Electric Bicycle Hydraulic Disc Brakes 101

Electric Bicycle Hydraulic Disc Brakes 101

 

What are Electric Bicycle Hydraulic Disc Brakes?

 

Electric bicycle hydraulic disc brakes are a braking system that utilizes hydraulic transmission to achieve braking. Compared to traditional V-brakes or mechanical disc brakes, hydraulic disc brakes offer several advantages, including strong braking power, excellent braking performance, and resistance to weather conditions. As a result, hydraulic disc brakes have become widely used on mid- to high-end electric bicycles.

 

Structure

An electric bicycle hydraulic disc brake is primarily composed of the following components:

  • Brake lever: Used to control the application of braking force.
  • Master cylinder: Converts the force applied by the hand into hydraulic pressure.
  • Brake line: Transmits hydraulic pressure to the caliper.
  • Caliper: Converts hydraulic pressure into mechanical force, pushing the brake pads to clamp the brake disc.
  • Brake pads: Generate braking force by rubbing against the brake disc.
  • Brake disc: Fixed to the wheel, generates braking force by rubbing against the brake pads.

 

Working Principles

When the rider squeezes the brake lever, the lever pushes the piston in the master cylinder, generating pressure in the brake fluid inside the master cylinder. The brake fluid flows through the brake line to the caliper, pushing the piston in the caliper. The piston in the caliper transfers the pressure to the brake pads, causing the brake pads to clamp the brake disc, thus generating braking force.

The specific working principle is as follows:

  1. The rider squeezes the brake lever.
  2. The brake lever pushes the piston in the master cylinder.
  3. The piston in the master cylinder generates pressure in the brake fluid.
  4. The brake fluid flows through the brake line to the caliper.
  5. The piston in the caliper transfers the pressure to the brake pads.
  6. The brake pads clamp the brake disc, generating braking force.

 

Differences between E-Bike Hydraulic Disc Brakes and Mechanical Disc Brakes

Electric bike hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical disc brakes are both common braking systems, but they differ in terms of structure, working principle, advantages, and disadvantages.

 

Structural Differences

  • Hydraulic disc brake: A hydraulic disc brake is primarily composed of a brake lever, master cylinder, brake line, caliper, brake pads, and brake disc.
  • Mechanical disc brake: A mechanical disc brake is primarily composed of a brake lever, brake cable, caliper, brake pads, and brake disc.

 

Working Principle Differences

  • Hydraulic disc brake: A hydraulic disc brake uses hydraulic transmission to achieve braking. When the rider squeezes the brake lever, the lever pushes the piston in the master cylinder, generating pressure in the brake fluid. The brake fluid flows through the brake line to the caliper, pushing the piston in the caliper. The piston in the caliper transfers the pressure to the brake pads, causing the brake pads to clamp the brake disc, thus generating braking force.
  • Mechanical disc brake: A mechanical disc brake uses mechanical transmission to achieve braking. When the rider squeezes the brake lever, the lever pulls the brake cable, causing the caliper to clamp the brake pads, thus generating braking force.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages

AspectHydraulic Disc Brakemechanical disc Brake
Braking forceStrongWeak
Braking performanceGoodPoor
Susceptibility to weatherLowHigh
MaintenanceComplexSimple
CostHighLow
WeightHeavyLight

 

Advantages of Hydraulic Disc Brakes:

  • Strong braking force, excellent braking performance, and resistance to weather conditions.

Disadvantages of Hydraulic Disc Brakes:

  • Complex maintenance, high cost, and heavyweight.

Advantages of mechanical disc Brakes:

  • Simple maintenance, low cost, and lightweight.

Disadvantages of mechanical disc Brakes:

  • Weak braking force, poor braking performance, and susceptibility to weather conditions.

electric bike hydraulic disc brakes

How to Choose Between Hydraulic Disc Brakes and Mechanical Disc Brakes

Electric bicycle hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical disc brakes each have their own advantages and disadvantages, so the choice should be made based on individual needs.

  • If you have high braking performance requirements and often ride in adverse weather conditions, hydraulic disc brakes are recommended.
  • If you are more sensitive to price and maintenance costs, mechanical disc brakes are recommended.

“High braking performance requirements” generally refers to the need for stronger braking force, more stable braking performance, and the ability to maintain good braking performance in various conditions. The specific requirements are reflected in the following aspects:

Strong braking force:

  • In emergency braking, it can stop the vehicle in a shorter distance to avoid accidents.
  • Especially on downhill sections or when riding at high speeds, more braking force is needed to control vehicle speed.
  • For vehicles with heavier loads, more braking force is also needed to ensure safety.

