Centerlock vs. 6-Bolt Rotors: Know the Differences Before You Buy

Disc brakes are a popular type of brake for cyclists who like to ride over rough terrain.

These mechanisms, which sit directly at the center of the wheel, are great brake options for superior stopping power in wet or choppy conditions.

But many beginners get confused when they learn there are two kinds: centerlock and 6-bolt.

Bicycle brake for centerlock vs. 6-bolt comparison
You know you’re looking at a 6-bolt rotor when you see 6 bolts in a star pattern at the center.

What Is the Difference Between Centerlock vs. 6 Bolt Rotors?

The main difference between centerlock and 6-bolt brakes is in the way that the rotors attach to the bike wheel. Six-bolt rotors are the traditional type of bolt rotors and they fit to the bolt hubs in a star pattern, which you tighten with a torque wrench.

Bicycle brake for centerlock vs. 6-bolt comparison
Another 6-bolt rotor.

The other of the two bike rotor options, centerlock rotors, do not have bolts but connect to the wheel with a central lock ring.

Bicycle brake for centerlock vs 6-bolt comparison
A centerlock disc brake rotor.

There are a few more differences between the two rotors, including shape, durability, and weight. This article will help you decide which rotor type is better for you.

How Do They Work?

Centerlock

Centerlock rotors have a dual mechanism that allows them to connect to your wheels. The exterior steel ring connects to the wheel using a central lock ring, similar to rings you use to attach a cassette. Although some centerlock rotors have six rivets around the central circle, these are not rotor bolts but rivets that keep the different parts of the rotor together.

6 Bolt

The older, more common 6-bolt rotors work by attaching the bolts directly to six inserts on the bolt hubs. The bolts are arranged in a star shape and often connect using an Allen key. There is no lock ring in the middle.

Both centerlock and 6-bolt rotors are effective at what they need to do, which is connecting to your disc brakes and making your bike stop on any terrain. Both are good regardless of your brake options, but your preference for one or the other may change based on some of the other differences.

How Do You Install Them?

Ease of installation is one of the main differences between center lock and 6-bolt rotors.

Centerlock

Centerlock rotors come with a special Shimano TL-LR10, a tool you use to attach these rotors. If you have a similar lock ring for your cassette, you can use the same tool. Simply tighten the lock ring. The installation process is forgiving, even for beginners, because there’s not much you can do to mess it up.

6 Bolt

To install bolt rotors, you need a torque wrench and six Torx head bolts. To attach the rotors to your bolt hub, you need to evenly tighten each bolt, working in a star-shaped pattern.

It’s much easier to make a mistake when installing a 6-bolt rotor. If you do not follow the star-shaped bolt pattern or have the wrong tension, the rotors could come loose as you ride, or warp out of place. For many beginners, installing 6-bolt rotors is a frustrating process.

How Durable Are They?

Centerlock

Centerlock rotors are one of the better rotor options if you put a lot of wear and tear on your disc brakes. These disc brake rotors are nearly impossible to bend or warp, so you can continue cycling without worrying about them going out of place. This is particularly important for riders in hot climates or who put a lot of friction on their brakes. Center lock rotors are more durable when it comes to heat, whereas 6-bolt rotors sometimes warp when the temperatures get high.

6 Bolt

Six-bolt rotors are much more susceptible to normal wear and tear. Bumping and jostling the bike around can cause the bolts to loosen or the rotors to bend. This leads to annoying noises, trouble braking, and even bolts falling out. Many repair shops recommend taking a Torx key with you as an essential maintenance tool when you ride, so you can tighten the bolts on the rotors just in case.

Disc brakes are also susceptible to rusting over time. We made a guide on how to remove rust from your disc brakes—give it a quick read so you can learn how to keep your disc brakes in proper shape!

What Is the Weight Difference?

Centerlock

One of the major drawbacks of centerlock rotors is that they are the heavier rotor option. The lock ring is bulkier and slightly heavier than the bolts used to fasten bolt rotors.

6 Bolt

Six-bolt rotors are a few ounces lighter than centerlock rotors. The difference in weight is minimal, only a few ounces. But if you prefer an ultralight setup, prefer minimal resistance in your braking, or know that you’ll be climbing many hills, then the 6-bolt option is better.

What Type of Cycling Are You Doing?

Depending on your cycling style, one style of rotor may be better than the other. Some experts recommend centerlock rotors for road or gravel bikes due to their durability.

Bicycle brake for centerlock vs. 6-bolt comparison
Many mountain bike riders prefer bolt rotors because they are lighter and easier to maneuver around hills.

What Does the Rest of Your Setup Look Like?

Many riders worry about switching to centerlock rotors after using bolt rotors and vice versa because they worry that the rotors won’t work with their existing setup. The good news is that these rotors are interchangeable, as long as your current wheels work with disc brakes.

Conclusion

The main difference between centerlock and 6-bolt rotors is that centerlock rotors connect to the wheel with a two-part central mechanism, whereas 6-bolt rotors have six bolts in a star-shaped pattern. This difference means that centerlock rotors are easier to install and more durable, but are also heavier and more expensive.

If you don’t mind heavy rotors and don’t want to deal with the hassle of a torque wrench and loosening bolts, go for a centerlock rotor.

If you like to keep your setup ultralight and are worried about compatibility issues with your wheels, stick to the trusty 6-bolt rotors.