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Have you ever wondered by most motorcycles and scooters use a hydraulic brake system and not a mechanical one?

After all, it seems to work well with bicycles and e-bikes, doesn’t it?

Tune in to learn:

  • The definition of hydraulic and mechanical brake systems and their pros and cons
  • What the “hydraulic” part refers to
  • Why mechanical brakes aren’t common for motorcycles


    Hello, and welcome to another episode of 30-minute motorcycling – a podcast for those riders who are at the beginning of their own Dual Wheel Journey, where you’ll discover something new about how your motorcycle, moped, or scooter works – in less than 30 minutes.


    When it comes to brakes, the hydraulic brake system is standard for almost all motorcycles and scooters.


    But perhaps you’re curious about mechanical brake systems nonetheless – specifically, the differences between a mechanical brake system and a hydraulic one?


    That’s what we’re about to cover in this episode of 30 Minute Motorcycling. 


    In a hydraulic brake system, the “hydraulic” part refers to the fact that braking power is delivered through a special fluid called – surprise, surprise, brake fluid.


    The brake fluid is kept inside the master cylinder, which is connected to the brake caliper, which in turn, is located on your front wheel – it looks a bit like a clamp.


    When you squeeze the brake lever, the brake fluid will travel from the master cylinder to the brake caliper, which among other things, houses the brake pads that do most of the braking duties.


    Contrary to common belief, brake fluid is NOT compressed – it’s just used to transfer the brake force.


    If you need a reminder about brake fluid, check out episode 18 of 30 Minute Motorcycling.


    Anyway, the biggest advantage of a hydraulic brake system is that it gives you more brake power through less applied force.


    In other words, even if you’re applying the brakes lightly, the actual braking force is amplified – something which certainly helps when you’re trying to make a complete stop from 100 km/h or 60 mph.


    However, a disadvantage is that because the brake system requires fluid, it means that there’s additional maintenance – not only do you have to buy the fluid separately, but since brake fluid absorbs water over time, and therefore becomes less effective, you’ll also have to replace it every other year.


    So now that we’ve covered hydraulic brake systems – what about mechanical brake systems? How do they work?


    Unlike their hydraulic counterparts, a mechanical brake system works completely without brake fluid.


    Instead, the brake power is delivered through a metal cable that tensions when you apply the brakes – not unlike a clutch cable for most motorcycles.


    Mechanical brake systems are mostly bicycles and even some ebikes use them.


    So what are the advantages and disadvantages of a mechanical brake system?


    The biggest advantage is that since they rely on the tensioning of a metal wire, you don’t need to purchase any brake fluid to make it work – as long as the cable is intact, the brakes will work.


    As for the downside? Have you ever noticed why most motorcycles don’t use mechanical brake systems? 


    There’s a good reason for that – without brake fluid to amplify the braking force, you need to squeeze the brakes harder.


    On a bicycle, this isn’t a problem, after all, you can only get up to about 10 km/h or 5 miles an hour at most. 


    But imagine trying to squeeze a mechanical brake while doing motorway speeds – you’d have to squeeze the brake hard – like INSANELY hard. So hard that you might brake your hand afterwards.


    So that’s why mechanical brake systems aren’t common on motorcycles, as well as the differences between a hydraulic and mechanical brake system.


    If you’d like to know more about the topic, I’ve included a link in the podcast episode description to a blog post I’ve written about this topic. 


    Until next time, keep your helmet on, and your eyes on the road. Bye!