Advice Needed: Does it make sense to upgrade from mechanical to hydraulic brakes

Hi everyone:

I’m looking for some advice. I’ve been diagnosed with ulnar neuritis in my left arm. Besides the intermittent pain, this is leading to significant loss of strength in my left hand. This is affecting the amount of leverage I can apply to the left break when I’m in the drops or on the hoods.

The road bike I’m currently using outdoors has mechanical disc brakes. I have found that it takes a significant amount of leverage for to get any decent braking braking power with mechanical disc brakes. I have had the shop check the bike out and there is nothing wrong with how the brakes are tensioned.

I have ridden a hydraulic disc brake bike over the same roads, and have found that it takes less leverage to get the same amount of stopping power.

I’m debating if I should upgrade the bike to hydraulic disc brakes. The shifters/brake levers are Shimano 105 ST-5800 brake levers and the brakes are TRP Spyre Mechanical Disc (160mm Front/140mm Rear).

If I decide to upgrade do I need to replace the Shimano brake levers or just the actual brake units (as well as the associated cabiling).

Are there other options?

Thank you for your time and suggestions.


The only option that I know of to get hydraulic discs with mechanical levers is the TRP HY/RD Any other upgrade to hydraulics on a drop bar bike will require new shifters/brake levers as well as calipers and housing. You could probably get away with using the original rotors though depending on what their condition is like.

How do you get on changing gears? The left shifter takes a bit of force to move the chain to the big cog.

Personally I would buy a new bike all set up to go. I bought new Canyon this year with hydraulic brakes and Di2. Much easier shifting. Braking is slightly easier, the main thing is you get a lot more feel with Hydraulic brakes over mechanical rim brakes or mechanical disc.

I am assuming your bike is currently braking the front wheel with the left lever.

Any chance you could swap to the English way, front brakes on the right?

On my road bike I pretty much never use my left lever (rear brake) - in fact I did a quick service on my commuter the other day and found I’d forgotten to close up the rear calliper after refitting the rear wheel - must have ridden about 3-400 km with it open and never noticed.

Front brake on the right lever here, despite living in Sweden and not England. I’m used to that from riding motorbikes.

And yes, Di2 and hydraulic would be beneficial.

@Nigel_Doyle, I haven’t had an issue changing gears yet, but I’ve also not been keen about adding any more speed on the way down the hill.

A new bike setup is not in the cards. I would have to get something that is a 105 as I have 165mm cranks on this bike and would need them on the replacement. If I get a new bike, I want to move the crankset over.

Once I start looking at bikes that have the 105 groupset and are hydraulic, I’m at the $2,500.

I have roughly priced this out, and do the conversion, if I include the shifters/levers would be between 800 and 1,000.

@GravelNut, Thanks, I will check out the TRP HY/RD. I’m just concerned how much leverage it will require to get decent braking power.

@neil, yes, left = front. swapping is not in the cards. I switch to a hybrid/commuter that is already hydraulic. I don’t want to have to swap that also.

Thank you all.

I would highly recommend talking to your LBS, but this should be doable. Yes you’d need to replace the shifters and calipers. To stay in 105, the kit you’re after is the ST-RS505 which goes for about $350. Shipping, taxes and labor I’d say around $500 or so.

Is it worth it? That’s only something you can assess. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than replacing the whole group or getting a new bike. I think braking is probably something you don’t want to be second-guessing about either.

@julianoliver, Thanks. I will be heading over to talk to my LBS next weekend. I’m just trying to get an idea of whether it makes sense.

I tested one out in a bike shop a few months ago I felt that it was fairly effortless… Good luck with your search.

I thought of another option, buy an S-Works Venge Disc :smile:

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I went from mechanical to hy/rds and then more recently to full hyrdo.

The hy/rds require less force for stopping power than my mechanical brakes did but they’re not quite as powerful as full hydros. Another thing worth factoring in is that their performance is very dependent on the quality of the cable & outer - fi you live somewhere where the weather isn’t kind to cables it’s something you need to keep on top of. Another thing to think about is the lever throw on hy/rds is quite long - you need to pull the lever quite far back for the brakes to bite. I can’t tell from your OP whether this would be problem for you or not.

Hope you find something that works for you!

I’ve gone through a similar transition to @stevious

Started with cheaper avid mechanical brakes, went to trp spyres, then trp hyd and finally full hydraulic. I’ve owned both RS-505 and RS-685. Both equally effective although the 505’s are fugly

The difference is night and day and I would absolutely recommend going full hydraulics if you can afford it. You get full modulation, single finger braking on fast descents, reliability, much less maintenance and adjustment and very much reduced hand fatigue.

The key thing you need to check is if your current frame will allow routing for full hydraulic hoses

@stevious and @Jonnyboy, thank you. I’m leaning towards full hydraulic. I will have to take the bike into my LBS on the weekend and have a chat with the lead mechanic to see what can be done.

The Shimano 105 5800 groupset has been discontinued, so I will have to look at the new 105 7000 groupset for the hydraulics and hope I don’t need to change the derailers.

If it comes down to swapping the full group set, I would be better off just getting in-line/cross tops brake, which are really fugly.

It’s all 11 speed so as long as you stay mechanical then the crank and mechs won’t need changed.

When you say brakes on the tops do you mean interrupter brakes? They will make things worse IMO as they introduce more mechanical friction and cable stretch into the system

ETA : check out eBay, you can still get 505 and 685 sets at good prices

If you do go for cable-actuated hydro brakes I would recommend Juin Tech over TRP HY/RD. More powerful and easier to adjust and maintain.

That said for your use case full hydro sounds like a good plan as every little improvement can only help.

@Jonnyboy, Thanks. I"m just going to buy the parts at my LBS, since they will be doing the work to install them. I need to give them some busy besides just tune ups.

@MonsterMunch, Thanks.

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Why not get the ulnar neuritis sorted?

@chrisbainbridge, I’m working on that, it is going to be months not days to sorted it all out. Just got referred from the Neurologist to an Ortho that specializes in hand and wrist yesterday. However, I’m being told to not expect to get the same level of grip strength back in that hand once everything is sorted.

This is not impacting my life significantly, just affecting braking on a bike, holding on to heavy things after I’ve lifted them (gym equipment, shopping bags) , and opening those round tops on bottles that are new or closed too tightly.

Worth using a splint on your elbow at night in the meantime.

@chrisbainbridge, yup ordered one from Amazon, as i couldn’t find one locally. In the meantime, i rigged up a heavy pillow to weight my arm down. Slept like crap!