Are disc brakes on road bikes a good or bad thing?

Words by Cyclopaedia

on 23/12/2017 08:37:36

Discs 2

So the gloves are finally off. In road and circuit races, disc brakes are now legal to race in the UK. Queue celebrations from technophiles, MTB and cyclocross racers, queue wailing and gnashing of teeth by dyed in the wool roadies. So which camp do we belong to? In short, we’re with the technophiles and we’ll explain why.

At the risk of sounding like the American gun lobby, disc brakes don’t cause injury. Bad skills cause injury. There’s no denying that disc brakes are extremely powerful and clapping on the irons at 30 mph is going to cause more than its fair share of grief. But anyone that’s ridden a well set up road bike will recognise that good cantilever brakes can *almost* stop you on a dime anyway. Stopping suddenly in group situations doesn’t end well for anyone. But it’s not only stopping fast that has raised roadie ire, it’s the presence of large, hot, spinning discs as a health and safety concern that seems to cause even most consternation. There were concerns raised by the  pro-peloton by riders uneasy at a two tier system operating; riders with discs and subsequently better stopping capability and riders without. Now 100 riders clipping along at 35 mph and coming down on a wet tight corner are one thing, a small group of racers pinging around a good road circuit at 25 mph is quite another. Pro-riders are put through their paces in a way that the overwhelming majority are not, with careers made or broken by calculated risks and race bonuses.

Given that discs have been around for eons in MTB and more latterly in Cyclocross, we feel these issues have been overblown. In the mud and the gloop all sorts of things affect stopping capability and there are times in cross races where riders bunch and the race ebbs and flows (and on descents or flat gravelly sections, at speed). Ask any crosser which braking system they prefer and it’s a unanimous – and unanimously loud – clamour for discs. Once you move braking away from the rim, there’s simply no comparison and let’s face it, crashes happen come what may. While you certainly wouldn’t want to get scored by a disc in the process of crashing, how often – realistically -  is that going to happen? Most probably far, far less than modulating your speed well, or stopping suddenly to avoid potholes or an idiot driver that’s just shot out of a junction even a car door flung in your direction at the 11th hour, all of which are pretty likely to happen while in the saddle.

Of course you can’t ignore the drawbacks of using discs entirely. There is the potential for disc related injuries in close crash situations and the added weight/cost that comes with a disc setup, but no system is perfect (ever) and we feel that on the whole, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

So here are our major benefits of disc brakes

  • Reducing speed on long descents without feeling like your hands/arms are going to fall off.
  • Better modulation, which means you can progressively apply your brakes before clamping on fully.
  • Improved braking in wet conditions now that the braking has been moved away from the rim.
  • Because the wear has been taken away from the rim, those lovely carbon rims will last much longer.
  • It’s difficult to resist the march of progress.

I shouted that last one because I love my discs. It’s transformed my cross racing, I can effect tighter turns and respond quickly in the gloopiest of conditions. On top of that it gives me great assurance while flying down the side of a hill and now that discs are road legal, I can pop some slicks on my carbon cross bike and dabble (again) with road crits in 2018. To our mind, its benefits such as these that truly tip the balance toward discs.

From the shop

We stock the complete range of Giant disc equipped bikes.The Giant TCR Advanced 1 Disc Carbon Road Bike offers a fast package and great value for money at our currently (Dec 2017) discounted price of £1600. If you’re looking for versatility with a bike that can tackle races, sportives and rough roads/cobbles, then its worth considering the Focus Paralane currently on offer at £2400.