The 7 Main BMX Brake Types Explained


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I’ve ridden BMX bikes off and on since I was a kid, and I’ve tried bikes with a range of different brakes. What are the main types of BMX brake?

The seven main types of BMX brakes are Cantilever, V-Bike Brakes, U-Brakes, Gyro Brakes, Coaster Brakes, Caliper Brakes, and Mechanical Disc Brakes.

Brakes offer stopping power, allowing you to safely slow down or come to a complete stop on your bike. All the main types of BMX brakes act in slightly different ways.

There are some that are better for certain purposes than others.

BMXs are very versatile when it comes to brakes. Some have just a rear brake. Some have front and rear. Some have no brakes at all!

In this guide, I’ll talk you through the main 7 types of brakes, how they work, any tip tips you need to know about, plus which would be best for you if you’re thinking about which to buy.

The main 7 BMX brake types explained

7 Types of BMX Brakes

1. Cantilever Bicycle Brakes

If there’s one thing that cantilever bike brakes excel at, it’s clearing a lot of space.

This broad clearance allows for relatively wide tires and fenders to be installed. Mud has a harder time sticking to this gap, so you’ll have an easier time riding in bad weather.

These brakes are straightforward, unobtrusive, and light. Few brake choices can match the braking power of cantilevers.

The excellent braking qualities of cantilevers are why they are the brake of choice on tandem cycles. Moreover, they are also used on touring bikes.

Cantilever brakes are popular among cyclocross riders because they provide plenty of clearance. Another reason is that they perform virtually as well as V-brakes in terms of performance. (Source)

Even though this braking system provides good performance and mud clearance, several cyclocross racers are now opting for disc brakes.

You must properly set up cantilever brakes to get the most out of them. The angle of the straddle cable is something you should pay special attention to.

Cantilevers, like V brakes, use cartridge-style pads. When the time comes, they’ll be relatively simple to replace.

They’re lightweight and simple, and they provide clearance for wide tires and mudguards or wide tires and mud.

They provide a lot of braking power, which is why they’re so popular on tandems, but they require a specific setup to perform at their optimum. The angle of the straddle wire makes a considerable effect.

Is it possible to put cantilever brakes on a BMX bike?

Yes, you certainly can.

However, you’ll need to install a particular fork on your BMX bike in order to do so.

2. V-Bike Brakes

V-brakes, often known as “direct-pull” brakes, are a popular choice for racing bikes. The cable and arms have no machinery. Hence the design is known as ‘direct-pull.’

V-brakes are mounted on both sides of the bike frame, with rubber pads placed a few millimeters across the rim on BMX bikes.

V-brakes have traditionally been popular on off-road bikes, hybrid bikes, and touring bikes. Newer bike models, on the other hand, are increasingly using disc brakes.

Furthermore, Caliper brakes provide excellent braking performance.

Like other BMX bike brakes, V-brakes are operated by cables that run from the lever on the handlebars all the way down the bike’s frame.

V-brakes pull in more wires when pushing the brake lever, providing a stronger grasp on the rim and greater module brake strength for better stopping control.

Compared to any other brake on a BMX bike, they provide excellent braking power and are lightweight. This is presumably why they are the brakes of choice for the majority of BMX riders.

Unfortunately, V-brakes are not ideal for freestyle BMX riders since the shape and framework of these brakes expose the braking mechanisms to more overuse than U-brakes. They can also collide with the rider’s body or clothing.

3. U-Brakes

The U-brake is by far the most widely used BMX bike braking device.

The U-brake is a rim caliper brake seen on some vintage mountain bikes and BMX freestyle bikes. Above the rim, the U-brake is attached to the frame.

The pads will be pulled away from the rim on both sides by spring tension. Arms are joined together by housing on one arm or a straddle wire carrier on the other.

U-brakes are ubiquitous on all Freestyle and Flatlands BMX bikes due to their sturdiness, simple structure, and cable management.

The U-brakes have a significant benefit over other brakes in that they are 90 percent out of the rider’s path, resulting in a smooth ride.

This is unquestionably good for all types of freestyle.

U-brakes are particularly simple to use since they work well with detangles, making them very practical and suitable for freestyle riding on BMX bikes.

A U-brake is typically designed with C-shaped arms that intersect and arch over the tire, allowing the right-hand side of the cable to operate the left brake pad and vice versa.

A close up of the brakes on a BMX bike
BMX bike brakes come in a wide range of technologies!

4. Gyro Or Rotor

The Gyro, often known as the rotor or Detangler, is a BMX braking system designed specifically for freestyle riding.

It has an additional necessary accessory between the head tube and the stem. This unique component divides the brake system between two parts, allowing for a complete barspin without tangles.

Two of BMX’s most popular freestyle tricks are the easy and fashionable barspin and the tailwhip. They can be used on their own or in conjunction with other procedures.

