For most mountain bikers, the braking experience is as important as it gets. A brake set that you are confident in will make you faster. No, that doesn’t mean bombing down hills at Aaron Gwin speeds thinking that a four-piston will save you. No, the better you feel on your bike the faster and more fluid you will ride, and for that, a brake that you are confident in is key. Picking the right one can be tough, more stopping power isn’t always the best. If you’re a cross-country racer, weight and lever feel are big selling points. If you’re a downhill demon, then stopping power and modulation. We’ve rounded up the best mountain bike brakes from every category: cross-country, enduro/trail downhill/gravity.
Related: The Best Dropper Seatposts
The Best Mountain Bike Brakes for Cross-Country
For those riders that enjoy going fast uphill as much as down, these brakes are for you. Loaded with carbon and titanium goodness, you’ll find lightweight stopping power to match any cross-country set up.
Shimano XTR M9100
These Shimano brakes are for the fast and podium hungry. Shimano made some profound changes when it comes to the cockpit side of this brake set. Both in the brake levers’ construction and positioning, giving them more stopping power and lightening the load. To accomplish this, Shimano uses a new magnesium master cylinder to an all-new I-Spec EV that moves the clamp inward from the previous design, so that the new master cylinder contacts the bar. This extra point of contact boosts rigidity, improving braking power for better control all around. Shimano also updated the lever shape with ergonomics in mind, to comfortably allow dual-finger braking. Shimano claims that the new brake design offers a 10% increase in stiffness above M9000, even under high-temperature conditions. Holding down the fort in the back is the sleek, 2-piston caliper. It features a redesigned high-rigidity brake hose and 1-piece aluminum caliper to keep things minimalist while maintaining stopping as its top priority. This 2-piston caliper is ideal for cross-country racing, as it minimizes weight, thanks to its one-piece aluminum caliper and straight threaded fitting. We could go on and on about the M9100s, so if you’re looking to update your Shimano XC set up or want the best feeling cross country brake set around, the XTR M9100 is worth a long look.
- Excellent lever feel and power balanced for XC racing
- Easily intigrates into Shimano I-Spec features
- Light enough to shave weight off of any bike
- More expensive than most cross-country brakes
- Does not integrate well with SRAM shift levers
Price: $307.00 / per brake
SRAM Level Ultimate
This brake set has many cross-country world championships under its belt, and they keep coming. The SRAM Level Ultimate’s super light construction starts with a 2-piece caliper that provides great heat management and smoother piston actuation than its predecessor. This caliper also reduced weight compared to the previous 1-piece design. The lever body has a carbon-fiber lever blade and pivots on bearings delivering a crisp lever feel during single-digit braking. Also eliminating any flappy lever slop that can occur over time. The lever also features tooled reach adjustment, as well as Direct Link action for a positive lever feel. Titanium hardware is throughout as a further nod to weight savings and high performance.
- Super lightweight with tons of ticked out features
- Integrates seamlessly with RockShox and SRAM components
- Titanium hardware all around is stock!
- Does not mix well with Shimano shifters
Formulas R1R cross-country race brake is one of the lightest brakes on the market, tipping the scales at 267 grams with 22mm pistons in the caliper, titanium hardware, and kevlar hose. Formula designed the pull-style master cylinder to keep the radial master cylinder’s power but allow the lever to be adjusted closer to the bar. The Formulas radial master cylinder is powerful and unique, creating a super-light lever action by reducing friction. The R1R features the same caliper as the R1 for confidence and reliability. The Formula FCS (Feeling Control System) is a piece that adjusts the brake bite point of the lever separate from the reach adjustment and does not adjust the caliper. This easily accessible dial allows for the lever’s adjustment from the minimum to the maximum lever throw to suit the rider’s personal preference and ergonomic needs. A classic look and plush feel that compliments any cross country ride.
