Thoughts on Disc Brakes

Thoughts on Disc Brakes

Two years ago, while on a ride that took in some of Malibu’s most fearsome descents, I had a conversation with a product manager from one of the big three bike companies. The occasion for both the conversation and the ride was a piece I’d just published about carbon clinchers, but as these things often do, talk turned farther afield and we landed on the issue of disc brakes. I can say that at that point in time I was flat-out not in favor of disc brakes on road bikes.

What happened next can only be described as a debate. I would state an objection or concern, and he’d knock it down. I started with frame design. There was the fact that forks would have to be completely re-engineered to handle the braking forces. He said their engineers were already well-versed in the software that would help them with new designs.

As SRAM and Shimano had yet to unveil either of their systems, and I thought we were still more than a year from seeing a hydraulic system from either manufacturer, so I hadn’t seen their lever designs that incorporated the master cylinder into the lever, which gave me the opportunity to wonder just how one would be incorporated and where it would go. “They’ll figure that out,” he said.

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We talked about weight and how disruptive that would be to the pursuit of the 13, 12, 11-pound bike. He noted that since the introduction of disc brakes in mountain biking, the weight of cross-country systems had been cut nearly in half. Even downhill systems had gotten lighter while modulation and power had improved. He also pointed out that rim designs could evolve once we could eliminate the brake track and reducing rotating mass would make the bike easier to accelerate. I was chastened to think how right he was that it would be better to have the mass, whatever mass there was, closer to the hub, not further from it; every cyclist knows that.

I noted how the flex pattern of both the fork and the rear triangle would change with the addition of more carbon to handle the braking forces, changing the ride of the very bikes those engineers had just worked so hard to make so light and ride so well. It seemed the very definition of antithetical. Again, he said, their engineers had software that would allow them to restore that ride quality by shifting material placement so that frames wouldn’t turn into jackhammers just to make sure they stopped.

I threw everything at him I could. I even tried braze-ons and aerodynamics. At a certain point he said, “Fundamentally, it’s just an engineering problem.” He summed it up as, ‘You give engineers a target and they figure out how to hit it.’

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Then he lobbed the big bombshell. He predicted that we would see brakes in production and being spec’d on a few exotic bikes by 2014; many top-of-the-line road bikes would have disc brakes by 2015 model year and that the majority of higher-end road bikes would have them by 2016. Given that he was the head of product management for a big bike company and privy to meetings with Shimano and SRAM that I wasn’t, any counter arguments I might have wanted to make would have carried all the logic and factuality of an evolution denier. I’d have been shouting, “Because dinosaurs!”

I kept rolling that one statement over in my head as we climbed—it’s just an engineering problem. It was remarkable in its power. It reduced the problem to math, which I found not just compelling, but alluring. Rather than seeing this as a way bikes would be ruined, it turned the problem around into something I was curious to see unfold.

Fast forward two years and I’ve now done a fair number of miles on the SRAM hydraulic system, TRP’s mechanical Spyre and some on Shimano’s hydraulic system. I’ve come to a few conclusions about disc brakes.

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They can be summed up thusly: I like them and want them.

I know that not everyone shares that outlook, and for some, the issue is the potential for injury.

I was on a ride recently where I heard a rider saying he’d never ride a road bike with disc brakes because he didn’t want to get sliced up by the rotor in a crash. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that concern. While it’s true that I’ve heard of people cut by rotors, the injuries in the vast majority mountain bike crashes don’t include damage done by a rotor Ginsu-ing its way into flesh. Most crashes simply don’t involve body parts going into the wheels. Consider how often people are injured by chainrings in crashes; they occupy a far more exposed space than rotors do. RKP contributor JP Partland told me he knows a rider—exactly one rider—who lost a finger when it went into the spokes of a spinning wheel during a crash. Let’s call that an exception. Odds are, should you crash in the future, you’re much more likely to lose skin or break a collarbone than suffer a burn or cut due to tangling with a rotor.