Because these stunts need the handlebar to turn 360 degrees, the cable may simply coil up around the bar, limiting the spin with a regular brake system; thus, the Gyro braking system was developed.

The rotor blocks the cable passage, but the basic braking mechanism remains the same: the lever that pulls the cord triggers the ‘scissor system,’ which pulls the brake arms and pushes the pads against the rim to provide resistance that slows the bike down.

When you pull the lever, the rotor compresses the braking zone between both plates. After that, the lower wires connected to the base plate are pulled, and the braking sequence that ends on the rim is unchained.

5. Coaster Brakes

Coaster brakes, sometimes known as pedal brakes, are used to stop a vehicle by pedaling backward. This sort of brake is attached to the BMX bike’s rear hub.

So, what exactly is a “coaster” brake?

It gets its name from the fact that it allows the bike to travel forward without touching the pedals, but when you try to pedal backward, the braking system engages immediately.

Although these types of brakes are antiquated and out of style, some BMX riders still have them fitted and use them from time to time. Despite this, coaster brakes have a number of advantages over other BMX brakes.

For example, coaster brakes require less maintenance than almost any other type of braking system, and you won’t have to deal with any dirty cables or wires getting in the way of your smooth ride.

Overall, the BMX ride is fairly smooth and comfortable, with coaster brakes providing a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Coaster brakes, on the other hand, make freestyling on BMX bikes difficult. Adjusting the pedals and splits at the proper place for grinding on the street would be too difficult.

Additionally, not being able to pedal is a significant ‘negative.’ You can reverse, but your feet must remain completely stationary, which is incredibly difficult to do after certain actions.

As a result, coaster brakes are becoming less popular in the BMX scene as time passes.

Bike acrobatics and feats have also grown more problematic and difficult to execute, especially with coaster brakes making everything far more complicated than it needs to be.

6. Caliper Brakes

Caliper brakes use a single bolt to attach to the bike frame or fork.

Caliper brakes are self-contained systems that operate the brake caliper through a cable. Because their arms must extend far enough to wrap around a tire, they are less prevalent on wider tires.

Caliper brakes are most commonly found on road bikes. However, they are used on BMX bikes as well. 

U and V-brakes are the forerunners of these.

Unless it’s a children’s bike, it’s rare to see a BMX with caliper brakes these days.

Caliper-style brakes are distinguished because they are bolted into a hole bored in the frame rather than brake bosses. They’re also typically less effective than U and V-brakes.

Caliper brakes are side-pull brakes with a single pivot. These brakes are often found on most road bikes, and some extremely affordable versions can even be found on BMX cycles.

Caliper brakes are similar to rim brakes in that they accomplish their job well. 

However…

They do not operate well on tires with bigger diameters, such as those used on BMX bikes, mountain bikes, or cruisers, due to the set size of the arms and the limited space between them.

Fat bike tires would reduce their efficiency even further if they were utilized at all. Disc brakes are typically used with fat bike tires.

However, when compared to other rim brakes, caliper brakes fall short of V-brakes due to their skewed actuation ratio, but they can have a smoother modulation.

7. Mechanical Disc Brakes

In the first two components of the braking system, mechanical disc brakes are essentially equivalent to traditional rim brakes: a squeeze of the hand lever delivers the signal through wires.

The difference, and disc brakes’, superiority – is that the brake pads are applied to larger rotors on the wheels rather than the rims. With this modification, you’ll get more braking power with less effort.

Strong steel cables, metallic pads, and a steel disc add to the total system’s weight.

On the other hand, disc brakes dissipate heat more efficiently than rim and drum brakes since they are engineered to operate hot. The more brake area available and the smoother the stop, the larger the rotor.

Disc brakes cannot be put on any bike frame since matching hubs and wheels are required.

Disc brakes took over BMX bike designs, thanks to their greater performance on downhill terrain and absence of interference from water and mud. They can now be found on practically any type of bicycle.

Which Is Best For You?

As you can probably tell, the type of brakes that will suit you best will depend on exactly what you intend to do on your BMX bike. But here’s a rough overview:

V-Bike Brakes – Get these if you don’t intend to do any tricks or any freestyling on your bike. If you’re going to use it for everyday cycling, and maybe some light tricks, then V-Bike Brakes are a great choice. They are lightweight and have excellent stopping power.

U-Brakes – These are the most popular type of brakes that you will find on a BMX bike. If you intend to do any major freestyling on your bike, then these are the brakes that I recommend. They stay perfectly out of your way and almost always stay detangled.

Mechanical Disc Brakes – If you’re looking for a competent all-rounder with lots of benefits across the board.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that bicycle brakes have been around for ages, designers and manufacturers are continually coming up with innovative concepts.

The kind of brakes that cyclists use is usually determined by their budget, the bikes they possess, the type of riding they wish to perform, and the level of care required to keep their bikes moving smoothly and safely.

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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