Friday Group Ride #495

Friday Group Ride #495

I was chatting with my friend Neil. Neil is, very quietly, one of the most prolific designers of custom bike frames of the last decade. He’s really seen almost every crazy idea a person can have, and he’s designed a lot of them. In the veloverse’s rush to disc brakes, he rapidly adapted to longer chainstays and altered head tube angles to deliver a proper road ride experience to someone on a larger tire. So, when he told me that he’s spent his lockdown deep in a nostalgia for rim-brake road bikes, watching EPO-era races on YouTube and dreaming of rocketing down long descents with nary a rotor to call on, I was surprised…and a little relieved.

The best bike I’ve ever had (and still have) is a rim-brake road bike. It’s a featherlight, scalpel of a thing, a glove-right, telepathic handling, minimalist sculpture on 25mm rubber.

For balance I have to say, I love disc brakes, too. Time and place. Confidence inspiring. Versatile. This isn’t an either-or piece, it’s a both-and. I’m just coming from the perspective that maybe what we’ve been doing over the last 3-4 seasons is replacing a lot of perfect bikes with new, different, but also probably perfect bikes. The replacement wasn’t necessary, the blood sacrifice and dust gathering treatment we meted out to our former friends.

I’ll sound crazy, but I think Jan Ulrich’s big gold earring symbolizes exactly what I’m talking about. At the time, I thought it was a bit of style that stood out in the peloton certainly, a plaintive German middle-finger to practicality, a hint at Ulrich’s swashbuckling potential, a statement of his supremacy on the road (on many days not in July), and a time marker, too. People don’t sport that particular look anymore (like people don’t wear all-white kit on their tiger-striped bikes with massive shades, a la Cippolin), but it is emblematic of a certain succession of glory days in our sport, before we’d emerged from the blood-doping cave and when riders still felt unstoppably fast. You can like it or dislike it, but it was a heady time at the time, if you know what I’m saying.

The rim brake is like that earring, so great that it’s still great. My friend Radio Freddy has taken, occasionally, to posting social media messages with the hashtag #savetherimbrake. That’s how you know there will be a resurgence in fork crown mounted beauty soon. Freddy sees the future. That’s just true.

So I’m riding my best-bike-ever this week. I’m putting it on the trainer when it rains, and I’m unleashing it on the pavement when the sun shines. I’m wishing Neil and I could be out spinning together. We were good riding partners when we could still ride together.

This week’s Group Ride asks, are you still riding rim brakes? How much? Or are you one who has rid themselves of all your “older” bikes in favor of disc stopping in all formats? Conversely, are you a hold out, a purist? And was my Ulrich’s earring analogy just batshit crazy, or did that make sense to you?

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31 comments

  1. Mike

    If I could build my own bike from the ground up with whatever I wanted, I might just go with a lightweight steel frame designed for long-haul distances, able to fit 35mm tires with dual pivot calipers. Discs definitely have their advantages but the roads I ride just are not so steep and long that there is a real advantage. Certainly the simplicity in maintenance and adjustment of the rim brake has value.

    1. David

      +1 Mike. I’m in Chris Bishop’s queue for a custom steel road bike, optimized for 28 – 32mm tires. I’m planning dual pivot Cane Creek Eebrakes and possibly HED Ardennes + rims. My current Lynskey will fit nothing larger than 25mm, thus the real desire for a new bike. Like Mike, I have no real need for discs – they just aren’t a solution for a relevant problem, and I value simplicity. Plus I like the look!

  2. Peter Dedes

    My every day bike is a Breezer Venturi with a SRAM Red 10 sp group, SRAM Red aero rim brakes and Schwalbe 25mm rubber on older 50mm Boyd carbon trims.

  3. Emil Gercke

    Yes, my ‘road bike’ is still a rim brake wonder. I love it. I also love my ‘cyclocross bike’ that I have set up for road/gravel with 32mm tires, it is a disc brake bike. Both are wonderful, albeit very different, bikes.

  4. Jay Fromkin

    Rim brakes on my Davidson titanium and Scott Addict. When I was much younger, I rode the Davidson down Colorado’s Loveland Pass at about 50 mph, with no particular fear – other than hitting a patch of sand or gravel, and disc brakes wouldn’t have been any better in that situation.

  5. Alan Canfield

    Still riding rim brakes on my 2018 Trek Domane and love it! The Domane was spec’ed with the awesome dual-pivot caliber brakes that are noticeably better than even the best Dura Ace single-pivot brakes I ever used. Sure, the disc-brake version of the Domane will run wider tires but I’m not having any trouble with 28mm tires on local gravel multi-use trails and dirt roads.

