Choosing the Right Brakes for Your Bike: A Comparison of U Brakes vs V Brakes

A while ago, I was pedaling downhill with a friend when we suddenly saw a huge tree in a clearing ahead of us. Luckily, I could hit the brakes early, but my friend barely dodged it. This got us talking about brake systems on our bikes, so we started comparing our brakes. 

A bike generally has three kinds of braking systems: rim brakes, disc brakes, and drum brakes. Both U brakes and V brakes fall under the category of rim brakes, although they look and perform differently. 

Choosing the right braking system for your bike keeps you safe and improves your riding experience.  

Let’s look closer at U brakes vs. V brakes before we decide which one’s better.

U Brakes

U brakes are a type of rim brake similar to center-pull caliper brakes. It’s composed of pivots that are mounted on the bike’s frame or fork. 

U brakes were especially popular in the 90s but have since lost popularity and have been moderately replaced by V brakes and other braking systems.

How Do U Brakes Work? 

U Brakes have a pair of L-shaped arms that fit onto the frame right above the rim. They help pull the pads from the rim, thanks to the tension of the springs. 

There are two arms because the alternating transverse cable controls each one. For example, the right transverse cable controls the left arm of the U brakes and vice versa. 

The studs in U brakes are often located above the rim, directly attached to the bike’s frame, instead of the usual bottom position. 

Advantages of U Brakes

  1. Strong Stopping Power

One of the main advantages of U brakes is that they provide strong stopping power. They’re reliable when you’re in a tight pinch and need to yank on the brakes quickly. 

  1. Lighter Weight

U brakes are also lighter than V brakes which helps make your riding experience smoother and faster. It can also improve the aerodynamic performance of your bike. 

  1. Easier Maintenance

U brakes are more straightforward to maintain than V brakes. Removing dust from the studs and regularly greasing them can help improve the lifespan of your U brakes. 

Check out this article for tips on how to maintain your bike

Disadvantages of U Brakes

  1. Limited Clearance

One major disadvantage to U brakes is their limited clearance, especially with cross-country bikes. They tend to gather a substantial amount of mud and eventually clog up. 

  1. Less Modulation

The problem with U brakes is although they have impressive braking power, there’s little modulation. They tend to lock up quickly when you hit the brakes rather than gradually scrubbing off a bit of speed. 

  1. Limited Compatibility With Certain Frames

U brakes are compatible with only a few frames. The high-mounted studs interfere with the bike’s rim and frame as they get more worn down. With time, the studs could even start rubbing against the tires, affecting your bike’s performance. 

V Brakes

V brakes, also known as linear-pull or direct-pull brakes, are a much more common type of rim brake, especially in off-road and hybrid bikes. It’s similar to cantilever brakes but with a side-pull modification. They’re mounted on the same studs as the cantilever brakes. 

How Do V Brakes Work?

V brakes work similarly to cantilever brakes but with an improved mechanism of action. 

For starters, V brakes have long pivot arms attached to transmission cables parallel to the ground. This is one of the reasons V brakes are called “long-pull brakes” while U brakes are referred to as “short-pull brakes”. 

When you hit the brakes, the cable is pulled through the housing, drawing the arms together. This causes the pads to move toward the rim, bringing you to a steady stop. 

Advantages of V Brakes

  1. Increased Clearance

V brakes have much more clearance than U brakes, which makes them less likely to gather mud and clog. They don’t hinder the mount of rear kickstands, either. 

  1. Better Modulation

V brakes offer much better modulation than U brakes. When pulling on the brakes, you get tons of room to slow down and control your bike before coming to an abrupt stop or locking the tires. 

They offer better braking control and gradually scrub off speed much smoother than U brakes.  

  1. Compatible With Most Frames

V brakes are compatible with most bike frames. Being the more common of the two braking systems, you shouldn’t have much trouble introducing them to your bike.

The studs are located in an ideal position and fit snuggly with the bike’s rim and frame. 

Disadvantages of V Brakes

  1. Less Stopping Power

While V brakes offer more modulation and speed control, it comes at a price. They have less stopping power than U brakes. You’ll need to be careful when pedaling because you won’t be able to stop as abruptly and as strongly as you would with U brakes. 

  1. Heavier Weight

V brakes are also heavier than U brakes. This can affect the overall performance and feel of your bike, especially when it comes to aerodynamics. 

  1. More Complex Maintenance

V brakes require constant maintenance and are more difficult to maintain than U brakes. 

For example, if you don’t regularly clean and lubricate your brakes, the two arms of the brakes might not pull back from the rim symmetrically. This can lead to unwanted rubbing, which leads to wear and tear. Even worse, you might notice the brake pads are not gripping

U Brakes vs. V Brakes

While both U brakes and V brakes fall under the category of rim brakes, there are a few key differences between the two. 

U brakes give you more stopping power at the cost of decreased brake modulation. They’re also lighter and easier to maintain. 

V brakes, on the other hand, have better clearance which means they’re less likely to gather dirt and catch on obstacles while pedaling. They’re also compatible with most frames, and you’ll be able to find spare parts easily.

You’ll usually find V brakes in mountain bikes because of their smooth and controlled braking. They function best when cycling in dry conditions rather than muddy or rainy terrain. 

In contrast, U brakes are more common in freestyle bikes where braking power and being lightweight are essential, especially when doing tricks. Thanks to the added braking power, they can also be useful in wet conditions.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between U Brakes and V Brakes

When choosing between U brakes and V brakes, there are several factors you need to consider. These are:

  1. Weight

V brakes tend to be heavier than U brakes. This can impact the bike’s overall aerodynamic performance, which is an important consideration for BMX riders. If you plan on doing tricks with your bike, you might prefer a lighter build with U brakes. 

  1. Modulation

V brakes have better modulation, which offers more control when gradually slowing down before braking. U brakes tend to break abruptly with little time between pressing the handle and locking the tires. 

  1. Braking Power

U brakes tend to have more braking power than V brakes.

  1. Type of Bike

V brakes are more common in mountain bikes, while U brakes are usually compatible with freestyle and BMX bikes.

  1. Maintenance

V brakes are harder to maintain and require more attention and regular care than U brakes.

  1. Compatibility With Bike Frames

V brakes are more compatible with most bike frames, and you can readily find spare parts and components. 


So which type of brake should you choose? It all comes down to your preference and what you’ll do with your bike. 

V brakes have become increasingly popular and offer better modulation, control, and speed. V brakes are a safer bet unless you’re a BMX biker or you plan on doing tricks with your bike. 

Now that you know all the considerations don’t let choosing a brake put the brakes on your cycling plans. Pick one, get on your bike, and pedal away!