What type of brakes is least subject to failure in the winter?

Ok, here you are. You are committed not to hang up your bike this winter. You want to ride your bike for your commute to the office or for an adventure trip this winter on your bike.

As a rider, you will face many environmental factors riding in the winter, so it is indispensable to have the right gear and accessories for a safe riding experience.

Having the brakes in the mint condition should be the priority for a safe ride in the winter.

Man Riding a Bike in winter (Source: Pixabay.com)
Disc brakes are the brakes for your bikes in winters. They provide more assured braking, especially in the wet conditions that you are likely to face failures in the winter. 

The braking surface is farther from the ground in disc brakes, so it’s less likely to build up the snow or mud up in the brakes.

There are also holes in the rotor, allowing water and mud debris to get out from under the pads if accumulated. These features make disc brakes less susceptible to failure in winter.

Bike Rear Wheel in Snow (Source: Pixabay.com)

You can also learn about different types of brakes in my other article, “ What are the Different Types of Brakes on a Bike?“.

Types of Disc Brakes

There are mainly two types of disc brakes, Hydraulic and Mechanical, based on their structure. The main difference lies in how the lever force is transferred to the calipers and the brake rotor. 

Mechanical brakes have cable-actuated brakes, whereas hydraulic disc brakes use a sealed, fluid-filled system to actuate the brake pads. 

The hydraulic mechanism has the highest consistency due to a reduction in friction, and both pads can move in and out as required. 

The sealed fluid filled in the hydraulic disc brakes is crucial in the functioning of the hydraulic disc brakes.

You need to know what kind of fluid is present in hydraulic brakes before using one on your bike, especially while riding in the winter.

There are mainly two types of fluids used in hydraulic disc brakes; DOT fluid and Mineral oil.

These fluids are incompressible and resistant to heat which makes them suitable for use in brake systems.

DOT fluids are special fluids specially designed to be used in brakes, whereas mineral oils are generic oil fluids often sold in pharmaceuticals.

DOT fluids absorb water at around 3 percent over two years of regular use, resulting in a spongey feeling while braking.

Mineral Oil is hydrophobic (does not absorb water), but water accumulates near the brake calipers.

If the water gets accumulated near the brake caliper, it can get heated, resulting in sudden brake failures.

The DOT fluid and Mineral fluid are not interchangeable, i.e., one type of fluid cannot be used on the other system.

Always be aware of the types of brake fluid used in your system before purchasing and replacing brake fluids. 

Selection of Disc Brakes for Winter

If you are riding at a temperature of around -30° F, hydraulic disc brakes will work the best if you have good quality brakes.

Mineral oil Disc brakes are more challenged in the cold (-15°F) mainly because of the seal material used to seal the fluid.

The brakes lose rollback at the caliper as the seals get cold. This makes DOT brakes more reliable, especially at these temperatures.

If you plan to ride your bike below -30° F, there is no other option than mechanical disc brakes. 

The mechanical disc brakes will be more reliable, as they involve no fluids in the brakes. However, keep your hands warm so that you can pull the levers of your brake.

Brakes Failure Pattern and Longevity in Winter

Always lookout for signs of wear in your brakes. These signs can tell you the cause of the failure and help out in finding maintenance requirements of different parts of the brakes.

Let us look at some of the signs of wear in your breaks and maintenance solutions for your brakes.

Rim Brakes:

If you see that the grooves in your brake pads are thin, unevenly worn, and you hear a grinding noise, then there are foreign objects, debris lodged in your system.

In wet conditions, the pads in rim brakes are far more susceptible to wear and tear. One ride in wet condition can bring wear and tear to your brakes.

Always check for embedded foreign objects and debris accumulation in the pads. You should always put a fresh set on your rim brakes for the winter months.

Disc Brakes:

We have mentioned that disc brakes offer the most reliable stopping power and wear out the best in adverse conditions.

They are still prone to the effects of winter, even wearing out in one muddy or wet, sandy ride.

Mud, road grit, and water accelerate wear, cause corrosion in the brakes, causing them to brake poorly. 

You should always check the thickness of the pads. If the pads’ thickness is between 1 mm to 0.5 mm, it is good to change the pads.

If you are using hydraulic fluids, then always change the fluids once during the winter. 

Mechanical disc brakes work well if the cables are well maintained.


Always remember, winter comes with a lot of environmental challenges for riding.

Have proper gear; like previously mentioned, always check if your brakes are in mint conditions or not. A poorly maintained brake is a recipe for disaster. 

If you are riding rim brakes, check your brake pads’ condition before riding. Switch to disc brakes if possible.

If you already have disc brakes, then always bleed your brake oil at the start of the winter.

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