    As a really big guy, I can also state from experience that rim brakes are easier on my spokes that disc brakes. (Cue memories of mountain bike wheel failures). At my size I’m not a weight-weenie about disc brakes. I’m an engineer that understands the added strain placed on the spokes when you try to stop the wheel from the center.

  6. Chris

    I’m a rim brake luddite. I live on the SF Peninsula, so most descents are under 40mph and pavement is good enough for 25mm rubber. Winter is alloy clinchers with Michelin Lithion 2 25mm clinchers, summer Campy Boras with 25mm Vittoria Corsa tubulars. Most used bikes are DeRosa carbon Protos and King RS with Campy 11 speed. On special days / rides I have a 1982 Colnago Super with the real Super Record and tubulars on tiny Assos rims. Ride a technical descent on that, and dual pivot rim brakes are epic.

    Too many bikes and wheels to convert to discs, and I don’t have the need. I did Markleeville on carbon clinchers without issue, even getting held up in traffic and having to ride the brakes on descents.

    1. David in Maine

      I discs on my mountain bike, winter commuter beast and a sweet Indy Fab all road bike with fat 650b rubber. But, the Seven road bike I commissioned this fall for my 50th birthday has long reach VO calipers. Love the simplicity have no need for discs on that bike! It rides like a dream!

  7. Dave

    I have always been a rim brake guy and always will be. I run rim brakes on my road and cross bikes with no problem. I’ve never had an experience where I was ‘fuck, I need more stopping power’ and I used to race in and around Granada Spain, where there are tons of descents where you’ll break 65mph easily. I am a big guy as well, so to be able to descend that fast and have the calipers do exactly what was needed was all the proof I needed that discs are not for me. I now live in Maine and there aren’t many descents where you’ll get over 50mph.

    I need more clarification on the Ullrich analogy as someone who has three earrings!

    1. Hautacam

      +1 “rim brake luddite” here! (Thanks for that, Chris @ 9:44 am!) I’ve got nothing against discs — they’ve been on all my cars and motos over the years— but my bikes are all 90’s old school and i’m gonna ride them till they break. Then maybe I’ll look at discs.

  8. TomIbAlbany

    I have rim brakes on my road bike and my mountain bike. They’re from that era- ’98 and ’01 respectively. They work. Period. The mtn bike needs new shocks and it’s 26″ wheels are far more obsolete than those rim brakes, really.

    I recently bought a Blue Racing CX bike. Used. It as estimated to be from around 2014 or so. It came with mechanical Avid 5s. I HATE THEM. They rub and won’t stay in line. They stop the bike fine but I’ll be changing them out as soon as I can confidently make a purchase. I have to pick up a new set of skills for owning a disc bike. I’ll deal.

    Loved your Ulrich analogy. I totally get it. I’m mid-50s now. I look at old photos of friends and me and can tell what was going on by how we looked and dressed.

    1. Dave

      Avid 5s are what are on my cross bike and hate them as well. New brakes are on the to do list. What are you looking at for replacements?

    2. TominAlbany

      @Dave – I’ve been looking around on FB here in local swaps and whatnot to see what I might find cheap. I guess if I could find some 7’s or some other mechanical that will work well, I’ll be fine with it. I’m not particularly interested in learning the ins and outs of hyrdraulic brakes and bleeding etc. I like low maintenance. How about you?

  9. Scott M.

    Both of my bikes still sport rim brakes. However, there are places that I simply won’t ride my Giant TCR. It’s not to avoid a 50 MPH downhill. Rather, its the tight, technical drops of western Sonoma County that force my hand. There’s no way I’m riding calipers on carbon wheels down the steep pitches and cranky twists on Hauser Bridge or Skaggs Spring. I’ve heard too many stories of guys delaminating rims by overheating. If you’re unfamiliar with these roads, they aren’t the place to let ’em run.

    On the other hand, my 2018 Trek Domane has metal rims and direct mount brakes. That’s perfectly adequate for virtually any adventure ride on any dry grade. The times it’s been wet coming down those hills, however, I’d have given my left nut for a disc brake.

  10. Jeff Dorminey

    Coming from an age where we thought 19 mm tires w/ 120-150 psi were the best way to go, I still have this idea that 25 mm tires w/ 80-90 psi are wide tires! Yes my road bike has rim brakes which work very well, I do have disk brakes on my Mtn & Gravel bikes, so I’m willing to step up to new technology if proven “worthy “. And, I also have a feeling that soon we will have no choice other then Disk brakes and Electronic shifting because that’s all that is going to offered on any mid to high level bike.

  11. AG

    My road bike is rim-brake and the mtb is disc. Not so much because I’m stubborn about it, but my road bike still has a few years to go before it is oldish and I would want to replace it. For now, I am completely happy with the Dura-Ace rim brakes. They work really well for 98% of my stopping needs, they are light, the levers are trim and comfortable and not shaped weirdly, and maintenance is, well, almost non-existent. Will my next road bike be disc? Probably, but most likely only because that is what will be for sale. Wider tires, great stopping and cooler looking wheels are all pluses, but for now I am completely happy with the rim brakes. O, the other 2% of my stopping needs are the scary ones that I try to avoid with keeping my eyes and ears open and alert.

