So now that I have about 1000 miles on the disc brake bike (I spent 9 days riding my behind off in Tucson), in all sorts of weather (during the trip to Tucson, we got 2 of Tucson's average 12 rainy days per year), on all sorts of roads and grades, with groups large and small and alone, what's the report?First off, they stop well. Very well. While riding in a traffic light-rich environment, I noticed myself coming to a stop much sooner than others. I very much still think that mixed company riding is not a big deal. The argument that everyone will have to switch at once for a peloton to work is a straw man. The simple fact is that when you ride with a group, you have the ability choose how quickly you brake, and though it might take a little getting used to, the few hundred miles I'd done prior to the trip were much more than needed to acclimate me for riding disc brakes in a group. But when you want to, yeah, you can stop quickly.
During the first ride or two, I actually skidded more than a few times while braking. I've tried to describe it a few times without a ton of success, but what I notice is that instead of thinking "how much pull do I need to get the job done," you think "how much less power than a full skid do I want here?" That's a very imperfect way of stating it, but it's the best I can do for now.
Setting the bike up after a plane trip, I had to adjust the front brake mounting slightly. This takes all of 30 seconds but it does require a Torx screwdriver. My mini tool has the right one, and my mini tool is pretty basic. Yours probably has the right one.
Until it rained, the brakes were silent. The closest I came to actual noise was on my second trip down Mt. Lemmon, which was done at absolute warp speed. I rode down with the gentleman who placed second in Ironman Hawaii last year, and we were HAULING. Approaching one sweeper bend, we caught up to three cars (went from 200 yards behind them to ON THEM in about .01 seconds) and I had to scrub a bunch of speed quickly. There was a bit of resonant hum at the very end of that, but not as much as the noise coming from my counterpart's carbon clinchers (which weren't very loud, either).
In rainy conditions, they're loud. Loud. A rainy trip down Kitt Peak (steeper, less regular, and more technical than the Lemmon descent) had them screaming a few times. It can be a bit disconcerting. There are those who will say "Shimano brakes wouldn't have made noise" and to them I say you are wrong - I've ridden with plenty of people on Shimano brakes and wet rotors and fouled pads are wet rotors and fouled pads, no matter who made them. On my CX bike, I use plate rotors (no holes at all) in muddy conditions, which ameliorates this to a huge degree. We are also talking about pretty nasty conditions here, with many deep puddles and an absolute metric ton of silt and sand and general yuck getting smashed into the pads. Lightly sanding the pads (remove wheel, fold piece of sandpaper and place between pads, lightly pull brake leer, rub sandpaper back and forth - takes two minutes and you'd want to do the same routine with rim brakes after a ride like this) after riding and cleaning the rotors with an alcohol swipe silenced the brakes, at least until the next deep puddle and general ingress of road skank. Two days of persistent rain, and Tucson is a wet wet wet place. Inadvertent rivers all up in the place.
So, are disc brakes the next big thing? Should you throw out your current bike to get some?
Here's my take: for the road bike riding that I do, which general falls under the auspices of racing and training for racing, without a whole lot of "this isn't the right place for a road bike but let's do it anyway" type of stuff (I have a cx bike and a mtb for that, and I'm not being judgmental but I'm just not into that stuff as a regular part of my diet), and with the occasional gran fondo, but with most of my huge hilly rides either during races or with small to medium groups of well-ish matched riders, I'd just go for rim brakes. I'm fairly light (low 160s), and as a descender I would call myself highly skilled and confident, although I am a chicken and a half when descending in rain.
If, on the other hand, I was super into the "adventure" stuff, or was 25 pounds heavier and had a calendar full of hilly gran fondos and centuries, or did a lot of touring, or did a lot of commuting in the Pacific Northwest, I would go for discs. To be honest, if that was my gig, I'd also just use a cx bike and not a road bike, but that's just me. Also, having experienced both mechanical and hydro discs, I can't wait to put hydros on the cx bike. There's absolutely no comparison. You might as well be talking about the difference between 1960's era rim brakes and the latest dual pivot caliper brakes. It's night and day.
Do I think road racing needs discs? Absolutely not. They're nice, but like anything else in the world they have their plusses and minuses, and they're no magic bullet. And I ran this one really long. Sorry.