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There are many different kinds of brakes that can be used on bikes. Overall, there are two main types, rim brakes, and disk brakes. V brakes and U brakes are both a type of rim brake, and today I will explain the differences between them and why one is used over the other.
V brakes and U brakes are used on different kinds of bikes. U brakes are used only on the rear wheel of freestyle BMX bikes because the front handlebars are spun very often when doing tricks. V brakes are the best kind of rim brakes used on many different kinds of bikes.
There are is one main advantage that U brakes have over V brakes which makes them better suited to freestyle BMX riding, and that is: they are more compact and don’t stick out as much as V brakes.
Being compact is not a disadvantage so the next logical question would be why don’t all bikes use U brakes instead, so below I will explain the reasons why V brakes and U brakes are used, and why each is better suited to certain types of cycling.
Why V Brakes Are Much More Common on Bikes
V brakes are much more common on bikes compared to U brakes and other types of caliper brakes (rim brakes). There are a few key reasons why V brakes are much more common than U brakes, and here’s why.
Overall, V brakes provide more braking power for less effort compared to other rim brakes (cantilever). They are also far easier to adjust which makes them much more convenient. Of all the rim brake options V brakes are the easiest to squeeze and provide the most braking power.
The main advantage of V brakes over other types of rim brakes are:
- Stronger braking power
- Easier to adjust
Bicycle brakes need to be adjusted once every 2 months or so, depending on how often you ride your bike. They generally need to be tightened or loosened which involves turning screws with an Allan key or hex tool, adjusting the angle of the brakes, and the length of the wires.
This isn’t too difficult with certain types of bike brakes, but for others such as cantilever brakes, this can be more difficult.
Cantilever brakes were quite common and can still be found.
But, they are particularly frustrating to adjust, as reported by many people. Although they work OK, V brakes work just as well. But, unlike cantilever brakes – the other most common type of rim brakes – they are relatively easy to adjust.
V brakes also are very strong relative to the other types of rim brakes. This means you don’t need to squeeze as hard when you brake.
But, they also provide really strong braking power.
Disadvantages of V brakes for freestyle BMX riding
U brakes still provide a sufficient amount of braking power. But, in freestyle BMX riding it’s common to spin the front handlebars. This is a very popular move in BMX riding known as a ‘bar spin’.
It is the BMX equivalent of a kickflip in skateboarding – one of the most common and core skateboarding tricks. Here’s a video showing some very impressive bar spins from lots of different freestyle BMX riders:
Bar spins are done in combination with other moves to do even more difficult tricks. If a BMX had V brakes on the front a bar spin would be impossible.
Many freestyle BMX riders use no brakes on their bike at all. Instead, they use a special move where they skid the bike sideways to slow down. Or, drag their feet on the ground.
Another reason why U brakes are preferred on freestyle BMX bikes is that often BMX riding involves riding in a way that has a very small margin for error, and requires a lot of precision to do. Such as grinding on rails, or grinding on the top of a half-pipe or bowl.
Because of this fact, the extra width of V brakes can get in the way. So, U brakes are preferred, they are much narrower but still provide very strong braking power when the rider needs it.
There is also what’s called a Gyro brake setup, which is another alternative to V brakes for freestyle BMX riding. This is a special type of brake which allows the front handlebars to spin without making the brake wires wrap around the handlebars
U brakes on freestyle BMX bikes are installed only on the rear wheel, and no brakes are installed on the front wheel, here’s more about this…
What Is a Rear U Brake?
All of the bicycle brakes have somewhat vague names. U brakes are far less common than other types of brakes, and U brakes nowadays are only used on one type of brake. Below, is a summary of what U brakes and rear U brakes are, and what type of bike they are used on.
A rear U brake is a U brake that is installed on the rear wheel. Rear U brakes are almost exclusively used on freestyle BMX bikes because they are narrower. But, V brakes are the most popular rim brake and are the main brakes used on every other type of riding.
U brakes are a kind of caliper brake.
Caliper brakes are also known as rim brakes. It’s very likely you’ve seen these before. They have a wire that connects to the levers on the handlebars. When you squeeze the levers it will pull a wire which squeezes the brakes onto the rim of the tire.
They are different from the other main type of brake on a bicycle – disk brakes.
Disk brakes attach to a disk that is installed on the rear tire. They also function the same as rim brakes, whereas you squeeze the levers the brakes close.
However, the main difference is that the brakes close onto the special disk in the center of the rear tire. That is rather than on the metallic rims on the outside of the front and rear tire.
Rear U brakes are used almost exclusively on freestyle BMX bikes.
They can also be seen on very old mountain bikes according to one of the leading bicycle tool manufacturers Park Tools (source).