 

Good braking performance:

  • The braking process is smooth and without obvious bumps or noises.
  • The braking force can be precisely controlled according to the rider’s intention to avoid locking up or insufficient braking force.
  • Good braking performance can be maintained under various road and weather conditions, such as wet roads, gravel roads, and muddy roads.

 

High braking reliability:

  • The braking system can work stably for a long time without sudden failure.
  • It has good wear resistance and corrosion resistance, and can withstand harsh use environments.
  • The various components of the braking system can work together in a coordinated manner to ensure the best braking effect.

Here are some typical scenarios with high braking performance requirements:

  • Mountain biking: Mountain biking conditions are complex and changeable, and riders need to brake and accelerate frequently, which places high demands on the performance of the braking system.
  • High-speed electric bikes: High-speed electric bikes have higher speeds and require stronger braking force to ensure safety.
  • Loaded vehicles: Loaded vehicles have heavier weights and require more force when braking.
  • Riding in rain or snow: On wet roads, the tire’s grip on the ground is reduced, and stronger braking force is required to ensure safety.

 

To meet these needs, the following measures are often taken to improve braking performance:

  • Use hydraulic disc brakes: Hydraulic disc brakes have stronger braking force, smoother braking effects, and are less affected by weather.
  • Increase the friction coefficient of the brake pads: Using high-performance brake pads can increase the friction during braking, thereby obtaining greater braking force.
  • Upgrade the braking system: Methods such as installing multi-piston calipers and increasing the size of the brake discs can be used to further improve braking performance.

 

How to Choose the Number of Pistons in an Electric Bicycle Hydraulic Disc Brake

The number of pistons in an electric bicycle hydraulic disc brake typically ranges from one to six, with the most common being two-piston and four-piston brakes.

  • Single-piston brakes: Offer weaker braking force and are generally only used on low-end electric bicycles or front wheels.
  • Two-piston brakes: Provide moderate braking force, offer good value for money, and are the most commonly used hydraulic disc brake type.
  • Four-piston brakes: Deliver powerful braking force and excellent braking performance, but are also more expensive and are generally used on high-end electric bicycles or mountain e-bikes.
  • Six-piston brakes: Offer the strongest braking force, but are very expensive and heavy, and are generally only used on professional mountain e-bikes or competition bikes.

 

The specific number of pistons to choose depends on the type, intended use, and budget of the electric bicycle. Here are some recommendations:

  • Daily commuting: Two-piston brakes are a good choice, offering affordability and sufficient braking force for everyday use.
  • Long-distance or mountain biking: Four-piston brakes are recommended, providing strong braking force, excellent braking performance, and greater safety.
  • Extreme Performance: Six-piston brakes can be chosen, but be mindful of the cost and weight.

 

It is important to note that the number of pistons is not the only factor that determines the performance of a hydraulic disc brake. Other factors to consider include the material of the brake pads, the rigidity of the caliper, and the heat dissipation of the brake system.

 

Common Brands and Models of 2-Piston and 4-Piston Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Based on my research, the most common 2-piston and 4-piston hydraulic disc brake brands and models in the US electric bicycle market are as follows:

2-Piston Hydraulic Disc Brakes

  • Tektro: Tektro is a long-established American bicycle brake system manufacturer known for its reliable performance and affordable prices in 2-piston hydraulic disc brakes. Popular models include the Tektro HD-M275 and Tektro MD-M280.

 

  • Shimano: Shimano is a renowned Japanese bicycle component manufacturer, and its 2-piston hydraulic disc brakes are known for their excellent braking performance and good workmanship. Popular models include the Shimano MT200 and Shimano Deore M4120.

 

  • Promax: Promax is a Taiwanese bicycle brake system manufacturer, and its 2-piston hydraulic disc brakes are popular for their high cost-performance ratio. Popular models include the Promax DSK300 and Promax Render R120.

 

4-Piston Hydraulic Disc Brakes

  • Magura: Magura is a German high-end bicycle brake system manufacturer, and its 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes are known for their powerful braking force and excellent controllability. Popular models include the Magura MT5 and Magura MT7.

 

  • SRAM: SRAM is a well-known American bicycle component manufacturer, and its 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes are popular for their reliable performance and good versatility. Popular models include the SRAM Guide T and SRAM Code RSC.

 

  • Hayes: Hayes is a long-established American bicycle brake system manufacturer, and its 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes are known for their powerful braking force and good durability. Popular models include the Hayes Dominion A4 and Hayes Dominion A7.

