What Do Riders Think? Seven Disc Brakes Reviewed by Vital MTB Members 18

With dozens of brakes to choose from, how do you find the best stoppers? Vital MTB members weigh in on seven popular options.

What Do Riders Think? Seven Disc Brakes Reviewed by Vital MTB Members

There's power in numbers, and collectively Vital MTB readers put in more trail miles and try out more products than our team of professional reviewers ever could. With over 1,100 reviews and 14,000 products in the Vital MTB Product Guide, it's a great place to find real-world opinions and compare product specs. Here are seven highly-rated disc brakes and product impressions from riders just like you:


Shimano Deore XT M8000 Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Power
  • Reliability and durability
  • Ease of maintenance / bleed
  • Easy to adjust
  • Spare parts readily available
  • Good price, especially online
  • Lever is comfortable
  • Mostly consistent braking
  • Can feel inconsistent at times, requiring you to pump them up
  • Temperature management could be improved
  • Levers are flexier than the previous version (M785)
  • Finned pads can jiggle

Key Impressions

"These are the standard, no matter what company you prefer, they will always need to compete with Shimano for power and reliability. However, there is a downside to these brakes is that there always seems to be an air bubble in the line or caliper which causes you to pump the brake levers a couple to a few times before getting full power at the desired brake lever pull. Other than that, these are the ones." - fueledbyAlex

"They have proven to be easy to maintain, easy to get spare parts, not expensive and the lever shape and feeling is spot on for my taste. The only drawbacks has been in long technical descents where they get hot, hence the lever feeling gets on the stiffer side, and I wouldn't mind a bit more power." - lonchera

"It's impossible to review these brakes without first mentioning that they're heavily discounted all over the internet, so the "real" price is closer to £100/pair (not including rotors). That makes them by far the best value performance brake available, from any brand before you even mention that they actually work pretty well too. They're light weight and pretty powerful, especially with a big ol' rotor." - Tristan_Mayor

"These have been my go to brakes for years. I am a big fan of the way they grab. I couldn't care less about modulation, when I pull my levers I want the brakes to grab. As a reliable everyday do everything brake you can't go wrong with the Shimano XT's or even the SLX's." - Amart1500

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Shop the Shimano M8000 at Jenson USA, starting at $89.99


Shimano Saint M820 Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Tons of power
  • Durable
  • Easy to bleed
  • Reliable
  • Good heat management
  • Great one finger levers
  • Set and forget
  • Not as light as some competitors
  • Some riders note an off/on feel, not a ton of modulation
  • Variable bite point at random times
  • Some adjustments ineffective
  • Finned pads can jiggle

Key Impressions

"I’ve had the chance to use these brakes in various conditions and they have performed flawlessly. Regardless if you are riding in super dusty conditions or mud or even snow, these brakes provide tons of stopping power. Some people mention that the Saints lack modulation, that they are simply power ON and power OFF but I haven’t found this to be the case, the M820 offer lots of modulation allowing the rider to brake as much as needed. In terms of long hot descends, the M820 really shine and provide consistent performance and stopping power regardless how hot they get, I haven’t noticed any fade. Overall these brakes offer a lot of confidence on the trails and really allow the rider to push themselves as you know that you will have strong braking power when needed. As with the old M810, the M820 can also get a bit loud in wet conditions, but I think most other brakes do the same so not really a negative but they definitely do howl when they get wet." - vics26

"This brake has saved my life so many times. However, due to the wandering bite point it has also put me in some scary situations." - hostforaxenomorph

"I've run Saints on both the DH and Trail bikes for the past two seasons. Takes getting a little use to as there isn't a ton of modulation but loads of power. I personally have had zero problems other than the very occasional bleed which is also super easy. Mineral oil is a bonus so I'm not wrecking my hands getting it on everything. Once you get the hang of riding with these, its hard to go back to a brake with less power/more modulation, but it really is personal preference." - danielhfranks

"I noticed on my first ride that the bite point would change constantly, especially if you quickly reapplied the brake. I believed this was obviously air in the system so re-bled. Again the same would happen even when no air was trapped. After researching the issue it is very common with XTR and Saint levers so I had them warrantied. Second and third sets did the same too, I eventually just got used to the feeling and used for 18 months in total. I persevered with them as the power is awesome. Did a few alpine races this year with no fade issues, but did scorch and destroy the IceTech disks." - dig-with-Al

"Launched in 2013, the latest generation still has incredibly direct action. Just the slightest squeeze of the lever is enough to see your wheels starting to fight for purchase in pretty much in any conditions. Some swear by this type of power delivery, and for those who master it the Saint could arguably rank higher – such is its outright power and capacity to stop any moving object on a dime." - Vital review

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Shop the Shimano Saint M820 at Jenson USA, starting at $184.99


Formula Cura Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Easy to install, even with internal routing
  • Good lever feel
  • Good modulation
  • Lever action is direct and solid
  • Brakes have a real bite to them
  • Modulation is awesome, easy to feel what the brake is doing at all times
  • Some might want more reach adjustment towards bars
  • On a really long bike hoses might be a bit short

Key Impressions

"After running Shimano XT's for a year or so I had been unhappy with them for the style of riding I do and wanted a brake with more power that didn't fatigue as much on longer runs or under hard braking. So far I'm really happy with the Cura's, after bedding in there is loads of power, and even on longer runs they still perform the same at the end of the run as the did at the start.

