Thursday, June 13, 2013

"It" May Never Happen: Part 3- Brakes

Now on to the promised post about brakes- disc or cantilevers. There is a bit about what I think to be found in the first post- here. Check that out to see where I am coming from.

Secondly, I must post the TK inspired disclaimer, one more time:

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned..

First of all, I know there are a lot of bicycle mechanics, bicycle enthusiasts, and especially you bike geeks, that come here and read what I am writing about. The following screed about brakes is not about you guys and gals. This is about why I think it makes sense for the average Joe and Jill to have a certain kind of brake. The bike I am talking about, (seen in the second part of this series here), is the "all-arounder" that I think makes sense for the meat and potatoes of the cycling populace. Yes- I would likely "like" it as well, but that's beside the point!

Secondly, I am neither for, nor against disc brakes on road bikes. I can see why there are reasons someone may want disc brakes on a road bike, but I also see reasons why they are not such a great idea as well. I find it amusing that some folks just blindly accept that disc brakes "solve all the problems" and that cantilever brakes are "retro-grouch components" worthy of the dust bin. The truth, in my opinion, is somewhere in the middle of those two thoughts.

Let me start out with a scenario: Let's say disc brakes were the only choice you have ever had in brakes for cycling. Okay? So, along comes some whiz-bang engineer who declares that a wheel's rim can do double duty!

It can be a rotor and a rim, all at the same time! We simply move the caliper outwards, which should give us great power and modulation, if the "calipers" are correctly designed and set up. This will allow us to ditch the weight of that stainless steel rotor, make the mounting points less heavy, and less of a strain on the frame and wheels. The hub flanges can now be centered and wheels should theoretically be stronger. Overall, we think the system will actually save several grams over current disc brake technology.

What if that was the way things went? Sure- we know the pitfalls of caliper and cantilever brakes: Hard to set up, don't work sometimes in inclement weather, and are less powerful. Right? Isn't that the "party line" on cantilever brakes these days?

  • Hard To Set Up: And disc brakes are not? Especially mechanical disc brakes, which any mechanic will tell you, need to be meticulously set up with proper housings to get maximum braking potential. Of course, no one ever had a disc rotor rubbing, a bent rotor, or a rotor that made noises. Yeah- disc brakes are definitely better than cantilevers in this way. No question, right? Let's not even give credence to the existence of disc brake facing tools, bleeder kits, or shims, because disc brakes rule, and they are just better than cantilever brakes. Duh!
  • Cantilever Brakes Don't Work As Well In Bad Weather: Hmm...yeah, probably not. Because, no one ever had disc brake pads wear out in a single ride in bad weather. (Those racers at Moab that one year- that was all a set up by retrogrouch cantilever lovers. Lies!) No one ever had disc brakes make horrible turkey gobbling noises whenever they get wet. (Anyone who says they have is lying, of course.) And everyone knows that the minute it gets ugly out, everyone runs out and finds their cantilever brakes suck, and won't stop them at all, and swear off cycling forever. They should ride disc brakes. Dummies! No one ever lived that rode cantilever brakes in inclement weather, everyone knows this. 
  • Cantilevers Are Less Powerful: Yep, another no-brainer. Hydraulic disc brakes rule! (Never mind that trials riders- arguably the cyclists who need the most powerful brakes in cycling, have used hydraulic, canti mounted rim brakes for..... well never mind. They obviously don't count!)
Of course, I jest, but you get the picture. There are reasons that both kinds of brakes suck, don't work, and maybe wouldn't be the best. In the instance of the "all-arounder" bike, I submit that cantilever brakes, or caliper brakes that are actuated by hydraulic levers may, in fact, be the cats pajamas. Let the wheel do the job of two components, but get rid of the Bowden cable actuated calipers. I have had it suggested that having disc wheels allows the use of different wheel sizes in the same bike, but the average cyclist? Are they going to do this? I don't think so. One wheel set, durable, versatile, and that's all they'll be wanting, thank you very much. I'll grant you that when a spoke does break, the rim brake is not as desirable, but again- disc brakes are not without faults.

Okay, food for thought, for sure. That's it for this series for now. Thanks for reading.


cowspassage said...

Discussions around disc brakes on road bikes always seem to get angry and emotive. I know it's all about the bike industry trying to sell us stuff that previously we didn't need, but it would be interesting to see some impartial and dispassionate summarising of the issues.

Ultimately I want a brake that is going to give me reasonable stopping performance in a range of conditions, and that isn't going to add drag when I don't want it.

And as your previous post said, I don't care about the pro-peloton, or weight and aerodynamics (within reason).

Velocodger said...

I sure like my V brakes....if I could I would have mini-V brakes, or Paul moto-lites on all my bikes. Paul crosstop levers work like a charm with them too.

Ben said...

I got a Salsa Colossal Ti this year and love it...a lot. But given the choice I would have gone with road brakes or something similar. But I realize the use of disc brakes gives me more tire clearance which I appreciate. I do love canti brakes but wouldn't want them on this bike. Never happy I guesss!
With more bike companies jumping on the disc brake/raod bike wagon better options will be available...time will tell if it sticks.
In the end they are bikes and bikes are fun!

Josh Lederman said...

Where does the All City Macho Man fall short of the perfect "all rounder"? Price?

Ari said...

I never see the need for stopping on a dime on a gravel bike. I was dissapointed when I had my disc cross bike lose all braking capabiities before the first checkpoint of TIV6.
Everyone else opened up their cantis,cleaned them and rode on. My disc cross bike is also heavier and not as compliant as my regular crossbike with cantilevers.

Guitar Ted said...

@Josh Lederman: Too steep a head angle, BB drop isn't quite where I would put it. Tire clearances are tight on the bigger end.

Jeremy said...

All of this is totally spot on. As a wrench doing a lot of work on cargo bikes, where mechanical discs are rapidly becoming the norm, at the end of the day I just want to ride my own bike and have it work, which is why most of my bikes have cantilevers.

The truth is, i can see the argument for discs on cargo bikes, kind of, but people start talking about discs on bikes that definitely DON'T need them (road bikes and all-rounders) and I just say "ugh."

The easiest brakes to set up powerfully out there are sidepull road calipers, but they have clearance limitations for anything but pure road riding.

Leslie said...


I have a 650b bike w/ Paul Motolites, they have enough adjustment that I can run the collars up and run 700c CX wheels/tires, but back down at the 650b level, can run 2.3 Pacenti NeoMotos... both sizes of wheels w/o disc brakes,just a simple adjustment of the collars holding the pads...

Noah said...

I ran dual pivot sidepulls at DK200 last year; and on the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder this year. I'll likely be running them at Odin's as well. No problem handling a 700x40.