 

These are just a few of the many excellent hydraulic disc brakes available. When choosing a hydraulic disc brake, consider your individual needs and budget.

 

What Material is Used in the Fluid for Hydraulic Disc Brakes?

The fluid used in hydraulic disc brakes is typically DOT (Department of Transportation) certified brake fluid, also known as hydraulic brake fluid. There are four DOT certification standards: DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5, and DOT5.1.

  • DOT 3: Has the lowest boiling point, around 150°C, and is suitable for light vehicles, such as passenger cars.
  • DOT 4: Has a higher boiling point, around 170°C, and is suitable for most vehicles, including motorcycles and electric bicycles.
  • DOT 5: Has the highest boiling point, around 230°C, and is suitable for high-performance vehicles, such as racing cars and heavy motorcycles.
  • DOT 5.1: Compatible with DOT 5, but offers better corrosion resistance and low-temperature performance.

Electric bicycle hydraulic disc brakes typically use DOT 4 or DOT 5.1 brake fluid. DOT 4 brake fluid is less expensive, but has a lower boiling point and may boil during prolonged high-intensity use, leading to decreased braking force. DOT 5.1 brake fluid has a higher boiling point, better corrosion resistance, and low-temperature performance, but is also more expensive.

Here are some common hydraulic disc brake brake fluid brands:

  • Shimano
  • Magura
  • SRAM
  • Tektro
  • Hayes

DOT-certified brake fluid is primarily made of the following materials:

  • Polyglycol ethers (POE): POE is the main component of brake fluid, offering good lubrication, wear resistance, and low-temperature performance.
  • Borates: Borates can raise the boiling point and corrosion resistance of brake fluid.
  • Additives: Additives can improve various properties of brake fluid, such as antioxidant, anti-foaming, and anti-rust properties.

 

Specifically, the composition of DOT 4 brake fluid is typically as follows:

  • POE: 60-80%
  • Borates: 20-30%
  • Additives: 0-10%

 

The composition of DOT 5.1 brake fluid is similar to that of DOT 4 brake fluid, but it typically contains more borates and additives to improve its boiling point, corrosion resistance, and low-temperature performance.

 

Here are some common brake fluid additives:

  • Antioxidants: Prevent brake fluid from oxidizing and deteriorating.
  • Antifoaming agents: Prevent air bubbles from forming in brake fluid, which can affect braking performance.
  • Anti-rust agents: Prevent metal parts from rusting and corroding.
  • Dyes: Indicate the condition of the brake fluid, such as a color change indicating the need for replacement.

 

The composition of brake fluid can affect its performance and lifespan. When choosing brake fluid, consider the type of vehicle, usage environment, and budget. It is recommended to use DOT-certified brake fluid and replace it regularly to maintain optimal braking performance.

 

The Discs

 

Do you need a bigger disc for the Electric Bike hydraulic brake?

Due to their heavier weight and higher potential speeds, ebikes demand more robust braking systems than traditional bicycles. Larger disc brakes play a crucial role in meeting this demand by providing superior braking power. Here’s a breakdown of the key factors contributing to the effectiveness of larger disc brakes:

  1. Increased Friction Area: The braking force generated by a disc brake is directly proportional to the friction area between the brake pads and the disc. Larger disc brakes offer an expanded friction area, enabling them to produce greater frictional force, which in turn translates to more effective deceleration and stopping power for the electric bike.
  2. Enhanced Heat Dissipation: During braking, the disc and brake pads generate a significant amount of heat. Larger disc brakes, with their increased surface area, facilitate more efficient heat dissipation, preventing the brake system from overheating. Overheated brakes can lead to reduced braking performance and, in extreme cases, even brake failure.
  3. Improved Rigidity: Larger disc brakes are typically thicker and more rigid, making them less prone to deformation under braking forces. This enhanced rigidity ensures consistent and stable braking power, especially during emergency braking scenarios, minimizing brake shudder or noise.
  4. Greater Torque Generation: The braking torque produced by a disc brake is proportional to the disc’s radius. Larger disc brakes, with their increased radius, generate higher braking torque, effectively overcoming the inertia of the heavier electric bike and delivering a more powerful braking force.

 

In summary, larger disc brakes offer several advantages for electric bicycles, including:

  • Enhanced Braking Power: Improved friction area and torque generation lead to stronger braking force.
  • Superior Heat Dissipation: Larger surface area promotes efficient heat dissipation, preventing brake overheating.
  • Increased Rigidity: Thicker and more rigid construction ensures stable and consistent braking performance.

