TLDR version: Road pros can use disc brakes without limit in 2016. This makes overall adoption of disc brakes something of an inevitability, if only because manufacturers will likely make it so. Though we're far from disc brake evangelists, we've been prepping for this day for 5 years. But the bigger question to us is "what do actual real people think about discs on the road?"
With the cycling world's silly season headlines dominated by the recent UCI decision to allow discs in 2016, you had to know that we'd weigh in on it, and almost certainly with a terrible pun. Happy to oblige. But while every pro constituency has some angle on it one way or another, and while the general public seems to be in favor of letting pros use them, what we're curious about is what the people who matter - bike riders - have to say about them.
We've actually been swinging at the road disc pinata for longer than I care to consider. In 2011, when we first tested what became the HOT BUNS cross frames, I pulled the straw to test the disc bike (which is actually still my cross bike) and thus began our road disc wheel story. Because you need road wheels for your cross bike. And you need cross wheels for it, too.
Then, when we did the Timoneria, we did a disc version to check it out. The drop dead looker you see before you is currently kitted out in full winter regalia with fenders and saddle bag, but that just makes it kind of like a swimsuit model in jeans and a baseball hat - somewhat more down and dirty, but more than capable of setting things quite astir.
Having ridden said disc bike in situations that run the full gamut, I can say that I believe that the danger of mixing discs and rim brakes is a red herring. Whatever crash that happens might happen differently, but my considered and experienced opinion is that no crashes will occur because of a mixed brake environment. I say this having crashed in a mixed brake environment on Sunday, when I simply wasn't paying super close attention, allowed my front wheel to overlap too much with the guy ahead, who is a strong but not steady rider, who swerved while I happened to be blowing a snot rocket (those of you who ride with me will know that this is about 1/3 of the time), and woof! down I went. No brakes were even involved, and no one got branded with red hot rotors.
But my experience is also that while good disc brakes are undeniably better than rim brakes, they're not nearly the experience-changing switch that disc brakes were in mountain biking, or even cross. They're better. They remove the heat danger from rim brake wheels (yes, Virginia, you can even overheat an aluminum rim), but that just means they transfer it within the braking system.
The standards are something of a mess, which if there's one good thing to come from pro peloton adoption it is that that should clear up. For amateur racers, the wheel swap speed is once again, to me, a total red herring. Most of my lifetime of flats has occurred in races. Two times I was able to absolutely smoke myself and catch back on. The far more other times, my day was over. If you flat in an amateur road race, you're probably hosed.
But enough about us, what do you think about us? Have you got any experience with them? What do you see as the good, bad and ugly of it?
So maybe I’m the only one that has a problem here but if the rim brakes are not working properly, I can adjust, change pads and do most anything to remedy the situation. With discs, well they always seem to be dragging or making some sort of noise that I have no idea how to remedy and heavens to mergatroid, how does one tell when the pads need changed? The things are a total mystery to me and perhaps in time, I’ll learn how to make it all work. But for now, with one bike with rim brakes and the other with disc, I prefer the rim brakes simply because of the ease of use.
Everyone seriously considering a new bike that I know and have heard of; if they've had the opportunity to demo Shimano Hydros has hands down been blown away by the superiority of disc brakes.Lighter weight, more aero, better heat dissipation…all a matter of very short time; in the meanwhile the performance benefit is indisputable and that is consistency no matter the variables.Rims are now completely freed up in terms of design since braking is now essentially wheel agnostic.I'd say, "welcome to the future roadies!"…but that's an oxymoron.
Squeeeeeeeaaaaaaak. Ugh, I have to change a flat. Where's my wrench?Big bike brands spend big bucks on sponsoring pros. That tech goes to consumers. Big bike brands are running out of ideas to push legitimately good and new tech to those consumers. The pros can benefit from disc brakes. Most consumers can't. Doesn't matter. Feed the machine.
It depends on your needs. I live in SW Florida where it's totally flat. Our biggest climb is a small bridge. I also rarely ride in the rain so with my dry and flat riding conditions I hardly use brakes so I could care less about having disc brakes on my road bike. I will avoid them.
Bob S – I always figured that pro road racers, and then amateur road racers, had the least to gain from discs. They're tiny people riding on closed roads, generally pretty ninja at bike handling, and trying to go fast toujours. But in my cynical mind they're also the people who the manufacturers can most easily direct to "get on discs now, monsieur" and they have to. One of the side benefits of endemic sponsors being so at the fore in today's pro landscape.Unfiltered – You scare me. In a good way.Joe C – Hydros beat the absolute living pants off of mechs. No comparison. And it took me a couple of years to dial into my preferred pad compounds (generally metallic) and other setup things. It took a long time for me not to think mechanicals were WORSE than Avid Shorty Ultimates. And far be it from me to go against Tom Ritchey (his 'stache alone could make Chuck Norris run for cover, the man's an icon) but somewhere buried in the wall full of Post-It notes that is my brain is a strong counterargument. When Honda (I think – it was either them or Suzuki/Yamaha/Kawasaki) did a bunch of work with downhill mtb they showed that pad size was the first order variable in power, with rotor size coming in a somewhat distant second. Big pad + big rotor is the killer combo. And of course your 160mm disc rotor doesn't get covered in wet yuckRyan M – I agree with you for the most part. The poor Seattle consumer who goes through a rotor a winter (a rotor which is also acting as his rim) has much much to gain. And there's no doubt that discs will improve and get lighter/cheaper/aero-er/etc. We're already seeing that we can move toward wheel weight parity in carbon clinchers between discs and rim brakes. Tubulars will always be lighter in discs simply because you've already removed the mass that's just there to manage heat. Properly, it was never there in the first place. But it's not there to take away in tubulars, so they're already about as light as they'll get.