Disc brakes a no-go in the peloton

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You might have seen the media fallout last week after pro road-rider Fran Ventoso crashed and picked up injuries allegedly caused by another rider’s disc brake rotor. We asked Giles to sum up the current position, and future implications for the sport…
 
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It’s been a bumpy ride old ride for the dropped barred disc brake.  Approved by the UCI for ‘cross not too many moons ago, much to the chagrin of racing purists, the inevitable trickle down finally reached the pro road-racing scene with testing approved on a wide scale basis in 2016.
The ongoing debate of necessity aside, things were largely fine until Movistar rider Fran Ventoso unfortunately crashed in Paris Roubaix sustaining some pretty gruesome wounds; injuries attributed to another rider’s disc brakes.
As you’ll have read in countless column inches elsewhere the UCI acted quickly (rightly or wrongly depending on opinion), ending the trials of disc brakes in road races last week, a decision which will inevitably have ripples.
For the consumer ‘cross and off-road fraternity the disc brake is now firmly a part of the technical landscape. Sure the debate still rages over cantis vs. discs but disc equipped drop barred off-roaders are now in the majority for new bikes and of course in MTB circles the absolute norm.
The engineering behind the disc brake is sound; move the braking surface away from the rim for improved, more reliable performance – it’s what they’ve done on planes, trains and automobiles for years. Yes, bikes are different in that those fast rotating bits of steel are a little bit nearer to the fragile bag of meat rider, but so are other rotating, unfriendly bits of metal, primarily the spiky chain ring, let alone other protrusions such as the lumpy pedals and pointy levers.
Between my bouts of suffering Dirty Reiver course last weekend I had an unscientific look at the bikes passing me, discs were the brakes of choice for the majority of those 400 or so riders, most of whom were on cyclocross or cross-a-like ‘gravel’ bikes.
Whilst the suspension of disc brake trials will inevitably re-open up the hornets nest of whether they are really necessary on the road, it’s almost inconceivable that for us off-roaders, curly or flat barred, that the decision will mean any change.
We aren’t thundering along in a 200 strong peloton, on tarmac, at high speed. Yes we might be gunning for the hole-shot during CX season, but the risks are arguably very different.
I have a difficult relationship with my disc brakes. I love the engineering principles and the ability to be able to stop or slow quickly but dislike the inherent faff and fettling. Without sounding like a Luddite I may move from mechanical to hydraulic at some stage but that means a whole new set of learning, tools and of course, cost. That said, when my discs are tuned they work brilliantly.
Bad accidents happen, in races, outside of races – fundamentally bikes are unguarded machinery with potentially dangerous parts. Industrial innovation always has its hiccups, but discs won’t be disappearing anytime soon. However, we’ll have to see how long it takes before they re-appear in the pro peloton.

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