The manufacturers of disc brakes like to talk about how disc brakes offer greater power. It was a handy talking point when they were new to mountain bikes. Honestly, it’s a lousy line when talking about road bikes. No one complains about not having enough braking power, and being able to brake from the hoods with a single finger isn’t enough of an improvement to make most people jump ship.

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Where I’ve noticed discs make an enormous difference is in modulating braking power. There are a number of rim calipers that offer a very progressive brake response. By that I mean that initially, they do very little, and then the power comes on rather suddenly and ramps up quickly. This only gets worse when you inject many (but by no means all) carbon clinchers into the mix. What’s far more preferable is to have brake power come on very gradually so that you can adjust your braking as conditions require.

I’m aware that most of the world is on the flat-ish side, that mountain descents aren’t a part of every rider’s daily experience. As a result, I’ve heard riders talk about how they simply don’t need that much brake power. And it’s true; in an absolute sense, I don’t need all the power that disc brakes present when I’m riding in Memphis. However, Memphis (and most of the world) has two things that make disc brakes really handy: rain and mud. The mud isn’t a big deal if you don’t ever plan to ride your bike on an unpaved surface, but I’ve always liked doing that, and unless you live in California, where rain has been outlawed by God, you know how in the rain brake performance becomes as ineffectual as an honest politician.

The other really compelling detail for me is how once you add disc brakes to a road frame, tire size becomes virtually unrestricted. The hottest area of tire development right now is in the arena of wider tires for the road, particularly treads for mixed surface use. Exploring this is as fun as walking a record store with a gift certificate used to be.

In a world full of marginal improvements, I’ve come to appreciate that discs present a real evolution in braking for road bikes, one that I was hesitant to accept at first, but now embrace. We’ll look back on this era the way we used to look at the early high-performance clincher tires, as a better technology, one that will improve with time.

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48 comments

  1. Waldo

    I’ve ridden Campy Super Record brakes of the 1980s and 2010s vintage and there’s no question that the modern brakes are light years better. I don’t doubt that disk brakes are better than modern Super Records, but this old dog is content with performance of caliper brakes. I also like the simplicity of set up and maintenance of caliper brakes and am daunted by disk brake technology, particularly hydraulic disks.

    1. Benjamin Reynolds

      It’s interesting that you say your daunted by hydraulic discs. As I’m most comfortable adjusting that type of brakes (coming form a MTB background). My road bikes require the most of amount of time to get the brakes just right, god forbid my rim isn’t true. I’d take hydraulic disc maintenance over caliper maintenance any day.

  2. Frederick Beseler

    Good article, Patrick!I always wondered why it took the bike engineers so long to get with disc brakes on bikes…Jaguar introduced disc brakes on their Le Mans winning cars back in the early 50s. Disc brakes didn’t fade with heat and allowed the Jaguars to go faster, deeper into corners and make more use of the HP at hand…Anyway…

  3. Rich

    In the late 70s, I had a department store bike with a rear, mechanical Shimano disc brake. This worked so well I never used the front brake (which was a really cheap and bad centerpull anyway). I’ve been expecting discs to come to road bikes for a while now. It has always seemed to make sense to me – better braking in all conditions. And, as noted in the article, big potential improvements in rim and wheel design. When you don’t need a braking surface, you can definitely improve the aerodynamics. I’m not so sure about weight improvements at the rim, because you still need strength. [I know what happens to 260g and 280g aluminum tubular rims when they hit potholes, or a spoke breaks…] But I’ll probably be pleasantly surprised there (it’s just an engineering problem).

    Like Waldo, it will be a while before I’m on discs – but this is because I don’t plan on replacing my bike anytime soon, and calipers work well enough for me. When I do upgrade (in 5-10 years), I’ll probably be on discs.

    Also, a genuinely curious question in regards to hydraulic discs: what do airlines think of these when shipping your bike on a trip? Airlines are generally restrictive (with generally good reason) on pressurized stuff in cargo holds.

  4. Pat O'Brien

    I have come to the same conclusion. My experience with mechanical disc brakes on mountain bikes is excellent. I had one road bike with mechanical disc brakes and they were also excellent. I bought a touring bike frame 2 years ago, and this year the company, SOMA, brought out the same frame (Saga) in a disc version. A loaded touring bike, or a tandem I assume, is a great place for more braking power with good modulation.

