Once reserved for only the most elite (read, expensive) rigs, hydraulic disc brakes have become more common on gravel, cross, and even road bikes. With hydraulic brakes’ increased popularity, you might think that the mechanical disc brake is all but dead. Not so. Hydraulic brakes may be the new hotness, but many road and gravel riders still prefer the simplicity and reliability of cable-operated disc brakes. And in 2016, mechanical disc brake fans have more choices than ever.
Why choose mechanical over hydraulic brakes? Compatibility, for one. Hydraulic brakes require dedicated levers, whereas mechanical disc brakes can be paired with practically any cable-operated lever or shifter. Bleeding hydraulic disc brakes may have gotten easier, but fixing a problem in the field is much simpler with mechanical brakes. Lastly, cable-operated disc brakes cost less than hydraulics–especially when you can reuse your existing levers.
All three of the brakes that I tested are designed for use with drop bar levers. Those types of levers pull less cable than MTB-style levers, so you need to match the lever with the correct type of caliper. I tested each brake with Shimano’s 105 STI (5800) and SRAM’s Rival 22 levers. Although some manufacturers recommend smaller rear rotors on road and gravel bikes, I went with 160 mm rotors front and rear. And because frames and forks often require specific adapters, weights do not include mounting hardware or adapters (but include pads).