What is a disc brake? Everything you need to know

Gone is the time when people would buy motorbikes just for their commute. Motorcycles these days are built for speed and precision. People look for more in less, and this includes high-end acceleration in motorbikes, coupled with smooth braking. This smooth braking experience is possible due to “disk brakes” which are a part of most automobiles. We’ve compiled an extensive guide, which will tell you everything you need to know about disk brakes. 

What does a disc brake do? 

Disk brakes are fairly common in vehicles these days. A disk brake is fit around the front and rear axle of your motorcycles or bikes. These brakes make use of hydraulic pressure to enable your bike to slow down and stop. 

Disk brakes are fitted with a caliper, which contains a piston inside it. When you push down on the brake pedals in your bike, this pressure pushes the piston inside a master cylinder chamber. This chamber is filled with hydraulic fluid. The pressure forces the brake pads to clamp shut around your motorcycle wheels, thus causing friction and slowing them down. 

What are the components of a disk brake? 

So now that we’ve got the basic mechanism down, let’s take a look at each component of a disk brake in detail –

  • Rotor

A rotor is a circular disk that is bolted inside a wheel and spins along with it. Rotors often deal with a lot of friction and heat. They can be drilled or slotted to help them cool better. Rotors are made up of steel or cast iron, but certain high-end automobiles may use carbon-ceramic for their rotors. 

  • Brake pads

Pads are the components responsible for actually clamping down and producing the friction that stops your motorbike. They push into the rotor when you apply brakes. Brake pads feature a shoe and a lining. The shoe is the metal part of the brake pads, whereas the lining can be made of different materials. The lining comes in direct contact with the rotors when the pads clamp down. It is thus subject to extensive wear and tear. Brake lining materials can be classified as either organic, ceramic, or semi-metallic. The choice of lining determines how long your brakes last, and how fast they stop your bike. 

  • Piston 

The piston is the cylinder connected to the rotor. When you push down your brakes, it is the piston that bears that hydraulic pressure and applies it to the brake pads. Some brake systems have a single piston which clamps down pads on both sides of the wheel. Others may have two pistons (one for each brake pad). Some complex braking systems also make use of three to six pistons per wheel to brake the automobile faster. 

  • Caliper

The caliper is a chamber that encloses the rotor and holds the piston and pads securely in place. The caliper also contains ducts which hold the brake fluid. Calipers can be either fixed calipers or floating calipers.

  1. Floating calipers are characterized by pistons on only one side. When you push down on the brakes, the piston pushes the pads on one side so they press down on the rotor, while simultaneously also sliding the caliper to push the pads on the other side. 
  2. Fixed calipers, on the other hand, have two pistons, one on each side of the pads. They stay firmly rooted and help to distribute the pressure more evenly from both sides when applying a brake. 
  • Sensors

Some motorcycles are equipped with pad sensors. These sensors alert the drivers when their pads are worn out. Some high-end bikes also use sensors for automated ABS (Anti-braking system). 

Which is better disc brake or drum brake?

Disk brakes or drum brakes account for almost every braking system in every motorcycle. Drum brakes are basically a small set of metal drums that rotate along with the wheel, whereas disk brakes just have a rotor that rotates with the wheel. 

Disk brakes are better because they help in dissipating the heat generated in your bike wheels due to the braking friction. They also help your bike to adjust better. They are more effective in the long run, don’t fail easily, and are more suitable for riding on steep terrain. 

Disk brakes are more efficient, but they are also expensive. They don’t require very frequent maintenance, but their periodic maintenance is still costly. Some bikes use disk brakes for the front wheels and drum brakes for the back wheels. This is a reasonable compromise since your front wheels bear the brunt of friction and need to be more resilient. 


Disk brakes come with numerous advantages. If you get to pick your brakes, then going for disk brakes is an excellent choice. You’ll get braking performance, higher control over your bike, and most importantly, an assurance of safety while riding. 

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