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  1. #1
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    Mechanical vs. Hydraulic Disk Brakes

    About to pull the trigger on a new Roubaix. The elite has hydraulic disk with dt swiss wheels at 2800, the sport has mechanical disk with axis wheels at 2100. I didn't even want disks, don't care about them, wanted the futureshock, but you can't get that without disks.

    I don't ever ride in the rain. I don't ride on huge steep downhills. I ride in New England, rolling short hills, 20 to 50 mi rides, not competitive at all.

    I know hydraulic is a better system, but will it really make a difference in what I do? I keep the bike 5 to 10 years, so amortized, not that big a deal, but still, $700 of savings buys lots of accessories.

  2. #2
    Adorable Furry Hombre
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    Good hydraulics are just better. Better control, better feel, once setup-less adjustment.

    That being said...which model year are you shopping? The present Elite and Sport listed on Spec's website are both mechanical disc brake bikes and both have axis wheels.
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  3. #3
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    If you are fine with buying an inferior design, buy the mechanical.

    If you want better performance, buy the hydraulic.

    If you buy the mechanical, don't come back and post that disc brakes aren't much better than rim brakes, have pads that rub, and may not self adjust too well.

    See e.g., progression of disc brakes in mtb world.

  4. #4
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    Very happy with rim brakes. Don't carry if I have anything better. Just don't want more hassle etc. than what I have with rim brakes. Which is basically adjusting the barrel nut every once a year or 2. If mechanical disks are going to be a PITA, then maybe an upgrade is important. If not, then no issue with them to save $700

    2018 models are shipping, specialized hasn't updated their website. A 2018 elite is $600 less than 2017 model with upgrade of hydraulic and dt swiss wheels

  5. #5
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    I bought a lynskey last year with bb7. I'm in a similar situation. I trust those who say that hydraulic are better, but may be overkill for our situation. Adjusting is easy, with a knob on each side.

    They do have more braking power with less effort that any of my rim brake bikes. However like you I have always been satisfied with rim brakes

    I'm guessing that there are more component differences between the models. I would make my choice on that basis.

  6. #6
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    My touring bike has BB7 mechanical. They are a good choice for that bike if the alternative is cantilever. Any other road bike I'd rather have rim brakes versus the mechanical disc. I have not ridden hydraulic on a road bike but have on MTN and based on that hydraulic is far superior to mechanical. So putting aside my own feelings on road disc if your conundrum is strictly mechanical versus hydraulic go hydraulic.
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  7. #7
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    I'd go with the mech discs if the hydro version didn't have electronic shifting, the controls are decent, and I knew I would eventually be upgrading to hydro electric. Otherwise, hydro all day long.

    Of course, differences between the controls and wheels could justify going with the hydro to begin with.

  8. #8
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    no diff on the bike's components. purely better wheels and hydro disk in the elite vs the sport. don't care about the wheels. considering that last year they only offered mechanical, I would have to believe it works well enough to sell bunches of bikes, unless someone knows of issues with specialized disk mechanical brakes.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbinbi View Post
    no diff on the bike's components. purely better wheels and hydro disk in the elite vs the sport. don't care about the wheels. considering that last year they only offered mechanical, I would have to believe it works well enough to sell bunches of bikes, unless someone knows of issues with specialized disk mechanical brakes.
    The fact that Specialized is switch from mechanical to hydro might be an indication that mechanical disc brakes aren't as desirable. Maybe they had lots of complaints. Maybe they weren't selling well. Maybe the profit margin with hydro is better. Who knows?

    Then again, I'm a guy who doesn't understand why anyone would buy a road bike with disc brakes. It's just wrong. OK, maybe if you lived in the mountains, or in the northwest where it rains half the year, I could see it. But in general ... barf.

  10. #10
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    If you have to buy a bike with disc brakes, I would definitely get hydraulic. Hydraulic are self-adjusting after initial setup and have better modulation. Since disc brakes are very powerful, modulation is important unless you enjoy face plants.
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  11. #11
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    When you read/hear the debate between "rim and disc" brakes - they're referring to hydraulic disc brakes. Because, well... mechanical disc brakes kinda suck, for the reasons Lombard mentioned.

