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 multiple sets of disc brakes on heavy rotation, and only the six best mountain bike disc brakes made this shortlist. But which were top of the stops? 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 2021
Here our are current favourite best mountain bike disc brakes. See the links to full reviews down the page.
- Shimano Deore M6000 – BEST OVERALL
- Formula Cura 4 – BEST 4-POT
- Clarks Clout1 – BEST BUDGET
- SRAM Level
- SRAM Guide RE
- Hayes Dominion A4
How we tested these disc brakes
As well as drawing on our extensive experience of these brakes on test bikes in a variety of terrain and weather conditions, all of them were tested over the same loop on the same bike to highlight differences in performance. We compared power, modulation, set-up and ergonomics. Most manufacturers don’t include the cost of rotors or adapters in the overall price of their brakes, so we’ve worked this out for you and included it in the info. We’ve also weighed all of the brakes and included the weight of a 200mm (or 203mm) rotor and lever/caliper. We have not included the weight of the adapters because, depending on the frame and fork you’re using, they may not be necessary. Factors in around 80-90g for two adapters and all the fixing hardware.
‘View Deal’ links
You will notice that beneath each of the best mountain bike disc brakes summary is a ‘View Deal’ link or two. If you click on one of these links then mbr may receive a small amount of money from the retailer should you go to purchase the product from them. Don’t worry, this does not affect the amount you pay.
Shimano Deore M6000
Best all-round disc brake
Price: £69.99 / $119.99 | 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. Like a lot of the brakes in this guide, the M6000 price tag does not include rotor or mount bracket. Which is fair enough bearing in mind that most experienced mountain bikers may already have rotors and brackets in their stockpile. And it also frees up what size rotor you want to go for (some riders will always go 203mm front and rear, for example).
The reach adjust requires a bit of fiddling with an Allen key. The clamp has a safety(?) feature that prevents it from fully opening unless you poke something into a little hole on its side. This does make the M6000 more faffy to intially set up but, in reality, you can live with it because you rarely have to adjust either the reach or fully remove the lever from the bar.
There’s plenty of power on offer and Shimanos offer great feel. Some riders have moved allegiance to the ergonomics of SRAM levers these days (which are really, really nice it has to be said) but we still kinda like the overall experience with Shimano brakes. In fact, the Deores are as high up in the hierarchy as we’d go with Shimano disc brakes; their more expensive brakes seem oft plagued by wandering bite-point issues.
Formula Cura 4
Best 4-pot powerhouse
Price: £175.00 / $159.99 | 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 our test bike dirty for weeks on end, we didn’t have 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 little tip from us is to try to make sure you get the version of the brakes with the later edition brake pads which offers much better consistency during longer, steeper descents.
When it comes to reviewing this brake it’s actually pretty difficult to come up with much to say. It’s ‘just’ a brake that is really, really excellent. It ‘just’ works. It’s ‘just’ consistent. If you know your disc brakes you’ll appreciate the fact that the Formula Cura 4 are a bit like Hope brakes, but Hope brakes that have clearly been down the gym. These are very, very powerful stoppers.
Any niggles you ask? Erm. The hosing length of the pre-bled boxed (rear) brakes can be a little on the short side if you have a bike with a really long wheelbase. Aside from that though, this is a welcome return to form for one of the original disc brake brands. And hey, it doesn’t hurt that they look really, really nice either.
Best budget disc brake
Price: £24.99 | Weight: brake 307g, rotor 190g | Rotor size: 160 and 180mm
Pro: Unrivaled budget 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 brake if you’re looking to upgrade from a mechanical disc or put together a budget frame build. Performance-wise the Clout1 is a good brake for the money.
Modulation is not its strong point, 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, it’s an absolute bargain.
Before we go any further, let’s also point out that the £25 price tag includes stainless steel rotor! So just where exactly have Clarks cut corners? Well, in places that don’t terricuallt matter when it comes to living with a disc brake. Sure, the clamp is single bolt so you have to remove your grips (and dropper remote) to remove the brake from the bar. And the reservoir design is simple and side-specific, so you can’t flip it over to use on the left/right without unplugging the hosing and rebleeding etc.
But… so what? Neither of those niggles are anything except mini moans. There’s no bite point adjust (often the case on non-megabucks brakes) and the lever blade isn’t the most sophisticated ergonomically but the Clout1 scores where it counts: power, reliability and consistency. These are much better brakes that many mid-level offerings from the big brands and/or OEM brakes that come supplied on mid-range MTBs. Well done Clarks!
Consistent with pleasing feel
Price: £95.00 / $85 | 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. And with good reason. The Level has a really nice action, it also 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. If you don’t like Shimano’s stubby levers, this is all the brake you need for trail riding.
What’s more, you can take the SRP with a pinch of salt; it’s rare that you can’t find screaming discount deals on SRAM Level disc brakes. Sure, some may not come with rotors or mount brackets but chances are you don’t need them anyway.
It’s arguably just as well that you can find these brakes on sale below their suggested retail price because in the cold light of day, they are slightly overpriced. The lever is pressed aluminium, the clamp bolt and nut design is ugly and the brake is an unnecessarily tight fit on the bars, so much so that it can leave scratches/marks on handlebars. Not great.
But if we’re talking about brake power and feel, the SRAM Level brakes are excellent. They feel a whole lot like much more expensive offerings from SRAM. It’s hard to explain the difference between the way SRAM brakes feel versus, say, Shimano brakes. Part of it (most of it?) is down to the different lever shape/sweep and part of it is the differing feel of the progression; they feel simultaneously firmer at the lever and more give-y at the pad/rotor. Truth be told, neither way is better than the other. But if you don’t get along with Shimanos, SRAMs offer you the alternative.
SRAM Guide RE
Affordable 4-pot built for abuse
Price: £125.00 / $135 | 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 which we rate highly, 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 we believe 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. This brake repeatedly makes it into our end-of-year Editor’s Choice round-up of the very best products out there.
It’s actually principally designed for e-bikes, but works just as well on analogue bikes thanks to its ample stopping power, great price and no-frills architecture. It’s a hybrid design; a cost-effective combination of powerful four-piston caliper with basic lever, but pair it with a big rotor and it will work time-after-time on the steepest terrain without the slightest complaint.
If you know your SRAM brake history, you’ll appreciate that the Guide RE is basically like a Code caliper that has been paired with a basic Guide lever. It may be missing some unnecessary frills and feels a bit rough and ready compared to SRAM’s bling brakes but it doesn’t matter out on the trail.
Hayes Dominion A4
Typically user-friendly 4-pot from Hayes
Price: £199.99 / $259.99 | 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.
The Dominions feature a caliper/rotor alignment feature called Crosshair; essentially a pair of small grub screws that push on the main bracket bolts that allows you to independently fine-tune how the caliper aligns with the rotor. This not only means to can finally get your pads to stop dragging on the rotor, but also has genuine affect on brake feel and consistency. Honestly, after years and years of squinting at calipers and swearing at how they mis-align upon final tightening, the Crosshair feature is worthy of an award in itself!
Compared to iconic Hayes brakes of old the lever blade is markedly shorter. It may even be too short for some riders who like their clamps really inboard and long-sweep blades (hey, get some SRAM brakes then). We like the tool-free reach adjust that is nicely tucked out of the way within the knuckle of the lever.
The overall action is light but not flexy. Finally, we reckon these Dominions could be the answer that hordes of disgruntled Shimano wandering bite-point victims are looking for. These are the brakes that XT should be.
Best mountain bike disc brakes need to know:
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 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 weather you’re riding in.
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.