Like the argument over steel or aluminium frames, you can spend hours weighing up the merits of various braking systems.
Rim Brakes – Rim brakes in the V-brake design are a common choice. They have two arms which extend over the tire and grip the rim to stop the bike. These types of brakes are relatively inexpensive to buy and easy to repair. You can take care of V-brakes yourself using basic tools and any bike shop around the world should have the parts and knowledge to fix and adjust them.
On the downside, V-brakes are not as powerful or responsive as other types of brakes, especially in the rain. On a wet day or a steep descent, you may find yourself gripping the brakes for longer periods than someone with disc or hydraulic brakes.
Nevertheless, make sure you know how to maintain them – just in case. It’s not hard to bleed the brakes, once someone has shown you how to do it. You’ll also want to take spare parts on longer journeys through less developed countries, and it doesn’t hurt to make sure your bike frame has the necessary V-brake bosses. That way, you can always fit a new set of V-brakes, if disaster strikes.
No matter which type of rim brakes you buy, they will slowly wear away your rim. This gradual wear will make the rim thinner and eventually cause the side of the rim to crack or break away. This rarely happens before you’ve cycled a significant distance but should be factored into your planned maintenance for the bike.
You should start looking for signs of wear to your rims after 10,000km and be prepared to replace them from 15,000km onwards. We have gotten as much as 25,000km out of a set of rims.
Dirt between your brake pads and the rims can accelerate the wear process so clean your rims with a rag occasionally, especially after riding on muddy roads.
Disc Brakes – Traditionalists scorn them but disc brakes are becoming more common in the cycling world. They’re a little more expensive than their rim brake counterparts, but for the price you get unparalleled braking power (especially in rainy conditions). You’ll be able to stop more quickly and with more control than ever before. This may prove to be especially important if you’re planning on tackling rough trails and steep mountain passes.
Disc brakes also don’t wear down your rims like V-brakes do and that means your rims should last much longer.
In terms of repairs and replacements en route, be prepared to do it yourself in case you can’t find an experienced mechanic.
As for which disc brakes are best, the usual advice is to pick mechanical or cable-operated disc brakes over hydraulic versions but you’ll find tourers using all types. Avid’s BB7s are a popular cable-operated model, favoured by Stephen Lord, author of the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook.
“I’d feel very confident taking my Avid BB7s for a long tour. The pads are so small you could carry enough for a year or two in your back pocket, the cable is standard, and it’s not difficult to straighten a disk if it gets whacked and bent, although it is hard to get it perfectly flat again,” he says.
In terms of hydraulic options, Magura’s Louise hydraulic brakes get a good review from experienced adventure cyclist Tom Allen.