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  1. #1
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    29er disc brakes - Cable vs Hydraulic?

    I miss the humble brake cable - there you go, I said it!

    Have never really got on with Hydraulic discs but assumed I was stuck with them. I've noticed however that a fair proportion of the 29er's displayed in this forum have cable discs.

    Can I really turn my back on hydraulic hassle? I am sure that this debate has been had many times in various forums but brakes and attitudes change with time and I'd be really interested in views for and against as well as any specific recommendations

    cheers

  2. #2
    agu
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    As far as cable/mechanical disc brakes go, the Avid BB7 can't be beat.

    Set up is key, as is running full, compression less housing. Head on over to the Brake Time forum - bunch of good threads there!

  3. #3
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    SLX are stronger by far than Avid BB7s. Try those.

  4. #4
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    What is the hassle with hydraulic brakes? I have two bikes with hydraulic and one with cables and I don't find the hydros to be more hassle. Either can work great or work poorly but I don't see one be more of a "hassle" then the other.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by konacurtis View Post
    I miss the humble brake cable - there you go, I said it!

    Have never really got on with Hydraulic discs but assumed I was stuck with them. I've noticed however that a fair proportion of the 29er's displayed in this forum have cable discs.

    Can I really turn my back on hydraulic hassle? I am sure that this debate has been had many times in various forums but brakes and attitudes change with time and I'd be really interested in views for and against as well as any specific recommendations

    cheers
    There are hundreds of threads over the years on this subject. Certainly not a wheel size issue as mechanical brakes and hydraulics are found on all three wheel sizes.

    Many 29"ers are shown in the 29"er threads with the Avid BB7's as the price/performance ratio is hard to top. I've used them now since 2002, so color me convinced that they work. It's not even a price issue for me at this point. It's simply a product that has proven itself to me and I have no desire to fix what isn't broken.

    And of course, there are plenty of hydraulic brakes that are shown on builds in this thread that work great as well. So it really comes down to what you yourself can maintain (or your bike mechanic can maintain for you) and feel comfortable using out on the trail.

    Most of the first road bikes and tandems that have been coming out the past few years with disc brakes are fitted with the BB7's. Mainly because they work and it is taking time for the hydraulic brake companies to come up with a product to equal that. I mention that because I am probably going to go with the Avid BB7 Road SL on my new "road bike" which I am currently shopping around to buy. After a winter of road riding on my road bike with traditional rims and brakes, I am tired of cleaning up the sand, salt, muck and dirt associated with the joys of traditional rim braking. The requirements for an optimum rim braking system in terms of maintenance makes the minimal requirements for maintenance on a disc brake system seem like a joke to me. But that's another issue...

    Bottom line - get a good set of brakes (no matter what type) that are highly rated, perform well and meet your needs as a rider and as your own mechanic.

    BB

  6. #6
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    If you do research and get a set of proven, reliable hydro brakes - you'll be fine. I've been using hydro discs for a long time and have never had an issue. All you really have to do besides change pads is bleed the brakes once a season.

    There's nothing wrong the a nice set of Avid BB7s but proper hydros are much better with very little added maintenance.
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  7. #7
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    I'm a noob but I love my hydro brakes.
    The fact I can one finger into a skid if I want too is huge for me. Now I never had cable disk but I could never get enough "pull pressure" on a cable system brake with just one finger to skid the tire (not as easily for sure).
    I still have to learn the in's/out's of hydro disk but I ain't scared..loving new technology never going back...
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  8. #8
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    Fact is, there are crappy version of both and good version of both, so just do your research and pick whichever you like. The BIG plus of mechanical discs is that if you happen to live or visit someplace not so up on bike tech or stores, finding a mech brake cable if you need it is going to be pretty easy, finding replacement hydro parts, pretty much a nill. Other than that, there are too many good and inexpensive hydros out there today that just plain work and work well to discount them and say they're a PITA. For me, for the $$ I could get a set of XT M785s a lot cheaper than a GOOD setup with BB7s - to me you have to use expensive, non compresionless cables and good levers, which all add up to cost more than SLX/XT hydros right now.
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  9. #9
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    bottom line. IT just sounds cooler to tell non-cycling people that you have hydraulic disc brakes on your bicycle.

