Disc Brake Flip Flop

In the early days of fat bike development, complete bikes came spec’d with mechanical disc brakes. It was my understanding that the story behind that was hydraulic disc brakes were unreliable at arctic temperatures. I rarely get the opportunity to ride in true arctic temperatures, so when I built my Corvus, I chose a pair of hydraulic disc brakes and have been running hydros ever since. I’d had good experiences running Hayes Disc Brakes on my mountain bikes before fat bikes. I didn’t have to bleed those brakes after the initial setup. The only thing that they required was a new set of brake pads now and then.

For the last several years, I’ve been riding hydraulic disc brakes from the two S companies and they haven’t had a failure due to cold temperatures. However, I would not call them trouble-free either. After a couple of out of the box failures, I switched from Sram to Shimano, on both of my fat bikes and I’ve realized that neither one of the S’s hydro brakes is cutting the mustard. The ride performance of either of the S’s hydros is not the problem. The issue that I have is with the maintenance required. Both the Sram and Shimano hydros have required multiple bleeds per calendar year. More recently, I fought a slow leaking caliper that deposited traces of brake fluid onto the pads and rotor for a couple of months. The supply chain issues didn’t help the situation. The result of contaminated pads and rotors made my hooptie whip sound like a flock of geese. It’s kind of embarrassing to be the bike mechanic with horrible-sounding brakes. I think that working at a bike shop has influenced the way that I evaluate componentry. Honestly, After working on bikes at the shop all afternoon, I just want to go ride without having to bleed, replace parts or file a warranty claim on my f’ing brakes. It was time for a change.

I decided to go back to running a set of mechanical Avid BB7‘s that I found in one of my parts bins. I’m pretty sure that they were the brakes that had come with my first Fatback, Otis. I installed the new/used BB7’s and was surprised at how well they measured up to the performance of the XT Hydros that they replaced. I’m not saying that they were as smooth or as powerful as hydraulic brakes, but the difference was closer than I had remembered. Most notable was the complete absence of any honking with the BB7’s. That silence was music to my ears. I’m not saying that BB7’s are the best choice in mechanical disc brakes either. This set was just something that I had laying around. I’m going to have to try a set of TRP Spyke brakes as well to see how I like them.

If I were a politician, I would get called a flip-flopper on the issue of disc brakes. A few years ago, I broke with the Alaskan tradition of running mechanical brakes. I’ve been running hydro discs for about five years now, and I’ve flip-flopped back to mechanicals. If there were a hydro brake out there that doesn’t need to be bled every few months, I’d be tempted to give them a try. I’ve got a set of the new Hayes Dominion hydraulic disc brakes on order for my next build. If they can last a calendar year without needing to be bled, I may flip-flop again! For now, I’m going to run what works and what doesn’t honk like a goose… that would be Avid BB7’s till something better comes along.

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8 Responses to Disc Brake Flip Flop

  1. Allroy January 27, 2022 at 10:06 am #

    I have found that the Shimano xt brakes I have on my bike preformed better at cold temperatures than the oem Avid juicy brakes that came with the bike. I have found that mechanical brakes donโ€™t seem to have the stopping power that hydro brakes have. Just my own experience. Let us know how the Hayes brakes do in comparison to your mechanical.

    • Mr Bill January 29, 2022 at 7:14 am #

      Gomez , I too have not liked mechanical disc brakes. My 2018 Beargrease came with Hayes mechanicals. I picked up a Hayes Dominion kit complete with 160 and 180 mm rotors and installed them on the Beargrease . I absolutely love them ! Being a mechanic at a competitor local bike shop myself ( I do frequent Bike Doc myself and have spoken with you in the past ) I actually like working on my own bikes even though I work part time on bikes . I haven’t had to touch those dominions since I installed them a few years ago . Also love the adjustable reach levers . Take care buddy and we’ll see you out on the trail . Mr Bill .

  2. Erv Spanks January 27, 2022 at 2:06 pm #

    Welcome back Mr. Kotter!

  3. Bruce Meulemans January 27, 2022 at 7:03 pm #


    I installed the Hayes Dominion brakes on my fuel ex. Simply because the slx brakes on that bike were the third bike they have been installed on. I had been slowly installing slx on all my mtb bikes, and fat bike with slx brakes. The intial operation of the Hayes brake has been fantastic. I love the feel, and the power. I blead them after a year of use as preventive maintenance. I do clean the rotors and pads about once a month. I do believe they are my new favorite brake. I plan on replacing the brakes on my pugs with the hayes. Like you, I too work in a bike shop and the last thing I want to do is work on my bikes when I get home.

    Bruce Meulemans

  4. JT January 28, 2022 at 1:38 pm #

    My troubles with SLX brakes on both my bikes have been documented elsewhere, and I’ve rebuilt too many Sram MC’s to get rid of their sticky MC piston to have them on my radar. Suffice, at this point my next set of brakes will have metal master cylinder pistons, which the Doms and TRP Quadiems do. I did nab a set of FSA’s old K Force Hydros for a song and so far, so good on em. They too have metal MC pistons but of course haven’t been produced since 18 I think. But the cost and carbon lever made it a worthwhile venture for the fatty, especially after talking things over with the guy who was responsible for the design. As for the new MTB with the Shimano MT520’s, those will be swapped for either the Quad’s or Dom’s before long.

  5. CyckleKrieg February 1, 2022 at 9:16 am #

    TRP Spykes – Mechanical, symmetrical and more powerful than BB5/BB7s.

  6. Coastkid February 2, 2022 at 12:22 pm #

    We run Avid BB7s on all our Fatbikes, and set up well with good quality cables and cable outers (I use Shimano) with the ends filed at 90 degree to reduce spongyness and polished pistons with a drummel the results are a very progressive low maintenance set up which riders on my bikes have been very surprised at the liner stopping power despite their simple design,

  7. Tony February 5, 2022 at 9:13 pm #

    Gomez, gotta get yourself a pair of Hopes. I am running three different pair on different bikes and no bleeding over more than 5 years! Of course you have seen my bikes in the shop and the hopes have their idiosyncrasies but no real maintenance and probably nearly 10000 miles off road and through all winter conditions on the three sets. ๐Ÿ™‚

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