 

Examples of Braking Power Improvement:

  • An electric bike equipped with 160mm disc brakes typically generates around 1000 Newtons of braking force on the front wheel.
  • Upgrading to 180mm disc brakes can increase front wheel braking force to 1200 Newtons.
  • This enhanced braking power translates to a shorter stopping distance in emergency braking situations.

 

While larger disc brakes offer significant benefits, they also come with some drawbacks:

  • Increased Weight: Larger discs add weight to the overall bike.
  • Higher Cost: Larger discs are generally more expensive than smaller ones.

 

Therefore, the choice of disc brake size should involve careful consideration of the electric bike’s intended use, performance requirements, and budget.

 

Why Do Discs of Brakes Have Holes?

The holes drilled into disc brakes serve multiple purposes, enhancing the overall performance and functionality of the braking system:

  1. Heat Dissipation: The holes facilitate airflow around the disc, aiding in heat transfer and preventing the brake system from overheating.
  2. Water Drainage: In wet or muddy conditions, the holes allow water to escape from between the brake pads and disc, maintaining braking effectiveness even in adverse weather.
  3. Weight Reduction: The holes contribute to reducing the overall weight of the disc without compromising its structural integrity. This can improve the bike’s handling and fuel efficiency.
  4. Noise Reduction: The holes can help dampen noise generated during braking, contributing to a quieter riding experience.

 

In summary, the holes in disc brakes offer several advantages:

  • Enhanced Heat Dissipation: Improved heat management prevents brake overheating.
  • Effective Water Drainage: Maintains braking performance in wet conditions.
  • Reduced Weight: Contributes to lighter weight and improved efficiency.
  • Noise Reduction: Quieter braking operation.

 

Maintenance of E-Bike Hydraulic Disc Brakes

The maintenance of electric bicycle hydraulic disc brakes primarily includes the following aspects:

Check brake fluid

  • Regularly check the brake fluid level to ensure it is within the specified range. If the level is too low, add brake fluid.
  • Check the color of the brake fluid. If the brake fluid color darkens or shows sediment, replace the brake fluid.

 

Clean the braking system

  • Regularly clean the braking system to remove dirt, sand, and other debris.
  • Use a dedicated brake system cleaner for cleaning, and avoid using corrosive solvents.

 

Check brake pads

  • Regularly check the wear of the brake pads. If the brake pads are worn too thin, replace them.
  • When replacing brake pads, replace them in pairs.

 

Check brake system components

  • Check the brake lines, calipers, and other components for damage or leaks.
  • If any abnormalities are found, repair or replace them promptly.

 

Here are some specific maintenance recommendations:

  • Daily use: It is recommended to check the brake fluid level and color every three months, clean the braking system every six months, and check the brake pads every year.
  • Use in harsh environments: It is recommended to check the brake fluid level and color every two months, clean the brake system every three months, and check the brake pads every six months.
  • Long-distance riding: It is recommended to check the braking system before each long-distance ride to ensure that all components are working properly.

 

Here are some common hydraulic disc brake maintenance mistakes:

  • Not checking brake fluid regularly: Brake fluid can deteriorate over time, and if it is not replaced promptly, it can lead to decreased braking performance or even brake failure.
  • Using the wrong cleaner: Corrosive solvents can damage brake system components. Use a dedicated brake system cleaner for cleaning.
  • Ignoring brake pad wear: Worn brake pads can lead to extended braking distances and even accidents.

 

What is Electric Bike Brake Cut-Off?

Electric bike brake cut-off is a feature that automatically cuts off power to the motor when the brakes are applied. This feature’s primary purpose is to enhance the safety of electric bikes, as it offers several benefits:

  1. Shorter Braking Distance: By cutting off motor power during braking, the electric bike relies on its own inertia and the braking system’s force to slow down and stop, effectively reducing braking distance, especially crucial in emergency braking situations.
  2. Prevents Rear Wheel Slippage: When riding downhill or on slippery surfaces, if the motor continues to provide power, it can cause the rear wheel to slip, leading to hazardous situations. The brake cut-off effectively prevents this from happening.
  3. Enhanced Maneuverability: During turns or on narrow roads, if the motor remains powered, it can make the electric bike difficult to control. The brake cut-off allows the rider to maintain better control of the vehicle while braking.

The brake cut-off function in electric bikes is typically achieved through the combined action of the controller and brake switches. When the rider presses the brake switch, the brake signal is sent to the controller, which promptly cuts off power to the motor.