  12. Michael

    Wait! I shouldn’t have that hoop in my ear?!?! I’m ahead of the curve, after 40 years of an earring. I have a couple of road bikes with rim brakes and my cross bike, which I mostly ride through the woods without racing, has cantilevers, but my mountain bike has disc brakes. I bought the new mountain bike because I wanted 29″ wheels, and the discs were what came with that. However, I became a convert to disc brakes for the mountain bike pretty instantaneously. I am having a new touring bike made with discs and I expect I’ll love those for slowing a heavy bike on dirt and tarmac. However, I still haven’t felt the need for discs on my road bikes. Something will get me to buy a new bike, and when that happens, I’ll happily try discs on the road, but it is not a good enough reason to replace the bikes in and of itself. I sure hope we don’t have to have electronic shifting on all high-end bikes. There is a joy to not having to plug anything in, ever, on a bike.I definitely would not want it on my touring bike.

  13. Quentin

    My road bike has rim brakes because I’m a slow adopter who doesn’t buy new bikes often. My current bike dates to 2014 and I’m loving this newfangled 11-speed drivetrain with compact cranks. Whatever will they think of next?

  14. Lyford

    My current road bike has rim brakes and aluminum rims. I have zero concerns about stopping power in weather I want to ride in and like the weight and simplicity. The only nagging negative with this bike is that it can only fit a 25mm tire in the rear. The roads here are a long way from smooth. If I replace it it’ll be for wider tires, not for disc brakes.
    I’m happy with the discs on my mountain and gravel bike. I have an old commuter with cantilevers and wince at the sound of grinding rims when it sees dirt.

  15. scottg

    My quarantine project is an Ellis Briggs with French LAM brakes.
    Bikes are supposed to be simple, hyrdo brakes, electronic shifting
    are extra complications.
    As the guru said, “Simplicate and add lightness”

  16. D. Brink

    My trusty rim brakes and tubular tires have safety guided me through the last four Etap du Tours in the Alps. As an an a “industry guy” I have the good fortune to choose pretty much any equipment that pleases me. Time to head out on my 14 pound rim brake R5, solo of course. It’s going to be a great day.

  17. Flash Gorman

    Disc brakes all the way for me. Have 18,000 miles on a set of rims that would have been replaced three times over with rim brakes. I am of course talking hydraulic rather than cable which are only suitable for fans of faint metallic rubbing noises.

    I suspect none of those championing rim brakes are driving cars with drum brakes and cross ply tyres. When I say none, I of course exclude the guy who’s going to chime in decrying the death of the double declutch.

  18. Lucien Walsh

    I do love the simplicity and elegance of great rim brakes. But now that I’m on 35’s, I don’t really want to go back to 25 (28’s have to be mounted empty to my older road bike). So when the time came that I really really wanted a new bike (and, most importantly, go the nod that said new bike would be S-1), I went with an Allied Alfa Allroad disc.

    In a gesture of grand cosmic irony, Chris Bishop moved in 3 doors up the very next week.

    But that’s the way it is, sometimes. I’m sure I would have been smitten by a Bishop with post mounted rim brakes; I see them on their way to new homes and they are art, truly. That said, I am still smitten by the Allied too. It’s fast, everywhere- up, down, left, right, and stays fast over all manner of terrain. And yea, the brakes don’t care about anything, not the weather, not the grime, not the composition of the riding surface.

    Would I abandon a recent rim bike for discs “just because?” heck no. Would I have a new Bishop with post mounted rims if I could? Heck yea! Do I love discs too? Well….ya. A lot.

  19. Stephen Barner

    I switched my drop bar winter bike to disks after a trip down the mountain when I neglected to scrub the snow off the rims by braking before going into the decent, which starts at 17%. I recall saying out loud to the bike “Any time you feel like even starting to slow down would work out well for both of us. I’m doing my part here, squeezing these levers as hard as I can!” I mounted TRP Spyres (mechanical) on 160 mm rotors and, while they are predictable in any weather, swiching to road linear pull brakes on my Gunnar Crosshairs resulted in noticeably more braking power that the disk brake bike under most conditions.

