We pick the very best mountain bike disc brakes from three categories: budget, trail and four-piston. Don't start stopping until you've read this.
We put several sets of the very best mountain bike disc brakes on heavy rotation; which is top of the stops?
A mountain bike disc brake includes a steel rotor, a rotor caliper (with brake pads inside) and a brake lever. Connecting the system is hosing filled with hydraulic fluid.
In an ideal world you wouldn’t need to use the brakes that often because you’d rail every corner, blitz all the descents like a chainless Aaron Gwin and charge down rooty singletrack quicker than a supercharged EWS pro. However, the majority of use don’t have those skills, we drag the brakes when we’re riding downhill, brake all the way round corners and often comfort brake just because things have gotten too scary. For us really powerful and reliable disc brakes are a must have, because often we’re hanging onto them for dear life.
Thankfully every year disc brakes become more efficient and more powerful, so you can get back into your comfort zone a lot sooner. You also get adjustable reach and bite point, so when you absolutely need to stop on a sixpence, your hands will be in the right place. Brake pads are also harder wearing, which is a good thing with all that stopping you’re having to do and foul UK weather you’re riding in.
If and when you do drop the anchors, you don’t want to go flying over the handlebars, which is why most modern brakes have tons of modulation. This allows you to really feel when the wheel starts to lock, so you can back off and regain control.
Best mountain bike disc brakes for 2020
Here our are current favourite best mountain bike disc brakes. See the links to full reviews down the page.
- Shimano Deore M6000 – BEST TRAIL WINNER
- Formula Cura 4 – POWER WINNER
- Clarks Clout1 – BUDGET WINNER
- SRAM Level
- SRAM Guide RE
- Hayes Dominion A4
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Shimano Deore M6000
Sets a new benchmark for affordable brakes
Price: £69.99 | Weight: brakes 278g, rotor 138g | Rotors: 160, 180 and 203mm
Pro: Power and modulation
Con: Levers can rattle slightly
Shimano Deore M6000 disc brake keeps bumping up the standard of what a budget stopper can really be, premium performance with a great price. Our budget brake of choice for two years running, the Deore M6000 is one of those products that begs the question, why spend more? Simple, reliable and powerful, the compact lever offers genuine one-finger stopping, the mineral oil is nice to work with and the caliper accepts top-loading pads to make maintenance that much easier. You’ll have to buy the rotor and adapter separately, but even with that extra cost, the M6000 is a brake you can truly rely on, at a price that won’t break the bank.
Formula Cura 4
Sleek design, raw power and 100 per cent reliable
Price: £175.00 | Weight: brake 243g, rotor 163g | Rotor sizes: 160, 180 and 200mm
Pro: Powerful and predictable
Con: Can’t run levers super close to bar
The compact caliper of the Cura 4 houses four 18mm pistons, and even after leaving my bike dirty for weeks on end, I’ve not had any issues with sticky pistons or swollen seals, something SRAM users would certainly appreciate. With the latest-generation pads fitted, the Formula Cura 4 is a fantastic brake. Its sleek design masks its raw power and it’s also proven to be 100 per cent reliable. What makes the Cura 4 even more impressive though, is that Formula has managed to achieve all of this while still producing one of the lightest high-powered brake systems on the market.
A jaw-droppingly cheap but decent disc brake
Price: £24.99 | Weight: brake 307g, rotor 190g | Rotor size: 160 and 180mm
Pro: Unrivalled buget brake
Con: C’mon… they’re twenty five quid!
At £25 the Clout1 is just jaw-droppingly cheap and although it feels a little wooden and has limited rotor options, it’s the perfect upgrade brake. Performance wise the Clout1 is a good brake for the money – it’s a bit wooden when pulling hard but its reasonably powerful, is dead easy to set up and bleeding is straightforward. Pad wear has been okay but it’s noisy in the wet. Apart from this we really can’t complain, it’s the cheapest brake by a country mile and, while the performance isn’t that refined, if you need to get something sorted for a kid’s bike/winter commuter or just a cheap hack, it’s an absolute bargain.
Solid and direct feeling
Price: £95.00 | Weight: brake 331g, rotor 210g | Rotor size: 140, 160, 180 and 203mm
Pro: Solid feel
Con: Can develop sticky pistons if ignored
Sitting towards the more affordable end of the SRAM range, the SRAM Level is another brake you’ll find equipped on many lower priced mountain bikes. With good reason. The Level has a really nice action, it has a smooth power delivery allowing you to be really sensitive when it’s slippery or loose underfoot. It doesn’t feel grabby and always seems to have more to give.
SRAM Guide RE
Designed for e-bikes, great for all bikes
Price: £125.00 | Weight: brake 286g, rotor 195g | Rotors: 140, 160, 180, 203mm
Pro: New generation SRAM has performance, serviceability and reliability
Con: Caliper is hard to align and stay aligned
What makes this such a good anchor is it combines the shape and feel of the Guide lever with the stopping power of the Code caliper in a more affordable package. The lever shape is identical to the Guide G2 Ultimate tested elsewhere, but it uses a cheaper aluminium blade, simple press-in bushing and reach adjustment, tuned via a dial on the front of the lever. You don’t get all the bells and whistles of the G2 Ultimate, but the Guide RE is just as comfortable, has a similarly light action and all the power is on tap when yon need it. It does require a little bit more looking after though, and in the long-term it can feel tired, but for the money it’s really hard to beat, and is one of the best performing disc brakes at the lower end.
Hayes Dominion A4
Quality brakes with tons of power and modulation
Price: £199.99 | Weight: brake 306g, rotor 188g | Rotor size: 180 and 203mm
Pro: Real return to form for Hayes
Con: No bite point adjustment
The Hayes Dominion A4 is a quality brakes with tons of power and modulation. It’s also pretty compact and has some nice details like the Crosshair adjustment and the way the banjos on the calipers are angled just enough so the hose doesn’t rub on the stays or fork lowers. Small details but ones that sets this brake apart from the rest. A most welcome from one of the early pioneers of mountain bike disc brakes.
Mountain bike disc brakes: need to know
Brake pads come in two main compounds – metal sintered or organic. The latter are often fitted to brakes because they’re slightly cheaper but it you want better stopping and longer life, especially in the wet, you’ll want a metal sintered upgrade.
This is the most important adjustment on any brake because it allows you to set the reach (lever spacing) to you hand size. The adjuster will often be an annoyingly hard-to-reach grub screw but some brakes come with small knob that you can adjust by hand.
Bite point adjustment
Technically this adjustment doesn’t move the pads any closer to the rotor but it feels like it. It’s handy adjustment if you want to run you levers inboard. SRAM calls this the Contact Point Adjustment, on Shimano it’s Freestroke.
Available in various sizes, but the most common are 160, 180 and 200mm. There’s more mechanical advantage with a bigger diameter rotor and so greater stopping power.
Standard rotors are cut from stainless steel and heat treated and two-piece designs (including floating rotors) have the steel braking disc surface riveted to an aluminium carrier. This type of rotor is lighter, truer and is far less likely to warp but yep you guessed it – it will cost more.
Depending on the mounts on your frame/fork and rotor size you may need to run an adapter. In the past these were included but most manufacturers now sell them separately because why should you pay for something you might not use or maybe they’re just being cheap.
A MatchMaker style clamp allows the shifter to be bolted directly to the lever. It will be an additional cost but it eliminates the clamp, saves weight and frees up bar space for junk such as lights, computers, phone mounts and the like.
Olive and insert
These are the small components used to fasten the hose into the lever. Spares are included in the box because if you shorten the hose you will need to replace them.