 

Key Takeaways

Key Components and Working Principles

The primary components of an electric bicycle hydraulic disc brake system include:

  • Brake lever: Controls the application of braking force by activating the master cylinder.
  • Master cylinder: Converts the force applied to the brake lever into hydraulic pressure.
  • Brake line: Transmits the hydraulic pressure generated by the master cylinder to the caliper.
  • Caliper: Converts hydraulic pressure into mechanical force, pushing the brake pads against the brake disc to generate braking force.
  • Brake pads: Friction materials that rub against the brake disc to create braking force.
  • Brake disc: Rotates with the wheel and provides the surface for the brake pads to grip against.

The working principle of hydraulic disc brakes involves the transfer of force through hydraulic pressure. When the rider squeezes the brake lever, the force is transmitted to the master cylinder, which generates hydraulic pressure. This pressure travels through the brake line to the caliper, where it pushes the piston to clamp the brake pads against the brake disc, effectively slowing or stopping the wheel rotation.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages

Hydraulic disc brakes offer several advantages over traditional braking systems:

  • Stronger braking force: They provide more powerful braking, especially in critical situations.
  • Superior braking performance: They offer consistent and controlled braking in various conditions, including wet or muddy surfaces.
  • Reduced wear and tear: They are less prone to wear and tear compared to mechanical brakes, extending their lifespan.

 

However, hydraulic disc brakes also have some drawbacks:

  • Higher maintenance requirements: They require regular inspection, fluid replacement, and component cleaning.
  • Increased cost: They are generally more expensive than traditional braking systems.
  • Added weight: The hydraulic components and brake lines contribute to the overall weight of the bike.

 

Choosing the Right Hydraulic Disc Brake System

The choice of hydraulic disc brake system depends on individual needs and preferences. Factors to consider include:

  • Braking performance requirements: If you prioritize powerful and reliable braking, especially in demanding conditions, opt for a high-performance system.
  • Weather conditions: If you frequently ride in wet or muddy environments, consider a system designed for all-weather performance.
  • Maintenance capabilities: If you are willing to invest time and effort in regular maintenance, a more complex system may be suitable.
  • Budget constraints: Determine your budget and prioritize features that align with your financial limitations.

 

Number of Pistons and Popular Brands

The number of pistons in a hydraulic disc brake caliper influences its braking force. Generally, more pistons provide stronger braking, but also increase cost and weight. Common piston configurations include:

  • Single-piston: Suitable for low-end bikes or front wheels.
  • Two-piston: Most common and offers a balance of performance and cost.
  • Four-piston: Provides powerful braking for high-performance bikes or demanding riding styles.
  • Six-piston: Offers the strongest braking force but is expensive and heavy for specialized applications.

Several reputable brands offer hydraulic disc brake systems for electric bicycles, including:

  • Tektro: Known for affordable and reliable brakes.
  • Shimano: Renowned for high-performance and well-crafted brakes.
  • Promax: Offers cost-effective brakes with decent performance.
  • Magura: Provides premium brakes with exceptional braking power and control.
  • SRAM: Offers versatile brakes suitable for a wide range of riding styles.
  • Hayes: Known for durable and powerful brakes.

 

Brake Fluid and Maintenance

Hydraulic disc brakes utilize DOT-certified brake fluid, typically DOT 4 or DOT 5.1 for electric bicycles. Regular maintenance is crucial for optimal performance and safety:

  • Check brake fluid level and color: Ensure the fluid level is within the specified range and replace the fluid if it appears dark or has sediment.
  • Clean the braking system: Regularly remove dirt, debris, and contaminants from the brake components using a dedicated cleaner.
  • Inspect brake pads: Check the wear of the brake pads and replace them when they become too thin.
  • Examine brake system components: Inspect brake lines, calipers, and other components for damage or leaks and address any issues promptly.

 

Common Maintenance Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes to maintain the integrity and performance of your hydraulic disc brakes:

  • Neglecting brake fluid checks: Regularly check and replace brake fluid to prevent performance degradation or brake failure.
  • Using inappropriate cleaners: Avoid using harsh solvents

 

Disclaimer

The information contained within this guide on electric bicycle hydraulic disc brakes is intended for informational purposes only. While we have endeavored to provide accurate and up-to-date information, it is not a substitute for professional advice.

For complex repairs or maintenance procedures on your electric bicycle hydraulic disc brakes, it is strongly recommended to consult a qualified bicycle mechanic. They can assess your specific brakes, diagnose any issues, and perform repairs safely and effectively.

Always prioritize your safety and the safety of others when riding your electric bicycle. Ensure your brakes are functioning properly before each ride,

 

henry
Marketing and Sales Manager at Jieli Electric | Website

Sales Manager at Jieli Electric Bikes.
Near 10 years experience in electric bike industry, researching/marketing/promoting e-bike is my daily life.