    BTW, this is posted in the wrong spot, should really be in the 29er components section or brake time section. as others have said, there real is nothing different about brake hardware for any of the wheel sizes.
    Last edited by cpfitness; 03-20-2013 at 09:05 AM.

  10. #10
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    All of my bikes are setup with BB7 brakes. I have no complaints - I like the way if there is something I don't like, I can change things around to improve them, make them work the way I want - cables, housing, different lever, pad adjustment/spacing. Plus I am cheap and nothing can beat the bang for the buck of BB7's.
    Having said that, once I am over a short term funds crunch, I want to try a pair of the new SLX brakes everyone is raving about.

  11. #11
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    The bb-7 is a great brake. I've found them to be sufficient in all situations where hand fatigue isn't a issue. However, they are not a set and forget component, it takes a lot of adjusting to keep them working well. My hydros on the other hand don't get too much attention between pad changes.

  12. #12
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    I've got one bike with BB7's and one with 775 XT's. BB7's are set up with XTR levers and Jagwire compressionless housing. It has been a rock-solid set up for the past 4 years with minimal adjustments needed and no failures. XT's have also been great and no issues with reliability. They are also 3x better in performance than BB7's (IMO).

    Cost wise, the XT's were a little more, but well-worth it, in my experience. You get better modulation, power and set up is actually easier. Now, if I were going on a world tour, BB7's would get the call, only because it was be easier to service out on the field.

  13. #13
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    I have both... BB7's on the commuter 29er and the singlespeed 29er, and Hayes hydraulics on the main MTB. I've been running hydraulic discs on my mountain bikes since about 2003, and I've never had to bleed one. I don't understand how people find ways to mess them up or get air in the system. I've had to bleed brakes on dirt bikes (motorcycles), but never on a mountain bike. They are less maintenance than the BB7's in my experience. Change the pads when they get bad, and you're done.

    BB7's work really well, and are super easy to set up. Every few months I have to adjust for cable stretch/housing compression, which takes like 45 seconds of my day. That's what makes them more of a hassle than the hydraulic brakes.
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  14. #14
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    29er disc brakes - Cable vs Hydraulic?

    I have BB7's and three sets of Avid hydros (Elixir CR, Elixir 5 and Juicy 7). All of them work very well. I've bled hydros when I had to fish them through a carbon frame during the build.
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  15. #15
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    Rode BB7's on my hardtail with 180mm rotors and Jagwires/SD7 levers. Was a fantastic setup and I've never felt more in control with a brake. Hard to beat for value as well since they're always on sale. Hand fatigue on the longer, techier rides was definitely an issue though. My new Superfly came with Elixir7's though and (180mm front and 160mm rear rotors). Not quite as much bite, but the lever modulation is effortless. Definitely a nice product, after getting used to the modulation I'm confident they'll be fine, and so far haven't had to bleed them (only had the bike since Jan). After riding BB7's though, definitely wouldn't want anything weaker than the Elixir7's. I'm a SRAM fanboy, but I hear Shimano or Hope brakes are the way to go for hydro's.
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  16. #16
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    I've only tried cable brakes, but I'm happy with their performance and don't really like bleeding brakes, so I won't go hydro any time soon. Maybe someday I'll try it.

    I think BB7s are just OK. They seem to fall out of adjustment very easily, pretty much requiring me to recenter the pads whenever I reinstall a wheel, for instance. Theoretically, this is a tool free job, but mine are so stiff I just use the torx wrench instead. I prefer my cheap Shimanos over the BB7 (I think they're the M495 model). About as powerful, I find them easier to adjust, (though this requires a 3mm Allen wrench) and they hold their adjustment better. On the downside, they seem quite heavy if you're the type that still thinks weight matters.

