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Road bikes with disc brakes

Road Bike, Shows & Events 21 1960

Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me to make a stop in Taiwan for the Taipei Cycle Show on my way home from China a couple days ago. From the few pictures I have seen today though, it looks like I missed a good one. I’ll try to cover a few of the highlights from the Taipei show next week… if I am able to catch up and find a bit of free time.

For now, I just want to mention one bike that debuted at the show. Cyclelicious points out that the Colnago C59 Disc road bike has been getting a lot of attention in Taiwan this week. Interesting, but the fact that a major bike company displayed a disc brake equipped road bike should not surprise anyone. The disc equipped Liscio model from Volagi garnered much attention recently during the high profile lawsuit brought on by Specialized, and it is widely known that Shimano, SRAM, and others are actively working on disc brakes for the road market. There are many advantages to using disc brakes on the road, especially with the popularity of carbon rims, which don’t offer an ideal braking surface under the best conditions (and perform extremely poorly in the rain). Without the constraints of structural and heat issues associated with rim surface braking, I think we can expect to see innovations in lightweight aero-profile wheels that will more than compensate from a performance standpoint for the additional weight of disc brake systems.

Currently, the only stumbling block to widespread acceptance of disc brakes for the road is approval by the UCI. McQuaid and company approved the use of disc brakes for cyclocross racing in 2010, so hopefully they will come to a similar decision for road racing soon. Carlton Reid wrote in a BikeBiz piece yesterday that brake manufacturers are now discussing the best approach to convince the UCI that disc are better, and safer, for racing. In the article, Giancarlo Vezzoli, the engineer in charge of road disc brakes at Formula (the manufacturer of the brakes on the Colnago), is quoted as saying, “You may be surprised at how quick the UCI makes the right decision. All the brake manufacturers are united. The UCI will see this is a safety decision, nothing to do with politics.” I certainly hope that Vezzoli is correct that this decision will come quickly…and that we will see many road bikes with disc brakes on the market this time next year. Personally, I am anxious to have one.

Update 3/12: I am glad to see the discussion on this topic in the comments section. For even more discussion about disc brakes for the road, see this post by Richard Masoner post on Google +, where Guitar Ted (who is much more knowledgeable on this subject than I am) shares his insights. Also, check out this Bike Rumor post about disc brake failure, which is referenced in the G+ discussion. There is definitely more to get into on this subject than my quick little post on Friday captured, so as always I appreciate the comments.


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  1. Nicholas Hardrath March 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm -  Reply

    I don’t get it, I’ve used several manufacturers of carbon wheels with Swiss stop or cork pads and have never had an issue, even in rain. The pain it is to take the wheels off/on and keep up the maintenance is not close to most user’s abilities. You have to weight the positives and negatives and it just seems silly (and I’m a big fan of most newer technologies).

    • go gadget go March 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm -  Reply

      Nicholas I just have to comment on a couple of your points. 1. It’s not a pain to take wheels on/off. In fact its easier. There’s no need to open the brake, and there is no issues with alignment when reinstalling. AND there’s no issues dealing with rim width when using multiple wheelsets or carbon and aluminum rims (changing pads). 2. Mountain bikers have had hydraulic discs for more than a decade and maintenance hasn’t been an issue for anyone there, its a part of ownership. Boo-hoo if you have to learn something new.

      • Nicholas Hardrath March 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm -  Reply

        I would love to take you on the challenge of speed of removing the two types of brakes; guaranteed hydraulic would take you longer. I can pull my mtb. bike wheel off and replace a tube in less than 1 minute, can you? Can argue the rim width issue, even on my road bike swapping training to race wheels requires either a slight adjustment or common sense in buying similar width rims (current trend says wider is better). I also use Campagnolo and swap out brake pads when switching. I still like the simplicity and keeping it simple – why change what works good?

  2. Peter Verdone March 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm -  Reply

    Without active front suspension a road bike with disc brakes is a very painful and dangerous proposition. Folks that understand the dynamics know this is true but nobody told the marketers. Let’s see some reason here.

    • Champs March 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm -  Reply

      Logging 6000 “dangerous” miles in every weather condition possible has only been “painful” to my legs, and even then just a few times over the course of a couple years. I’ll never buy another bike with rim brakes.

    • art March 14, 2012 at 8:49 am -  Reply

      Since you seem to understand dynamics so well, could you please enlighten us as to why disc brakes are dangerous?

  3. Victor Ragusila March 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm -  Reply

    Why is a disk brake worse than a well adjusted rim brake? I ride a bike with no front suspension and disk brakes, and it works rather ok (32mm wide tires, it is a commuter) . The disk brake doesnt need to be too powerful to stop even during rain and dirty roads. Add in a much nicer modulation due to the lack of friction in hydraulic brakes and you get a very neat combination. I would like to think i understand dynamics and i dont see what the issue is. Please explain.

  4. Champs March 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm -  Reply

    It’s pretty simple: even the most marginal conditions are no match for hydraulic discs and electronic shifting. Layer up under your eVent and there are no excuses.

    There is *some* industry pushback from American Classic and Cervelo, per this BRAIN article, but then it’s possible they’re just upset about being caught flat-footed (somehow).

