The great disc brake debate - our option

Image: Sean Hardy

Progress is inevitable, change can be hard to accept - the future can be difficult to realise. Culturally road cycling is steeped in tradition, it’s heritage and that of the bicycle are easily traceable but any innovation doesn’t happen over night.

The advent of clipless pedals, handlebar gear shifters and more recently electronic wireless groupsets and the introduction of carbon as a frame material have been acknowledged as genuine innovative improvements. They have improved cycling without interfering with the traditional appearance of the bicycle.

Mountain biking, as we are aware, has none of the restrictions associated with road cycling, it openly welcomes technological advances - enter disc brakes centre stage. Greatly improved stopping ability, zero rim wear and no tubeless glue meltdown surely heralded the next generation in road bike innovation - no. In reality both the Pro peloton and the UCI remain divided about embracing this latest form of stopping. The latter’s indecisiveness to commit either way has left the road bike world divided.

When it comes to going down hill it’s paramount to any cycling discipline to know they have the ability to slow down and stop in the most efficient effective manner possible. Until recently this has been provided solely by rim brakes - pressure applied via a rubber block/pad placed directly in contact with the rim of a wheel. Disc brakes still rely on friction and pressure but use technology passed down from motorcycles via mountain bikes in order to stop via a hub mounted disc. Each form of braking has it’s pros and cons:

Rim brakes:
- Traditional aesthetics
- Work well in the dry
- Lighter than discs
- More aerodynamic than discs

- Rim wear
- Not so good in the wet
- Potential to heat up and melt tubeless adhesives
- Not as efficient as disc brakes

Disc brakes:
Greater stopping ability than rim across all weather conditions
- No rim wear
- Minimal pressure needed for braking
Mountain/motorcycle aesthetics
- Potential disc heat on flesh in pile-up/crash situation
- Lack of manufacturer standardised formatting
- Higher maintenance
- Heavier than rims
- Less aerodynamic than rims

Without the UCI’s seal of approval we see this debate raging on for a long time. If the Pro peloton commit to one braking format the guesswork will be over. If discs get the vote then manufacturers will then have to come up with one standard disc size for ease of application.

As for the everyday rider, especially the commuter cyclist, we believe it makes sense to go the disc route – for those riders fortunate to have a ‘best bike’, the one that never goes out in the wet, the decision remains entirely up to you. Bear in mind though that rim brakes could in time become yesterday’s tech and the resale value of your bike could suffer as a consequence of your brake choice.