  17. #17
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    I have BB7 brakes on my 26" and Avid Elixer 5 brakes on my 69er. Both are good, I've had very little trouble with either one. I'm building a new 29er and will most likely go with hydro brakes since for me the pros outweigh the cons:

    Hydraulic Brake Pros/Cons:
    • Pro. Smooth lever action, easy to modulate.
    • Pro. No cable drag or need to replace the cables as they age.
    • Pro. Easy to change pads.
    • Pro. Less pad drag than on my BB7's.
    • Pro. More consistent brake feel.
    • Pro. System auto adjusts as pads wear, provides consistent lever travel throughout pad life.
    • Pro. More braking force, although any disc brake should be able to lock the wheels (is ABS next?).
    • Con. DOT fluid is highly corrosive, although some brands use mineral oil.
    • Con. Technically need to flush the fluid every two years or so.
    • Con. Fluid can leak.
    • Con. Can be double or triple the price of mechanicals.


    Mechanical Brake Pro/Cons:
    • Pro. Generally less expensive.
    • Pro. No fluid to worry about changing.
    • Pro. Never need bleeding. Although I've never needed to bleed my hydraulic brakes either.
    • Pro. Simple, easier for most people to service.
    • Pro. The inside and outside pads can be adjusted independently to decrease drag, which I guess would be more tolerant to rotors that aren't spinning true.
    • Con. Cable can age and not slide as easily, may need to be replaced after some period of time.
    • Con. Brakes don't modulate quite as nicely.
    • Con. Requires a little more effort on the levers, never had an issue with fatigue myself though.
    • Con. Need to adjust gap between pad and rotor every so often as they wear by turning the red knob a click or two.
    • Con. Not a fan of the red pad adjustment knobs, mine are looking pretty old and dried out. Also, they can be difficult to turn.


    I'd say either brake option is very reliable but I like the hydraulic brakes just a little more.

  18. #18
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    BB7's will not have as good modulation as a high grade hydro disc brake if used with regular levers. However, if Avid Ultimate levers are used with BB7's along with quality drawn cable inner wire and high grade cable housings & proper setup they can perform far better than most riders can ever imagine a mechanical brake capable of. Avid Ultimate brake levers are works of CNC art that have sealed ball bearing pivots for the lever blades, they really do enhance brake modulation.

    Setup plays a big role in proper BB7 performance also:

    First, run the speed dial adjustment on the levers so that the cable attachment link is a far as possible away from the lever blade's pivot. This will give you maximum modulation and minimum peak braking force given the limit of your hand strength. So you might have to get bigger rotors if you need more peak braking force. Hard to imagine needing more braking force than my setup with 203mm front & 180mm rear rotors. Locking the wheels would be a very real possibility for a ham fisted rider.

    Second, run EBC gold brake pads, they modulate in a very linear fashion.

    Third, run premium cables and change them at least once a year.

    Lastly, run the live brake pad as close to the disc as possible w/o rubbing. Then position the fixed pad as far away from the disc as possible. The idea here is to have the live pad bend the disc slightly, so that at first, it bends over and contacts the inner fixed pad on the outer edge of the disc. As more lever force is applied, more of the disc is bent into contact with the fixed pad. When full braking force is reached the disc will be slightly s-bent into 100% contact with both of the pads. Using this style setup varies how much pad to disc contact area is achieved with lever pressure and thereby provides greater modulation. Yes, this sounds a bit wacky, but this tip came straight from an Avid tech about ten years ago and it really works.
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  19. #19
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    AND, as I said, they can perform as good as decent hydros, but are WAY more expensive to get like that. The setup you're talking about you're well over $350 US, including the levers, calipers, rotors and cables and that's not including the need to change out the cables on a yearly basis to keep it that way for that cash I'll stick to my XTs thank you very much.

