It’s time to come clean about disc brakes

The ability to stop is an important element of cycling, especially when you consider that not being able to tends to increase the chances of something nasty happening. 

Nevertheless, stopping has for a while seemed to be a bit of an afterthought among bicycle part manufacturers. Anyone who has ever attempted to stop a pair of Zipps in the wet will atest to that. I don’t even own a pair, but anyone who has ever ridden into the back of me does. 

Things have become a lot safer of late. The latest generation of Shimano rim brakes utilises a vastly superior system, and the manufacturers of carbon wheels have also upped their game with new braking surface technology that allows you to stop fairly efficiently. 

Then there are disc brakes. Terrible things, if the UCI is to be believed. Or was to be believed, to be precise, because it has now lifted its ban on them for professional cycle races. The reasons for the ban were laughable when you think about it. There was the fear that disc brakes were too good, that riders on bikes equipped with them would stop too suddenly and thus cause a multiple pileup. The other factor was the irrational fear that in the event of said pileup, disc brakes would be whirring around of their own accord like little saw blades, slicing off appendages. Nevermind that all wheels are laced with bladed spokes the thickness of cheesewire, and have been for years. 

Not to say that those spokes haven’t caused some pretty nasty damage, even if they have stopped short of full amputations. 

Safety wasn’t the UCI’s only concern. There was the issue of wheel changes - if you’ve ever had the misfortune to take a disc brake-equipped wheel off you’d understand - and concerns over neutral support, presumably along similar lines. 

These potential problems remain, but the bike lobby, the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) is a powerful entity and capable of exercising considerable influence. Despite the UCI concerns, from 2016 teams will be able to test disc brakes in all pro-level events, with a full introduction in 2017. 

As someone who has ridden a road bike equipped with disc brakes for a couple of years I can honestly say that the pro peloton’s use of them should not be regarded as an endorsement. Stop your bike from moving they might, but that’s where the benefits end. They are awful to maintain, require regular professional servicing and are frankly not worth the effort. They are also ridiculously heavy and require a special bike. 

And that’s not even the real reason I hate them. I hate them because every time I go out on that bike it squeals like a stuck pig, and I’m talking proper screaming here, the kind that has mothers covering their children’s ears. Worst of all I can’t figure out why. I’ve had the wheels off - word of advice: don’t - scrubbed those brake blocks with a toothbrush, loosened them off, wire wooled them, I was even tempted to WD40 them until I realised I wouldn’t actually be able to stop. Then I attempted to put the wheels back on. Those blocks clamp up like oyster shells. 

“Rubbing alcohol!” I hear you cry, and it’s true I haven’t tried that and yes I just Googled it and got a really annoying Youtube video with loud music drowning out what the bloke was saying and yes I will try it, but do you know where to buy it? Seriously? Is Isopropyl the same stuff? Why does no one seem to sell this stuff? 

Disc brakes are the biggest conspiracy known to road cycling. Mountain biking, yes, I can see there is a use when you need to stop yourself from careering off a mountain ledge, but road bikes? Really? I’m not buying it. Rim brakes have been around for donkey’s years and they are proven and simple and for us mere mortals riding around the country lanes, relatively easy to fix. Not disc brakes, oh no. If you get a disc brake problem you’re looking at hydraulics, rotors, blocks you can’t get at, a roadside nightmare basically. 

Do you know what disc brakes are? They are a way to slow you down and not by stopping, by their sheer weight. They’re in a different league to rim brakes in terms of pounds and ounces. They are also the most cunning ruse yet to get you to visit a cycle shop on a regular basis and spend money. They are an accessory with a built-in servicing requirement. 

Don’t believe the hype. You will stop better because you are going slower, weighed down by the heft of two enormous metal discs. The efficiency is a myth. Unless you’re riding Zipps. Then you need them. Now. 


Pity the poor London to Paris riders who are going to have to find another way back to England after Eurostar decided to impose a ridiculously poorly thought-out plan to force cyclists to dismantle and box their bikes prior to travel. This is to save space apparently, which does make you wonder exactly how many hundreds of bikes Eurostar are accommodating in the sportive season. Perhaps the very objective is to dissuade cyclists from using the trains. Still, there is more than one way to cross the channel and at least you get a sea view on a ferry. Eurostar can stick their un-bike friendly attitude, frankly, we’re taking the boat. 

Abu Dhabi Tour

They had the Yas Marina stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour on at the Athlete Lab last night, five days late I know. Spectacular night racing with not a spectator in sight. But the riders loved it apparently. Pure peace, I suppose. 

Graham HutsonComment