When you purchase your first “real” mountain bike, a lot of the time people come up with a list of important features and then shop around to find the best deal. This was true for me, and one of the features I spent a little more for (about $100) was hydraulic disk brakes. I had read that hydraulic brakes outperform mechanical especially in wet conditions. That may sound like an obvious advantage for hydraulic, but it has some hidden caveats. First of all, just like everything else, there is “entry level” and “performance” when it comes to hydraulic disk brake components. When you compare a high end or even mid-grade hydraulic disk to a mechanical, there is definitely more stopping power and less noticeable decrease in performance when components get wet or hot. However, cheap hydraulic brakes, such as the “Tektro Draco” found on my first hardtail, leave users questioning why you would ever want a hydraulic disk brake system.
The Dracos are heavier than their mechanical brethren, have absolutely ZERO modulation, are more difficult to adjust, and then you have to get a special bleed kit to bleed them at least every season, if not every 100 miles or so. I found myself working on the brakes every few rides, and the lack of modulation really held me back while learning to wheelie. The simplicity of a mechanical brake setup on the other hand, makes them the choice for many bike-packers and roadies, and they have plenty of stopping power for anything but downhill bike parks and some downhill oriented single-track that you might find in Colorado or North Carolina. I’m not saying that no one should use hydraulic disk brakes, just that the cheap ones suck, and mechanicals will help your dollar go farther on the other bike components you are looking for in your first bike. If I had saved that 100 dollars, I could have spent it on better pedals and grips–something that would have been a huge improvement right off the bat. Once you get into a higher price point, you can get Shimano XTRs or Sram Guides (Or excellent brakes from other companies like Hope). It’s just worth waiting for a good hydraulic brake that you won’t be maintaining constantly.
If you would be interested in a video on the cheapest way to bleed the crappy hydraulic brakes that you already bought, let me know. It is absolutely necessary on those Dracos and can make them usable again if you have put some miles on them and still need them to work!