  5. Mark Harrison

    “Just an engineering problem” is what sales and marketing bods say when they have no idea how to fix something, they also complain when we engineers tell them the price of what they promised in the real world .. 😉
    Hug an engineer day… It’s long overdue…

  6. Jonathan

    I know that eventually most road bikes will be sold with disc brakes. The cynic in me says this is for the sake of marketing and profit, but I also know that it’s about gains in performance and solving engineering problems, and I’m okay with that.

    As it stands though, I’m really not in the target market right now. My road bike is a custom steel jobbie set up for use with mid-reach calipers, and my commuter is an old steely that probably has a good 100,000 kms left in it. I rarely bother reading articles about disc brakes anymore because they all say the same thing: it’s coming, it’s awesome, UPGRADE UPGRADE UPGRADE. Kinda hoped this article would be different, but not so much.

    I’m happy to wait 10 years or so, let the technology bed down and mature, then jump into the world of hydraulic-disc-and-electric-shifting on a new custom midlifecrisismobile. But by then I’m sure we’ll be arguing about some other unnecessary technological shift…

    1. JoeLee

      Just wanted to comment that the tech has already had over a decade to “bed down and mature” … at the very highest levels of off-road sport too.

  7. Craig P.

    Living in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Sacramento, I have been anticipating Shimano’s new hydraulic disc brakes. They do work better. I just built up a Roubaix with Di2 / hydraulic discs and I’m running tubeless 25mm tires on HED Ardennes FR + wheels. First shakedown ride was the ultra steep ( up and down ) Unknown Coast ride with the Chico Velo bike club. The brakes were awesome ! Love ’em ! I’ve got the ultimate rough road Gran Fondo bike now.


  8. Author
    Padraig

    It amazes me that I can write about a conversation with a product manager, a guy is is an engineer by training and then a reader will conclude I’ve had a conversation with someone in either sales or marketing. Mostly the conversations here are enlightened, but moments like these are disappointing.

    I don’t really care what someone does or doesn’t buy. If a reader is satisfied with the bike they’ve had for 20 years, that’s terrific. I don’t want to push someone to buy something they don’t want. Rank consumerism isn’t my bag. However, for those who are interested in a conversation about new technology, for those who are considering an upgrade, that’s what I want to engage.

  9. Kevin G.

    Remember waaay back in 1995, I bought a AMP Research B4 with cable actuated hydro disc brakes. They worked great, very small…haven’t pulled that thing out in a while but pretty sure they still work. I always thought those would be great on a road bike!

  10. Anonymous

    Disc brakes aren’t going to be an “upgrade.” I mean you’re not going to add disc brakes to your current road bike frame. It’ll be a new bike decision. And just like indexed shifting or cassettes with more than 6 cogs, discs are the future. In a decade we’ll reminisce about this debate.

    How do we insure perfect rotor spacing so every wheel lines up with the calipers? Will there be a new thru-axle standard for road bikes? The ability to quickly change wheels is a requirement for racers. There are still a few niggles to sort out.

    I’ve owned four bikes with disc brakes, mechanical and hydraulic. No issues with the hydraulic models – outstanding performance and a pleasure to use. The mechanical brakes work, though they require routine pad adjustments and more effort on the levers. So I’m excited to see the disc brake migration to road. I’m eager to see Shimano’s new mechanical shift, hydraulic disc group. (Am I a fuddy-duddy ’cause I’m not enthralled with electronic shifting….)

  11. bwebel

    I love the discs that I’ve had, on a commuter single, tandems, and a triplet, and these were the cable Avid BB7s that a lot of people sneer at. But it seems that a fast road bike, especially in racing with quick wheel changes being necessary, is pretty much the last application where I’d say discs have a great advantage. I’m sure my racing bike will have them in a couple of years, but I wouldn’t seek them out for it.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Les, that is true today. Years ago Cannondale use to put mounts for V brakes and discs on their mountain bikes. I had a Super V with Shimano XT V brakes, but it also had disc mounts on the frame and fork. After experiencing some brake fade in long descents I upgraded to the Avid BBDB disc brakes that were the predecessors to the BB7 model. The difference in performance sold me. I don’t think there is any more adjustment or set up issues with them than V brakes.
      That said, would I sell my SOMA Saga just to replace it with a disc brake version? No.