In recent times U brakes have become less popular for bikes other than freestyle BMX bikes because V brakes have more braking power.
Which Is Better Disk Brakes or Rim Brakes?
The two broad types of brakes you can get are disk brakes, and rim brakes. Disk brakes use a different way of stopping the wheel to rim brakes, so here’s which is better disk brakes or rim brakes.
Disk brakes are superior to rim brakes. But, there are a few specific use cases where rim brakes are better suited for the type of bike. Disk brakes provide stronger braking power and are easier to squeeze than rim brakes. Disk brakes also work much better in wet weather than rim brakes.
A disadvantage of disc brakes is that they’re heavier than rim brakes. This adds additional weight to the bike which some people don’t prefer.
If you’re a large individual, (for example, you’re tall, muscular, or carrying a few extra pounds) disk brakes are generally a far better option than V brakes.
This is because disk brakes provide much more braking power than V brakes for less effort.
With your extra weight rim brakes can take longer to slow you down. In dry weather, this isn’t so much of an issue but in wet weather, it can be dangerous.
In wet weather, rim brakes take much longer to slow down, and the initial pump of the brakes can have no effect at all.
This can be a bit scary, and dangerous especially if you need to stop in a hurry. Rim brakes by comparison work virtually exactly the same in wet weather as they do in dry weather.
Are Caliper Brakes Better Than V Brakes?
Caliper brakes are also called rim brakes. They have two arms that squeeze the rim of the tire to slow it down. Caliper brakes are very common, so here’s an explanation about whether caliper brakes are better than V brakes.
Caliper brakes are not better than V brakes. V brakes are a type of caliper brakes. But, V brakes are the best kind of caliper brake that there is. The reason is that they are the easiest to adjust and provide the best braking power relative to the amount of force.
The other most common caliper brakes are cantilever brakes. Cantilever brakes are a decent type of rim brake.
But, the main disadvantage of cantilever brakes is that they can be incredibly frustrating to adjust.
The design is such that if you make a minor adjustment you need to adjust all the other parts of it. Which ends up being very fiddly.
Bicycle brakes need to be adjusted quite regularly, about every few months. Otherwise, they don’t brake as well or don’t brake at all.
Therefore, the difficulty of adjusting cantilever brakes, generally, isn’t worth it, and virtually everyone prefers V brakes instead. It’s relatively easy to replace cantilever brakes with V brakes. I explained this in detail in this article about cantilever brakes versus V brakes.
What Type of Bike Brakes Are Best
There are MANY different options for bicycle brakes. But, there are two broad categories, rim brakes, and disk brakes. Of all the potential options there are two types of brakes which are the best, here’s what they are.
V brakes and hydraulic disk brakes are the best. V brakes are a type of rim brake, whereas, hydraulic disk brakes are a type of disk brake. Hydraulic disk brakes self-adjust as the brakes wear down, which makes them superior to regular disk brakes. But, V brakes are the most popular rim brakes.
Disk brakes are superior to V brakes in a few ways. The advantages that disk brakes have over V brakes are:
- Disk brakes provide more braking power
- Disk brakes don’t require as much force to squeeze them
- Disk brakes work virtually the same in wet weather and dry weather
V brakes and other types of rim brakes aren’t bad at braking. But, they have a lag in wet weather and don’t brake nearly as well. They also require more force to squeeze than disk brakes.
Disk brakes are more expensive than V brakes and other types of rim brakes. They also add more weight to the bike.
This isn’t much of a concern overall but it does mean the bike is less maneuverable and is more difficult to ride uphill. When you ride a bike with disk brakes downhill the extra weight will make them travel further.
So, the difficulty in riding uphill is somewhat balanced out. But, in my opinion, I would rather pedal a bit more going downhill rather than struggle more going uphill. For certain cycling types and specific reasons, though disk brakes are far superior. These are:
- Road cycling, especially competitive cycling
- Riding in densely populated areas or high traffic zones like the inner city
- If you weigh quite a lot
Disk brakes provide faster braking and more powerful braking. In competitive cycling, you need to make adjustments to your speed as precisely and efficiently as possible.
Every second counts, and it can mean the difference between overtaking someone, or taking a corner in a way that maintains your lead in a race.
If you ride your bike in densely populated areas or in and out of traffic, having the ability to stop very quickly, is a huge advantage. And a lot safer. The potential for unexpected things to happen in high-traffic areas is much greater and almost guaranteed.
So, being able to stop more quickly and with less effort is much preferred. That is why disk brakes are best in inner-city/high-traffic riding conditions.
Heavier individuals, such as people who are carrying more muscle mass, need greater force to stop.