Year is 2022 and many bikes are now shipping with hydraulic disc brakes. Why in the world would you still want to use a cable actuated brake? Let's talk about it in this blogpost and if you're new to the blog, welcome!

So why on earth would you want to still spend money on cable brakes in 2022 hydraulic brakes are more widely available? They're less expensive than they used to be - why would you still want to use a cable? So these are my four reasons why I still personally prefer cable actuated brakes and why you might want to consider them as well in 2022.

Reason number 1: Bicycle stopping power

So the first reason is stopping power I know this sounds counterintuitive. Yes I will fully admit that hydraulic this brakes wins this category on sheer stopping power alone. But that is not to say cable disc brakes don't stop your bike. In fact most cable disc brakes I have used have the ability to lock up the wheel and really be on that much stopping power. I don't know how much more you are going to need. I think in particular in road cyclin situations and gravel road riding situations cable disc brakes are more than adequate. Anything beyond that, I think is honestly just filling this void of having to feel like you need more brake than you will actually ever use. Also, while I think absolute stopping power is definitely an important property it is actually one of many different properties. It should be the only one that you should focus on.

Reason number 2: They help keep your bicycle low maintenance at a low cost

So the second reason I still love cable actuated brakes is ease of maintenance and hack ability with cable brakes. A cable is a cable is a cable. Whereas with hydraulic brakes depending on the brake manufacturer you have to stock up on different kinds of fluid and there are all these other compatibility issues. Do different callipers play well with different levers? With cable actuated brakes it's pretty straightforward generally speaking any road calliper will talk to any road lever you can even get. Road brake callipers to talk with mountain bike levers with various kinds of pulleys. Or in the case of something like the Paul clamper is just changing out the lever arm. Also if you want to experiment with different kinds of gearing like the advent X the few mechanical systems that give us wide range gearing for drop our bikes. There is no other non-hydraulic equivalent for me on this blog it's a real practical decision. I've changed the drivetrain on my bike about 10 times this year and if I had to get a bleed kit or send the bike out to our workshop every time I needed new hosing because I was trying different handlebars that were wider or narrower or trying a different drivetrain we've cost me a whole bunch of down time and for most folks this would mean a small fortune - I could have had gold-plated Paul clampers for the price.

I think if you prioritise ease of maintenance there is no black box a cable as a cable as a cable. If you don't want to wear gloves when you work on your bike or worry about spilling potentially toxic fluids and you live in the small apartment then cables are still the way they go.

On the more timely note if you wanted to adjust your brake pads and you have a hydraulic disc brakes and you don't want to deal with it the way time is going to be absurd and even if you wanted to do it at home bleed kits are actually hard to come by right now whereas a cable as a cable is a cable readily available and easy to do and personally for me ease of maintenance and hack ability is as important as pure stopping power.

Reason number 3: You can fix them if you encounter an issue out on a bike ride

Another big reason I love cable actuated brakes is that they're pretty easy to adjust while on the road. Let's say you have too much gap you've been wearing down your pads you can usually just twist a couple of adjuster knobs and you're good to go. You can bring up that slack and get that nice tight lever feel that you want whereas with hydraulic disc brakes you know once they go spongy once there's too much of a pad gap there's no real on-the-fly adjustment. You either have to put in the new pad or re-bleed it at home but nothing so simple as a couple of twists on a barrel adjuster. I know for me that was a bit of a surprise I've had a couple bikes with hydraulic disc brakes and the second it got spongy or the pad gap was too much I was personally surprised to learn that there wasn't a simple way to take up that slack. Maybe either is I don't know about let me know in the comments below.

Reason number 4: Cable brakes are more reliable and repairable than hydraulics

Lastly the other reason I really prefer cable this brakes is just this lack of existential doubt in things going wrong in the middle of nowhere again if you're on a remote tour, or let's say you're flying somewhere you don't have to worry about hoses getting kinked. Having a scramble to find the right braking fluid or a bike shop in a remote place that will have those specialised parts is the last thing that you would want. Whereas with a cable actuated brake generally speaking, most bike shops will carry brake cables and housing and you'll be able to fix it wherever you are. So again this lack of existential doubt is just as important to me personally as absolute stopping power again if it all depends on what you value if you're a maximiser and just want the most stopping power per buck then sure hydraulic this brakes. 

But if you value other things like ease of maintenance hack-ability, lack of existential doubt and the ability to mix and match parts on the cheap without having to take it to a shop and spending loads of money, then cable actuated brakes still make sense in 2022 and even in the future. If you're watching this from 2070, I'd probably still think the same thing so that's what I think. Let me know what you think in the comments below do you agree or are you all-in on hydraulic.

December 15, 2022 — Victor Tong

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