  12. b

    Great article there. I would have presented the same arguments at that time, and been just as wrong.

    I now have a CX/gravel bike with mechanical SRAM disks, and although they are good, it hurts me every time I ride to see how much worse, in terms modulation and power, they are than my 10 year old Shimano hydraulics on my (old) MTB. And they need adjustment every 2nd time I ride. FYI, those hydraulic XT’s have done a LOT of miles, often in terrible conditions, been on a number of airline flights, been jiggled about in trucks and cars, been crashed often – and they are still spot on. The only maintenance I have done is to change the brake pads.

    Sure YMMV, but cable brakes are just an interim step until the engineers sort out hydraulics for road bikes, and the marketing types allow them to sweep down through the ranges – then we’ll (happily) see the end of cable operated disks. OR at least I will: y’all are welcome to keep using them, but I’ll be the bloke braking later into a corner, descending with more confidence, and riding my bike when you’re fiddling with the adjustment. Have fun. 🙂

    1. Anonymous

      B, cable disc brakes are the cantilevers of the disc brake universe,
      few people like them or know how to make them work.

      Shimano 2017 will have dual 100mm front rotors with floating calipers,
      142mm rear and 120mm front thru axles.

      Looking forward to the 6 spoke Rolf Disc wheels too.

  13. Jeremy

    I am incredibly intrigued by disc brakes as well but it seems the norm is still to spec the Avid BB7 on a road/cross bike. And my little bit of riding them was uninspired. I’d love to read something outlining your thoughts on the current crop of disc brakes that you mentioned to understand how they compare.

  14. Dustin

    As a MTBer who also rides on the road, I’m 100% for discs. I’ve got a custom any-road bike on order and it’ll have electric shifting and hydro discs. Any weater, any terrain braking power, no cables to fiddle with. I can’t wait! For the skeptics, a few things to keep in mind:
    -Maintenance – with quality hydros (aka, Shimano), you swap the pads as needed, and that is it. They very rarely need to be bled. Not so great hydros (aka SRAM in my experience) need to be bled every 4-6 months.
    -Tire change speeds – Who cares? Granted, for the pros, it matters. For 99% of riders it’s a non-issue.
    -Thru-axles – after riding a MTB with two nearly identical rigid carbon forks, other than one being a thru-axle and the other QR, I don’t think they’re necessary on road bikes. I could feel very, very, very little difference in the corners between the two. Very few road riders push their bikes through corners as hard as many MTBers do, I know I don’t! The consequences of a crash are a lot higher on the road than the trail.
    -Rim design – I don’t expect to see drastic changes in weights. Shapes, maybe. But weights, not so much. The rim still has to withstand the pressure from the tires, and be capable of withstanding hits now and again. There’s not much “only there for a brake track” material on a rim, most of it’s there for other reasons. Expect evolution, not revolution.

  15. Dave

    Why all the mention of hydraulic disk brakes? Don’t they use cable-actuated disk brakes as well? It seems to me that cable-actuated are likely to be more reliable than hydraulics in poor conditions.

    1. Dustin

      FALSE! Hydraulic is more reliable. The pads automatically adjust as they wear, and it’s a sealed system, no worries of mud and muck gunking up the cables. Also lighter.

      Cables are a stepping stone to hydros. Look at MTBing.