- The amazing look will compliment any bike set up
- Integrates well with Shimano and SRAM setups
- Feather-light lever feel for those that like one-finger braking
- Less common than Shimano and SRAM, so pads could be hard to find at big brand stores
- Lever feel is an acquired taste and can be off-putting to some
Magura MT8 SL
Carbon and eye-popping color make the MT8 SL disc brake a popular sight in the cross-country race scene. It’s Magura’s lightest brake ever and based around Magura’s Marta radial master cylinder design. Only here, it’s made of a carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic rather than die-cast aluminum. Magura developed this new technology to create a brake that excels in all four categories of its design focus: weight, heat stability, braking power, and ergonomics. We’ve ridden them, and while they lack the all-out power of the 4-piston MT7, its power and modulation, especially given its weight, is truly impressive. So if you’re a Magura rider and looking to keep the same lever feel but ditch the weight, the MT8 SL is worth it.
- Super lightweight at around 195 grams.
- Eye-catching graphics
- Powerful with great level actuation
- Not the easiest brake to bleed and service.
- Carbon lever body does not take trail hits well
Hope Tech 3 X2
The Hope X2 TECH3 Disc Brake combo provides all the stopping power you need for almost any situation. Perfect for all XC and light trail applications, the Hope X2 TECH3 is a killer blend of power, low weight, and adjustability. One of the most convenient features of the Hope TECH3 lever is how it integrates with the handlebars. The TECH3 lever features a split clamp design, making it easy to install or remove without having to remove anything else from your bars. If you’re a Shimano rider, don’t worry, the TECH3 lever is directly compatible with any Shimano I-Spec type shifter. For riders who prefer SRAM shifters, a simple direct mount adapter is available. The X2 caliper is a slimline caliper that optimizes the latest COSMOSWorks FEA (Finite Element Analysis) software to reduce unnecessary weight, improve aesthetics, and create a high-performance partnership with the TECH3 Lever. The caliper is machined from a solid billet of 2014 T6 aircraft spec aluminum alloy and utilizes an increased piston diameter that generates a more usable braking force on the rotor. A drip-free bleed nipple and broad-angle orientation of the fluid inlet connector have also been added, allowing for neater hose routing and cleaner servicing. The Hope Tech 3 X2 rides and looks, and you can match the color all around with Hope rotors and crankset for that custom touch!
- Tons of dialing in features to craft the right brake for the rider
- Excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail on every piece
- Consistency in performance and longevity – these will last longer than you frame
- Most shops will need to order replacement parts as they are less common in the US
- Brake lever is long and the feel is not for everyone
The Best Mountain Bike Brakes for Enduro and Trail
If you’re an aggressive trail rider or enduro racer, then these brakes are for you. Trail and enduro riding require more than the average cross-country brake can provide in terms stopping power. These bad boys are four-piston equipped, customizable with lever feel, and stroke for that “these are my brakes” feeling—because your brakes should feel perfect to you.
Shimano XT BR-M8120
While lighter riders rolling in smoother XC conditions may benefit from the featherweight XTR 9100 brakes, riders who ride more aggressive or riders who transition between trail and enduro riding will covet the increased power and modulation of the 8120. Shimano opted to refine the brake levers Servo-Wave technology to match the next generation of I-Spec EV Rapidfire Plus shifters. Unlike previous models, the new 8100-series brake lever is built for both the 8120 and 8100 calipers, allowing your cockpit to feel the same when you transition from your all-mountain rig to your cross country race machine. This new clamp features a more inboard clamp position modeled after the 9100 series, creating an extra point of contact between the bar and lever for increased efficiency and control while minimizing its impact on the cockpit. The calipers continue to use Shimano’s reworked pivot location like the XT 8000 series, which offers improved modulation when you brake. The superior modulation is due in part to the Servo Wave technology that adjusts the piston’s travel relative to lever travel. As you squeeze the levers, the gap to the rotor quickly closes, then slows to permit predictable modulation. This modulation allows the pads to sit further inbound relative to the rotors, so they are less likely to drag. Truly one of the best brakes out there with a beefed-up lever feel that you have to ride to believe.
