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Best mountain bike disc brakes | Top-rated hydraulic brakes and buying advice

The best MTB disc brakes as reviewed by our team of expert testers

Collage showing fou of the brakes from the best mountain bike disc brake group test

Looking for new brakes for your mountain bike? Our list of the best mountain bike disc brakes has put popular hydraulic disc systems head-to-head.

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Having good brakes on your bike makes you go faster. Sound like an oxymoron? Maybe, but it’s true. The fact is, if you know you can quickly and efficiently bring your speed under control, you’re more likely to let it creep up into the red zone. Consequently, you become a faster and more controlled rider.

For more bike control, you want not only power, but also effective modulation of that power, where subtle variations in lever force give a much more controllable braking force, rather than an on/off feel.

That way, you’ll reduce unintentional skidding and the resultant reduction in braking power and bike control.

Some brakes come with four pistons in the caliper and others with two pistons. Four pistons offer more braking power but can increase weight.

A level of adjustability at the lever is helpful for effective control and to reduce hand fatigue. Riders with smaller hands will want a shorter lever reach, an adjustment most sets have as standard, but the ability to change the bite point of the brake can also help get it in the sweet spot where your fingers have the most leverage.

Practically speaking, you want stoppers with low maintenance requirements, which hydraulic units generally bring (save for the occasional brake bleed), and easy swapping out of brake pads when the time comes.

When we take the best mountain bike disc brakes out for testing, we keep all this in mind: checking for power, feel, fade, modulation and reliability. There are plenty of fitting and dismantling sessions too, to figure out how easy the brakes are to maintain and service.

You can find out more about what to look for when buying disc brakes at the end of this article, but otherwise keep reading to see our pick of the best mountain bike disc brakes, as reviewed and rated by the expert team here at BikeRadar.

The best mountain bike disc brakes, as rated by our expert testers

Formula Cura 4

4.5 out of 5 star rating
There’s power in spades, but the smooth, progressive way it’s applied is even more impressive.
Andy Mccandish / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 246g
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £150 / AU$295 as tested

Without much experience of Formula brakes in recent years, we tried the Cura 4 with no expectations. Fitting and bleeding were slightly fiddly, with tight pad clearances making a rub-free result hard to achieve. The fixed hose angle at the caliper meant hose routing was a bit untidy, but once resolved (or accepted) we really liked the sleek lever and caliper. The weight is good too.

There’s power in spades, but the smooth, progressive way it’s applied is even more impressive, making it easy to achieve that magical ‘just below’ pressure before braking traction.

There’s no bite-point adjustment, but once reach was set (with an Allen key), we didn’t think about it anyway.

Shimano BL-MT501/MT502

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Sub-Deore level brakes, yet plenty of stopping power from Shimano.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 297g (front), 315g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £100 / $145 / €132 as tested

The Shimano BL-MT501/MT502 brakes may cost half the price of some more premium hydraulic mountain bike brakes, but this doesn’t stop them from performing remarkably well.

A hinged clamp makes attaching the brakes to your handlebars easy and that’s a great feature at this price point.

The left/right-specific levers also get Shimano’s ServoWave linkage, which means the early part of the lever’s stroke pushes the pads in further than the later stroke. This helps give plenty of control and also enables Shimano to create more space between the pads and rotors – ideal for mucky conditions.

The pads are held in place with a split pin, which is easier to produce but potentially makes for fiddlier pad changes.

The tubes come out of the brakes at a fixed angle and the tubing for the rear brake is 1,700mm, which might not be long enough for the most progressive downhill or enduro bikes.

Despite a few minor quirks, it’s hard to fault these four-pot brakes from Shimano. They bring plenty of stopping power and have a crisp, positive lever feel.

Shimano Deore M6000

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Shimano bleeds more functionality into its budget stoppers.
Andy Mccandish / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Two
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 278g (front)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £75 / $103 as tested

Shimano’s Deore brakes have long been our go-to budget discs. They just work well, at a fraction of the cost of others, so why look elsewhere?

This latest version, the M6000, benefits from features trickled down from higher up the Shimano ladder, such as hinged bar clamps and reach adjustment via Allen key bolts behind the lever, so it’s far from the basic setup you might expect.