  16. August Cole

    The rising pace of technological change in the bike industry can be unsettling, particularly when there’s a real investment required to own the coolest or latest gear. None of that is necessary, of course, to do the simple thing a bicycle is meant to do, but if that’s all this was about, then it would not be a debate. For my next road/cx bike I decided to go with hydro disc brakes because I wanted to be able to run a 40c tire and reliably stop in the mud and rain. After mastering my Shimano cantis on the CX bike, I’m ready to leave that hard-won knowledge behind. Besides, hip-checking a tree to try and slow down on a muddy trail is not an ideal way to stop when you’re 40 years old. I actually ride my road bike off road more than my CX bike because the Ultegra brakes work better and the fork doesn’t chatter. It’s worth admitting though you have to make peace with the fact that next year, and the year after, and the year after that, some iteration will come out that will look like it represents an improvement. Yet avoiding anything new to avoid that anxiety, a modern phenomenon that seems rooted in consumer electronics and maybe cars, is a mistake. To be sure, I draw the line at electronic shifting. I have enough batteries in my life that need charging…


  17. Author
    Padraig

    Anonymous, Les B: When I used the term “upgrade,” I was speaking to my larger editorial mission, not specifically to the discussion of discs.

    Stephen: No, not them. The conversation was much further reaching than the work of one component company.

    Jeremy: I’ll get to reviews soon, but before doing that, I wanted to make a larger statement about my belief in this technology, especially as I’d been against it.

  18. The Angry Singlespeeder

    Anyone who naysays hydro disc brakes on road bikes has either never ridden them or is a retro grouch curmudgeon. And the statement that someone doesn’t want to run discs because they’re gonna get sliced up in a wreck is ridiculous. Have you looked at your big chainring lately? It has as many as 53 sharp teeth just waiting to rip your kneecap off! I’ve been on hydro discs for two years now and will never go back. The versatility, modulation, control and all weather performance is far superior to calipers and even the best cantilevers. Glad you agree Patrick.

    – ASS

  19. Hoshie99

    More tire size options plus all the better braking (notice I said “better” not more powerful) make this a strong improvement when all the second gen stuff comes out.

    Does anyone really “need it”? I don’t know – but that’s not what this is about. It’s about progress.

    I upgraded to mini Vs for my cross bike to get better stoppers as my frame pre-dates discs. I’ll move to disc on the next road bike purchase in a year or two and I’ll be looking for room for 28-30s for tire options for sure.

    J

  20. Quentin

    I agree with several points made by others. Disc brakes make it possible for not just different tire sizes, but different rim sizes. With an appropriately designed frame, 700x25C can easily be swapped out for 650x35B (or bigger, maybe), which significantly increases the different ways one bike can be used. The presence of lawyer tabs already make traditional quick release skewers slower than they were originally designed to be, so I don’t see any real cost to through axles. Maybe there will be a niche of racing-only bikes that use rim brakes and regular quick releases, but for everything else, through axles and discs are the future. As a tandem rider, I’m also happy to see road bikes switch to discs because that will make more component options available to road tandems, which have mostly already made the switch because they have a clear need for the increased braking power.

  21. Full Monte

    Padriag’s found religion! Huzzah! “I like them and I want them.” That’s what I’ve been saying ever since I tried them in the wet. The rest of the benefits of discs, icing on the cake. In ten years, calipers on bikes will be today’s equivalent of shifters on the down tube.

  22. Touriste-Routier

    I think we need to look at this as emerging technology. It is here, it is real; there are currently pros and cons, but the future is looking bright, and there is a lot of upside as the designs get refined. They may not be universally adopted, but they will find their markets and applications.

  23. MCH

    Does this mean that I’ll have to give up my Simplex derailleurs and Mafac brakes? The big corporate bike companies are getting out of control.

  24. Mike

    You can brake later, faster, and harder. Whether you were at fault or a car or another rider, this will save you some skin someday. Hydraulic discs are that good, it’s not all marketing hype, and xc racers in 99 didn’t need discs either. Roll the tape forward to 2007, nearly 8 years ago now…how many guys were still riding v brakes? Not many, I’ll save you time googling. Road, will progress at a faster rate than mtb mostly because a lot of groundwork was already done.

  25. Davo

    After most of a summer riding gravel every weekend I took a spin on a disc equipped cross bike and it was life changing. It was as big a step as integrated shifters compared to downtube shifters. It was at least a step function better. Control = speed and safety. Come on !! I sold four bikes to buy a disc equipped cross bike and it was the best bike decision I’ve made. I’m not looking back.

