More importantly, said Becker, was the fact that the hydraulic disc project was in part a collaborative effort. “We have been sharing specifications [with some bike makers] the whole way. I wouldn’t call it total co-development. But certainly we’ve been keeping each other abreast on the products that are being designed to make sure they are compatible. We also share data back and forth because we need the bike makers to do the proper testing. And we’ve had them build us frames so we could take [the hydraulic systems] out on the roads and test them ourselves.”
Even after all that development time and testing, Becker calls SRAM’s first go at hydraulic braking “conservative.”
“We didn’t shoot for making the lightest possible system,” he said. “We wanted it to be super robust and we wanted it to fit a multitude of frames without having to create special standards. But I think as things evolve, you’ll see people figuring out how the different forces affect things. You’ll see changes on where the brakes are attached. There will be quite a bit of learning over the next few years as everyone figures out how to use these new technologies.”
So someday could we see a Tour de France winner crossing the finish line on the Champs-Élysées aboard a disc-equipped bike? “Someday, maybe,” guessed Becker. “But a lot will have to come together in terms of frames, wheels, race support. It will all need to homogeneous across the peloton. And that is something that is out of our control. What I can tell you is that no one in the industry makes money making bikes for UCI racing. That just costs us money.”
Like nearly all new products that come onto the cycling market, the UCI is currently giving disc brakes the proverbial sniff test. But Becker says there are no deadlines or even time lines on when that process might conclude. “We are in the business of making products that are useful to the consumer,” he added. “Hopefully we can convince the powers that be, but we are selling the product regardless.”
There’s much irony in Becker’s final statement. Normally top pros get first crack at new cycling technology, and then it trickles down to consumers. But this time, you and I will get the chance to ride road disc long before Alberto Contador or Bradley Wiggins get clearance to race it.
So what will we do with this newfound access to disc brakes? And do we really need them? Many will argue the answer is, no. In an on-going RoadBikeReview poll, nearly 50 percent of respondents answered, “Don’t need them,” when asked what their stance on road disc was. Another 32 percent labeled themselves, “Interested, but waiting another year.”
I personally fall into the third category, which represented 8 percent of the poll respondents, who answered they wanted a set of hydraulic disc brakes sooner rather than later. To my way of thinking the new possibilities simply outweigh the negatives.
Scott Bikes’ Montgomery agrees. “It would open up so much more terrain for riding if I had brakes that worked better,” he said. “For instance, I like to ride my ’cross bike on mellow single track trails sometimes. And if I had better brakes I could actually get some swoopy trail turns in. But because I am trying to keep my speed in check using 1990s technology, I cant.”
Even if aggressive cyclocross riding isn’t your thing, it’s likely at least some who are reading this enjoy the occasional road bike foray onto dirt roads. There again you have a situation where better, more modulated braking could be a huge performance advantage. Think about dropping down a wash-boarded section of gravel road, or bending around a loose dirt, sharp turn. Indeed, disc brakes — and the opportunity to run wider tires because you are not limited by caliper width — could turn our road bikes into true Swiss Army knives, capable of conquering all types of terrain.
It’s also worth noting that what some will call an ungainly tall brake lever hood (SRAM claims its 1cm taller than standard models) to me simply represents one more secure place to grab hold of. And what’s wrong with that?
As for questions of weight and aerodynamics, there aren’t any really good answers yet. Yes your bike will be a little heavier, and no it wont be as aero. But I personally am not overly concerned with being ultra aero, and I honestly believe that within a few product cycles, the industry will come up with creative – and safe – ways to keep the weight penalty in check. In the meantime, I’ll make up lost time on the descents. Let the revolution roll on.