So... road disc?

I’ll probably get lit up for this, but as of this writing I find myself in the rim brakes camp. More correctly, I neither now nor usually find myself in any camp - avowed individualist that I am. But my reflexive choice when presented with two otherwise-indentical bikes (which I have), is the rim brake bike.

Why? I don’t precisely know. For one thing, most of my riding gets done in a pretty flat place. When I do ride in non-flat places, I generally feel like rim brakes have me covered. There was one incident last summer where I was able to avoid a nasty incident with disc brakes, and I thought that disc brakes were a big contributor to that good outcome, and I still give them credit. But as I’ve switched exclusively to alloy rims and have taken advantage of the myriad different excellent brake pad compounds available, my confidence in rim brakes has markedly grown.

One thing I know for sure is that the levers on my rim brake bike are more comfortable than those on my disc brake bike. Obviously this is subjective, but I prefer the SRAM rim brake hood shape. 

The rim brake bike seems simpler to me. Being a simpleton (quite possibly The Mayor of Simpleton), I respond to simplicity. 

Bear in mind that this is purely a “riding road bikes on the road” perspective. Though the most fun riding day of the year for me was the Rhode Kill Classic, in which I rode my rim brake bike on legit New England single track as well as legit New England roads (which qualify as wide single track in many other places), if it was a gravel or whatever other not “riding road bikes on the road” situation, I’d go disc. Primarily for the reason that I don’t like canti brakes or mini-v’s, so discs are the brake format that allows for the big tires that my aged behind prefers. 

There are a few possible biases that I have. One is that I prefer building rim brake wheels. They take less time, are simpler, and at least the front is structurally superior. Another is that we’ve seen a lot of innovation in rim brake rims, so I’m excited about a bunch of those products. It’s bizarre to me that there seems to have been less substantive innovation in disc brake rims recently, but that’s what I see.

There’s also this conundrum that I think the bike industry has created for itself. First, yes, I do think that the bike industry wants to push disc brakes because it wants people to buy new stuff. And I think that there is also consumer demand for it. The two are not mutually exclusive. But I also think that the bike industry wants to proliferate discs because they want to sell carbon clinchers, because there is tons of consumer demand for them, and the bike industry still isn’t fully comfortable with rim brake carbon clinchers, and never will be. The conundrum is that the main point of differentiation between “premium” branded- and unbranded carbon has been heat resistance. So by pushing disc brakes, that differentiation becomes irrelevant, and the bike industry shoots itself in the foot by tacitly green lighting unbranded carbon. For what it’s worth, as we’ve said before, our issues with carbon are well beyond just the brake thing, so we’re still all in on alloy even for discs. 

For the first time that I can recall, I’ve gotten through a season on my bike without ever having the lust to make any change. I did over 90% of my riding on my rim brake road bike with Al33 wheels, and they’ve held my interest completely. As soon as our Mavic order shows up, I’m switching to a set of the new Open Pros to give them a go, and we’ll see if this whole post is about how much I like rim brake road bikes, or how much it’s about how much I’ve enjoyed the Al33 wheels.

In any case, if I was to build myself a road bike for riding on the road, group rides, road racing, etc, it would be rim brakes. For anything where I was going to go off the pavement more than very incidentally, disc.  


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  • Scott on

    The comment above pretty well states my point, but having disc brakes on my all-weather commuter in the PNW is at this point for me an absolute must! I’ve tried commuting on a rim brake bike, and I felt like I was grinding the brake track down every time I applied the brakes.
    Oh, and nice XTC reference you did there!!

  • James Kirsten on

    I just installed Dura Ace 9100 calipers on my SRAM Red 10 speed Fuji, and they are nothing short of amazing. Powerful and modulate perfectly. SRAM brakes (& front derailleurs are worthless).

  • Jeff on

    For a new bike there is just no reason not to go disc….and I still ride a rim brake road bike. The bugs have been ironed out and the weight penalty isn’t huge like it was just a few years ago. Don’t get me started on electronic shifting, I have yet to ride an electronic shifting bike that’s appreciably better than my Shimano 9000 mechanical.

  • Richard on

    Some time ago on the blog I commented that discs on road bikes were “a solution looking for a problem”. I say this as a rider with discs on a gravel bike and rim brakes on a road bike. I still think this, even on carbons if you’re using quality stuff like Zipps, and am happy to see your new comments. I think manufacturers are making a mistake by not offering road frames with rim brake options, such as Canyon with their Endurace. If Canyon is listening, I have crossed the Endurace off my shopping list.

  • Appendage on

    I agree. I have both rim and disc brake road bikes, and for my new bike, I opted for rim brakes (and November Al33 wheels). That said, IMHO there are good reasons to go with the disc brakes on a road bike, but they don’t apply to everyone: 1). You’re the kind of rider- probably a big guy on big hills- who wears through braking surfaces quickly; 2) You frequently ride in rainy weather; 3) You regularly ride your road bike off-road; 4) You have your heart set on carbon rims.


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