Life often imitates art, especially when you’re talking about progress. You can send yourself mad wondering if Motorola would have developed its flip phones if it hadn’t been for Star Trek communicators. "Beam me up Scotty." And all that.
I was thinking about these Seventies sci-fi influences as I watched Paris-Roubaix. Rollerball sprung to mind. Any of you too young to remember, this was a film about killer roller skating.
Rollerball was a duel to the death involving spiked chains and motorbikes with more spikes and head splitting and blood and body parts and baying crowds, all in something the looked like a velodrome. But for roller skates.
The catchphrase: “In the not too distant future, wars will no longer exist. But there will be Rollerball."
Well we haven’t got Rollerball but we have got WorldTour cycling, and if you’re thinking, “he’s finally out of his tiny mind,” just consider the spinning discs of metal they’ve started putting on all the bikes.
Granted, no one has yet been so crass as to consider spiked ball-chains but then again what’s the need? Disc brakes will cause far more damage! Imagine the gore! The flying chunks of flesh! It puts a whole new perspective on the term ‘breakaway.’ Maybe they will rename crashes “mashes” or something. I can see Ned Boulting now: “Oh no .. there’s been another mash! Just look at them staggering around, the poor sods can’t identify their own severed arms! They really should pre-tag them, wouldn’t you say Chris?”
“Yes Ned, it’s like an abattoir down there, rivers of blood!”
The viewers would turn on in their droves and the Tour de France would run as Henri Desgrange first intended it - only one winner. Only one man left alive!
Ho-ho I jest, of course. Surely no one could be so sick as to allow this to happen. Hang on, what’s this? It’s the UCI with a ruling for the 2016 season giving the green light for disc brakes in pelotons. That was in January and here we are mid April with a Movistar rider in hospital after a crash on the Paris-Roubaix. Fran Ventoso’s wound was “so deep you could see his tibia”, García Acosta, his director sportiff told El Periodico.
This was caused by the disc rotor of a bike from one of only two teams riding the race with such brakes. So 16 riders, 32 discs. It turns out another rider was also injured in a similar fashion.
That wound is pretty deep. That’s a good few layers of flesh there, and when you think these riders often end up on top of each other, well don’t think. It’s best not to.
It would appear that the UCI didn’t think, although the reality is that they did think but as is often the case with this kind of thing, common sense has been trampled on in the name of commercial sense.
Bike manufacturers have invested a lot in disc brakes and they’re thinking it’s high time they started to see some dividends. They have to keep selling bikes after all and people need a reason to buy them.
For the life of me I can’t see any other reason for disc brakes in the pro peloton.
I’ve sliced my finger open on a disc brake rotor before just by cleaning it. These things are not much different to circular saws in reality, save the teeth. That makes them angle grinders.
I’ve long stated that I’m no fan of disc brakes, regardless of safety. They are a pig to maintain, squeal like a banshee when they get a molecule of grit in them and apart from enabling the rider to stop on a sixpence in a thunderstorm offer no significant benefit whatsoever to the cycling experience. What they do offer is additional weight to lug around. And danger.
Discs do have their place. They are quite reassuring down a muddy hill, for instance, and I can see the point of them when you’re riding a 4,000km transcontinental race, although if you do that, just pray that nothing goes wrong with them because they’re a bugger to fix. They will also occasionally provide more stopping power on a wet road but this is only going to be a benefit on a solo ride. On a group ride with everyone else using rim brakes you’ll be rear-ended into next week.
But on a WorldTour race? At those speeds? Carnage would be an understatement.
It’s tempting to say that if any good could come out of Ventoso’s injury it would at least be that this disc brake fallacy was kicked back into the long grass but my biggest fear is that we could be too far down the line with it.
Add to that the UCI’s notoriously slow decision making process when it comes to matters of safety - just look at the issue of vehicle-cyclist collisions - and we’re likely to see a peloton full of spinning angle grinders just waiting to carve some more people up.
And there we will have it. A race to the death that would make Rollerball look like a game of ‘it’.
At least it would get prime time TV billing.
Postscript: It turns out the UCI have moved pretty fast in this instance and have now (13.04) suspended the use of disc brakes in pro racing.