Mass Extinction

Mass Extinction

The Union Cycliste Internationale has just greenlighted the use of disc brakes in the pro peloton for the 2016 season. This is arguably the single biggest technological change in the pro peloton since the introduction of the cable-actuated rear derailleur in the late 1940s. Those rear derailleurs—first the Simplex, then the Campagnolo Gran Sport—changed racing and admission to the Tour de France podium was governed by the presence of a rear derailleur on a bike. First Fausto Coppi, then Ferdinand Kübler and Hugo Koblet, the Tour was never the same.

But racing was different in the ’40s and ’50s; not every rider made the transition to the rear derailleur in the same year. The transition to disc brakes can and will be different for a couple of reasons.

Given how important pro racing is to product development, marketing objectives not to mention larger brand identity, it’s a lock that every WorldTeam will ride disc brakes for the whole of the season. What’s less certain is just how many Professional Continental and Continental teams will be sponsored with bikes equipped with disc brakes. The Professional Continental teams seem likely to get bikes with disc brakes, but given the dozens of Continental teams there are around the world, a betting man could be forgiven for thinking some smaller operations will hit the road with rim brakes.

The central question has always been how the differences in braking performance would affect the peloton. In this regard, the transition to disc brakes echoes the peloton’s switch from fixed gear to freewheels. The freewheel changed how riders cornered and the presence of someone on a fixed cog, charging through the pack as everyone else coasted caused expletive shouting that is still echoing off the streets of Europe.

Because of the superior power and modulation of disc brakes, riders brake later and brake harder with discs. For pros, who already take that to levels mere mortals find extreme, it means that a rider with rim brakes following a rider with discs will need to brake earlier, and possibly give up that draft, or that spot in the paceline. Following a rider with discs into a corner could make for some interesting … events.

In a real-world sense, the have/have not question was aimed squarely at Campagnolo. Until recently, there was no word from the venerable Italian manufacturer on whether or not it would even produce a disc brake. We now know that Campagnolo filed a patent for a disc system in June of 2014 and that it uses an insert in the handlebar to hold the fluid reservoir. We also know that Campagnolo showed off a system to select product managers at Taichung Bike Week. We’re told that four teams will be testing the system during the 2016 season. Given the long wait between the first EPS prototypes and when the system went into production, we shouldn’t hold our breath that it will be for sale in 2017, though it would be nice if it was.

Beyond the have/have not issue is one of neutral support. The UCI has stipulated 160mm rotors, but the presence of quick release skewers means that alignment could still be an issue, and a pad rubbing a rotor is (sort of understandably) the stuff of skinny boy tantrums. Here is another argument for through-axles—that through-axles result in more precise alignment of the wheel in the frame, leading to a reduced likelihood of brake rub following a wheel change. But that extra time for neutral wheel changes will be as popular as when the barista runs out of skim milk just as it’s time to make your latté.

The UCI’s announcement including a second announcement. Discs will be legal for use in amateur ranks for the 2017 season. I’d like to think that what will increase will be the yelling, not the crashing. The big news is that ’17 is likely to be the year where we see the first mass extinction of rim brakes from new groupsets. They are likely to disappear from Dura-Ace and Ultegra, if not 105. The same seems likely for Red and Force, maybe Rival, too.

Rim brakes will persist and they will persist for a very long time. But discs are becoming the dominant technology and if there’s only one piece of info you file away, it’s this: I’ve yet to meet a rider who has ridden discs on a road bike who dismissed them and said they preferred their rim brakes.


, , , , , , , ,


    1. Velo Zephyr

      135mm and 142x12mm are and will be the dominant standards. I don’t know anyone making 130mm disc hubs. That got cleared up pretty early on.

      Fortunately 135mm and 142x12m are (sort-of) secretly the same thing, at least as far as derailleur position, chainline, and disc rotor offset are concerned.

    2. Author

      135mm is almost certainly the answer. Currently, all the specs on road disc wheels I can find show the rear hub is 135mm, but with some boost options, but that’s generally only with small builders. Bikes like the Tarmac and TCR are 135. Anyone who goes with 142 does so with the risk of having neutral support issues.

    1. Author

      You might think this is a “the sky is falling” sort of post, but that’s not the case. It’s an interesting issue. I think the transition is going to have some bumps, but it’s a big change in road bike technology and it is an interesting issue to discuss for a variety of reasons.

  1. Shawn

    Brakes……? Who needs brakes???? Real women don’t use their brakes……Oh yeah, and real men too !

    Wasn’t it a Swedish rally driver in the 70’s and 80’s who heeded the use of brakes as well… ? Stig Blomquist may have been his name.

    Anybody want to buy a pair of MTB cantilever brakes?