    Quote Originally Posted by 29erchico View Post
    BB7's will not have as good modulation as a high grade hydro disc brake if used with regular levers. However, if Avid Ultimate levers are used with BB7's along with quality drawn cable inner wire and high grade cable housings & proper setup they can perform far better than most riders can ever imagine a mechanical brake capable of. Avid Ultimate brake levers are works of CNC art that have sealed ball bearing pivots for the lever blades, they really do enhance brake modulation.

    Setup plays a big role in proper BB7 performance also:

    First, run the speed dial adjustment on the levers so that the cable attachment link is a far as possible away from the lever blade's pivot. This will give you maximum modulation and minimum peak braking force given the limit of your hand strength. So you might have to get bigger rotors if you need more peak braking force. Hard to imagine needing more braking force than my setup with 203mm front & 180mm rear rotors. Locking the wheels would be a very real possibility for a ham fisted rider.

    Second, run EBC gold brake pads, they modulate in a very linear fashion.

    Third, run premium cables and change them at least once a year.

    Lastly, run the live brake pad as close to the disc as possible w/o rubbing. Then position the fixed pad as far away from the disc as possible. The idea here is to have the live pad bend the disc slightly, so that at first, it bends over and contacts the inner fixed pad on the outer edge of the disc. As more lever force is applied, more of the disc is bent into contact with the fixed pad. When full braking force is reached the disc will be slightly s-bent into 100% contact with both of the pads. Using this style setup varies how much pad to disc contact area is achieved with lever pressure and thereby provides greater modulation. Yes, this sounds a bit wacky, but this tip came straight from an Avid tech about ten years ago and it really works.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by LyNx View Post
    AND, as I said, they can perform as good as decent hydros, but are WAY more expensive to get like that. The setup you're talking about you're well over $350 US, including the levers, calipers, rotors and cables and that's not including the need to change out the cables on a yearly basis to keep it that way for that cash I'll stick to my XTs thank you very much.
    I was about to curse you out and insult you for saying that bb7s cost $350 with upgraded levers and pads until I decided to google those levers first!!!!! Holy shite!!!!

    I have bb7's on a surly disc trucker. I'm 6'3" 250 and did a tour from nyc to joplin missouri last year fully loaded with about another 50 or so lbs on the bike. the bb7s were excellent for me through the blue ridge mtns and some of the crazy decents we did. Stopping 300+ lbs when your going 50mph is no easy task and the bb7's were up for it.

    This kind of reminds me of when 4 wheel disc brakes were coming on cars; rear drum brakes work fine but lets face it, discs are cooler! If I'm building on a budget and I had to have cheap disc brakes, I wouldn't shy away from bb7s. If faced with other brands mechanical discs or using v brakes, I would probably go v brakes (assuming you are able to get a rim brake compatible mtb wheelset these days). But the reality is a set of bb7s is still about $100-120 and then you need to drop another $20-$30 on levers so you are talking $120-$150 for a set. You can get xt 775 hydros for $160 for the pair and then buy inexpensive rotors for another $30 so yeah, I'f I'm on a budget, there is some savings to be had with the bb7's but it's not incredibly dramatic and should you be concerned about resale value, the shimano hydros will win out everytime.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by LyNx View Post
    AND, as I said, they can perform as good as decent hydros, but are WAY more expensive to get like that. The setup you're talking about you're well over $350 US, including the levers, calipers, rotors and cables and that's not including the need to change out the cables on a yearly basis to keep it that way.
    I sure don't change my brake cables on a yearly basis!!! That's simply an old LBS perpetrated myth to generate some maintenance and sales. Cables should be replaced as often as a frame - when broken. I run mine for years before swapping.

    Coupled with that - some riders put in 400+ annual hours on a particular bike. Some put in only 100 hours or less. Some ride for thousands of miles per year. Saying they all need to replace cables on a yearly basis seems absurd. Once they experience their initial stretch in the seating in process - they don't stretch after that.