  26. Adam

    In an ideal world I would love to upgrade my current road bike to a bike that is less racy & more utilitarian with disc brakes & proper fender/rack mounts. I live in the Sea to Sky corridor of BC, fall & early spring riding/commuting to work would be much more comfortable & safe with discs.
    However, I hope this shift doesn’t fully remove the production of caliper brakes & mechanical shifting bikes. This is both from a ‘I want to go touring & not carry a small mechanics shop to fix things’ and more importantly to continue having a range of bicycles for people on the lower end of the income spectrum so people aren’t priced out of buying up to date or new bikes just because the maintenance & up keep is going to be prohibitive.

  27. bobby

    OK – I think we can all admit that they work much better. No one ever said, “man, I wish my canti’s”, especially on a CX frankenbike. Set up is not hard and an out of true disc brake is an equal worry as common as an out of true wheel. Both are more likely to occur on the trunk of you car than on the road/track/course etc..For argument sake though, here is a point. In a road race, imagine 100 racers. Now imagine 50% with disc brakes. Take 50% of that, and add in poorly set-up disc brake all squeaking along making that wickets-wickety sound. Annoying. Also, imagine a criterium where you have varying braking abilities. Things could get ugly. I would only feel comfy if it were ALL Discs or none. It is going to happen people, start saving your off-season pennies.

  28. Alan Cote

    That’s a nice summary of your thoughts on disc brakes Patrick, thank. It seems like adoption of discs will end up somewhere between clipless pedals (obsoleted clips/straps outside of utility riding) and road tubeless (still more a niche) — just where in between is the question. Throw in thru-axle / standard axle, and wheel/parts compatibility is grim. Not that that’s reason for discs not to emerge, but it’s surely like the flipside of discs’ benefits.

    About rotating mass … Tom Anhalt did some calculations busting that myth, showing that rotating mass has a nearly insignificant penalty compared to mass-on-the-bike. The article is on slowtwitch.com.

  29. Mark Helms

    Tech will undoubtedly battle each other between rim and disc for the next several years, but is sure nice to have options. You sure can’t beat disc for bad weather braking but for the moment they are always going to add weight to a bike. That is why companies like Magura are developing high end center pull hydraulic rim brakes like the RT8 TT, with great modulation properties and performance. Nothing says that engineers won’t develop a highly efficient brake surface on a carbon clincher, like Bianchi’s Aquila CV. It is both interesting and fun watching the progress and the respective banter.

  30. Patrick24

    I think they will be great for commuters, as well as a lot of people raised on mountain bikes. At least one article I read said this is a change that will be adopted first by the entry and mid-level buyers rather than upper-ended road bike fanatics.

  31. Fuzz

    Thanks so much for the update and info. I’ve been wondering if the better modulation of disc brakes would be as noticeable on a road bike as it is on a MB. I originally put disc brakes on my old MB for wet weather, but was then amazed to find I could brake much more effectively in dry weather as well. There was no going back to rim brakes. I used to think braking was all about power, but really, it’s all about modulation.

    I’m buying a new road bike this year and was still going back and forth on disc vs. rim brakes, so this is great stuff. I’ll make my final decision with test rides, but for now it’s hard to imagine not doing discs, particularly since I’m not a weight weenie. And with some of the crazy descents in my area (Santa Cruz Mountains), I would love to take overheated rims off my list of concerns while riding.

  32. khal spencer

    I live where we have 4 mile, 7% descents out of the mountains. The good Shimano and Campy brakes do just fine on my single bikes, but I’ve often considered selling our Co-Motion tandem for a new example with good disks. There is just no way a pair of linear pull brakes will work as well with two people careening down like banshees.

    Going back 40 years (yep, I’m old) I recall trying to stop fast motorcycles before the advent of disks. It was a matter of braking hard and praying hard. My current BMW has a pair of Brembo disk brakes up front and a single BMW disk in the back. Of course, tires are much better too. No ka oi.