  2. Dustin

    One clarification – thru-axles will have zero impact on brake rub when switching wheels. They help reduce chances of run when installing/removing the SAME wheel, but change wheels, everything goes out the window. The disc’s offset from the caliper will be slllliiiightly different thanks to minor variations in tolerances, and even the disc thickness can change.

    Discs will cause more bike swaps vs wheel swaps, and maybe more durable tores to prevent flats in the first place.

    1. Velo Zephyr

      Dustin, the precision of a machined hub shell is much better than the tolerance required to get a disc rotor between the brake pads and not rub, especially when you’re using the same brand/model wheel/hub.

      Pro teams won’t be switching to more durable tires any time soon. For better or worse, good rubber compound and casing construction offer a lot more efficiency than your average everyday tire or commuter tire.

  3. Les.B.

    If this mass extinction thing happens, I wonder how long owners of non-disc bikes will be able to buy replacement parts or new brakes for their bikes. Hopefully the big 3 will continue to offer their old groupsets for a long time. Or maybe other manufacturers will step in to keep owners of “old” frames riding.

    1. Velo Zephyr

      Les.B., the component makers will never continue producing old product lines once they’ve updated them. But there will be plenty of stock available, you can still buy NOS 7- and 8- speed parts from 30 years ago.

      Shimano and Campy will ALWAYS keep caliper brakes in their lineup. They might not sell a Dura-Ace-level brake, but there will always be a Taiga-level brake that works just as well. And as long as rim brakes are available on road bikes (which will be another 5 years, at least, probably 15), then Shimano and SRAM will still want to spec top-level caliper brakes as OEM builds on complete bikes.

      And when all else fails, there will still be companies producing parts for retro bikes. I think most people would be amazed at just how big that market is.

  4. Hautacam

    Skinny boys and girls have no monopoly on throwing tantrums over misaligned rotors rubbing brake pads. Brakes that rub — whether disc or caliper – drives me nuts.

    1. Author

      The skinny boy crack was aimed squarely at pros, because we will see them on our TVs or computer screens, but I’m with you, a misaligned rotor will cause me to get off my bike with mini-tool in hand.

  5. david

    And suddenly my Ti frame, the frame that I bought with the intention of never buying another, becomes obsolete. I hope rim brakes “persist for a very long time.”

    1. Paul Thober

      David, your Ti frame certainly is not obsolete. Unless your name is Methuselah you don’t have to worry about wearing out your present set of brakes. Your frame will break before your brakes wear out.

    2. Telford

      Unlike a carbon frame, you may be able to send your titanium frame back to the builder and have the dropout spacing resized and disc tabs welded in. There…good for another lifetime.

    3. Author

      As others have noted, rim brake parts such as brake shoes and pad holders, not to mention the brakes themselves, will be easy to source for a very long time to come. There will come a point when Dura-Ace and similar-level parts will become harder to find, but the rim brake won’t ever completely go away. You just won’t see them on TV.

      That said, retrofitting existing frames is rarely a good idea. It’s important to build a frame around the intended brake in order to make sure the fork blades and chainstays (or seatstays) are stout enough for the stresses delivered. Just observe how many disc-brake gravel bikes are out there with a strut running between the seatstay and chainstay.

    1. Author

      That’s an interesting idea, but if the manufacturers discussed it, they discarded it quickly. And that’s the thing: the bike companies have spoken and it’s going to be discs front and rear. I’m sure you could ask a custom builder to make that bike, but whether they will or not is a separate question.

  6. Matt

    I can still get pads for my ’98 XTR v brakes so I don’t think we need to worry too much about parts for our current road rim brakes… Until maybe 2035.

  7. sebastien

    That is a good news since I strongly believe in disc brakes.
    I would like to share your article in my shop’s FB. Before to do so, I just want to verify the source (sorry, I got slapped a couple of times sharing unverified articles). I just went into the UCI news tab and did not find anything in this regard. Would you mind to tell where to find it?

    Thank you

  8. Fred

    Rim brakes are a type of disk brake. Specicalized is going for 130 rear spacing for now but will likely switch to 12×142. 135 spacing is same as 12×142, the 142 dimension being the axle width, 135 OLD dimension is the same. Boost 148 has a wider OLD and makes sense with the bracing angle of the new 11 speed road hubs, but would likely cause a Q-factor increase. I am hoping the Focus thru-axle system becomes standard. I am hoping also that a solution is found for the decrease in bracing angle when 12 speed comes along that does not involve a Q-factor increase (perhaps Boost 148 in combination with an elevated chainstay) or simply moving to 135 spacing but using a rim brake (the horror, kind of like the new threaded BB by CK and Argonaut) … I love disks for cross, commuting, rainy rides, etc. but on a beautiful day, rim brakes are what I would want. Also Wout Van Aert is riding Cantis, what is that about?