Installation was a breeze with the speed lock system being able to disconnect the hose, route it through my frame and re-connect it without loosing fluid or making a mess (even had to do it twice because I kooked it the first time). Lever and action are great, no pump up under heat and hard braking or loosing power when they heat up which I always had issues with the XT's doing.

Overall I'm super happy with them, and given you can by the front and rear for the same price as some brands are selling one end you cant go wrong!" - stringbean

"On the trail, it didn’t take long for the Cura to convince us. The lever action is direct and solid, and the brakes have a real bite to them. The modulation is awesome, and it’s very easy to feel what the brake is doing at all times. The geometry of the lever was perfect for this tester, leaving us feeling in control and with good amounts of power in reserve for when we needed it. Yes, there is a bit less power outright than the most powerful four-piston brakes, but not significantly so. More importantly, the brakes ramp up nicely towards the end of the lever travel and it’s never a struggle to unleash those last bits of braking power when required." - Vital review

Read More

Shop Formula products at Jenson USA


Hope Tech 3 E4 Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Beautifully made and machined
  • Decent bleed process
  • Predictable and consistent power
  • Dead reliable
  • Comfortable
  • Stiff lever
  • Great modulation
  • Constant feel throughout the whole pad
  • Great reach and bitepoint adjustment
  • Quiet
  • Price
  • Weight is higher than most competitors
  • Getting all four pistons to work in perfect harmony can be a bit finicky at times, requiring cleaning
  • The pads run close to the disc and need to be perfectly aligned to run drag-free
  • Lever design is not ambidextrous
  • Holes in lever feel a bit rough when riding gloveless

Key Impressions

"Everything on them is beautifully finished, yet utilitarian - the burly, purposeful elegance of the brakes really won me over. Lever feel is firm, and the tool-free adjustments on the lever all work amazingly well. This is actually the first brake I have used that has had a pad contact adjustment that works as advertised. It did take a while to get used to these, especially coming from the newer Shimano brakes, as the power band is entirely different - where Shimano brakes tend to come on very strong with a lot of bite right at the contact point, the Hope brakes are a lot more controlled, with peak power buried a bit deeper after initial pad contact. The amount of control is phenomenal with no skidding or unexpected wheel lock, and I have found that I can maintain better traction in loose / wet terrain." - zhendo1990

"My hometown only has small hills that are greasy half of the year, where the great modulation came in perfect and I only wanted more braking power when trying to do nose manuals/tight switchbacks. Now that i moved to Innsbruck I really notice the lack of braking power on many trails and recently swapped them out for my old downhill bike's Zee brakes." - Joe Berg

"You just know it when you find the brakes that work best for you. All riders are different when it comes to brakes and how we like them set-up. Some riders like brakes that have instant grab and other with more modulation. Hope brakes are the later with more modulation, but has a tool-less adjustment for the grab point which makes a big difference depending where you have this set and reach adjustments are easy as well. On the trail, Hope brakes are my favorite due to their particular and consistent feel while riding. These brakes saw no fade or change in bite point while riding throughout the one and a half years I have been using them. They are a bit more expensive than some of the other high end brakes on the market, but they are well worth it in multiple ways. You need to get your hands on some of these to at least try not if you have not before." - Carraig042

"There are a lot of options out there when it comes to brakes, but Hope’s E4 stands out in more ways than one. Visually, these brakes have an identity all their own. The industrial design has become refined without losing its character. Functionally, Hope nails it. The brakes are easy to work on, offer great power, consistency, and reliability in use, and they add a dimension to the way they modulate braking power which is certainly different to anything else we have tried – and for the better. There are a few other brakes that offer even more outright stopping power (Hope’s own DH-specific V4 is one of those), but the way Hope delivers the power in the E4 is a great benefit on the trail. Add to that the huge range of the reach and bitepoint adjustments, and the E4s emerge as a very serious contender for anybody looking to stop on a dime." - Vital review

Read More

Shop Hope Tech products at Jenson USA


SRAM Guide RSC Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Great modulation with lots of lever feel
  • Easy to keep the wheels from locking up
  • Pretty powerful
  • Tool-free contact and lever reach adjustments allow you to make both brakes feel the same
  • Slim reservoir design
  • Easy to bleed
  • Decent weight
  • Available in two colors
  • Matchmaker makes for clean cockpit
  • Some fade in hotter conditions
  • Slightly noisy at times
  • Heavier/faster riders may want more power