  33. Spiff

    As a sometime racer and all of the time mountainous/dirt road/paved road/double/single track/anywhere it’s fun rider, disc road could not be a more incredible option IMO, though I’ll wait a few product cycles until standards get sorted, money gets saved, and typical 1st gen issues are fully overcome (SRAM…). One of my most ridiculously dicey days in the saddle was a hilly crit that started dry and ended in torrential downpours and rivers of water through back alley troughs. I had never previously experienced the need to brake hard *right now* in the wet and the carbon tubulars did what you always hear they do… nothing at all… then still nothing… ages of nothing except some noise… then grabby spotty firm/soft/firm braking that left one feeling conflicted between bracing for impact and plotting your angles and acceleration out of the corner on the gritty rooster tail coming from the wheel ahead. Zero modulation. Zero confidence.

    At the extreme other end of the spectrum, riding lots of miles on a cross bike, running 25s or 28s on mostly road rides and 34s when hopping onto a little singletrack, fenders through the winter, etc, is the most fun I have much of the year – but cantis are to big descents what knives are to tactical nuclear weapons – useless. They take all the fun out and you’re just grabbing handfuls of brake and surviving the long way down when you could be taking on more speed and flowing through the corners a bit more – like dull edges on an icy ski run.

    More aero? Probably never. Lighter? Probably never. More expensive? Probably always. Useful for sunny day paved road riders? Probably a waste of money. I still can’t wait until I can add this to the quiver and subtract one or two other bikes out.

  34. Michael

    Great post & comments.

    I am having Deja Vu here- When disc brakes began to appear on mountain bikes. Website forum conservations started with the same ‘chatter’- hesitation, enthusiasm & skepticism – followed some years later by acceptance which was quickly passed by chatter of comparisons and criticisms of competing brands. Our beloved & storied ‘Ive ridden 20 years on these’ rim brakes were no longer mentioned anywhere and quickly found new homes on Ebay and ‘vintage’ builds.

    Padraig mentioned “its just an engineering problem” What I feel is most interesting about this statment is the fact that engineers solved this ‘problem’ decades ago. Disc brakes are not only old news, they are a very simple and very effective way to slow things down. Any 2, 4, 6+ wheeled vehicle manufactured after 1980 most likely has disc brakes.

    Their is no problem, and no real significant design or engineering challenge to place decades old technology on a centuries old platform. It is the slow acceptance by the veterans of the sport to include the competitive governing bodies that is the problem. If the UCI had approved disc brakes for road competition 10 years ago do you think this post would have any relevance today? Why is a component that can improve rider safety not a priority?

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  36. Martin R.

    If you were looking for a new road bike right now, would you prefer one with disc brakes? I have a mt. bike with hydraulic disc brakes and I have never owned a road bike before. I think the only “significant” drawback is that it adds weight. I am considering Cannondale CAAD10 Black Inc. Disc, 2015 model.


  37. Author
    Padraig

    Fuzz: The short answer is, yes, it’s that much more noticeable.

    Khal: I’ve got a canti’-equipped tandem and I don’t go down anything long or steep on it. Discs and tandems are like peanut butter and jelly.

    Spiff: I can say that the Shimano and SRAM stuff is already good enough to be worth owning. The second-generation SRAM lever is much more adjustable than it was prior to the recall. They are great systems, but yes, they will get lighter. Regarding the aero factor, I’ll say that I’ve heard mixed things from those who have taken them in the wind tunnel, but in one instance a company told me that they saw an improvement in aerodynamics at high yaw angles. Something to think about.

    Michael: Just to clarify, that statement about discs being an engineering problem was being applied very specifically to how disc systems and road frames would need to be re-engineered to work for the road. Yes, we already had disc systems, but the needs on the road are different and carbon road frames needed new layups to handle the braking forces. Shimano’s product manager for their system made it very clear that while they had great knowledge of how to do disc systems for mountain bikes, the needs for the road were very different and simply bolting an XTR set of discs to a road bike wasn’t workable.

    Martin: If I was going to buy a new bike right now and the model I was looking at had a disc option, I would absolutely go for the disc version. The improvement in braking is so impressive that I am willing to take the weight penalty.

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