style bikes for some time probably since around the early to mid 1990s have featured Shimano  Nexave Roller Brakes which are a kind of Drum Brake but these are relatively rare in reality.

BMX's (when they had brakes !) made use of basic side-pull brakes through the 70's and the 80's and the better ones also ran with U -brakes which were basically heavy duty dual pivot side pull brakes - this is still pretty much true now with the addition of basically mini-v brakes as well since about 1999 ( mini v brakes actually being mini linear pull brakes - see below for linear pull).

From circa 2005 to date whilst all the proceeding brake systems of the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s have persisted whats also come to now dominate the market are Disc Brake Systems - both Hydraulic and Cable Operated. Various early versions of these were certainly visible in Downhill Mountain Biking in the late 1990s and as time passed Shimano, Hayes, Hope, Avid (Then SRAM), Formula and others refined their products to work with Cross Country and All Mountain Full Suspension Bikes etc.  The Road Bike scene held off from Discs for a long time - its only since approximately 2016 that they started to appear and now after a while are becoming more mainstream although they definitely split opinion in the Tour De France peloton for example.

Apart from whether the disc brake is cable operated or hydraulic the main difference from the rim braking systems is obviously the use of a disc rotor. The disc rotor is the braking surface and so definitely has a hard life and needs replacing from time to time. 

Brake cables need replacing on all braking systems periodically and obviously fluid in the hydraulic systems need to be completely purged as well on a regular basis. The other obvious consumable are brake pads whether they are Rim Brakes or Disc Pads.

Theres' a huge range of replacement parts out there - as professional bike mechanics in our other business we have worked with everything thats widely available so if you're looking for a specific part let us know and we will do our best to help you track it down

May 10, 2024 Jonny

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