Disc brakes don't work better. Nope. Not at all.

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This past Sunday, I did the Farm to Fork Fondo which was hosted at the beautiful Riverside Farm in Pittsfield, VT. Some of this is motivated by market research and very harumph harumph business stuff such that Mike doesn't get sweaty when November pays my entries for such shenanigans, but a big part of it is simply that I've reached the point in life's festivities when a number on the front is getting to be a better look for me than a number on the back of the jersey. I know, right? 

We're so cool now that manufacturers ask us to test their stuff for them, so I was using a test set of new alloy disc rims that I'd built up, on the disc Timoneria (still the world's prettiest bike). The Gran Fondo as a concept is the perfect application for road disc, full stop.Absolutely no question at all whatsoever, if you are a number on the front kind of a person, road disc is your move for the next bike. 

Anyhow, we started off and I was having a nice conversation with Matt about the JAM Grand Fundo which he'd done the day before (I was busy snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in a sailboat race on Saturday, thus couldn't make it). At the first rest stop, I had to stop and tinkle (see what I'm saying - OLD) and got back on my bike and "hey - where'd everybody go?" Sort of pounded it up Brandon Gap (alas, I am not Ted King) and caught the tail of the lead group by the top, which then formed the knot of people with whom I rode for the rest of the day. Lovely people one and all. There were some people farther ahead, which I don't 100% understand but whatever. 

A little aside here, Andy Bishop was one of the ride guides. He rode a bunch of Tours de France (which is the proper way of saying Tour de Frances, btw), but being the sparking conversationalist that I am, I managed to learn that he'd once gotten 6th in the Houffalize MTB World Cup. Which any mountain biker of a certain age will tell you is like Paris-Roubaix, Flanders, and L-B-L all wrapped into one. 

THE POINT OF THE STORY: Our group got a little spread out up App Gap, and I was maybe 20 seconds down on the first guys, so started doing my bomb down the east slope as I've done approximately one billion and three times. About half the way down, there's some hub bub. A guy from the more ahead group has fallen in a turn, and people have stopped to help, which is mint. The not mint part is that there is a Subaru is parked kind of like what you might call the middle of the freaking road, and of course I'm there just at the perfect time when this is all happening so no one's warning about this setup. For those South Park fans among you, I was french frying when I should have been pizza-ing, and was about to have a bad time, m'kay? 

So faced with the choice of certain death by guard rail and a rag doll bounce down mountain, or squaring up with the rear bumper and windshield of said Subaru, I remember "oh yeah, I've got disc brakes!!!" Yes, I skidded, and when I did I eased up a scintilla and regained traction while still braking, and then then played right at the skid point until I got the bike on path to avoid said Subaru, and then came calmly to a stop. 

There is the wild card that I was going faster than I otherwise might have been, because I descend faster with disc brakes. Because you can. And I was. But had I been going as fast with really good rim brakes, I'd probably be typing this from a hospital bed. I will leave the other scenarios to your imagination. 

So, no, disc brakes are not needed for a lot of stuff and I'm not now nor have we ever been saying that they're right for all people in all applications, but when they're in their element, they can save you from ditching into a forest or a Forester. 


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  • Base Twelve Photo on

    Great article. That ride was lovely. I got up to 53 mph on the descent in the Medio on my middle of the road rims and was wishing for some discs then! Thank goodness you're ok. Hope the other dude made it thru.

  • Andrew on

    Yup. The first time I rode a disc-equipped bike, I recognized the difference. Ended up buying that bike, and two weeks later had an experience much like yours:I was bombing down a hill on an empty suburban street. There was a single car going slowly in the oncoming lane. As I got close to him, he suddenly made a slow U-turn, without indicating, in front of me. He had no idea I was there, never mind moving at 30 mph. With the disc brakes, I was able to feather the brakes and hold the tires just before lockup—they were actually screeching! But not breaking loose. I was able to stop before hitting him, but I was so close I was able to reach out and pound on his hood with my fist and scream curses. Lol. If I had had rim brakes, I would have been over his hood, and badly injured. I will likely never ride rim brakes again. Discs are just too superior, and you need every bit of help you can get staying safe. It's a jungle out there! (Yes, I'm saving my pennies for a set of your Ranges!)

  • Rico on

    True—discs show some advantages, over rim brakes, in situations requiring power AND modulation. At least, that's been my experience. I'm still amazed that I stayed upright, after a car appeared—ascending— In My Lane, at the apex of a high-speed turn, as I descended a long gravel hill. Missed my braking point, entirely, then was heading straight for a earthen culvert, figuring—'this is going to be a bad, bad, one'. Nope, the Shimano hydro brakes allowed me to feather just enough, so that I rode out of it…if only by inches. Still counts as a save, though. I used mechanical discs for years, before the hydros were available. Decent, but they can't compare with the latest hydro brakes.

  • Phil Liggett on

    I just came to post that there is nothing more "pro" than a Stigmata with Dura Ace. Undulation.


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