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Compatibility [08] Mechanical brakes

This post will explain mechanical bicycle brake compatibility (i.e. brakes with cable actuation, not hydraulic) of both calipers and levers. Hydraulic brakes will be explained in a separate article. For explanation of terms like amount of lever cable pull and mechanical advantage, look at this article: Mechanical brakes – working principle.

Before you start, to avoid any misunderstanding:
please take the 5 minutes needed to read the compatibility articles use instructions.

1. Amount of cable pulled

For compatibility of mechanical brakes, it is important that the amount of cable pulled by the lever matches the required cable pull of brake calipers. If the lever pulls too much cable, braking force will be very low. If the lever pulls too little cable, calipers won’t reach the braking surface.

For detailed explanation look at the above already given link: Mechanical brakes – working principle.

Overview of compatibility will be given by brake lever types. Compatible brake calipers for each brake lever type. At the end of the article there are pictures of each brake lever and caliper type, for easier identification.

2. Types of brake levers and calipers

These are the brake lever types with their amount of cable pull per full lever travel (about 20 degree angle):

  1. V-brake (also known as direct-pull, or linear-pull), 15 mm
  2. Cantilever (also known as center-pull), 7 mm
  3. Old road, 7 mm
  4. New (SLR and Super SLR) road, 8 mm

Here’s a list of mechanical caliper types with their ideal amount of lever cable pull:

a) V-brake (also known as direct-pull, or linear-pull brakes), 15 mm
b) Mini V-brake, 7 mm
c) Cantilever (also known as center pull brakes), 7 mm
d) Old road calipers, 7 mm
e) New road calipers (SLR and Super SLR), 8 mm
f) MTB mechanical disc, 15 mm
g) Road mechanical disc, 8 mm
h) U-brake, 7 mm
i) Roller brake, 7 mm

Models that have not been produced for decades AND have become very uncommon have not been listed.

Road calipers are made as single (old version) and double pivot ones (both old and the newer version). In this post, the term “old road calipers” includes all the calipers that require 7 mm of cable pull, while “new road caliper” includes those that require 8 mm of cable pull. Most modern calipers are “new”. Shimano marketing term is SLR and Super SLR (even more cable pull, but just slightly, under 0.5 mm).

3. Compatibility of brake levers and calipers

3.1. V-brake (direct-pull, or linear-pull)

The lever pulls about 15 mm of cable. It is compatible with the following caliper types:

  • V-brake (of course)
  • MTB mechanical disc

3.2. Cantilever (center-pull)

Lever pulls about 7 mm of cable and is compatible with:

  • cantilever
  • road mechanical disc
  • new road calipers
  • old road calipers
  • mini V-brake
  • U-brake
  • roller brake

3.3. Old road levers

They pull about 7 mm of cable and are compatible with:

  • old road calipers
  • mini V-brake
  • cantilever
  • U-brake
  • road mechanical disc
  • roller brake

They can also work with new road calipers, but the pads would have to be set very close to the rim. This increases the chance of brakes rubbing the rim.

3.4. New road levers

Pull about 8 mm of cable and are compatible with:

  • new road calipers
  • mini V-brake
  • cantilever
  • U-brake
  • road mechanical disc
  • roller brake

They can also work with old road calipers, but the braking force will be slightly lower (due to a lower mechanical advantage).

4. Pictures of brake levers and calipers

Compatibility posts are also available in eBook (printable and Kindle) and paperback editions on Amazon:

Bicycle drivetrain compatibility book
Bicycle drivetrain compatibility book

19 thoughts on “Compatibility [08] Mechanical brakes”

  1. Hey, thanks a lot for this list. It is really helpful and it’s kindof the only one existing 🙂
    I have one question:
    Lets assume I have u-break calipers with a 7 mm pull and v break levers.
    As the v break levers have a bigger pull than 7 mm, why are they ot compatible? Would the force be to strong?

  2. Lever that pulls too much cable has lower mechanical advantage. So the brakes would feel nice and firm on a work stand, but have lower stopping power (for the same force used on the levers) compared to the same brake calipers combined with matching brake levers. The firm feel without a brake/stopping power test is dangerously deceptive.

  3. Would a Shimano Tourney 7 Speed Road Groupset brake lever be compatible with a MTB mechanical disc brake caliper?

    Was under the impression that up to 10 (and more likely for 6, 7, and 8 speed) road & MTB parts are interchangeable.

    Thanks in advance.



    • Stated compatibility (up to 10 speeds) goes for shifters, not brake levers.

      MTB and Road mechanical discs don’t have the same cable pull – MTB mechanical disc brakes require a lot more cable pull (such that only V-brake levers can provide). Pairing them with road levers (have done it) would require:

      – Having very straight (true) discs
      – So that pads can be placed as close to the disc as possible

      And it would result in:

      – Brake levers having a relatively long travel (in spite of pads placed very close to the discs, without that brake levers would bottom out before any strong brake force is achieved).
      – Brakes having good modulation and very strong braking power, due to very large mechanical advantage caused by using road levers with a lot shorter cable pull than the calipers are designed for. But with the risk of levers bottoming out as soon as pads get any noticeable wear (requiring pads to be re-set to remain closer to the disc).