    I don’t envision ever having carbon rims, so I see no reason to seek disk brakes for my go-fast bikes. I expect to build a 650B bike after I finally retire, and I’ll likely go disks on that. We have several rim-brake tandems, and one has Campy dual-pivot sidepulls. We’re around 320 lbs, including the bike, and frequently exceed 50 mph on descents, yet I’ve always felt the braking power was superb. I think the difference in experience you hear expressed about the effectiveness of disk brakes has as much to do with hand strength as it does with braking power of the mechanism. Oh, and any conclusion drawn from comparing automobile brakes with bicycle brakes is a non sequiter. Almost everything about the the two applications is different and, besides, very few cyclists have ridden bicycles with drum brakes (the precursor to disk brakes on cars — drum brakes suck less on cars than they do on bikes), and no one has ever driven a car with rim brakes. Besides, all rim brakes are actually a type of disk brake, with the rim as the rotor. That’s why they work so well–the rotor is at maximum diameter.

    Linear pull brakes provide excellent power and modulation on mountain bikes, but here in the northeast mud, the awful sound of aluminum particles grinding into the rim sends shivers down my spine. I only have one mountain bike with disks (the very first generation of Hayes hydraulics), and I like them, but not enough to buy another bike. I figure if I’m really lucky, I have another 30 years of riding ahead. While I have some ideas for frames I want to build, I really doubt I’ll ever go shopping for a brand new bike again. If you’re not competitive, and what you’ve got works well, very little that has come out in the last 20 years is going to make your riding more fun. However, if you find yourself looking for a bike that will fit tires over 28 mm wide, disks are not a bad idea.

  20. RM2Ride

    What, so many comments and not one yet mentions how Drop. Dead. Gorgeous those Campy Delta brakes are? (Of course, apparently they don’t stop a bike for sh*t. But whatever.)

    I’ve been riding rim brakes on the road, seriously and with gusto, for more than 30 years and I’ve yet to find a road where I couldn’t modulate my speed well enough (including, for example, Page Mill Rd and Hauser Bridge) – or stop when I needed to. I’m old school and to me a road bike needs to have round tubes and rim brakes – anything else screws with the aesthetics, and will never give me the advantage I really need, which is to lose a stone or two and train more than life allows.

    Full disclosure: As a Clydesdale, my carbon hoops have aluminum brake tracks. And my cross, gravel and mountain bikes have disks, so I’m not a pure luddite.

    Get it? “Disclosure?”

  21. Weiwen

    I started road cycling in 2001. My main road bike is a 13-year old custom steel bike with rim brakes and just enough room for 28mm tires. I do like rim brakes, and I agree, they work very well in almost all circumstances. If I were to get carbon wheels for this bike, they’d be the hybrid ones with alloy brake tracks.

    I did very recently get a carbon gravel bike. I definitely like discs, and I do like the fact that they enable design for wide tires and that they let you use carbon rims with much fewer trade offs in braking. The next road bike, whenever it comes, will have disc brakes. But I’m keeping my rim brake bike until I can’t ride it anymore.

  22. MattC

    To each his own. I for one will NEVER go back to rim brakes. Some of my best road-rides every year have almost 2 hour climbs, with the subsequent 1/2 hour + descents where you are on the brakes the entire time. When I do ride my steel road- frame w/ rim brakes, I’m astounded by how pathetic the brakes are (and these are top of the line Campy Skeleton brakes, which seemed pretty awesome at the time). Discs are here to stay. There is a reason that you won’t find a rim braked MT bike any more, and a rim braked road bike is getting harder to find by the day. And as far as I know all gravel bikes are discs for the same reasons. But if your ride doesn’t involve big climbs/descents and/or wet riding, then there’s certainly nothing wrong w/ rim brakes. It’s all about having fun, and whatever floats your boat.

  23. Neil Winkelmann

    Discs aren’t going anywhere. Discs let me ride hills in the wet Vancouver winters without destroying wheel-sets, and that has made me a better rider. I accept the net benefit. But….I dislike the noisiness of discs, the way the caliper picks up grit that scrapes on the disc in the wet, the short pad life, the high cost of pads, the less-than-intuitive bleeding process etc. So for me, they are a necessary evil. If I lived somewhere less hilly and/or drier, I’d not be as keen on them at all.

  24. Willis

    I sold my perfectly fine Ti road bike w/rim brakes to help fund, what I envisioned, as a quiver killer of a bike. A featherweight carbon disc gravel bike that will run 700c + 650b x 2.1″ wheels. I spec’d the bike with a 1x wide range mech. Which is absolutely perfect about 98% of the time, given where and with whom I’m riding. But get in a group road ride and I could never find the right gear. The 1x gaps are just a little too big.

    So, easy fix, just re-gear the bike as a 2x, which you can do with the bike in question. Only problem is the price tag. To swap out full group sets would set me back close to $1K. In talking with LBS owner about making the change I asked him in passing if he had any old road bikes available for less that $1K…He offered up a lovely 2013 vintage Pinarello w/10 speed Ultegra and yes, rim brakes for $575. It is about the finest road bike I have ever owned.

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