Cycling innovations leap forward every year, but one of the most sought after and misunderstood features becoming commonplace on bikes is hydraulic disk brakes.

Desired for their reliability and power, what was once only a feature enjoyed by high-end mountain bikers is fast becoming the de facto hardware on all bikes. Designed using the same system of braking as motorbikes have used for decades, hydraulic brakes for bicycles must contend with the same struggles in technology as motorcycles.

“I would never want to ride a rim brake.’”  Bryce Parry

Bike technician, Jackie Kowalenko, sees the advent of hydraulics as a good thing, but admits the maintenance schedule can be daunting to casual riders.

Vexplainer 3

Bicycle lever systems for disc brakes sport slimmer, easier to use controls. Photo by Curtis Larson.

“It’s essentially the same brake as motocross riders use,” Kowalenko says. “So it needs to have the hydraulic fluid replaced, the hardware can be contaminated with other chemicals used on the bike like chain oil — there’s a lot you have to be aware of on them to make sure you keep them running.”

But while the maintenance might pose a learning curve, for some it’s all worth it.

“I can’t go back to rim brakes,” says Bryce Parry, local rider and commuter. “The control is hands down the deciding factor. If they need to be worked on, I can do it myself or if it’s really bad I can always pop into a shop. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Kowalenko points out that most brakes need to have their fluid changed  only every few years for most casual riders, and once a season for heavy riders.

Calgary Journal reporter, Curtis Larson, captured Kowalenko running through bleeding the brakes – the process of replacing the hydraulic fluid and adjusting the brakes back to their factory feel.

Editor: Whitney Cullingham |

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