    I'm convinced mech discs were developed because, in the mtb world, "Disc Brakes" was a key selling term early on. The cheaper mech versions let the manufacturers check that box and save money. The consumer got shitty brakes that needed constant maintenance... to keep them rubbing.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldZaskar View Post
    When you read/hear the debate between "rim and disc" brakes - they're referring to hydraulic disc brakes. Because, well... mechanical disc brakes kinda suck, for the reasons Lombard mentioned.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldZaskar View Post
    When you read/hear the debate between "rim and disc" brakes - they're referring to hydraulic disc brakes. Because, well... mechanical disc brakes kinda suck, for the reasons Lombard mentioned.

    I'm convinced mech discs were developed because, in the mtb world, "Disc Brakes" was a key selling term early on. The cheaper mech versions let the manufacturers check that box and save money. The consumer got shitty brakes that needed constant maintenance... to keep them rubbing.

    Thing is when disc brakes first debuted in 1970/71 they sucked. Campagnolo's competitor for a brake that sucked at stopping your bike didn't come until 1984 with their Delta brakes, LOL.

    Schwinn was first to market I think for the 70/71 model year...Shimano had a mech brake in 1973...and by 1975 had a hydraulic


    Of course...it needs be said...all sucked at stopping a bike.
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  14. #14
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    I have hybrid mechanical discs (HY/RD) and agree with a previous poster. They are nice but, for the hassle (maintenance on pads, rotors, adjustment because they don't self adjust as advertised, etc) I'd go with rim brakes or full hydraulic.
    FWIW I'm building an old bike and looking forward to the simplicity of rim brakes. The current bike will move over to hydro at some point, but that's a big investment - which led me to rebuilding the old bike.

  15. #15
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    My old bike had TRP Spyre SLCs with Jagwire Elite Link compressionless housing and I used SwissStop "e" semi-metallic pads. My new bike has SRAM HRD hydraulic disc brakes. Honestly the difference isnt that huge if you have the mechanical brakes set-up just right. The initial lever throw requires slightly more effort, but everything feels similar as soon as the pads contact the rotor.

    The lack of auto pad distance adjustment was not that big of a deal to me. It meant doing an eighth turn on both sides of the caliper with a hex key every month or so.

  16. #16
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    agree with steel rider. I'd sort of prefer rim brakes over mech discs. However if you get a bike with mech discs, you do have to option to upgrade later on and the frame, fork, and hubs are ready for any discs, and you likely have more tire clearance for things like fenders and wider tires. I did have a bike with mech discs (BB7) and hated them. The cost to upgrade to Hydro was very steep, and I did it.

    But mech discs are so bad the advantages of rim brakes stack up better imho - can use any QR type hubs so there is massive supply of used wheels that are compatible, simple service with minimal tools, not much different performance than mech discs other than when wet.

  17. #17
    .je
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    Hey guys, maybe you could answer a question that I wasn't able to find with internet search.

    What is the mechanism that makes the hydraulic brakes better for effort and precision than mechanical brakes? I was thinking, how is using Pascal's principle more effective at applying force to the rotor than mechanical lever ratios? It would be more than just cable friction, since the pad contacts the rotor, then braking begins. The only answer I could find was that the hydraulic pistons actuate on both sides of the rotor.

    I've of coursed used both mechanical and hydraulic systems and know that there's less effort required from the rider with a hydraulic system, and modulation is more direct and precise along my 0-100% perceived effort scale, but am not all clear why this happens that way.

  18. #18
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    I don't remember anything about Pascal,s Theory, but I immediately thought about the brakes on cars and the fact that there is no longer such a thing as "regular" vs "power" brakes. They are all hydraulic now.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_brake

    Quote Originally Posted by .je View Post
    Hey guys, maybe you could answer a question that I wasn't able to find with internet search.

    What is the mechanism that makes the hydraulic brakes better for effort and precision than mechanical brakes? I was thinking, how is using Pascal's principle more effective at applying force to the rotor than mechanical lever ratios? It would be more than just cable friction, since the pad contacts the rotor, then braking begins. The only answer I could find was that the hydraulic pistons actuate on both sides of the rotor.

    I've of coursed used both mechanical and hydraulic systems and know that there's less effort required from the rider with a hydraulic system, and modulation is more direct and precise along my 0-100% perceived effort scale, but am not all clear why this happens that way.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by steel rider View Post
    I don't remember anything about Pascal,s Theory, but I immediately thought about the brakes on cars and the fact that there is no longer such a thing as "regular" vs "power" brakes. They are all hydraulic now.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_brake
    This statement is misleading. Do not confuse "regular" non-power brakes vs. power brakes with hydraulic vs. non-hydraulic brakes.

