Braking News

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?"

Yes, we tested

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. 

This sexy beastThen, 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?

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19 comments

Manufacturers are clearly pushing them, so they will be the future. For the riding I do they aren't needed and over the last 8 years I've never had a problem stopping my road bike, but I can see those in mountains and the rain maybe enjoying the advantage. I don't think the consumer really is going to have a real choice in the matter though…they're coming and you will be buying them in the future. Ugly though.

Ryan M

My last two cross bikes have had discs. Almost died the first time I tried to stop with the Hayes brakes on my Ridley. Replaced them with TRP Hy/rd brakes ,which have been great. Even moved them to the new Felt. I'd love to try the new hydro brakes. In my experience, there was a more noticeable difference going from cantis to mini-v brakes than to discs. But if had to have them. In the back of my mind, I keep hearing Tom Ritchey say why do you want a 140 disc, when you already have the mechanical advantage of a 700?

Joe C

My experience with cable disc brakes on my cross bike has been overall poor. Yeah, they seem to stop better than the rim brakes, but not by that much, and the amount of cable I have to pull to actually stop, the brake lever is basically to the bars at that point. And the squealing, dear god, everybody in the group will stop and stare at you at every stop light. Is this everybody's experience with mechanical disc brakes? Or am I doing something wrong? I'm going to switch to sram HydroR this winter so we'll see how I feel about it next season.

Mick

Florida, Utah, and Portland are about the the best you could do in coming up with three points of the equilateral triangle of this problem set. Thanks, guys.Rico, again with the very specific postulate. How did you arrive at your specs?

Dave

Been riding a road disc bike since 2006…yup, 9 years. On pavement, when the roads are dry, I find their advantages over a rim brake, negligible (with alloy rims, anyway). And if I still lived in a sunny location, I'd probably not have bothered, but living and bike commuting in a hilly suburb of Portland OR since 1999 changed the rim-vs-disc brake calculus, as I was wearing out a pair of rims in less than 12 months. As of this year, both (all) my road bikes have hydro disc brakes and they are indeed heaps better than mechanical disc brakes…though the somewhat common thought that hydros don't require maintenance is blarney. Using a carbon rim (which I do, on one bike) without thought to any braking/heat issues is certainly an advantage. So yeah, the market will swing this way, for better or ill. To quote Pogo, "we have met the enemy, and he is us". Again: November Bicycles will market a wide, disc-only, 40-45mm deep rim, somewhere in the near future—but, hey, what do I know?

Rico

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