Key Impressions

"On the trail they performed awesome. The extra modulation makes it easier to brake late into corners and the power makes them easy to trust. Bleeding them is also really easy thanks to the Bleeding Edge tool. Really good brakes overall especially if you are looking for something with good control and you like having a lot of adjustment." - bbonnett

"These came stock on my latest bike. Initial set up and maintenance is pretty easy. I like how easy it is to trim the lines and bleed the calipers and levers. The contact pad adjuster is a good feature; however, it sometimes gets stuck. Modulation seams on par with Hope brakes and better than Shimano brakes. That being said, overall braking performance is average at best. They're not very powerful brakes and sometimes the lever can get a little soft. They are also very noisy when wet. Overall, they're a decent brake, but really lack the power and consistency for aggressive braking needs." - VonR

"They offer a pad contact adjustment as well as a lever adjuster. On the trail I found them to have good modulation with a lot of power. The lever reach worked just fine, but the pad contact adjuster is a little off. It can be hard to turn and does not seem to work real well in my experiences at least compared to some others out there. I also noted some inconsistent brake feel with the stock bleed. If you do not have a constant lever feel, they may need bled, not entirely uncommon with new brakes, but worth noting for sure." - Carraig042

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Shop SRAM products at Jenson USA


SRAM Code R Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Excellent modulation
  • Great power
  • Ergonomic lever
  • Durable
  • Can get spongey when pads wear

Key Impressions

"Baller on a budget. Most of the trails I ride are technical, steep and awkward instead fast and flowy so having good brakes is very important. They have very good modulation, meaning that it is easy to stop without skidding. This modulation is really helpful when riding in the winter because dealing with mud, wet rocks, and roots can be a challenge when brakes have too much bite. The same could be said about modulation when riding in dry conditions because it allows the rider to maintain traction while braking on loose over hardback or dust.

Another good characteristic of the Code R is its heat management. There has only been one instance that I have felt the brakes seriously fade. The inconsistency of lever feel with pad wear is the only thing that I don't like about the brake but can be easily remedied with new brake pads.

I decided to bleed them for the first time after about seven months and the fluid wasn't even that dark. Bleeding these brakes was super easy with the new "Bleeding Edge Technology," and I was genuinely surprised by how well the system worked.

Another good quality of the brakes is durability. I like my bikes to stay together even if it means running heavier components and these brakes have delivered. They have hit the ground a few times quite hard and although they are scratched, they still work well. Overall if someone is looking for a workhorse brake that has nothing fancy about it but gets the job done well there is no reason not to consider the Code R." - NWDommen

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Shop SRAM products at Jenson USA


Magura MT7 HC Disc Brakes

The Good

The Bad

  • Power is sensible, progressive as you wish
  • "Can stop a truck"
  • Noise free
  • Consistent feel when heating up
  • Lever shape isn't great
  • Clamp uses wood screws
  • Plastic lever doesn't like being disassembled/assembled a lot
  • Bleeding is finicky, not as clean as SRAM or Shimano
  • Alignment tricky with the caliper

Key Impressions

"Great stopping power with strange engineering choices. I wanted to get a more consistent feel when riding long gnarly descents. I liked the Shimano XT and XTR lever feel but was not happy with it when heating up. I used the Guides for the while and I'm relatively happy with them but I was looking for more power and even more consistency in the lever feel/travel. I went for the Magura MT7 and don't regret it. After several bleeds, I finally get a great strong lever feel. The power is way higher than the Guides and it ramps up very smoothly. Delicate and strong at the same time. The only things that worries me is the lever. The clamp is screwed by wood screws and I damaged one already by removing and reassembling the brake. An alloy insert overmolded in the plastic would be a much nicer way to do it." - Florent poilane

"They work very well and the power is incredible compared to other brakes that I have used. The only drawbacks are that the caliper alignment needs to be more precise than others and the lever can break." - Farmergilles

"It showed the least amount of lever pump and only a slightly off-putting grinding noise noticeable towards the end of a long burn run. On the flipside, the MT7 is difficult to set up right. They are quite sensitive to how you bleed them, and the low overall oil volume does not provide a lot of buffer if things should go a bit wrong. They were also tricky to set up drag-free. The MT7 still falls a bit short of the top competitors in terms of overall ergonomics and adjustability, and the heavy price tag on the newest lever doesn’t help its cause either." - Vital review

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Shop Magura products at Jenson USA


Love your brakes? Know how they could be improved? Help out your fellow MTBer by writing a review. The top Vital reviewer each month earns a $100 Jenson USA gift card.

Want more? See our Heavy Duty Disc Brake Face Off for a comparative look at six top performers.

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