We tried and tested the very best mountain bike disc brakes, covering budget, trail, e-bike and four-piston options. Don't start stopping until you've read this.
Power is nothing without control and the best mountain bike disc brakes offer both. The power you need to control your speed, and brake with one finger to reduce fatigue and allow better control and handling. We’ve extensively tested the latest hydraulic disc brakes on the market head-to-head, and only the best of the best make it to this guide.
Best all-round disc brake
Weight: brake 291g, rotor 199g | Rotors: 160, 180, 203 and 220mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Impressive power and modulation, reliable, great value for money, reaches full power quickly
Cons: Levers can rattle slightly, fiddly set up
The Deore brake has a two-piston caliper mated to the company’s compact lever assembly. The lever blade is a folded aluminium construction, but it’s stiff and strong. There are no dimples on the blade but we had no issues with a lack of grip. Close to the pivot is an Allen bolt to adjust the reach, and the brake has Shimano’s familiar, annoying, hinged clamp. You have to push a small tool into the side to get it to open, and the one on our test brake actually stopped working.
Two hard stops and this brake came up to full power. The pads are resin and they also make a little bit of noise when they bite initially, but the brake has plenty of bite and power. Crucially there’s none of the inconsistency that can plague XT brakes. The power just builds really progressively, and it didn’t pull to the bar. Also, it really didn’t feel like we were riding a two-piston brake – it was that good.
We’re awarding the Deore best on test because it’s great value, has a quality finish and a ton of stopping power. In fact, we want all of Shimano’s top-end brakes to feel like this and continue to be disappointed that they don’t.
Best mountain bike brakes for adjustability
Weight: brake 265g, rotor 173g | Rotors: 160, 180, 183, 200, 203, 220, 225mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Huge rotor size range available, adjustable and indexed reach, easy setup, lightweight, powerful, user-friendly, great value
Cons: Reach adjustment stiff to operate, too much lever stroke before engagement
Even though this brake is called the Tech 3 V4 (adjustable Tech 3 lever mated to the V4 caliper) it’s actually Hope’s downhill brake. But don’t let the tag put you off, this is easily light enough to go on a trail bike and would also make a great anchor for an e-bike.
Hope offers a bewildering array of rotors for the V4 – from 140mm to 225mm, floating or fixed, and even different thicknesses, and in about 20 million colours. We opted for a floating rotor, which has a stainless-steel braking surface loosely riveted to an aluminium carrier. The aluminium saves weight, provides a heat sink, and is also super straight; this rotor is not going to warp. A floating disc will add around £45 to the price listed above, but if you just want all stainless-steel you pay about £10 less.
This uses the third generation Tech brake lever which has reach and BPC (Bite Point Control) adjusted by two machined dials on the front of the lever blade. They’re indexed and have a big adjustment range, allowing you to set the stroke exactly to your hand size, but they are super stiff to turn and they’re also fairly sharp, so are best adjusted with gloves on.
The V4 caliper is a one-piece, CNC’d from aluminium and it houses four lightweight, low friction phenolic pistons and top-loading pads. Setting up this brake was an absolute doddle, although we’d recommend a bit of threadlock on the caliper bolts.
The pads did squeal for the first few rides, but this didn’t affect performance. There’s plenty of grunt and the lever has such a light action that you can easily modulate the power delivery with one finger. Our only issue is that there’s quite a lot of lever stroke before the brake pads engage. On the plus side, that increases clearance and eliminates noise, but if you run the reach and BPC close in, the lever can bottom out on the handlebar. These are minor criticisms, however – this is a lightweight, powerful, user-friendly disc brake, that’s also great value for money.
Best budget disc brake
Weight: brake 307g, rotor 190g | Rotor size: 160 and 180mm | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Unrivaled budget brake, reasonably powerful, easy to set up and bleed
Cons: C’mon… they’re under thirty quid!
At £29 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 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
Weight: brake 331g, rotor 210g | Rotor size: 140, 160, 180 and 203mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Solid feel, nice action, smooth power, sensitive
Cons: Can develop sticky pistons if ignored, slightly overpriced, ugly clamp bolt and nut
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 Shimano, SRAM offer you the alternative.
