Discs for CX?

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Well, Eureobike is here and almost gone and SRAM's highly anticipated hydraulic shift/brake lever didn't make it to the party.  No word on when it's going to get here.  What does this have to do with our plans for CX and discs?  Plenty: until there is a readily available and economical and good performing hydraulic disc option, there's no great reason to offer a disc bike.  You must keep in mind here that my perspective is that a cross bike is a bike designed for best performance on a cx course, and training for cx racing.  Other uses are incidental and subservient to cross racing use. 

For a short time still, I'll have the chance to stand on my soapbox and wag my finger and say "I've got more experience racing cross with disc brakes than most people, and you kids get off of my lawn, and stuff!"  Last year when I wrote a midseason blog about it, it was mostly about what a logistical pain they were proving to be.  This is still true.  It's not the entire story, and if there were some completely rampant advantage that discs had, I'd sacrifice the convenience for that advantage. 

Mechanical discs work pretty well, but not very well.  They have pretty poor pad clearance, meaning the pad is never more than a hair (if that) away from the rotor.  If your rotor/caliper interface isn't aligned PERFECTLY, your pads rub your rotors.  It probably costs a few watts, but more than that it's annoying.  Of course on nice mechanicals like the BB7s that I used, you can easily dial out pad contact, but this comes at the expense of power.  Power goes away QUICKLY as you dial your pads out. 

In soupy mud, they don't stop.  They just don't stop.  I tried both the organic pads and the sintered pads and neither stopped in mud.  The organic pads wore out crazy quickly - in one muddy race (Kinder Kross), the disc didn't even pretend like it was going to stop me by the time the race was over.  That was fun.  The sintered pads wear out less quickly but still quickly - enough to change braking dynamics during the course of a race.  Hydraulics self-adjust for pad wear. 

Rotors go out of true really easily.  You have to be super careful with them at all times, as the slightest warp/bend is going to cause them to rub the rotors like mad.  They also squeal like a stuck pig in almost all conditions.  I can't tell you why the hydros on my mountain bike are quiet but the discs on my cx bike were the opposite of quiet, but that's what it is.  Maybe it's pad pressure or I don't know.  Pads are the same.  LOUD.  Properly toed-in cantis will neither shudder or squeal. 

Cantis are lighter, and the wheels are lighter, and the frames and forks for them are lighter.  Last year my bike was around 17.5 pounds - not much different than the disc SuperX that Tim Johnson used.  This year's setup is is a bit over a pound lighter.  I'm not a weight weenie in any respect, but a pound's a pound.  Since the logistics of being able to use RFSW38s (tubulars) as both road and cross wheels means that I WILL do so, I will have a somewhat significant weight loss beyond that.

Discs were of course supposed to collect a whole lot less gunk than rim brakes (I should stop saying "cantis" because mini-v's are a great alternative too).  It may be the case, but judging from my bike compared to others last year, this wasn't the case.  I also watched a lot of races to see how often Tim Johnson, using discs, pitted relative to others.  He pitted no less frequently than anyone else.  Maybe it wasn't the brakes that caused him to need to pit, but the discs didn't save him from having to pit. 

We're not against discs at all per se, it's that in our minds they aren't yet the best solution.  I just read a review of the new Dura Ace, at the end of which the reviewer said "with gruppos like this and the new Red, I'm at a loss to figure out what exactly electronic shifting does for you - these mechanical groups shift angelically, and electronic weighs more, adds some complexity, and costs a TON more."  I never used canti brakes other than Euro-X (and not very much at that) and Shorty Ultimates.  I know there have been some super crap cantis that people have had to use for a while, but comparing Shorty 4s to Shorty Ultimates is like, well, even I don't have a metaphor for that.  Shorty 4s are tough to set up, a pain to maintain and don't work well, while Shory Ultimates are easy to set up, easy to maintain, and work crazy well.  

I'm sure in 5 years we'll all use discs, because that's the way these things happen, but we don't think it's the best solution for cross yet.   


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  • Dave on

    Just to clarify, when I asked "why aren't we selling it now" above, I meant "alongside the HOT BUNS." That would be the bet we couldn't afford to lose – selling one bike we knew we loved and had a lot of demand for, PLUS spend a small fortune to bring in the disc bikes, which didn't have as firm a market (we did a lot of research at races last year) and which might then either poach sales from the HOT BUNS, or leave people in a paradox of choice kind of situation in which they would choose "c – neither."

  • Dave on

    Cavemen Thanks for the question.We actually already did prepare for discs, last year. 11 months ago, I'd have said that we were more prepared for discs than 99% of people selling cross bikes. In a huge way, I wish I had liked them, that they had been better, because we could have been first off the blocks with a frame that was great AND had discs. The frame in question is basically the front end of our current bike, with a different rear end and fork. Why aren't we selling that now? Because it costs a fortune to bring in the number of frames we would have had to buy, and a) it's a bet that we can't afford to lose – never ever make a bet that you can't afford to lose b) it would be a product with obvious wholesale shortcomings and we don't want to get involved in products that have wholesale shortcomings (as opposed to marginal shortcomings, like carbon clinchers, which are great in some circumstances and bad in a limited range of them – the wholesale shortcoming of current disc bikes is that the one thing they're supposed to do BETTER – brake – they don't do as well) and c) we've got a great rim-brake frame, the marketing and sales of which takes everything we've got to give it. So clearly a speculative bet on discs was wrong for us (as opposed to a lot of other brands that can't afford to be late man to the party – the cost of putting a disc bike out there for the larger companies is nominal compared to the risk of sales leakage and lost brand prestige in not having "been there since" – even if we were there "before since"), but what about the future? I can't say. For now, wanting to buy a cross bike from us means wanting to buy a rim brake from us. We have a necessarily tight focus, and as we've talked about a number of different times on the blog, having a product lineup that's tightly focused is a huge amount of what makes us who/what we are. I can't tell you that hydros will be there for next year, and if they will be better if they are. I was at a cyclocross training thing with some of the best crossers in the mid-atlantic (actually two guys who have actually been THE BEST crosser in the mid-atlantic) and there was yawning, not fawning, over discs. In addition to our focus, our personal input makes us who/what we are. I rode point on the cross project, rode the disc bike, and REALLY wanted to go to rim brakes for this year. I couldn't have been colder about disc bikes, and wouldn't have had any enthusiasm in selling them. Our current frame is in all seriousness the only frame I have any interest in riding this year. We've done a lot of background work on discs and we'll be ready to pick that back up if it becomes the thing. Until then, we have some rim-brake ready HOT BUNS left, and they're f-king awesome bikes. Can't wait to race mine on Sunday.

  • Caveman on

    hydraulics are coming. . . there is no denying that. Why not start now to get a disc ready cross bike available so consumers can purchase it? I agree with the current options for brakes (disc vs. rim) but hydro is coming and im sure there are plenty ready to purchase a Novemeber cross disc frame

  • mudrock on

    I can understand you don't want to take a chance on discs yet, but they are the future. Cross is a ridiculously expensive sport with all the wheels and tubies, and two (or four) of everything. To me it's crazy that the act of braking directly wears out the most expensive component on your bike. Cars left that behind a hundred years ago.

  • Mike on

    I raced my canti HOT-BUNS not even 5 hours ago…it IS a f—king awesome bike :) Loved it during practice for the past few weeks, LOVED it on course today.On FSW-CX wheels of course…


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