Power and modulation are more than adequate too, delivering a good blend of positive lever action and smooth power feed with increased lever pressure. Add the particularly solid-feeling, wide-bladed lever and, for the money, you simply can’t go wrong.

SRAM Code RSC

4.5 out of 5 star rating
SRAM’s top-level Code RSC is one of the most powerful brakes around, with a great lever feel.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 326g (front), 352g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD), bite point (TF)
  • Price: £230 / $245 / €270 as tested

The SRAM Code is one of the most popular brakes for downhill and enduro racing, as well as for electric bikes, thanks to its big stopping power. This RSC version is the same as the Code R but provides extra adjustment.

The lever is highly versatile. It can be used on either side of your handlebar and comes with a detachable hinged bar clamp. It also has tool-free adjustment for the lever position and bite point. Inside, a large reservoir helps increase heat resistance.

The lever also provides quick engagement of the pads and eases off the further into the stroke you go for increased modulation.

The caliper is a four-piston design with pads secured via a screw. In testing, we found these helped to deliver as much power as any other option on the market.

Bleeding is easy, even though there might be a few extra steps than with other brakes, and the screw-in barb and screw-on olive make cutting and refitting hoses a straightforward affair.

Overall, these brakes have an excellent feel, top-quality construction and easy maintenance.

Clarks Clout 1

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Don’t expect aggressive performance, but for the price they’re outstanding.
Andy Mccandish / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Two
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 304g
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £25 inc. rotor as tested

Hats off to Clarks for producing an effective hydraulic disc brake for £24.99, or even less if you buy two (£44.99). That price includes a 160mm or 180mm rotor.

It even comes with an olive and barb for trimming the hose (the front hose was already too short for our longer-travel trail bikes, but that’s not the sort of use this is really designed for). Because the bar clamp isn’t hinged, you need to slide the grip off, but the lever fits easily and has a solid feel for the price.

While lacking in bite and power relative to more expensive models, the Clout works fairly well. If you’re upgrading a basic bike from cheap cable-operated discs, it’ll be far ahead of what you have. Don’t expect aggressive performance, but for the price it’s outstanding.

Formula Cura

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Formula has built one of our favourite trail brakes.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Two
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 239g (front), 251g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TF/TD)
  • Price: £114 / €124 as tested

The Formula Cura is a classy-looking two-piston brake that’s well suited to light and fast trail mountain bikes and downcountry bikes.

The lever has a flip-flop design, so it can be used as a lever for either a front or rear brake. It has a split clamp to attach it to the bar with a nice finish, like the whole of the brake.

Long 2,000mm hoses should provide enough length for the largest of bikes and these attach to the calipers at fixed points.

When it comes to performance, the well-shaped levers have a light, soft feel with little effort needed to squeeze them, and while braking force isn’t up to that of the most powerful four-piston brakes, there’s still plenty of clamping force from the large 24mm pistons.

Lever setup and lack of lever adjustment are sticking points, but ultimately these are good-looking and great-performing brakes.

Hayes Dominion T4

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Hayes’ Dominion T4 is the lighter-weight sibling to the cheaper, and more established, Dominion A4.
Our Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 280g (rear no rotor)
  • Adjustments: Reach, bite point
  • Price: £340 / $324.99 as tested

The Dominion T4 sheds 40g of weight compared to the Dominion A4, and features a flip-flop design, so it works on either side of the bar. It’s easy to mount, with options for SRAM’s Matchmaker and I-Spec clamps.

The T4’s lever is made from carbon fibre and its smooth finish can be a tad slippery. Reach adjustment is generous, and we measured 1cm range of bite-point adjustment with the factory bleed.

Power is delivered early in the T4’s short stroke, and there’s a little softness at the bite that might be a little spongy for some people’s tastes. The power on tap impressed with its minimal finger fatigue.

Hayes Dominion A4

4.0 out of 5 star rating
The Hayes Dominion A4 has four big 17mm pistons and semi-metallic pads.
Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 310g
  • Adjustments: Reach (TF)
  • Price: £200 as tested

Hayes dominated the brake scene in the early 2000s before dropping off the radar for a while. It came back with the Hayes Dominion A4, a brake that offers easy bleeding, full adjustability and a consistent lever feel.