Typically user-friendly 4-pot from Hayes
Weight: brake 306g, rotor 188g | Rotor size: 180 and 203mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Great value and quality, dialled reach adjustment, comfortable, fine-tuneability
Cons: No bite point adjustment
In a world of rising prices everywhere you turn, it’s pleasing to see that the Dominon A4 costs the same as it did the last time we tested it, two years ago. The A4 is still sold without rotors and adapters, so adding a D-Series rotor and adapter is going to add about £55 a wheel, but it’s still great value and top quality. The Dominion A4 lever/caliper is heavier than the SRAM G2 Ultimate, but Hayes claws some of that back by using a lighter stainless-steel rotor.
To match different hand sizes, the lever gets a dialled reach adjustment, which is also indexed, so it won’t work loose or migrate. Hidden behind the lever is a contact point adjuster, but it’s set to be as close as possible out of the box, and we never really wanted the brake to pull further, so we left it there.
One of the unique features on the Dominion A4 is the Crosshair caliper centring, which is essentially two tiny grub screws on the caliper tabs that push against the fixing bolts, allowing you to precisely fine-tune the caliper position and eliminate rubbing. This is a clever feature, but we never really needed to use it because the brake has really good pad clearance that makes drag-free set-up a doddle.
The Dominion A4 uses standard 1.95mm thick rotors, but the lever pulls in quite far before the pads actually bite. The knock-on effect of that is it also renders the reach adjustment less than useful – if we brought the lever really close in, it’d bottom out on the grip before the brake fully activated.
The Dominion did bed in really quickly, and with cartridge pivot bearings, it has a light lever action. The power delivery is good too and, when you really need it, there’s plenty in the tank. Some of the adjustment features are a little superfluous, but they are there if you need them. Overall, it’s a top stopper; solid, reliable and still great value.
Best e-bike disc brakes
These brakes aren’t just for electric mountain bikes – if you like a really powerful brake, prefer steeper terrain where stronger braking power is required, or are a heavier rider, you’ll feel the benefit these more powerful brakes offer.
Best e-bike disc brakes
Weight: brake 286g, rotor 195g | Rotors: 140, 160, 180, 203mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: New generation SRAM has performance, serviceability and reliability
Cons: 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.
Weight: brake 306g, rotor 204g | Rotor size: 160, 180, 203, 223mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Large rotor for increased power and better heat dissipation, easy to operate, well made, cheap replacement pads
Cons: Feels a little wooden and less refined that competitors
TRP’s G-Spec E-MTB disc brake is designed for e-bike use, although to be fair there’s nothing stopping you putting it on a regular analogue bike. The G-Spec E-MTB features include a larger 220mm rotor option that offers increased power and better heat dissipation. TRP has also upped the thickness of its rotors from 1.8 to 2.3mm. Again, there’s more metal, so it’s a bigger heat sink, and it also shouldn’t warp so easily. The 2.3mm rotors are available in both a floating design with a stainless-steel braking surface attached to a lightweight aluminium carrier for about £55 (205g), or a full stainless-steel R1 for about £40 (266g).
The G-Spec lever has a wide blade with a dimpled surface for grip. There’s no contact adjustment, but on the inside is a dial to adjust the reach. This is easy to operate and doesn’t bind like the one on the SRAM G2. It can also be removed once you’ve set it up, should you want a bit more clearance.
The forged caliper features four lightweight hybrid pistons, top-loading sintered metallic pads and a chunky fixing bolt with a big 4mm Allen head – you’re not going to round this off.
When you buy the G-Spec E-MTB it doesn’t come built; you have to trim the hose and connect the lever and caliper together yourself. A spare olive and insert are included in the box, but you will need a £20 bleed kit if you want to do things properly, which obviously adds to the cost. When we first set up this brake we noticed a bit of rotor rubbing, but it only took a couple minutes for it to come up to full power.
The G-Spec E-MTB does have more modulation and power than the Slate T4 tested here, but it still feels quite wooden compared to SRAM and Shimano. It also doesn’t feel quite as refined as the SRAM G2 either, but it’s more consistent and easier to bleed. The metal pads last longer than most, even in wet weather, and they’re cheap. While it’s plain looking, the TRP G-Spec E-MTB is a solid, great value disc brake.
How we tested the best mountain bike 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.
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.