    Now my cassette - sure, it needs replacing just about every season or every season and a half thanks to mud, grit, wear and tear - especially on my favorite, or rather, most used cogs. Considering a new XX1 cassette costs more than the "expensive" version of a BB7 disc brake set up (by the way, I've snagged all my Ultimate Levers on eBay over the years for less than $100 a pair), I laugh at discussion of cost for a braking system.

    It's not about the cost, it's about the performance. The BB7's with the Avid Ultimate Levers, good housing and cables (I prefer the Jagwire Ripcord kits) and for me, the Alligator serrated rotors (cheap at PricePoint) makes for an excellent performing brake in all situations that has yet to fail me. Who cares what the price was? It's cheaper than my pedals. It's cheaper than a new XX1 cassette. It's cheaper than my cranks. It's cheaper than my hubs. It's about the same as 2 pair of nice XC race tires (which I go through every season).

    Not that the OP asked about cost in the first place...

    Initial cost is all relative. I bought my Avid mechanical disc brakes in March of 2002. The same calipers are on my Jet 9 race bike in 2013. 12th season of performance out of the same brake. And they are not broken yet. I would imagine I will get quite a few more years out of them. Hard to beat that kind of price/performance ratio out of an initial investment. I certainly would wish 12+ seasons of use out of a pair of hydraulic disc brakes as well for anyone buying a pair.
    Last edited by BruceBrown; 03-21-2013 at 07:17 AM.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by agu View Post
    As far as cable/mechanical disc brakes go, the Avid BB7 can't be beat.

    Set up is key, as is running full, compression less housing. Head on over to the Brake Time forum - bunch of good threads there!
    What this^ guy says is key. Full length compression-less housing is key to getting the most out of cable actuated brakes. BB7s are the only cable disc caliper worth owning.

    I also suggest going up a size in rotors. But I do this with hydraulic also.
    Last edited by dwnhlldav; 03-21-2013 at 07:03 AM.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by eb1888 View Post
    SLX are stronger by far than Avid BB7s. Try those.
    While this is true, if someone is looking for reasons why they should go with hydraulic or cable, this is not a very helpful statement.

    FWIW, I can have any brake out there. Have ridden almost all of the options. Have access to all the tools needed to care for hydraulic brakes. I ride BB7s.

    For me it comes down to reliability. On more that one occasion I've accidentally gone off trail and snapped a brake line at the lever while plowing through brush. Also had a line burst at Keystone, CO. I've never had an issue with a cable brake that I couldn't come up with a MacGuyver fix trailside.

    On the rare occasion that I build a bike with hydraulic brakes, I now go with SLX.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by konacurtis View Post
    I miss the humble brake cable - there you go, I said it!

    Have never really got on with Hydraulic discs but assumed I was stuck with them. I've noticed however that a fair proportion of the 29er's displayed in this forum have cable discs.

    Can I really turn my back on hydraulic hassle? I am sure that this debate has been had many times in various forums but brakes and attitudes change with time and I'd be really interested in views for and against as well as any specific recommendations

    cheers
    I'll trade you even up...

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by konacurtis View Post
    I miss the humble brake cable - there you go, I said it!

    Have never really got on with Hydraulic discs but assumed I was stuck with them. I've noticed however that a fair proportion of the 29er's displayed in this forum have cable discs.

    Can I really turn my back on hydraulic hassle? I am sure that this debate has been had many times in various forums but brakes and attitudes change with time and I'd be really interested in views for and against as well as any specific recommendations

    cheers
    IMO, any decent hydraulic is way less hassle than a BB7. I ran BB7s for years and got sick of constantly messing with the red knobs to adjust pads and keep them from rubbing. My hydros (Shimano XT and XTR, and Hope Mono Minis from 2004) have all been pretty close to sent-and-forget. Plus, IMO, hydros feel way better.

    If you're having trouble getting decent power out of your hydro brakes, and they are bled, try using semi-metallic pads, or Kevlar pads.

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