Each brake is tuned for prompt and consistent pad engagement. The combination of four large 17mm pistons with semi-metallic pads means braking is progressive rather than sudden.

Elsewhere, Hayes has included two bleed ports. This is a neat feature allowing you to flush bubbles out from either side of the brake block.

You do have to drop the wheel out to change the brake blocks, which is frustrating.

While this is a brake packed full of features, and promises easy setup, it does come with a high price.

Hope XCR Pro X2

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Hope’s latest race-focused cross-country brakes pair a modified X2 two-piston caliper with an all-new XCR Pro lever, featuring a carbon fibre blade and radial body.
Russell Burton / Immediate media
  • Pistons: Two
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1 or DOT 4
  • Weight: 213g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Caliper via an adjustable banjo
  • Price: £250 / $320 / AU$450 / €315 as tested

The Hope XCR Pro X2 cross-country brakes are lightweight with plenty of power, and exhibit Hope’s characteristically good build quality and its backup service.

The lever’s hinged clamp is compatible with Hope’s Tech 3 mounts, so Shimano and SRAM shifters can be attached. The carbon fibre lever blade also has reach adjustment accessed with an Allen key, but doesn’t have bite adjustment like some other high-end XC brakes.

The brake has two pistons housed in a CNC-machined caliper. They have a classic Hope feel with less bite than Shimano and less power build-up than SRAM.

While we did notice some squealing in wet conditions, this didn’t hamper the stopping performance.

Hope Tech 4 V4

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Hope’s new Tech 4 V4 is billed as its most powerful brake to date.
Our Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 256g (rear no rotor)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TF), bite point (TF)
  • Price: £210 / €261.49 / $265 / AU$378 as tested

The Tech 4 is a marked improvement over the previous-generation Tech 3, continuing to deliver Hope’s customary feel with noticeably more power.

We found it necessary to bleed the brakes upon fitting because the two brakes had a different feel. Bleeding is a simple process with a dedicated reservoir top cap, however there was difficulty setting similar bite points for both levers.

The new lever design is claimed to provide 30 per cent more system power, and pulls smother than previously. Quite a lot of pull action was required to access the brakes’ full output, which we found quite tiring. If you’re a fan of either Hope or Magura brakes’ feel, then you’ll get on well with the Tech 4s.

Magura MT5

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Magura’s cheapish MT5 brake offers powerful performance and good feel.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 250g (front), 265g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £95 / $139 / €110 as tested

Built for gravity-orientated and electric bikes, these four-piston Magura MT5 brakes provide heaps of power and easy modulation.

In the caliper, the four pistons press onto one pad, and once bedded in, this system provides plenty of grunt, particularly towards the end of the brake stroke, which is perfect for riding on steep terrain.

Magura offers a range of levers with these brakes and in testing we had the two-finger levers, which exhibited a plasticky feel and flexed slightly.

The brakes had a spongier feel than others, but this could be down to the extra length and flex at the lever. This might not seem ideal, but it does allow you to feather speed when you’re going fast.

When it comes to maintenance, bleeding the brakes is easy and the long hoses should fit almost all bikes. Changing the pads requires removing the wheel and there is a knack to it.

Overall, the MT5s pack a punch when it comes to power and won’t make a huge dent in your wallet, but costs clearly have been saved with the lever.

Magura MT Trail SL

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Magura has built a very light, very powerful pair of brakes.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four front, two rear
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 239g (front), 220g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TD)
  • Price: £497 / $599 / €580 (for pair) as tested

The Magura MT Trail SL differs from other trail and enduro brakes by having a four-piston front caliper and a two-piston rear caliper.

The front caliper provides the high braking power and modulation you need for top-level performance, while having fewer pistons on the rear caliper helps save weight. The two pistons on the rear caliper are oversized, so there’s still a good chunk of stopping power.

The lever has a flip-flop design and reach adjustment, and Magura offers different lever blade types, which can alter the interface between finger and brake. The single-finger design we tested gave a reasonably sharp initial bite and in the mid-stroke it offered plenty of modulation.

