13 February, 2017

Why disc brakes are the best solution for road cycling

The emergence of hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes has meant a revolution. For some time now, many designers and engineers have proposed for our road machines all the advantages that mountain bikes have enjoyed. Of course the riding conditions are different between Road and MTB, but after many years and kilometers of using disc brakes, we have experienced in several different real-life situations why they are, objectively, also the best solution on asphalt.

Picture a scenario you know well: You are riding down a mountain pass at high speed, a pass that you know like the back of your hand, that often appears on your routes. You know exactly when to reduce your speed and how to enter those hairpin turns that you love so much. Now imagine that you can brake later, with greater modulation on the brake, without any danger of the brake losing power or heating up the rim during a long, steep straightaway. Corner speed and exit speed are the same, but disc brakes give you the confidence to wait a few precious seconds before slowing down to enter the turn. It’s ironic to say that a brake will make you faster, but it’s true. A more efficient brake gives you more confidence and it’s exactly what riders are discovering with disc systems.

Disc brakes offer more control and modulation (they offer more progressive power), they are simple and they respond just as well in any sort of weather. Their advantages are objective and undeniable; this by itself more than justifies their existence.

1) Less force required at the lever and and better modulation of power means shorter stopping distances. Thanks to more consistent braking power as compared to traditional rim brakes, hydraulic disc brakes help you feel more comfortable stopping in less distance in complicated situations.

We have found that the low lever force helps braking power feel stronger especially when paired with wider 25- or 28-mm tires. These tires – the most commonly used on the squad – enable us to use lower tire pressures, improving the grip of the rubber on the asphalt when braking.

Lower lever force and better consistency also means less stress on the cyclist’s hands and arms, since we can stop the bike with less effort. This stress accumulated in our hands, together with exertion of the upper body to counteract the deceleration of our body when braking is cumulative and can become quite fatiguing, especially if we’ve already covered a few kilometers.

With traditional brakes, we have undoubtedly run into problems at one time or another stopping the bike at high speeds. The overheating of the brake pad can cause us to have to squeeze the brake levers quite hard to reduce our speed when entering a curve.

With the disc brake system, this stress is considerably reduced, easing the stresses on the upper body. And that’s not all; since we can brake later and more easily, we are saving a lot of energy – energy that we can use to pedal instead of brake.

What’s more, the latest advances in disc brake calipers, pad compounds and rotors have optimized braking performance specifically for road applications.All of this results in even better disc braking, without compromises.

2) Better control: the feeling of a disc brake is smoother and more gradual than that of a rim brake. It will only take you a few short kilometers to realize how you can adjust your braking with little effort, making it less abrupt and improving the ride at any speed.

With rim brakes, we must experiment with different pad compounds, some of which are abrupt or grabby and others more progressive, but it is very difficult to achieve the same feeling that we currently have with disc brakes. They respond better to our commands, because while the braking is quite progressive and controlled, it is still easier to achieve maximum power (locking the wheel) without tiring our hands squeezing the lever.

3) Greater safety: one of the big disadvantages of traditional rim brakes is the loss of braking power in situations involving moisture or rain and the overheating of rims on long descents. This is now, pardon the pun, water under the bridge.

The use of disc brakes dramatically reduces these disadvantages, offering the same power and modulation on any type of descent, no matter what the weather conditions are like. If you get caught in a passing shower while riding down from a mountain pass, you’ll have to worry about catching a cold, but never the safety of your brakes.

This is obviously something that benefits any cyclist, but one that will be especially appreciated by those who don’t have a PRO profile, since the predictable behavior of disc brakes will give us the security and confidence that makes up for our smaller range of riding experiences.

Another important factor concerns large cyclists and even cyclists who are traveling with backpacks and saddlebags, which double the weight on the bike. The controlled power of disc brakes enables us to stop the bike easier and with less effort, a boon when standard rim brakes might struggle in the same situation.

These are the three most obvious advantages of disc brakes on the road. Now let’s take a look at the rest of the aspects related to your cycling experience, in which brakes also play a part:

1) Weight

Currently, the traditional rim brake set is 300 or 400 grams lighter than disc brakes. This difference is shrinking all the time, and you have probably heard that this difference will almost certainly decrease over the next few years, with the improvement in the design and materials used in disc brakes.

It is clear that weight is an important factor, otherwise it wouldn’t have become an obsession for both manufacturers and users. But let’s be objective about it: when you are climbing a mountain pass with your group, do really think you’ll do it any faster without those extra 300-400 grams? And even if it were true, wouldn’t you prefer to have safer, more controlled braking on the descent, in spite of the weight difference?

In any case, if we focus on performance, let’s suppose that you really are penalized by a few seconds in the climb. Now consider the descent. Thanks to disc brakes, you’re going to be able to brake later and therefore gain one or two seconds per curve. The end result is that your fellow cyclists who do not have disc brakes are going to have to take more risks on the descents to keep up with you. But that’s not the point. It’s a matter of realizing that disc brakes are simply more effective.

A final point: we can’t stress enough that the division of weights on the wheel is very important to the entire assembly. The disc brake system makes it possible to create lighter rims, since no reinforcement is needed on the braking band. Less weight on the peripheral mass of the wheel favors better acceleration.

2) Maintenance

Both systems require routine maintenance in order to provide quality braking and optimal safety, either by replacing the brake shoes and cables or by bleeding brake lines and replacing the brake pads.

It is less complicated to maintain a disc brake system, since no special knowledge is required to replace the pads: just remove the safety pin, remove the brake pads, install the new ones and replace the pin. Changing the brake fluid or purging it if air gets in the circuit is a job that can be completed in less than five minutes and is normally done on a routine basis once a year.

3) Durability

Due to the wear from the rims on traditional brakes -even more so if we use high-profile carbon rims –  the lifespan of disc brakes is potentially longer than that of traditional brakes.

Friction, overheating or improper maintenance of the brake shoes can deteriorate them to the point of rendering the rims unusable, which poses a serious danger if it occurs in the middle of a descent. The hydraulic disc brake system is much simpler than a rim brake system, as it reduces the number of moving parts on the unit: parts, screws, bushings, etc.

4) Mounting

There is a popular belief that it is more complicated to install and remove a disc brake wheel. We can tell you that the operation is practically identical, it simply requires a short period of adaptation. Even with through axles, this task is completed in the same amount of time as with a traditional fastening system. Through axles provide greater safety than a quick release, and the extra rigidity they provide is quite noticeabl, improving tracking and cornering stability.

5) Rubbing

Rubbing from an out-of-true rim disappears, even if we lose a spoke or the wheel is thrown off center in the middle of our route. And for heavier riders, the use of through axles substantially improves the lateral rigidity of the bike and decreases the likelihood of frame rub.

Because of their safety, effectiveness, power, modulation, maintenance, ride, comfort, confidence and once again, safety, the disc brake system far exceeds the traditional rim brake system.

Hydraulic brakes have been firmly established in many sectors for a long time now. Up until now on the road, the brands have focused on anything that will make us go faster (such as weight, aerodynamics, etc.), but we know that users also value other factors, such as comfort.

From this perspective, more efficient braking, such as that provided by disc brakes, is a very substantial improvement. Take the example of mountain bikes: twenty years ago, we started to hear about the arrival of disc brakes for MTB (after having used V-brakes or hydraulic rim brakes). Back then, there were many skeptics. Nowadays, no one even discusses them anymore and all mountain bikes come with disc brakes. The performance increase is worth it in every case.

Changes can be hard, but if they’re for the better, there is no doubt about it – the time has come to improve the safety of cyclists, and that truly is a great investment in the future for all two-wheel lovers.