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?