Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How Are We Going To Do This?

Those two threaded holes? That's an early attempt at a disc brake mount.
Everyone that nerds out on bicycles seems to have a pretty strong opinion on "standards", (like "there aren't ANY"!), and these opinions often times will be without any regard to history. Usually "it has been done before" and the reason it didn't catch on might be one of several things. Money being one of the biggest reasons, but material technology is usually reason number one. That means that the idea was "there" but the means to make it work right was not. Materials and the way they are applied generally are the reason many innovations ultimately become realities for bicycles. Like disc brakes, for instance.

Shimano had working disc brakes for bicycles back during the bike boom of the 70's. While the calipers were heavy and clunky, and the rotors were solid steel, they did work. There were concerns , of course, and since forks of the day were spindly and not very strong, disc brakes on bicycles then were typically only mounted on rear wheels. Ironically, Shimano chose to thread on the rotor to the hub, much like a freewheel, and if you think about it, Centerlock brakes are just a minor variation on that theme.

The whole disc brake thing then "went away" for a time, but during the late 70's, 80's and 90's, mountain bikers started tinkering around with disc brakes and by the late 90's, it was going to happen. Early adopters were within the ranks of the Marin clunker gang who used the Shimano disc brakes of the time despite their tank-ish weight. Later in the 80's there was a few attempts at using disc brakes on down hill mountain bikes. The 90's saw more activity with disc brakes, maybe most famously by Mountain Cycle who had an "upside down" fork design which required disc brakes to make it work. Gary Fisher also had a bike with disc brakes at the time, but it was........ahhh.... not very good!

Most suspension forks now use the 74mm post mount standard developed by Manitou
Finally, a concerted effort to make disc brakes work cranked up in the 90's. There was the Rock Shox mechanical disc brake with their funky 3 bolt rotors. Hayes Brakes had a 22mm direct mount, Manitou had a 74mm post mount, (yes, Manitou came up with that), and there was a 51mm mount that required adapters floating around as well. Eventually, the 51mm standard got adopted as the "International Standard" while Manitou, (and ironically, Hayes after they bought Manitou), stuck with 74mm mounts which eventually became the standard across most suspension forks and now rigid mtb forks. While the 51mm "IS" standard is still around, it requires different adaptors for front and rear brakes, while the 74mm post mounts do not. 74mm isn't widely adopted by the frame builders though since it requires a bit more effort to make precisely.

Now around about 2014 Shimano unveiled plans to make a new standard called "Flat Mount", which is not unlike what Hayes was trying to do in the late 90's with its 22mm mount. The idea was that the calipers would sit flush to the frame and fork without unsightly adapters or posts sticking off forks and frames. Unfortunately, by the time flat mount came about there were many carbon forks which were using the post mount standard for road applications. To further complicate things, not many custom or high end builders liked the flat mount aesthetic on the rear chain stay, nor were too keen on not using already available IS compatible drop outs which had been refined to look rather good.

Complicating things further is Shimano's lack of interchangeable adapters to fit other types of calipers to flat mount and flat mount calipers to other types of mounts. SRAM has done more in this vein. There are issues with adapters, but one thing flat mount does do is make adapting the caliper to either a 140mm or 160mm rotor an easy affair. You just flip the adapter mount around to use one size or the other. (No 180mm or 203mm rotors can be used with flat mount Shimano calipers.)

Shimano Flat Mount Disc Brakes
Flat mount seems to have been developed to make disc brakes look sleeker and to limit rotor sizes to smaller rotors. While it confuses the market further, it probably isn't going away, since aftermarket brake, fork, and some frame makers are adopting this for road and "gravel" applications.

It also is worth mentioning that along with flat mount disc brakes Shimano also foisted 12mm front through axle for road on us at the same time. This all makes one ask a few hard questions, such as, "What is wrong with 15mm through axles?", (a standard, ironically also foisted on us partially by Shimano), and how about "What is wrong with 74mm post mount, or IS brake mounts we already have?". Don't hold yer breath for any answers to those questions, by the way.

So, in a way, Shimano has brought us full circle back to the flat mount brake, which Hayes proposed in the late 90's. Weird, huh?

The whole disc brake mounting question isn't 100% settled just yet, but it would seem that IS and 74mm post mount will be the realm of off road applications only and this flat mount technology will be the realm of road and gravel. Maybe.......

Then there is the whole through axle thing which is already changing road bike wheels and will, no doubt, upset the apple cart with regard to legacy wheels not working, people wanting certain combinations that won't be possible any longer, and with the brake thing, it will be even worse. Change is often frustrating and painful. This looks to be no different, but we've been through this before with mountain bikes, so welcome to the nightmare......again.


TW said...

Flat mount 180 for your viewing pleasure.


bostonbybike said...

It's a crazy world we're living in, isn't it?
My new bike has 12mm thru axles and IS brake mounts - a bit of new and a bit of old tech, because why the hell not?
No idea what future will bring, except one thing for sure - there will be more and more "brilliant standards" out there.

onoffrhodes.com said...

Good thing is that Problem Solvers makes a 15mm to 12mm "adapter" (basically a sheath) so you can use any mountain bike thru axle hub out there for road 12mm forks.