Magura has made the lever body from a material it calls ‘carbontecture’, which appears to be a carbon-infused composite. This helps the brakes achieve their low weight but at the bar, in general, the construction quality of these brakes doesn’t seem to match the price. However, this doesn’t stop these brakes from ultimately offering loads of manageable power.

Shimano SLX M7120

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Shimano’s mid-priced SLX brakes offer almost as much performance as their pricier siblings.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 307g (front), 320g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TF)
  • Price: £160 / $180 as tested

Sitting between the budget Shimano Deore and higher-end Shimano XT groupsets, Shimano SLX is sometimes overlooked. However, SLX has plenty of great features and performs admirably, as these mid-price SLX M7120 brakes prove.

The lever attaches to the bar with a hinged clamp, and although the lever takes up more room than others, the fact it’s compatible with Shimano I-Spec mounting options means you can maintain a clean cockpit. The lever itself is 70mm long with no flex, making the brakes feel assured and firm.

The four-piston calipers provide excellent stopping power, even on heavier electric bikes. Pair this with the lever feel and these brakes are super-positive, engaging power almost instantly, and giving that trademark Shimano brake feel.

Arguably, this makes applying power with finesse harder than other brakes, but it does give you plenty of confidence that things are working as they should. However, getting the right bleed is critical to the performance of these brakes.

The SLX M7120 might not have the same functions as Shimano’s pricier brakes, notably Free Stroke adjustment, but we didn’t miss this a great deal in testing.

Shimano XT M8120

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Shimano’s XT M8120 stoppers pack a punch with one of the best lever feels in the business.
Our Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: Mineral Oil
  • Weight: 314g (rear no rotor)
  • Adjustments: Reach, bite point
  • Price: £200 / €249.49 / $210 / AU$326.99 as tested

The XT M8120s are Shimano’s high-end trail brakes and feature all of the best tech found on the flagship XTR model, only using slightly heavier materials.

The initial bite is punchy with a lot of power delivered early, making it easily accessible without having to pull the lever a long way through its rotor-contact stroke.

Hoses arrive unattached, making them easy to route into frames, and only on occasion did we need to re-bleed the brake after cutting the hose.

While we did experience some noise from the rear brake when the heavier-vented pads would occasionally vibrate against the disc, the XT remains a benchmark brake.

Shimano XTR M9100

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Shimano’s race-ready XC brake packs two pistons into a lightweight package.
Our Media
  • Pistons: Two
  • Fluid: Mineral oil
  • Weight: 202g (rear no rotor)
  • Adjustments: Reach
  • Price: £235 / €254.95 / $262 as tested

A race-ready XC brake with weight saving as its principle. The XTR M9100 has limited adjustability, with only tooled adjustment for reach via a grub screw on the carbon lever.

The brakes come without hoses attached, making for easy installation, and they didn’t need to be re-bled.

Power levels are reasonable, though it is clear that weight savings for XC racing take precedent over all-out power. Full power comes early in the lever stroke, but modulation isn’t a problem after a short period of time with the brakes.

The XTR M9100 is one of the best XC brakes on the market, but free-stroke adjustment would add that little bit more to these race-bred brakes.

SRAM Code R brakes

4.0 out of 5 star rating
The Code R is the cheapesst of SRAM’s powerful Code brakes.
Our Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 333g (rear no rotor)
  • Adjustments: Reach
  • Price: £155 / $167 / €200.49 as tested

The Code R is the entry level to the more powerful Code line of stoppers and, like all SRAM brakes, attaches using the Matchmaker Clamp enabling easy integration with SRAM shifters and dropper posts.

There’s good initial bite without being grabby, and full power can be achieved with the use of one finger. The power curve feels linear, giving a predictability to where the bite is.

These are exceptional brakes given their cost, and there are few better options out there.

SRAM G2 Ultimate

4.0 out of 5 star rating
SRAM’s G2 Ultimate brakes come with all the bells and whistles.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • Pistons: Four
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 281g (front), 290g (rear)
  • Adjustments: Reach (TF), bite point (TF)
  • Price: £265 / $280 / €295 as tested

The trail-focused G2 replaces the popular Guide brake in SRAM’s line-up and the Ultimate is the top-tier version, with rainbow-coloured hardware, lever pivot bearings and tool-free adjustment.

