Skip to content

Are All MTB Disc Brakes Universal (Quickly Explained)

Disc brakes have become the new norm on bikes whether they are mountain bikes or road bikes they are really powerful and they give the riders much more confidence on technical trails and are much more powerful and long-lasting than the traditional v-brakes or other brake types like cantilever and other brake types

A question that I always wondered and most people do as well is if all the disc brakes are universal and can you swap out brakes from one bike to another and would you need any kind of adjustments to make to your bikes if that’s the case

Before I get into the Knitty gritty of the things here’s a quick answer to if all the MTb brakes are universal

All MTb disc brakes are universal, they are universal in the sense that the parts are swap-able with some adjustments in some cases, and in other cases, you might have to change or buy new parts altogether to make them adjustable but the performance of the brakes may decrease or increase depending on the parts and the bike 

This might have become a little bit complicated for you but there is an explanation for things that I have mentioned and everything falls into the fundamentals of the brakes to be precise their parts.

Parts of Disc brakes on an MTB and their roles :

Mountain bike brakes are broken into some parts and those parts are further broken into others to better suffice the needs of the riders for better adjustability but overall brakes are divided into two types

  1. Mechanical disc brakes
  2. hydraulic disc brakes

Mechanical brakes are not quite common but some people do prefer them mostly hydraulic brakes are used in all mountain bikes and these brakes are further broken down into two types depending on the kind of braking fluid they use

  • DOT fluid hydraulic disc brakes
  • Mineral fluid hydraulic disc brakes

Usually the most popular are mineral fluid brakes and DOT fluid brakes are again not that famous due to some reasons, and when we are deciding the brakes in these categories everything changes and it opens up down to the last part of the brakes.

When directing the parts of hydraulic brakes further these are the main parts of the brakes

  • Levers
  • Hosses
  • calipers
  • pads
  • rotors

At this point, these parts are further broken down into sub-parts and are categorized based on their specs the only thing universal here at this point are only the rotors, pads, and levers but they too differ depending on the different parts of the brakes.

To this point, I have kept everything general for your understanding from here on let me go deeper so that you may find the answers you are looking for.

Is braking Fluid universal for all bike’s disc brakes :

Bikes’ disc brakes are designed fundamentally around one thing in start and that’s the braking fluid that they use and depending on the fluid-like mineral or dot brakes are categorized.

Brakes are designed differently based on the fluid they are meant to use meaning that you cannot put mineral oil in brakes that were made to utilize DOT fluid and similarly you can not use DOT fluid in brakes that were made to utilize mineral oils both will not function properly if used other way around or tried with something else either.

The difference is not that these fluids are not compatible with each other or things like that but the difference comes out due to the parts that were designed for specific braking fluids.

From the brakes lever used to feed in the oil or DOT fluid to the piston of the brakes, everything is different depending on the fluid that brakes were made to utilize, and usually, people make this kind of misconception that you shouldn’t put other fluid once you had utilized one in it but they do not understand that the fundamental chemistry difference is in the working of these brakes and compatibility of brakes parts with the other fluid.

In simple words Fluids in brakes are not universal you can use whichever fluid the brakes were made to run on and not the other one as I have explained above, otherwise the brakes may not even work in the first place or seize or may work but not so efficiently.

Are Disc brake levers Universal :

Brake levers are the fundamental part of the braking system in the disc brakes and these are just like a remote control device to control how much braking power you want from your brakes.

But simply put brake levers are not universal for 2 reasons

  1. brake fluid specifications
  2. brake lever pull ratios

Same brand levers are of course universal so for example, if you had like to pull off levers from your old bike onto your new bike they will be compatible but if you are trying to swap different brands of brake levers they can work and they will move the calipers and pads but the braking power might reduce significantly.

So therefor levers from other brands may be usable with other brands’ brake parts but the efficiency may decrease.

In case of fluids change like if you are trying to use SRAM brake levers on Shimano disc brakes there might be complications since those levers were made to accept DOT fluid and the inner parts may be made to work best with that kind of fluid but overall SRAM levers are different than Shimano levers in their composition and pull ratios.

Are all horses universal for all disc brakes :

unlike other parts of the disc brakes all horses are universal, you can use any brand hosses with any other brand brakes if the horses are the same size and fit in the calipers perfectly because hosses have the primary task of transporting and holding fluids.

another thing that I should mention is that mechanical brake hosses are different than hydraulic brake hosses they have an inner metallic layer inside them that holds them and prevents them to penetrate through the horses so they won’t work as hydraulic hoses.

Are all Calipers universal for all disc brakes :

Brake calipers are unique to the pistons on the brakes to put it simply there are two types of brakes.

  • 4-piston disc brakes
  • 2-piston disc brakes

Both have different types of calipers and calipers differ based on different brands as well some calipers are designed to be lower than others and their pads are larger than those of others as well like for example

If the whole braking system is Shimano based and you use the calipers of Magura they will be different than Shimano and you would need to make some adjustments to the calipers in order for them to work with the Shimano brakes.

the depth difference can be cleared and the adjustments can be made with the help of washers on the calipers but in this sense, all brake calipers are not universal and some might even not work with others.

There are also other factors like pads and rotors that may differ and may be needed to be adjusted but mostly these things can be adjusted and it’s not impossible to work with other brands of brake parts

Are all pads universal for all disc brakes :

Brake pads are not universal in the same sense as the calipers of the brakes there are differences like the number of pistons on the brakes but almost all the brake pads of different brands are the same depending on what kind of brakes you have (4-piston or 2 pistons)

Pads usually are the same in length and width for each type of brake 2-piston brakes will all have the same braking pads no matter what the brand and 4-piston pads will be the same as well no matter what the brand but a 2-piston brake pad will not fit a 4-piston brake

And they will not be interchangeable with each other since 4-piston pads are larger and wider than 2-piston brakes.

Are all rotors universal for all disc brakes :

The rotor in brakes is usually of two types but that’s only on the design part called

  1. The 6-bolt rotors
  2. Centre locked rotors

Both of these rotors are the same there is no difference in their efficiency or other aspects you could say that only their designs are different 6-bolt rotors are quite common while center lock rotors are usually made by Shimano as they have patent the design.

The other thing about disc brake rotors is that they are different in their thickness and in their size (diameter) and their efficiency is greatly influenced by these things.

The rotor thickness of disc brakes usually varies between 1.5-2.2 mountain bike brakes falling on the thicker end and diameters ranging from 140mm-223mm.

I did an article already on rotors if you are curious about rotors and how they affect braking Bigger rotors better braking? Hows and whys explained | mountain biking

So yeah in that sense the brakes won’t be universal you would have to utilize spacers on the hubs to make some rotors compatible with a certain hub.

Conclusion :

Even though all the disc brakes are not universal or interchangeable but the parts can be made to work with other brand parts or interchangeable with smaller or bigger parts, So that is fairly possible and it can be done.