V Brakes Vs Caliper – The Complete Guide


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There is a range of different brake options for bicycles. V brakes and caliper brakes are some of the most common along with disk brakes. There are some reasons why it makes more sense to get one type of brakes over the other, so in this article, I will explain which is better – V brakes or caliper brakes.

V brakes are a type of caliper brakes. Therefore, neither V brakes nor caliper brakes are better than the other. There are different kinds of caliper brakes such as cantilever brakes. Of the different kinds of caliper brakes, V brakes are the best.

There are a few reasons why V brakes are the best brakes in the caliper category of brakes, so below I will explain why this is, explain the main types of caliper brakes, and discuss when it makes sense to get each of the broad categories of brakes on the market.

V Brakes versus caliper brakes

Are V Brakes Better?

V brakes are a common type of cycling brake that has a unique design compared to other caliper brakes. But, are V brakes better than the other types of cycling brakes?

V brakes are the best brakes out of the caliper options. But, V brakes generally are not the best overall. Disc brakes are the best of all the cycling brake types. They are the easiest to squeeze, provide the most braking power, and work in all weather conditions, unlike V brakes.

V brakes though are the best of the caliper brake. In some types of cycling, V brakes are the best. But, based on braking power, ease of use, and the fact that they work even in wet conditions makes disc brakes are superior.

But, disc brakes aren’t always the best option – I’ll explain more about why this is below.

V brakes have a different design to the other most common caliper brakes – known as cantilever brakes. Cantilever brakes have two wires that connect at a central point above the tire. Whereas, V brakes have a vertical wire that opens and closes to bring the brake pads against the rim of the tire.

The design of V brakes allows for more mechanical advantages than cantilever brakes. Therefore, when you squeeze the brakes they provide more force with less effort. Because of this reason if you’re deciding between V brakes or cantilever brakes then it’s best to get V brakes. They’re much easier to use.

Types of caliper brakes

There are a few different caliper brake designs. These are:

  • Dual pivot
  • Dual symmetric pivot
  • Side pull
  • Center-pull
  • Linear pull also called V brake
  • Cantilever – two types smooth post and threaded post
  • U brake – common on BMX, and older mountain bikes

Cantilever brakes are some of the most common brakes you’ll find on bicycles. Because V brakes are generally considered the best and most powerful. For these reasons, they are used for mountain and off-road bikes. But, also for commuter bikes. 

The reason they are used on commuter bikes such as those to get to and from work is that in dense inner cities you generally need to brake suddenly and very quickly more often. This is because in the inner city there are much more pedestrians and cars. Therefore, it’s more common that a cyclist will get taken by surprise and need to react quickly.

Because cantilever brakes don’t brake with as much force, and you need to apply more pressure to brake, they aren’t as good for inner-city riding or riding in and out of traffic.

The superior braking power of V brakes compared to cantilever brakes also means they perform much better in wet conditions (source). Brakes also need to be adjusted every 2 weeks to a month. The design of cantilever brakes makes them much more difficult and frustrating to adjust. By comparison, V brakes are far easier to adjust.

Caliper brakes on a bicycle
Caliper brakes don’t perform as well as V brakes in heavy traffic or in wet weather

So in summary V brakes are superior to other types of caliper brakes because of the following 3 reasons:

Why V brakes are superior to other types of caliper brakes

  1. V brakes are much easier to adjust
  2. V brakes provide more braking power with less force
  3. Perform much better than other caliper brakes in wet weather

I explained why these issues are important in much more detail in this article about cantilever brakes vs V brakes.

Why Are Disk Brakes Better Than V Brakes?

In addition to V brakes, there are also what are called disk brakes. Disk brakes are in a different category from cantilever brakes which are lumped into the rim brake category. Most people find V brakes very nice to use and have no complaints but most people that try disk brakes find them much better, here’s why:

Disk brakes are better than V brakes because they provide more braking force with less effort. They also perform the same in wet conditions as they do in dry conditions. V brakes do perform OK in wet conditions but not nearly as well as disk brakes.

Disk brakes do weigh more than V brakes and this is a key consideration, especially when riding a bike a lot on flat areas.

On hilly areas, the weight difference balances out. You will go slower uphill but faster downhill. The difference in weight is not to be underestimated.

It has been shown in independent tests that minor differences in how much effort or how much drag your clothing creates end up making a big difference. 

For example, let’s take an example of riding for 1 hour – such as a 30-minute leisurely ride to and from work. If you wear tight-fitting clothing just as a lycra top and bike shorts it will take on average 1.2 miles (2 km) off the distance. 

