Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday News And Views

C-59 Disc (Image courtesy of Colnago)
Road Disc Brakes: Today's post will be pretty much all about disc brakes for road bikes. This Colnago seems to be the first of what is thought to be a fast growing segment in road bikes for the coming years. Okay, so they switch to disc brakes. Big deal. Well, actually, it is a very, very big deal.

In reality, several things will need to be figured out before the dust settles and we have the bikes figured out and who they will appeal to.

Racers: All along the mantra for road disc has been that it will make road biking safer for Pro racers and those who make road racing a high priority activity. Why? Because the now standard carbon rimmed wheels are not very good at dissipating heat, which can cause tubular tire failure, and blow clincher tires off as well. (See Joseba Beloki whose accident in the '03 Tour is held up as the "poster child" for road disc brake safety.) Road disc brakes take the heating from the rims and put it on the rotors. No chance for heat related tire failures. Okay, so that's good, right? Well, maybe. The argument goes that rotors on road bikes will be smaller and thus less able to deal with heat and will fade and/or warp more easily. We'll see in the end, but that is a valid concern.

If you look closely at the Colnago information, you will note that they had to "beef up" certain areas of the frame and they made an entirely new fork to deal with the new forces of disc brakes. More weight? Yes, probably, but that isn't a big deal, since anybody's road bike at the Pro level can easily be built far below the weight limit set by the governing body, the UCI. A bit of extra added beef to handle disc brakes just means they won't be able to run the power crank. No, the real issue here is ride quality. The necessary reinforcing done for disc brakes will, for now, come at the expense of ride quality. Think about the newly revealed Trek Madone ridden to victory last weekend by Fabian Cancellara. That new design wouldn't be possible with disc brakes. Maybe we'll be seeing disc road bikes for racing in the mountains only?

Enthusiasts and Commuters: Some hub-bub is being made for road disc brakes and commuters. The thought here is that a light-weight bike could be designed for all conditions. and Bike Radar tech editor, James Huang seems to think this is where road disc can make the biggest impact. He also emphatically says that road disc brakes are not about more power, but better modulation. I agree with the latter, but I'm not sold on the former. Upper tier enthusiasts may benefit, and in reality, these may be the only early adopters, considering the high price of entry, (which I'll get to in a minute), so my thoughts may not even matter here. But I do know that the "average" road cyclist we help at the shop equate disc brakes with more power. When they find out it is about modulation, I think the sexiness of disc brakes on a road bike will be slim to none. But I could be all washed up on that one. The other side of this coin is that commuter/practical bikes aren't road racing bikes and having disc brakes on a road racing bike won't matter to commuters anyway.

Room for Hydraulics

Collateral Effects: One of the  main reasons that road disc brakes never materialized earlier is that a hydraulic caliper couldn't be developed with a hydraulic lever and have that lever do shifting duties like we have in mechanical brake/shifter set ups. Well, Shimano unwittingly, (or maybe not), opened that door wide open with Di2. Since electrical impulses are not proprietary to any one source to operate Di2, outside sources saw that they could develop triggering mechanisms that could be housed in lever bodies that could then be freed up to do hydraulic duties. This meant no clunky adapter boxes under the stem, as is common in cyclo-cross hydraulic brake set ups.

Formula did the Colnago brakes, and TRP also is showing a similar lever at the Taipei Cycle Show, which is closing soon. Both companies expect to be delivering product by late summer. Obviously, using a Di2 dependant lever will make the price of entry to road disc brakes high, so until the mechanical calipers that are rumored to be in development show up, the "common cyclist" like need not be bothered just yet.

Finally, one has to wonder if road racing bikes really need to have disc brakes for the average cyclist. Why? Because the road racing bike isn't really the right bike for most people anyway. In the meantime, bicycles that do work for average cyclists already are available with disc brakes. Now.

Of course, racing breeds development, and development may be done that benefits the average cyclist eventually, so having road racing bikes with disc brakes may be a great advantage at some point, but my opinion is that for now, it is a curiosity that needs to be waited out until everything gets sorted.

And there is a lot of sorting to be done yet.

Have a great weekend. I'm ditching out for a bit to go on a vacation, so posts may be a bit hit and miss next week. Stay tuned for updates from the road.  


John said...

I'm sold on discs for my road bike simply for increased confidence in a hilly area with unpredictable drivers.

My BMC Monstercross w/ discs:

Guitar Ted said...

@John: If what I am reading into comments I am seeing from those in the know is right, those road disc brakes will work very similarly to calipers, only difference being that the heat build up won't be on the rims, and the performance in the wet will be improved. Again, the word I am hearing is that road disc won't be more powerful than what you have already- it will have better modulation, and work better in bad conditions than what you have now.

mw said...

that colnago makes me get my air hump on!

Exhausted_Auk said...

If weight is not an issue, then road disc brakes can be made much more powerful than rim brakes, simply by fitting larger rotors. This is of course especially useful for tandems, and production tandems are readily available using 203mm rotors front and rear. I can say from personal experience that this setup (using Avid BB7 road calipers) is great for descending in the mountains of Colorado. Plenty of braking power, and no risk of a tire blowing off.

The Goats said...

I believe at least some of the market is driven by the demand to have new and cool stuff. I think disc brake penetration will be quite rapid and not just for hydraulic. It will be nice to see some active competition for best cable fed disc brake as the BB& (while excellent) is getting long in the tooth.
I am very interested to know just what BRAKE LEVERS the Colnago has in the photo?...

The Goats

Guitar Ted said...

@Exhausted_Auk: But see, it isn't going to be about more powerful brakes. That's where folks are getting derailed on road racing bike disc brake applications. Remember, you only have a tiny contact patch and caliper brakes can easily lock up wheels now as it is.

@The Goats: It is a lever developed by Formula. TRP will also have one and it was shown at the Taipei show as well.

bmxmtbfam said...

These sounds so much like the comments and wild predictions from 18 years ago when Cannondale stuck Coda disk brakes on all their mtb bikes.

Guitar Ted said...

@bmxmtbfam: I'd have to disagree with that comparison. Today, folks actually want disc brakes. Back then the theory was they were not necessary at all, and in fact, folks thought they would be detrimental to bicycles.

That isn't the case now. What is being debated is the way disc brakes will make road racing bikes better, not that they should not have them at all.

Jason said...

I was sold on needing disc brakes for my CX bike (which I use as a gravel/ultraCX bike). But then I got the TRP Cx9 brakes. LOVE THEM. Not saying I would kick a disc brake equipped cross bike out of bed, but it was way less cash to get the TRPs that it would be a new bike or switch to discs. For the record my want for different brakes was based solely on increased stopping power over cantis and not modulation.

Not sure why Beloki's crash would be held as the poster child for disc brakes? Dude hit greasy melting roads at 40 mph or more. Not sure WHAT brake could have prevented that?

I back seeing some bikes with discs, but hate sitting and watching the industry spin on why you NEED disc brakes on a road bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Jason: Beloki's tire rolled off, and it was surmised that it came off so easily because the glue was softened from the braking he did on the descent.

Of course, no one can prove that, but that doesn't stop people from using his accident as an example.

It does get tiresome when the marketing machines crank up concerning "the latest" for bicycles, but average North American consumers are driven by such "new things" and not by holding to traditions or by components that last forever and a day. Don't blame the companies for finding what tweaks our desires to let go of our money. ;>)