My Opinion On Disc Brakes

I woke up one day recently, surprised to read that I’d become one of the world’s leading opponents of disc brakes.   Apparently we’re adamantly opposed to them for cyclocross.  Sort of strange that we’d offer a disc brake option on every wheel we build, then, but who knows? The world makes some strange connections sometimes. 

This characterization must come from a blog I wrote nearly two years ago, toward the end of the cx season that I spent using discs.  I’m actually not going to revisit that blog while writing this, since it will be much more fun to have someone call me out on how I re-characterize what I wrote then. 

My issues, as I recall, were:

1.       The power and modulation weren’t substantively more than the best cantilevers, which in my mind are Avid Shorty Ultimates (BB7s were, at the time, the best mechanical option, so comparing best to best was valid).

2.       The dilemma of either having brake rub or loosely adjusted brakes was frustrating to me.  No mechanical brake at the time offered dual-sided engagement, and pad clearance when using road brake calipers was a known issue, so this wasn’t really a rogue impression that I had.

3.       Having a 135-spaced disc wheel in a world of 130-spaced rim brake wheels was inconvenient.

4.       I’d had one instance where my rear brake pad didn’t last through a race.  This was the issue that so many disc-brake users experienced at CX Nationals in Madison last year. 

We were extensively testing discs in 2011.  Many had gone hog wild about how discs were incomparably superior, and would be taking over the world within minutes, yet I was one of maybe 2% of cx racers who were actually using them at the time.  The cocktail of authority and ignorance displayed there has always particularly rankled me, and there was definitely some flavor of “dude, until you’ve actually really tested it, you know nothing, so shut the f up” going on for me.  There was a generally complete dismissal of the real and present shortcomings that I was experiencing. 

I also thought that there were challenges to frame design, not as much with cx frames but with road frames, where the narrow q factors, 400-ish mm chainstays, and 135 spacing wouldn’t play nice together.  At the time, I believe I foresaw 11 speed complicating things, and said that 130mm spacing, plus discs, plus 11 speed, would cause challenges.  At the time, there was no standard over hub spacing, nor disc diameter.  None of these is sorted out, as yet.  People fail to consider disc diameter as an element of frame design.  It’s a big deal. 

So, am I the world’s leading opponent of discs?  I use them exclusively on my mountain bike.  A few weeks ago I had maybe the most fun day on a bike I’ve ever had, at Bryce Resort’s bike park.  Six hours of downhill runs later, my hands had zero fatigue thanks to hydro discs and 180mm rotors.  I’ve said many times that I probably wouldn’t even ride a mountain bike that didn’t have discs.  Hydraulic road brifters have proliferated, (although those brifters are some freaky looking hardware!), and I’d guess they work way way better than the mechanicals I used.  As electronic shifting keeps marching on, the re-decoupling of shifting and braking that I’ve talked about a lot (at least in conversations, if not necessarily in blogs to which I can link), that will offer more latitude for hydraulic lever engineering. 

Following my experience two seasons ago, I went back to cantis for cross, and am still there.  In the fields I race in, I sure don’t see many disc bikes, so I’m not alone in that.  Over time, discs will inevitably dominate, because that’s the way things go.  For now, they’re still a small minority of the bikes I see at cx races.  Top-level US crossers use them, but the top echelon of crossers in the world don’t (van der Haar being a possible exception).  For road racing, it’s a moot point because they aren’t allowed.  For a dedicated gravel or adventure bike, I’d probably prefer discs, but I’d only go hydraulics (maybe those TRP ones with the integrated cable to hydro conversion?). 

For me, the charge of being anti-disc dies on the welcome mat because we offer disc option on every wheel we build.  When my current cross bike dies whatever death is in store for it, I may choose to have a disc bike for my A bike, and I may not.  Until then, if not being a raving evangelist for the undeniable necessity and categorical superiority of discs makes me the world’s leading opponent of them, well, guilty as charged. 



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After making my above tongue-in-cheek comment, I decided to look a little farther… And it turns out people are running Campy 11-speed wheels on Shimano drivetrains, and are running Shimano 11-speed wheels on Campy 11-speed drivetrains, and it's working just fine both ways.It also works with SRAM combinations, but I have no idea why you'd do that. Boom-tish. I'll be here all week.I believe there's on a .2mm variation in width between Campy and Shimano 11-speed cassettes. So you do the standard initial setup where you get gear 6 set up "perfectly", and when you get to the largest or smallest cog, you're off by .1mm. I don't know any way possible to detect any differences when you're talking about a chain and a cog when the difference is .1mm.


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