Editor’s Note: Freewheeling is the ongoing column of features editor Jason Sumner. Once a week (usually), he’ll use this space to prattle on about all things cycling, be them interesting, innovative, inane or annoying. If you have a comment or question, or just want to sound off, drop a note in the comments section below.
Unless you’ve been living at Ted Kaczynski’s old place up in the Montana backcountry, you’ve surely heard the news by now: The road disc brake revolution is underway.
Starting in earnest at last August’s EuroBike trade show, when disc-equipped road bikes were ubiquitous, the cycling industry looks to be steadily embracing this braking technology that’s been commonplace on mountain bikes for years. As of this writing, Specialized, BMC, Parlee, Colnago, Salsa, Volagi and Time were just some of the bike manufacturers currently offering road frames that can accommodate disc brakes. Add cyclocross bikes to that equation, and the number grows exponentially.
Then last month came confirmation of one of the worst kept secrets in the two-wheeled industry: Chicago-based SRAM released a pair of new hydraulic braking systems, one for rim brakes (Hydro Road Rim), the other for disc (Hydro Road Disc).
We got the chance to test out SRAM’s new hydraulic disc option during a 90-minute test ride at the Sea Otter Classic (Here’s the Strava file.) Needless to say, we were duly impressed. Despite our best attempts to overheat the brakes by braking hard while pedaling fast downhill, power and modulation remained strong, steady and consistent.
Perhaps more impressive, though, was how little hand effort was required. I was easily able to quickly decelerate from 35mph to 10mph using minimal force with just one finger on each lever. It was akin to the one-finger braking mountain bikers have loved and relied on for years.
Here’s SRAM PR man Michael Zellmann talking more about our test ride, the new braking systems, and SRAM’s new 11-speed Red and Force drivetrains, which SRAM calls “22” in reference to the fact that cross chaining is possible, allowing the use of all 22 gear options. (We tested this, too, and encountered no problems or chain rub even when going big ring to big cog or little ring to little cog.) You can also see an expansive gallery of the new groupsets on page 4 of this article.
SRAM’s big news, coupled with the fact that Shimano will almost certainly follow suit with a hydraulic disc brake option sometime this summer, will likely spell the slow demise of mechanical disc brakes on road bikes (good riddance), and speed up adoption of this new braking option.
That’s not to say traditional rim brakes are headed the way of the dodo bird. But it’s hard to envision a near-future scenario where disc-equipped road bikes are not occupying at least some of the prominent space on bike shop floors around the country.