So maybe you are building a bike for touring or bikepakcing and you are wondering if you want to get mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes fitted on your build. Or maybe you are just looking at bike options but want to make sure that they bike you get has the best brakes.

Well in order for us to figure out which is best first we need to identify what each break is and then focus on your intended type of riding to recommend the best brakes for that style.

Okay so what are mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes. Lets have quick lesson to help identify the difference of the two. The simple difference between the two is mechanical disc brakes use a cable just like many rim brakes do. While hydraulic disc brakes use fluid to transfer the force from the lever to the calliper.

What brake you get depends on the type of riding you are planning to take part in. If you are touring for months on end your best bet is mechanical or even rim breaks. But if you are expecting rain and mud rim brakes are not as great for these situations. Mechanical are better for road side maintenance and fixing when out in the middle of nowhere. If you are planning singletrack and trial riding on your bikepacking setup. Performance wise hydraulic breaks are your best friend. But again it depends how long you are expecting to travel for and to where? If you are bikepacking where you can get back to your car or for overnight. Where if your hydraulic breaks were to fail you can get back to repair them to a bike shop easier but if you are completely self reliant on a long adventure with 100s of miles until assistance it might not be such a good idea to run hydraulic brakes.

Why Disc Brakes Compared To Rim Brakes?

Disc brakes are said to provide more stopping power in comparison to standard rim brakes. Which is ideal when bikepacking and touring as a heavier, loaded bike can always benefit from a bit more stopping force due to the extra weight. Especially in the rain and steep descents you will benefit from that little extra stopping power too. With rim brakes they just don’t preform nearly as well when it is wet and you get mud and grim on the rim.

Maybe now you are wondering if you should get mechanical or hydraulic brakes at this point? Some people say they prefer mechanical breaks, as they are more likely to be able to repair them on the road if they have problems. But also why would you consider Hydraulic Disc Brakes, if you should at all?

Why Mechanical Disc Brakes?

Apart from the fact that Mechanical disc brakes are easier to be able to repair and maintenance when you are out on the road bikepacking or touring. they are just better. You can fix mechanical brakes in the wild carrying only some brake cable and a spare set of pads in minutes. With hydraulic brakes they take a bit more time to troubleshoot and repair.

Why Hydraulic Disc Brakes?

Hydraulic brakes are great for for power braking situations like when mountain biking. But you are far less likely to need this power when bikepacking or touring. The power of hydros are amazing but I don’t want to be deep in the woods when they break on me.

Problems With Mechanical Disc Brakes

Mechanical disc brakes just seem to be the obvious choice when it comes to bikepacking and touring. As they have much less user issues and problems with them. The less problems to occur equals a better adventure cycling experience and you can focus more on enjoying the ride then always having to deal with maintaining your rig.

Some mechanical brakes are very sensitive to adjustment. They have a very narrow range between rubbing the disk and too far away for proper braking. You may have to put up with a slight bit of rub to get proper braking performance. They are not self-adjusting, meaning that as the pads wear the brakes need to be adjusted to compensate for the wear.

Problems With Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Riders have reported a few difficulties with Hydralic brakes. The first being that they can be prone to not sealing properly, for example some experienced problems with the Shimano Deore M595 Hydraulic brakes. It is advised to limit or completely stop laying your bike on the ground on its side. As air would get into the system, the longer it lay down on the ground. Even some experience air getting in even when changing a flat. These types of brakes might not work with a bike tarp setup which may require you to have your bike upside down all night at camp. If you are looking at getting these breaks it is a good measure to keep it in a upright position at camp. If that be with a kickstand or stacking it out with some tie down ropes. This can make a bikepacking trip really tough. To try and fix this problem you would have to pump the lever until you got enough pressure in the system to slow down, then bleed the system repeatedly and hope for the best. Even doing full bleeds and even hose swaps, nothing really helps.

This problem above could be annoying not enough to ruin a tour. Also this is not a normal experience with hydraulic brakes it is just a possible problem. Some other issues you may have and probably one of the biggest issue being. You may have to cut the hoses a little longer to route around your bike bags.

Someone who doesn’t know much about the mechanics of both types of brakes will be in some trouble if one gives out. As they are both more technical then a simple rim brake option. Most issues require just a quick adjustment to stop a rubbing. But depending on your type of riding if you are planning a big tour you might be best with rim brakes, as they are lighter and easier to maintenance.

There are many problems that can occur with these brakes from air leaks, bad seals, torn hoses, busted levers. There are far more problematic issues that happen with hydraulic brakes when compared to mechanical.

Best Mechanical Disc Brakes

Below are some options for mechanical brakes that have been tested and recommended by bikepackers.

TRP Spyres

These brakes provide extremely good braking. Both of the pads move on a wishbone arm, this means no flexing of your rotor. As it gets pushed from one side. I was going to recommend BB7s but user have mentioned that they get warped rotors all the time. Not like these brakes. You are likely to run into much less issues with these then what you would with hydraulic brakes. Highly recommended as breaking is crazy good on these.

To adjust these brakes you need a 3mm hex key, which can make them more of a pain to maintain then some other brakes. Also with these TRP brakes you do need to be adjusted somewhat frequently to maintain good braking. This means using that hex key to adjust both pads maybe every couple days to couple of weeks on a bike tour (depending on how dialed in your want your brakes). The independent adjustment really helps getting rid of any annoying drag on the rotor too.

Hayes CX Expert

These brakes are another option that some feel they are better then the TRP brakes above. They almost feel like hydraulic brakes. And compared to Spyres and Shimano they feel/modulate amazingly. They great thing about these brakes is they are cheap too.

Paul Component Engineering Klamper

These breaks have got some great reviews and are backed by gravel cyclists for a mechanical brake that is easier to adjust and maintenance while out and about.

Why Not both?

TRP HY/RD Brakes

These are cable actuated hydraulic brakes. They are essentially a combination of both mechanical and hydraulic brakes in one. The hydraulics are isolated at the brake with conventional cable actuation. Many users have mentioned that they have been using these breaks for some time and have experienced no issue as of yet with them. The only maintenance for some has been regulation, which is said to be easier then most mechanical brakes. They have otherwise been hassle free.

Final Thoughts

Mechanical wins the the head to head for me. As this article is suited for bikepacking and touring. Mechanical disc brakes just make total sense for this type of riding. Especially the riding that involve multiple days in remote areas. There is less that can go wrong with them and they are easier to maintenance when something does go wrong.

About The Author



Codey Orgill, a seasoned bicycle adventurer, has been exploring the world on two wheels for over 10 years. Since embarking on his initial cycling journey, Codey Orgill has traversed numerous countries, experiencing a series of epic adventures.