    Hydraulic drum brakes (non-power) have existed on motor vehicles long before the introduction of power disc brakes. I don't know how old you are, but I remember back in the 1960s and 70s, only higher end cars had power disc brakes and they were only on the front. Rear brakes were still manual drums. Power disc brakes on all 4 wheels only started to become standard equipment in the early 1990s.
    “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” -- Aaron Levenstein

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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lombard View Post
    This statement is misleading. Do not confuse "regular" non-power brakes vs. power brakes with hydraulic vs. non-hydraulic brakes.

    Hydraulic drum brakes (non-power) have existed on motor vehicles long before the introduction of power disc brakes. I don't know how old you are, but I remember back in the 1960s and 70s, only higher end cars had power disc brakes and they were only on the front. Rear brakes were still manual drums. Power disc brakes on all 4 wheels only started to become standard equipment in the early 1990s.
    I'm 50 and have rebuilt both drum and disc brakes on cars. Perhaps I should have avoided using unclear terms. My apologies.
    My point is, however, that automobiles have moved to hydraulic disc brakes over the years for a reason. Depending on your viewpoint, you could extend that to bicycle brakes. I was also offering up a potential example of how they work.

  21. #21
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    There is one use where I would prefer mechanical disc brakes (preferable BB7s) - that would be on a bike used for touring third world countries. Cables and pads are easy to carry, while brake fluid and a bleed kit are not as easy to pack along with you.

    Otherwise, if you must use disc brakes, hydraulics are the way to go.
    Life is short... enjoy the ride.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by steel rider View Post
    I'm 50 and have rebuilt both drum and disc brakes on cars. Perhaps I should have avoided using unclear terms. My apologies.
    My point is, however, that automobiles have moved to hydraulic disc brakes over the years for a reason. Depending on your viewpoint, you could extend that to bicycle brakes. I was also offering up a potential example of how they work.
    Understood. I just wanted to clarify for others. I (and most others here) have no recollection of any cars without hydraulic brakes.
    “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” -- Aaron Levenstein

    "Beware of geeks bearing formulas."
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    "Education is what you get when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get when you don't. -- Pete Seeger



  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by ceugene View Post
    My old bike had TRP Spyre SLCs with Jagwire Elite Link compressionless housing and I used SwissStop "e" semi-metallic pads. My new bike has SRAM HRD hydraulic disc brakes. Honestly the difference isnt that huge if you have the mechanical brakes set-up just right. The initial lever throw requires slightly more effort, but everything feels similar as soon as the pads contact the rotor.

    The lack of auto pad distance adjustment was not that big of a deal to me. It meant doing an eighth turn on both sides of the caliper with a hex key every month or so.
    This is my experience. Bad mechanical designs are bad. Spyres aren't. I mulled about trading my set out for hydraulic but couldn't see the point. They're mega-powerful and modulate well. Hydraulic lever effort is a little lower and the play in the lever before the pads reach the rotor is a bit smoother. The experience is otherwise a wash, except that you can pair Spyres with cheaper, more attractive, and more ergonomic conventional levers.

    BB7s are garbage. If that's your reference point, or you tried a Spyre bike with an indifferent setup, you're not current on mechanical brakes.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexdi View Post
    This is my experience. Bad mechanical designs are bad. Spyres aren't. I mulled about trading my set out for hydraulic but couldn't see the point. They're mega-powerful and modulate well. Hydraulic lever effort is a little lower and the play in the lever before the pads reach the rotor is a bit smoother. The experience is otherwise a wash, except that you can pair Spyres with cheaper, more attractive, and more ergonomic conventional levers.

    BB7s are garbage. If that's your reference point, or you tried a Spyre bike with an indifferent setup, you're not current on mechanical brakes.
    TBH I prefer the grip shape on the HRD hoods, but there is a small bump where it meets the ramps. The tiny nubbin grips on SRAM mechanical are just a teeny bit too small for my tastes.

  25. #25
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    There are more difference between the 2 bikes. The Hydro brakes are a worth while upgrade. The Elite is 10R Vs 9R carbon of the sport. The wheels are quite a bit nicer and are not the typical throw aways. The DT 470DB (actually DT 460DB if not from Specialized) are pretty nice rims and can be run tubeless if you ever want to do that in the future. The Elite also has the CG-R seatpost, better saddle and a Shimano crank.

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