We put 10 sets of discs on heavy rotation; which is top of the stops?
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.
What is a mountain bike disc brake?
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.
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, £69.99
- SRAM Level, £95.00
- Clarks Clout1, £24,99
- Hope Tech 3 X2, £145.00
- SRAM Guide RE, £125.00
- SRAM Code RSC, £240.00
The best mountain bike disc brakes in 2020
All of the following brakes are the best mountain bike stems which scored at least 8/10 in our test. Here’s a complete list of all the mountain bike disc brakes we’ve tested.
Shimano Deore M6000, £69.99
Shimano Deore M6000 disc brake keeps bumping up the standard of what a budget stopper can really be, premium performance with a great price.
SRAM Level, £95.00
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.
Clarks Clout1, £24.99
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.
SRAM Guide RE, £125.00
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.
SRAM Code RSC, £240.00
For a DH/gravity brake, the Code has a light, sensitive action. There’s quite a bit of lever travel before it bites but the power delivery is ultra-smooth and it builds evens as it travel through the stroke.
SRAM Guide G2 Ultimate, £265.00
Physically the new G2 Ultimate looks similar to the previous Ultimate, but there are several subtle changes. The two-piece caliper has a new forging, which is better at resisting flex, resulting in a firmer lever feel. It’s also sees greater machining around the piston area, so the pads retract more easily and rub less. Talking of which, those are new too. They’re the same shape, so are backwards compatible, but now feature a ‘Power Organic’ compound and a steel (grey) backing plate to improve the bite and reduce fade.
The lever itself remains unchanged and still uses a carbon blade with the subtle twin taper making it one of the most comfortable out there. SRAM has tweaked the tool-free reach adjustment – the dials still have a wide range and are indexed, but they’re now easier to turn. This was true when new, but grit has since got in our brakes and they are starting to feel a little graunchy. The improvements to the G2 Ultimate are not ground breaking, but at this level it’s a law of diminishing returns. This brake is a little bit more positive, and getting a drag-free set up is noticeably less of a headache. This is superb brake, but it’s very expensive, which is why can’t rate it any higher.
Best mountain bike disc brakes: the winners
Best budget brakes: Clarks Clout1.
Best trail brakes: Shimano Deore M6000.
Best 4-pot brakes: SRAM Guide RE.
|Disc brake||Price||Weight (Brake-Rotor)||Rotor||Rating|
|Clarks M2||£20.00||257g/167g||160, 180mm||8/10|
|Shimano Deore M6000||£69.99||278g/138g||160, 180, 203mm||10/10|
|SRAM Level||£95.00||331g/210g||140, 160, 180, 203mm||9/10|
|Clarks Clout1||£24.99||307g/190g||160, 180mm||8/10|
|Hope Tech 3 X2||£145.00||242g/147g||140, 160, 180, 183, 200, 203mm||8/10|
|SRAM Guide RE||£125.00||283g/195g||140, 160, 170, 180, 203mm||10/10|
|Shimano XT M8020||£159.99||318g/168g||160, 180, 203mm||9/10|
|SRAM Code RSC||£240.00||314g/195g||140, 160, 170, 180, 203mm||9/10|
|TRP Quadiem G-Spec||£200.00||313g/197g||140, 160, 180, 203mm||8/10|
|Hayes Dominion A4||£199.99||306g/188g||180, 203mm||9/10|
|Hope Tech 3 E4||£175.00||255/172g||160, 180, 183, 200, 203mm||8/10|
Including three budget brakes in this test wasn’t just a token gesture on our part, there’s not a lot of choice. Thankfully all three component manufacturers have various options at the lower price points, in fact Clark’s is exclusively in the budget end with all its brakes are under a £50 a wheel.
SRAM and Shimano duked it out for the win but the Deore took the crown simply because it has a better lever, is lighter weight and more affordable. The SRAM Level is good but the clamp is crude, it’s heavier and more expensive.
Now we’ve got the budget stuff out of the way let’s talk about all the flash carbon levered, titanium pimped up super brakes. Well we’re going to disappoint you because the best brake in the trail category doesn’t have any fancy carbon or titanium hardware. It’s a very basic disc brake but it works, it slows you down. In fact, we didn’t really have any issues with any of the brakes in that regard, they all did the basic job of controlling speed very well, which meant this was a really hard test to call.
When compiling our final score we could have just totted up the features and suchlike but it seems there’s a law of diminishing returns with disc brakes, more so than any other product we test. For example, look at the weight – the difference between the lightest and heaviest brakes is barely 60g, but the difference in price is about £170, per wheel!
You’re also paying for greater adjustability – like tool free reach adjustment. It’s nice to have because you don’t have to use a tool but you are only ever going to adjust this once and leave it. The same is true of bite point adjustment and even Hayes’ Crosshair caliper alignment.
Don’t get us wrong; adjustments are nice to have, but wouldn’t a better idea be to get a functional brake and then just spend as much as you can on the suspension, wheels and tyres; things that make a real difference to performance? The irony is you’re being to spend a load of cash of something you’re trying not to use that often.
However, we do have to justify our choices and the cheapest brake in the trail category was the most disappointing. We like the idea of Magura two caliper system, and it is killer value for money, but it just lacked stopping power. Hope makes some amazing brakes in a ton of different anodised colours but again the Tech 3 E4 just didn’t seem to stop as well as the top-end brakes. The same is true of the TRP Quadiem, loads of modulation and feel but we just felt we had to pull a bit harder and sometimes use two fingers to get stopped.
Three brakes took the runner up spot and they have a surfeit of power. The Shimano XT M8020 is the best value but there is still a question mark hanging over the inconsistent lever feel. The Haye’s Dominion and SRAM Code are very similar and both have unique features. They’re also quite close in price and hard to separate, so we’re not going to.
That leaves our winner – the SRAM Guide RE. We think it’s SRAM most versatile because it works on an e-bike or a normal bike. It’s great value and it totally does the business, which is why you see it everywhere.
Mountain bike disc brakes: need to know
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.
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.