The 50-year-old Lawrence races cyclocross and road, and rides his mountain bike every Sunday. Photo credit: Shimano/Eric Wynn
RBR: Another issue we see on the Shimano side is the fact that your brake system is only compatible with electronic shifting, which will make some people feel like they are being pushed into a more expensive drivetrain. How do you react to that?
DL: For us, when you look at the development, the main factor was that the Di2 lever had much more open space. So from an engineering and resource allocation standpoint, and how quickly we could bring something to market, that took less time and effort to develop a system where you weren’t working around other challenges. It was more timing than anything. Our goal long term is not to limit people’s choices.
RBR: Both Shimano and SRAM hydraulic hoods have been reported to be a little noisy, and it’s something we’ve also experienced during our limited testing time. Is this just an inherent problem with the system, or do you see it being worked out?
DL: I can’t speak for the SRAM hoods, but what you’ve been riding from Shimano, these are pre-production and it’s something we have identified, but don’t have an answer today. The challenge is that there is no cable pulling back on the lever like with cable-actuated brakes, so it is something that’s inherent to the design. Even mountain bike brakes have some free play in the levers.
RBR: We found out after his World Cup wins that Lars van der Haar used the new R785 levers, but not the new calipers. He went with XTR mountain bike calipers instead. Is that just a weight issue?
DL: I don’t know for sure, but I would assume that was the reason. The XTR caliper is a lighter caliper, and technically it’s compatible with the [R785 system].
RBR: Thus far we’ve seen only mild adoption of disc brakes at the top European level. What do think is holding them back?
DL: I’m surprised. I thought there would be more people on it to be honest. So hopefully that changes. As for why they’re not changing, I think a lot of it is just tradition. Look at the world championship last year in Louisville. None of the Europeans were on disc, but most of the North Americans were. Right now I am really curious to see how a couple high profile victories will change people’s perceptions. I do think it will be the young guys [like Lars], whereas the older guys are entrenched and know what works for them. You also have to consider the mechanics. A lot of these guys probably don’t want to learn something new.
RBR: The R785 brakes have basically been branded an Ultegra level offering. So where will the improvements come from to get to a point where they merit the Dura Ace stamp of approval?
DL: For me, this is the most exciting part of the development process, getting feedback from the market and finding out where people want to see improvements, and what becomes important to them. That could be the size of the lever? We also see triathletes getting interested because they have such mediocre braking and tough routing issues. So there is a lot of interest in something with less routing constraints and improved performance. The trick now is what the aero impacts are. So generally speaking it will be about understanding the priorities of the consumers and then helping direct improvement in those areas. That could be weight, which is probably a natural progression. But it’s still early to decide when and where that weight comes from. That will also include the frame builders and wheel builders. But yes, I think it’s safe to say they will get lighter, because that is the natural progression of any product.