The 80mm carbon lever has a smooth, contoured shape. The lever provides lots of control, making it easy to correct speed on faster sections or apply a load of stopping power when needed. The action is smooth, but it’s a bit more resistant than other brakes.

The four pistons push on a long pad that’s held in place with a threaded pin. There’s less power than SRAM’s Code brakes, but that isn’t too much of a surprise considering the small caliper body.

Overall, we found the G2 Ultimate offers a lovely lever action, and while it has ample power it doesn’t have quite as much as the best brakes. This might make the premium price tag hard to justify for some, but it might also point to just how good SRAM Code brakes and others truly are.

SRAM Level Ultimate

4.0 out of 5 star rating
The Level Ultimate is SRAM’s XC race brake.
Our Media
  • Pistons: Two
  • Fluid: DOT 5.1
  • Weight: 248g
  • Adjustments: Reach
  • Price: £276 / €285.49 / $285 as tested

The Level Ultimate is a race-ready XC brake with an emphasis on lightweight design. It uses SRAM’s Matchmaker to integrate shifters and dropper levers onto the bars.

The carbon lever is straight and features very little in texture, making it slippery in the wet. A small Allen-headed bolt is required to adjust the lever, and it can be fiddly to adjust. Bite-point adjustment is forgone in the pursuit of weight saving.

Initial bite is snappy and effective with good power levels. Full output is achieved without pulling excessively hard on the levers, preventing excessive arm fatigue.


What to look for when buying mountain bike disc brakes

Rotor size

The Cannondale Jekyll has a whopping 220mm rotor.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media

Bigger disc brake rotors exert more force at the tyre and have a larger area to cool down on sustained descents, which keeps them working optimally, but they’re heavier.

You’ll often find that the more gravity-orientated a bike is, the larger the rotor size. Cross-country mountain bikes might come with 160mm rotors, trail bikes with 180mm and downhill bikes with 200mm rotors, but rotor sizes extend above the 200mm mark too.

Some riders opt to use a mix of rotor sizes, with a larger rotor on the front for greater braking force and a smaller one on the rear to save weight.

Four-piston brakes vs two-piston brakes

The Magura MT Trail brakes use four-piston calipers for the front and two pistons at the back, where you don’t need quite the same amount of stopping power.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

It used to be that only gravity riders would consider four-piston calipers – known as four-pot brakes – and everyone else would stick to two-piston calipers, known as two-pot brakes.

Four pistons deliver more braking force and better heat dissipation, so they’ve steadily crept their way into the mainstream, as trail mountain bikes have become more capable, and the downcountry bike category has boomed.

Of course, two-piston brakes still have acres of power on hand. So don’t write them off if you prefer a simpler setup with fewer pistons to get sticky or malfunction, less weight (although this is marginal) and a lower cost.

Lever adjustment

The SRAM Code RSC has bite-point and lever-reach adjustment.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Most brakes offer reach adjustment, which allows you to set the lever distance from the bar to suit your hand size. Some offer bite point (or free stroke) adjustment too, varying the amount of lever-free travel before the pad connects with the rotor. This can be either tool-free or tool-driven.

As you might expect, the more you pay for a set of brakes the more likely it is that they’ll have these features.

Brake pad material

Organic pads give good bite, but sintered pads wear better.
Immediate Media

Most disc brake pads are organic pads made of resin, glass, rubber and other non-metallic materials.

They give a good ‘bite’ from cold, but can lose power when overheated and wear quickly.

Sintered pads have more metallic fragments in the compound and can sound harsh, but wear far better and don’t suffer from overheating as much.

Pad removal

If pads are removable from the top of the caliper, they can be cleaned or replaced without the hassle of removing the wheel first. You don’t have to do this often, but it’s handy and far easier when you do.

Brake fluid

Hydraulic brakes use mineral oil or DOT fluid to drive their pistons. DOT fluid is bad for skin and paintwork, and needs more careful handling than mineral oil, but deals with water absorption better. Both are effective, but they need to be changed on a regular basis for best performance.

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If you’re looking to get your disc brakes back to their best performance, we also have guides on how to bleed Shimano disc brakes and how to bleed Hope disc brakes.