- Fantastic performance in all conditions
- Not overpowering brake feel, no matter what rotor size
- Lots of stroke and lever adjustments that keep the brakes lively
- Can be too much brake for lighter riders
- Four-piston model is heavier than XT 81000 for those looking to race XC
SRAM Guide GR2
The SRAM G2 R disc brake offers superior value without compromising on the ride quality because slowing down at the correct time is equally as important as going fast. The SRAM G2 features a tool-free reach adjustment so you can quickly personalize the feel and power. The G2 comes with organic pads that give a solid feel and bite when hitting the descents. Four-pistons ensure you’ll have excellent modulation and stopping power for every riding street sessions and the trial. The SRAM Guide GR2 is on this list not only because they are great brake, but they are the most affordable piece here, bringing the stopping power to the people.
- Excellent stopping power for a low price
- Simple and to the point set up and features
- Lever adjustment is easily accessed with riding gloves on
- Not as refined as more customizable trail options
- Weight will be a drawback to some, as lighter options are plentiful
TRP G-SPEC DH
TRP is a force (pun intended) in the braking world, and the G-Spec DH is one of its best brakes to date. Crafted from forged aluminum that has been CNC’d, polished, then anodized to give the brakes an eye-catching finish, they look good and stop better. The TRP G-SPEC DH also features the new dimpled and drilled lever blade designed by Aaron Gwin – hence the G-Spec. If looking for a brake set off the major brand’s path, the TRP G-SPEC DH is more than worth a look.
- World-class design with a World Champ Aaron Gwin
- The dimpled lever is familiar and comfortable
- Easy to bleed and service
- Not the most well known in the mountain bike brake world
- Tools needed for lever adjustment
- Pads are a special order item for most shops
Hayes Dominion A4
There are plenty of brakes on the market with outright stopping power, but the key to providing confident braking is making sure plenty of modulation and feel are built-in. The Hayes Dominion offers just that, starting at the tool-free reach-adjustable lever. Hayes uses cartridge bearings at the pivots to reduce drag and provide stiff points of contact, so you get a positive lever feel with zero slop. The Dominion’s master cylinder is designed with an extremely short dead stroke, and with its revised cam profile, when the pads contact the rotor, it comes with a crisp bite point. One of the neatest things about the Dominion A4 is the caliper. Its Two-Stroke dual-port bleed system on either side of the caliper has two bleed ports. It ensures better bleeds and improves the ability to evacuate the air, making sure spongy brakes are a thing of the past. The other feature is its Crosshair Caliper Alignment System, which uses caliper alignment screws that allow quick and easy alignment with no rotor rub or frustration.
- Caliper centering is top-notch and intuitive
- Superb stopping power with no fade on longer downhill sections
- Positive lever feel with a ride more like a cross country brake
- Heavier than many competitors
Hope’s Tech 3 E4
Solid and powerful braking for enduro, downhill, and everything in between, this brake set can do it all without overpowering the ride feel. The Hope Tech 3 E4 Disc Brakes are eye-catching, with distinct colorways and an industrial appearance that resembles a custom machined part. If you’re looking for a powerful bite right from the start, these are not your brakes. The Hope’s do have a firm lever feel with a definite bite point, but the power comes on smoothly at first, allowing more control of your braking force at the pad contact point. This extra modulation lets you fine-tune your speed without skidding, leading to improved braking efficiency. The E4 caliper is CNC-machined from a solid block of aerospace-grade aluminum in Barnoldswick, Great Britain, to ensure rigidity, with four phenolic pistons providing usable power and the signature Hope braking feel. One-piece machined aluminum caliper is rigid & durable. The anodized coating no only enhances the durability but is available in lots of striking colors.
- Insane stopping power in a lightweight design
- Classic styling with many color options to match components
- Infinitely adjustable lever feel and contact
- The machined look is a drawback to some
- Hope is less common in the US, so replacement pads and parts are harder to find in a pinch
The Best Mountain Bike Brakes for Downhill and Gravity
If you set out to hit the trails in a full-face helmet and body armor, then these are for you. Downhill riding attracts a special kind of rider, one that lives for uninhibited speed and the uncertainty of hucking off a drop. For those riding conditions you can’t use just any brake, you need something specific, something that you trust. These downhill and gravity specific brakes will help you get down the slope faster and in control.