  9. Alistair Brooks

    Is the jury still out on whether aero performance is affected by disc brakes? There’s that quote from Damon Rinard along the lines of ‘we’ve just come back from the wind tunnel and it doesn’t look good for discs’ and it may be significant that Cervelo so far have only fitted them to their non-aero bike. If you are an amateur interested only in going as fast as possible for fun then it would seem strange to buy an aero helmet and wheels, for example, then slow the bike back down with disc brakes. Anyone know?

  10. Stephen Barner

    The Technology Peloton dropped me solidly with 10 Speed cassettes. The move to disks just puts them over the horizon. I’m confident that the Grim Reaper will catch me before I overtake the road disk transition.

    There are some good things about road disks. First, shake enough hands and you’ll quickly realize that a lot of people don’t have a strong grip. You need a lot of hand strength and experience to get effective stopping from rim brakes in inclement weather. Just as important is the elimination of the problem of aluminum becoming embedded in the pads of rim brakes, which is especially problematic when it’s wet. Not only does this wear the rims, the sound is like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. The fine aluminum dust and grit makes a real mess of the bike, as well. I expect to biggest issue, beyond the marketing potential, for road disks is that they resolve the problems of trying to get rim brakes to work well with carbon rims, largely due to heat dissipation issues. I can’t see carbon rims in my future any more than electronic shifting.

    I prefer rim brakes for icy weather. Yes, they provide very little stopping power, but it’s so easy to lock up a wheel in those conditions, strong brakes are the last thing you want. My commute includes 17% descents on a mountain known for its propensity for sucking snow out of the sky, so I have some experience with riding in highly challenging conditions. I do recall a few times when my attention wandered and I waited until I was on the descent to apply the brakes and found myself saying “Okay, you can start doing something any time now!” to my sleeping brakes.

    If you don’t care anything about road disks, you should love them, if only for the way they are going to drive down the resale price of a lot of truly sweet bike bling on the second hand market.

  11. Conrad

    OK.. I have ridden road discs and I prefer my dual pivot rim brakes. Discs are great for bikes with suspension, dubious for cyclocross, and pointless for a road racing bike designed around a 23mm or so tire. The contact patch is the weak point. What nobody mentions is that the fork and head tube area of the frame need to be substantially stronger and therefore heavier for discs. I race cyclocross in the Cat 1/2 field and so far, whenever there is a long fast muddy descent with a hairpin at the bottom, people are not dropping me even though my wide profile cantis are somewhat weak. What does happen, though, is I occasionally drop riders that are otherwise better than me when their disc brakes start rubbing or stop working altogether in really nasty conditions.

  12. Cat 4 Elite

    “… it’s a lock that every WorldTeam will ride disc brakes for the whole of the season.”

    What are they going to ride? A quick perusal of the websites of top manufacturers shows that few offer high-end race bikes with disk brakes. What do these companies want to sell 12k aero bikes or 6k endurance bikes with disk brakes. Has any company designed a disk brake race bike from the ground up, or are they slapping disk mounts on slightly modified bikes? Also, are any wheel manufacturers making true disk road race wheels (as opposed to rim brake wheels with a different hub and brake track delete)?

    Disk brakes are coming to the pro tour, but probably not this year.

  13. wayno

    after reading the article, i saw there were 30 comments. figured it would be full of folks challenging Padraigs last line. but nope, only one person stated they prefer calipers to disc. guess I am number two. hydro’s are nice and smooth and are an improvement, yes, but it’s been said before, discs on a road bike for most applications is a solution to a problem that does not exist – carbon rims, in the rain, flying down a mountain withstanding. but it is the bike biz and its not like feature creep is somethng new.

  14. david

    My comment about my titanium frame becoming obsolete was somewhat tongue in cheek……though camouflaged it would seem.

    Disc brakes are as irrelevant to my riding as is pro level equipment. Like Mr. Barner above, I’ll continue to enjoy my 10 speed, rim calipered, ti framed bike as I look for “truly sweet bike bling!”

  15. Rob

    I meant to comment on this last week, but other things got in the way. I have limited experience with discs, but there’s no question that they stop better and offer better modulation in almost all conditions. My only recommendation would be to wait on buying a high end road bike with discs until the bike companies figure out how it’s all going to shake out. Early adopters get hosed in pretty much everything, but cycling in particular is littered with bad ideas that came to market too soon (Mavic electronic shifting anyone? Spinergy wheels?). I think at this point it’s quite clear that thru-axles are how it’s going to be, and probably wider rear spacing, so a new bike w/o those things will likely be at least somewhat obsolete in fairly short order. I would also expect more gears in back and perhaps 1X drivetrains to offset the weight gain of discs. But you can’t stop the march of progress and I would hope that the bike companies will eventually get it right. The proliferation of BB “non-standards” and the lack of tubeless tire standards do make me worry a bit…

  16. dennis noward

    They are disc brake’s. Been around a long time. Techno? I don’t think so. Someone simply adapted them to bikes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *