Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: The 'Wack, BC, Canada
Bikes: Norco (2), Miyata, Canondale, Soma, Redline
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Hydraulic is more work to install and maintain if you need to trim the hoses to size and re-bleed the system. But in use I found them to actually be LESS trouble than cable systems. On cable calipers there's one fixed pad and one that moves. Because the movement is one sided the fixed pad has to be trimmed frequently to sit very close to the rotor. Like REALLY close, basically skimming it. If it isn't then the system requires more lever effort to achieve a given stopping rate. Meanwhile the balanced motion of a two piston hydraulic caliper floats and does this automatically. You still need to align it carefully at installation time but it's not as fussy as the mechanical ones.
On the other hand the hydrualic calipers do get grunged up easier and that can make one of the pistons stick and rub the rotor when it should not be. That means removing the wheel, pads and cleaning the caliper. I use a combination of a small test tube like brush and hot soapy water followed by a blast of brake cleaner. For my all season commuter bike this means doing this about twice a year. For a muddy off road bike it would likely be more like every few days where you ran into serious mud.