  5. Percy March 10, 2012 at 8:08 am -  Reply

    just do not get it, should have been standard already since years — well done for RR I only see advantages, may be even weigh and aerodynamics wise — taking into account the savings and new freedom on rim design!! I really love the great braking control and power on my Dirty Disco CX bike with “only” mechanical actuators, can just image how smooth hydraulics like on my MTB would work — freaking lack or non existence of road style levers. Just have a look at state of the art composite Aluminium core/ceramic Formula one discs — why can that not be adapted?!?!

  6. Bubba Nicholson March 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm -  Reply

    Regenerative hub brakes, even if they just recharged the lighting system, might make an even greater contribution to safety. If regeneration could go back to a battery pack for propulsion, so much the better. Systems like Bionix (OK, just Bionix around here anyway) have regenerative braking that kicks in with the rim brakes. Regen could easily be put on hub generators to improve overall vehicle efficiency.

    Yours in service,


  7. JeffS March 12, 2012 at 9:57 am -  Reply

    Safety only becomes the selling point after a manufacturer has something new to peddle to consumers.

    Of course, all we will ever hear is the manufacturer’s propaganda, since all the bicycling “press” serves only to parrot the words of the marketing departments. While I admit the idea has some benefits, I still see this primarily as the next “innovation” designed primarily to separate consumers from their money. The industry just loves it when they can make old gear obsolete.

    • James Thomas March 12, 2012 at 10:31 am -  Reply

      “The industry just loves it when they can make old gear obsolete.” No doubt that there is truth to that in the bicycle industry… and in many other industries for that matter.

      Your point about manufacturer’s propaganda is true in many industries as well. While some in the bicycling press may serve up whatever “news” the bike companies dish out, I like to think that blogs (like mine) are a bit different. Everything posted here is always open for discussion, and I really believe the open comments forum is where the real value of this blog is found. That’s why I just updated this post with links to additional discussion and information on the topic, based on the feedback to this post.

      Disc brakes for the road are coming, so it is definitely better to talk about the issues and safety concerns now rather than later. Keep commenting…I definitely appreciate all the opinions.

  8. channel_zero March 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm -  Reply

    There is a stumbling block. The conventional quick release is not up to the task of holding the wheel in place.

    More braking power in bicycle road *racing* is not required. If there was a performance benefit to greater braking power, then a push for allowing v-brakes most certainly would have happened.

    If you think disc brakes are great and are willing to pay Colnago prices for them, then there’s no shortage of builders to make your dream a reality. Just don’t make stuff up to justify the switch.

    Finally, stop treating bicycle racing as an equivalent to motorsports racing. We saw too much of this in mountain biking already.

    • Androo March 12, 2012 at 8:33 pm -  Reply

      It’s likely the dropouts are forward angled (as on the 3T Luteus cyclocross fork). Problem solved. Mountain bikes with much bigger rotors used regular QRs for a decade.

      The option for more power that discs offer certainly doesn’t hurt, but there are definite benefits in terms of rim wear, rim weight, tire clearance, wheel swappability, and wet weather performance.

      I expect that ultimately weight will be about even with discs, and chances are aerodynamics may even be a bit worse, but I think races are won by riders and not impossibly marginal variations in weight and aero on the bike, and so the improved confidence that disc brakes will offer can’t be underestimated.

      • John June 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm -  Reply

        The problem could be solved by mounting the brake in front of the fork, so that the force vector at the hub is upward instead of downward.

        • Kimmo July 13, 2012 at 9:14 am -  Reply

          Yep, the Colnago pictured here is fail.

      • Kimmo July 13, 2012 at 9:18 am -  Reply

        Fignon, who rode after LeMond, lost 58 seconds during the stage, and although he became third in the stage, he lost the lead to LeMond. It was calculated afterwards that if Fignon had cut off his ponytail, he would have reduced his drag that much that he would have won the Tour.

  9. art March 14, 2012 at 9:04 am -  Reply

    I know everyone likes to bash the UCI, but remember that there’s no neutral service in cyclocross. That makes it a lot easier to allow a variety of equipment.

    It’s bad enough that the neutral cars at road races need to carry two sets of rear wheels for different cassette spacings. If all manufacturers could be talked into using the same rotor diameter and exactly the same rotor offset, it would only double the number of wheels in play. Maybe that’s alright in a stage race, but neutral service in a lot of the spring classics is done by motorcycles with only four spare wheels.

    • Androo March 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm -  Reply

      *gasp* You mean you might need to make bikes and wheels strong enough to last for an entire stage? I wonder if that would be a more useful way to spend the ballast weight that they require to get up to the UCI 15 lb minimum, instead of dropping extra lengths of chain down the seat tube…

      • art March 14, 2012 at 7:23 pm -  Reply

        This has nothing to do with wheel durability. Most riders take neutral wheels because of flat tires.

  10. motorbike_designer November 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm -  Reply

    Simple physics. Dics brakes require stronger wheels. Stonger wheels mean more weight.
    If a disc brake capable wheel weighs the same as a sheet of A4 paper the discless one can be made even lighter.

    The last place a rider would want to add weight to bike is the wheel.
    Rotating mass doubles on acceleration so for example if a bike weighs 6kg (4kg fixed mass, 2kg in rotating mass ), that same bike will weight 8kg when accelerated.

    Saying this I hope they do accept disc brakes but I know this is little to do with safety and more about lining the manufacturers pockets.
    Whatever happens in the peloton transfers more effectively to the public and there is far more profit in expensive disc brakes than rims.

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