The Saint M820 Disc Brakes may be the unsung heroes of Shimano’s DH groupset. For some, the Saint brake’s key difference with the less expensive Zee tool-free lever adjustment. But riders know its everything in the details and composition that makes a brake great. Shimano’s Saint is the top when it comes to braking power. They even come stock with a reinforced brake hose that resists deforming to keep braking consistent throughout your runs. The Shimano Saints offer pro-level performance and consistency every ride.
- World Cup-proven time and time again
- Consistency of performance in wet and dry conditions
- Great modulation
- Expensive – with Zee brakes offering much of the same features
- Does not work well with SRAM shifting components
- The initial bite of the brake lever feel maybe too much for some lighter riders
SRAM CODE RSC
SRAM’s Code RSC brakes give you more pad contact and control, with less lever throw via its new SwingLink cam system. Even under extreme conditions, rough terrain, or excessive use, the RSC continues to perform well, no matter what. With a forged dual-diameter, four-piston caliper, CODE RSC comes through with increased power. Simplified design and a sleek finish, CODE RSC maintain the CODE family values of reliability, strength, and exceedingly convenient serviceability.
- Easily adjustable lever for max personalization on the fly
- Integrates seamlessly with RockShox and SRAM components
- Solid stroke and lever feel without too much bite on the front
- Need to be serviced often to maintain a top-notch feel and performance
Hope Tech 3 V4
If you’re looking for that on/off feel with a powerful bite right from the start, these are not your brakes. If you’re looking for modulation and control – then stay tuned. Hopes Tech 3 V4’s extra modulation lets you fine-tune your speed without skidding, leading to improved braking efficiency. The Tech 3 lever offers 5% more power than Hope’s previous design, featuring tool-free adjustments that are easy to use with gloves on and machined perforations on the lever blade enhance the lever feel. The lever attaches to the bars with a convenient split-clamp system that leaves plenty of real-estate for your shifter and dropper post lever. You can also mount your Shimano or SRAM shifter directly to the lever body with separately-purchased adapters. If you like to dial in your brakes for each course and love the look of cleanly machined alloy then look no further.
- Excellent power that doesn’t fade at the end of the stroke
- Beautiful design with lasting features that can take a beating
- Mounts easily with most major shifting brands
- Hopes brake feel is less “bite” feeling on the front end of the stroke
- The longer lever could be a turn off for some riders
Magura MT7 HC Next Flip Flop
When you’re bombin’ down the mountain, you need to have a lot of trust in your brakes. The Magura MT7 HC Next Flip Flop Brake is a popular choice for downhill riders because of the 1-finger HC lever blade. The MT7 has a tool-free adjustable 1-finger lever and excellent modulation under braking load. The caliper of the MT7 has 4-pistons that deliver a tremendous amount of braking power, and at only 255g for a lever and caliper, these brakes are lighter than some cross country setups.
- Uber lightweight at 255 grams for the lever and caliper
- Excellent one-finger brake lever feel
- Easly adjustable lever throw on the fly with gloves on
- For those two-finger brake users – this lever may not be your bag
- Lever can develop a sloppy feel after many hours of use
TRP DH-R EVO
These brakes don’t mess around. Designed for weekend park riders and aspiring MTB podium-chasers, this G-Spec disc brake has unrivaled stopping power and can take an all-out beating. Combining a carbon and aluminum-made lever with stainless-steel pistons, durable and dependable performance is assured when reining in your speed flying downhill. Lightweight and reliable, this hard-working break is easy to install and features a tool-less and indexed reach adjustment to position the levers to your optimum comfort and is only $145 – a seriously great value for such stopping power.
- Excellent power for the price
- Great lever feel – the dimpled texture is a great touch
- Classic design matches up with many different frame options
- Lacks a lot of customization of a higher-end brake
- Tools needed for lever adjustment
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