Whereas, if you cycle with normal fitting clothing – not cycling clothing – you will need to cycle an extra 0.6 miles (1 km) on the way there and the way back

This is a lot of extra pedaling especially if you make this trip most days. Therefore, the extra weight that disk brakes have adds a lot to how far you need to pedal, but only on flat ground.

On areas that have a lot of hills the extra weight balances out. It will be harder to cycle uphill. But, the extra weight will make you travel faster downhill. On flat ground, it is simply more difficult to pedal with more weight.

I explained how the difference in the clothing you wear when cycling affects how much harder it is to pedal in this article about what cycling bibs are. Cycling bibs are a special kind of cycling clothing that is more comfortable than traditional bike shorts and a lycra top.

With that said, disk brakes are about 20% to 30% more expensive than V brakes. With that said though they are both fairly cheap and are around under $100 even for the best quality brands.

V brakes on a bicycle
V brakes are one of the easiest types of brakes to adjust

Are V brakes and caliper brakes both rim brakes

There are two main types of brakes on a bike: rim brakes and disk brakes. Rim brakes squeeze the rim of the tire. Whereas, disk brakes have a rim near the center of the wheel which is squeezed with 2 calipers.

They both use a very similar mechanism – which you squeeze the brakes and the calipers close onto a section of the tire. The difference is where the calipers are located on the tire.

Here’s a good video that shows exactly how disk brakes work:

V brakes are a type of caliper brake, therefore, both V brakes and caliper brakes are rim brakes.

When disk brakes are better to have over V brakes or caliper brakes

Disk brakes have superior braking power and work the same in wet conditions. For people that are on the bigger side – such as taller guys that have a lot of muscle, or have a bit of a belly – the extra braking power that disk brakes have is much needed.

The reason is the force required to stop is a lot more if you’re a heavier rider. On top of that if you typically use your bike every day, then generally you’ll prefer brakes that work in all weather conditions.

Because you never know when it’s going to rain. In wet weather, V brakes need to be double-squeezed to remove excess water. And even then they take much longer to slow down a bike.

After riding for some time you’ll have developed a feel for when you need to brake to allow enough time to make turns or stop.

This develops an unconscious habit and you can brake too late in wet weather conditions which can potentially cause an accident.

Therefore, disk brakes are much safer in this regard.

In summary, disk brakes are better if:

  • You ride your bike in wet weather conditions
  • You’re a heavier person that needs more braking power
  • You ride frequently in areas that have a lot of people/traffic

Why Do Road Bikes Not Use V Brakes?

Most people find V brakes far superior to cantilever brakes once they try them. And they are better suited for certain types of riders, and conditions. Since V brakes are better why is it that road bikes don’t use V brakes, and why do they generally have disk brakes instead.

Road bikes do not use V brakes because disk brakes are more powerful, and are easier to squeeze. Road biking involves endurance so conserving energy is a priority. Also in racing precision is needed to overtake other riders. Therefore, the ability to stop easily and quickly is preferred. 

Road bikes can oftentimes be ridden in areas where there are other cars. Because of this, it’s common that cars will pull out, pedestrians will cross, and many tight situations can occur on the roads.

This means it’s much safer to have very sensitive and strong brakes. That requires hardly any effort to use.

All of these are truer of disk brakes than V brakes. It’s the case that V brakes are fairly easy to squeeze and provide strong braking force. 

It’s just that disk brakes are much better. Disk brakes also outperform in wet conditions. With V brakes you need to squeeze the brakes much harder in wet conditions than disk brakes.

And disk brakes feel largely unaffected by wet conditions. Whereas, with V brakes you can definitely notice it.

If It’s Possible To Upgrade Caliper Brakes to V Brakes

Now that you’re aware that V brakes are superior to other types of caliper brakes, you may be wondering whether it’s possible to replace caliper brakes with V brakes. Here’s whether this is possible and how difficult it is.

It is possible to replace caliper brakes with V brakes. It is also not very difficult provided you have a few key tools. The caliper brakes are removed from the bike completely and the new V brakes are installed. It is important to note that V brakes are a type of caliper brake.

Therefore to be more precise you will be replacing non-V brake caliper brakes with V brakes. Such as cantilever brakes which are some of the most common caliper brakes. This is very easy to do with the right tools. If you’ve been cycling for some time you’ll likely have most of the tools you’ll need such as a hex tool.

The new V brakes slide onto the fixtures that are welded onto the bike frame. You’ll almost always need new brake levers – the two levers you squeeze that are located on the handlebars. The reason is brake levers are designed for specific types of brakes. 

Therefore, the brake levers for your cantilever brakes won’t provide enough squeeze that is required for your V brakes. Upgrading from caliper to V brakes is a very good idea because V brakes are much easier to adjust. Here’s a really good video that shows the whole process of replacing cantilever brakes with V brakes.

Sources

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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