      So I’d advise getting a pair of Avid BB7 ROAD brake calipers, if using road brake levers.
      While Avid MTB BB5 and BB7 calipers are best used with MTB (V-brake) brake levers.

  4. Hi,

    Wow!! 😮

    Thanks for the prompt and detailed answer.

    As for brake calipers I am not a fan of Avid DB5./DB7 calipers.

    I much prefer the TRP Spyke MTB Disc Caliper and Juin Tech hybrids (hydraulic caliper with mechanical pull).

    Of the the TRP calipers I much prefer the design of the (weather proof) housing of the TRP Spyke (MTB) disc caliper over the TRP Spyre (Road) disc caliper, hence my original question.

    Is there no adapter one can buy to alter the pull ratio of mtb and/or road brake levers?

    Thanks in advance

    The reason I prefer TRP over Avid is that TRPs use a dual piston system just as hydraulic calipers do (that is, two opposing pistons moving at the same time)

    • Dual caliper action, especially if they work fine from your experience, is a technically better solution.
      I’ve not had 1st hand experience with TRP, while Avids have served me well, for a relatively low price.

      As for cable pull matching, Problem Solvers used to make “Travel Agent”. I can no longer see it on their website, found it on Wiggle, but it is also out of stock. At least a picture of what it looks like:


  5. Hi, my bike has Shimano Deore LX cantilever levers. I would like to install a mechanical front disk brake. Would it be compatible? The brake levers and the sifters are together in one piece, so I prefer no to change it…

    • First the obvious (noting just in case): the frame (and the fork, of course) has to have disc brake caliper mounts for this to be possible.
      For the question: road bicycle mechanical disc brake calipers use cable pull that is compatible with cantilever brake levers.
      MTB disc brake calipers will not work very well (you’ll get too little brake pad travel, with huge mechanical advantage, so not very good braking force modulation).

      Avid BB7 are quite good mechanical disc brake calipers, and they are made for road bicycles as well, example:
      Avid BB7 Road disc brake calipers (Amazon affiliate link)

  6. Hi. This may sound stupid but I’d like to clarify this.
    I have a pair of V-brake levers. I’m planning to convert my rear from V-brake to mechanical disc brake (with adapter).
    As I understand it, I can retain my lever to work the mechanical disc brake because they have the same cable pull. But I have to make sure that the disc caliper I install is one that is MTB-specific. Is this correct?

    • Exactly. 🙂

      With V-brake levers, road bike mechanical disc brake calipers (such as Avid BB7 road) will feel very firm at the lever, but have poor stopping power even when strongest force at the lever is applied.
      MTB mechanical disc brake calipers (such as Avid BB7, or BB5) will work properly.

  7. What about mount compatibility, I have not found it in this article or elsewhere on your web. Are pivots for Cantilever, V and mini-V brakes the same so these can be used on single fork or are pivots different?

  8. Hi,

    If I’m reading the compatibility correctly, for a road bike, if I have the ST-R7000 levers, or even ST-R8000 or ST-R9100 for that matter, for an 11 speed build, I should be able to swap out the rim brake calipers for mechanical disc brake calipers, if I’m cobbling together a Shimano groupset. Is that correct?

    3.4. New road levers
    Pull about 8 mm of cable and are compatible with:

    new road calipers
    mini V-brake
    road mechanical disc
    roller brake

    Thank you!

    • Hello,

      I’ll use Amazon affiliate links to show concrete models/products (and their prices).

      It will work, with a note that road bicycle mechanical disc brake calipers should be used – such as Avid BB7 Road.

      “Ordinary” mechanical disc brake calipers, such as Avid BB7, will not work with road bike STI-s, only with V-brake compatible levers.

      There are some (exotic, rare) drop bar brake levers that are compatible with mechanical MTB disc brake calipers (and V-brakes for that matter), such as Tektro RL520, but I don’t know of any model with a shifter mechanism integrated (as in STI-s).

      So make sure to use disc brake calipers designated for “road” bicycles. Otherwise, those Shimano STI-s won’t be pulling nearly enough cable to work properly.

  9. Really big thanks mate from Australia on posting technical information on aspects of the Bicycle.Have moved away from Bicycle Shops working on my bicycles to myself doing all repairs which gives me great satisfaction.

  10. Shouldn’t the list labeled 3.1 V-Brake also read “Linear Pull” and not “Direct Pull”? And then 3.2 Cantilever be labeled “Direct Pull”?

    In section 4 the picture also says Direct Pull and Cantilever.

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for the heads up.
      I’ve corrected the article.
      V-brake is Shimano’s term that is now most widely used, though the brakes are linear-pull or direct-pull.
      Cantilevers are center-pull.


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