Riding the Brakes Redux

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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. 

The aftermath of torrential rain. This is a once in a lifetime event on Mt Lemmon. Lucky to have seen it.

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.


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  • Dave on

    Thanks, all.Jesse, I never considered that the issue would be behind the pads. Brake silencer has been on my list to try, but with -11° windchill right now, it looks like it will be quite some time before I use brakes again

  • Jesse on

    All you need is buy some brake quiet compound from an auto parts store, and smear a bit of that on the back of the brake pads where the pistons contact the pads. Everyone does that on cars and motorcycles, but not enough people do them bikes.

  • Dave K on

    For pros, obviously wheel changes are super critical. For everyone else, if you get a flat it's a crap shoot on whether your race day is over or not anyway (my personal history says wheel support makes a critical difference about 1/5 of the time). Standardization is obviously lovely, see my recent post on it, but in terms of being <<the thing that drives the conversation>>? It would be nice to see standardization, and if history is any indicator the industry will have no problem effectively producing such a standard in short order!!A thorough scrub of the brake pads and pistons with soapy water and then rubbing alcohol, followed by a very light coating of boat trailer axle grease (my go to grease for anything that doesn't spin) on the back side of the brake pads has been supernaturally effective at silencing squeal. Thanks Jesse

  • T. Guy on

    I have TRP Hy/Rd hydro/mechanical brakes. I have two disc wheelsets with different hubs and have carefully shimmed the rotors to be as close to identical as I can get. Still, they won't interchange perfectly, there is the slightest contact of the caliper to the rotor. Enough to require a surreptitious push from the team car while the mechanic leans out the window and makes the final adjustment I suppose.Disc brakes for off road use are not designed for quick wheel swaps because in MTB racing you are "self contained" and have no support out on the course. You fix the flat yourself or you DNF. There are no wheel swaps. So disc brakes work well for off road bikes.Disc brakes are taking over American and now more and more European CX racing, but you just change complete bikes at the pits, there are no wheel swaps, so disc brakes work well for CX.If discs are going to work well in road racing, we've got to be able to make a smooth, swift, fluid wheel change in the heat of the racing moment, one bike to another or off the back of the yellow motor or off the roof of the team car. With disc brakes as currently designed you cannot do that. The technology is not quite ready yet. Could be by 2017.

  • Hans on

    Ok, ok. It would be helpful to clarify a few things.When we talk about the pain in switching wheels are we talking about hydro brakes with auto-centering brake pads or mechanical brakes? I assume there is a difference there; my only experience is with mechanical.But, if you are changing wheels on a [mechanical] disc-brake bike to another set of wheels built with the same hub, you shouldn't expect to have to do any adjustment. Yes, on a mechanical disc bike, you may have to have the calipers a little more open than you would otherwise.My road disc now has 15mm TA in the front, so caliper lineup is a non-issue. But the 15mm TA hints at a much larger issue of the dizzying number of standards being employed for disc brakes.I agree with the general suggestion that there's a problem with neutral support and disc brakes, though. I think the problem is more generally that bicycle manufacturers are going crazy with the standards in this "unregulated" technology; I suspect that when disc brakes become a feature of the 2017 peloton that will help provide some standardization which the rest of us can then also appreciate.



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