19th Jul 2017

Disc Brakes - Haters Goin' Hate

If you’re looking to start an argument with a cyclist discuss the topic of disc brakes on road racing bikes. Trust me, other than religion and politics, this subject is sure to irritate someone.

Disc brakes are not new technology in cycling. As you know, disc brakes are standard issue on mountain biking. In fact you can go to Walmart and purchase a $300 bike with disc brakes. There is no argument that disc brakes work better than rim brakes. So why was there such an outcry when rotors were added to racing bikes?

Traditions are hard to alter. Rim brakes for 700cc wheels have stayed relatively unchanged for decades because road racing is steeped in tradition. The governing body of professional cycling regulates such things as the minimum weight of what a racing road bike can weigh in competition. Any bike engineer can tell you this limit is outdated. Bikes can be safely made and still be under 14 pounds. Let’s not even discuss how the UCI limits the aerodynamics of frames!

The original thought was that the rotors were like ninja throwing stars and would cut people’s legs off. And yes, in the 2016 racing season there were reports in mass pile-ups some riders say they were cut by a rotor. In response, the UCI temporary banned discs while they evaluated the situation. The 2017 season started and disc brakes are now an option in the professional cycling peloton. What changed?

What changed was the consumer market wanted disc brakes. Most of us have mountain bikes and discs aren’t a scary thing. Cycling companies responded with disc brake versions and to create buzz, got their sponsored teams to toe the line with them. The cycling industry took baby steps, kitting out their good bikes, but not the top tier machines. This has started to slowly change.

Several top brands such as PinarelloMerckx, and Bianchi now have disc brakes on their flagship models or plan on releasing a disc version very soon. These are full fledged racing machines and you can look no further than this year’s Tour de France to see that racers have started to slowly accept disc wheels.

The worm has turned, driven in part by better technology and consumer demand. Here at Glory Cycles we speculate that within five years disc brakes will be standard issue on all road bikes and rotor sizes will be standardized. We’re still holding out that one day we can race an aero frame with no design or weight restrictions. We’re also dreaming of flying cars - but that’s a post for another time.