Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Pro and Con   Leave a comment

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Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Why not?!?

Much debate has been happening around the use of disc brakes in professional road cycling. They were provisionally approved for several spring classics races this year, but they were re-banned after reports of the discs injuring riders in crashes, allegedly causing severe lacerations. Rumors persist that they’ll try them again later this year.
Meanwhile, discs have proven to be safe, effective, and preferred in mountain bike races and cyclocross races for quite a while. So why shouldn’t this technology be allowed into the pro peloton? I see no reason why it shouldn’t.
First, let’s look at some of the cases against discs that we’ve heard:
Argument #1: They’re dangerous and can cut people in crashes.
Response: Isn’t falling off your bike at high speed wearing nothing but lycra and a styrofoam hat already pretty dangerous? Does the off chance that you’ll get wound up in a spinning brake disc increase the danger significantly? I don’t think so.

Argument #2: They’re heavier than rim brakes.
Response: So what? Most pro bikes already fall well below the UCI-mandated 15 pound minimum weight and have to have weight added back onto them. I’m sure that a disc-equipped bike can land right on the minimum weight standard.

Argument #3: It will make wheel changes during the race difficult, due to various different specifications of the braking and axle systems.
Response: Again, so what? If you want to avoid these hassles, you can choose not to use them. If, however, the team decides that the improved braking is worth the trouble, then they should be allowed to use them.

In the end, the UCI should only be concerned about maintaining a level field between competitors. Disc brakes provide no competitive advantage, except perhaps in wet conditions, and in technical descents. Nevertheless, if a team or rider wants to use them (or if a team’s sponsor wants to financially entice the team to use them) then it’s up to the teams and riders to decide whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Even if a sponsor is simply trying to sell more disc-equipped bikes by featuring them on their pro teams, it’s irrelevant. If cooperating with a sponsor’s marketing ploy helps keep a team on the road, where’s the harm?
Let disc brakes into the pro peloton, and they’ll either succeed or die on their own merits. In the meantime, having pros test the newest and latest technologies will help move technology forward at a faster speed.
In the meantime, for us “non-pros” ride what you want, and if you like disc brakes, by all means use them.

Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Why?!?

While it is certain that disc brake technology has become a mainstay in the worlds of mountain biking and cyclocross, does it belong in the rarified air of elite road cycling? While it’s true that disc brakes offer improved stopping power over their caliper counterparts, are they REALLY desirable in a professional road race? I say the negatives FAR outweigh the positives.
1) Disc brakes require significant modifications, not only to the wheels but also to the forks and frames of the bikes themselves. They exert their force over a much smaller circumference (the area near the hub) than caliper brakes (the rim of the wheel). This requires heavier and bulkier reinforced spokes and forks along with elaborate attachment points for the braking mechanisms. All this translates into more weight and (probably) a loss of aerodynamic advantage. Is the improved stopping power worth this?? I doubt it…pro riders want to GO faster, not STOP faster!

2) As an addendum to item (1)…the modifications necessary for disc brakes eliminate the possibility for “neutral support” during road races. (you know, those guys at the side of the road offering spare wheels when needed) Every neutral support provider would have to have 2 different types of wheels…one with and one without discs. And even with this, would the disc–equipped wheel fit every bike?? I doubt it! Neutral support would become a thing of the past and might lead to sacrifices in time and speed.

3) Disc brakes are notoriously temperamental…just ask a mountain bike rider who has a minor tumble and dings his disc brake. Even a minor perturbation to the disc’s braking surface will lead to rubbing and increased friction…a death blow to a pro road rider’s average speed! Forget getting a little grease on the brake when changing a flat…oh the whining!! Not worth the extra headaches in a road ride where speed is critical.

4) Safety!! The UCI had agreed to allow disc brake usage in certain road rides this season. They went back on their commitment after some incidents at Paris-Roubaix earlier this year. Just ask Francisco Ventoso who allegedly suffered a deep gash in his leg from a disc brake in a crash during P-R. In addition, having disc brakes AND caliper brakes in the same peleton could have unforeseen consequences. Say a dude using discs is riding at the front of the pack when he brakes hard to avoid an obstacle. The guy behind him riding a caliper-equipped rig won’t be able to stop as fast…result? Consistency must rule in the peleton…for safety’s sake!

The UCI is now debating whether to again allow disc brakes to be trialed in pro road racing. I am certain that, in their infinite desire to market “enhanced” technology to the masses, bicycle manufacturers and sponsors will get their way and we shall see disc brakes back in the elite pro ranks soon. While this technology might indeed be beneficial to us mere mortals out on our weekend road ride, I am dubious about their use in the major tours yet to come. I only hope there is not a major crash or incident that proves me right.

(Disclaimer…the author recently rode a mountain bike rig equipped with disc brakes and found them VERY cool!)

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