Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
Have you ever been riding down a wet, leaf covered road, approach a corner and think “Ooh, I better be easy on this corner, it’s slippery.” You gently apply the rear brake and before you can think “I’m falling”, your backside is being grated like swiss cheese on the asphalt at 20 mph? In today’s modern litigious society, nothing is our fault anymore. We have to blame something or someone. So who’s to blame for you running out of talent on that slippery corner? How about that archaic caliper braking system on your bike?
All your friends are enamored with your new carbon fiber wheelset that you just dumped more coin on than your used Toyota Corolla. They look mighty fine, but hey, unless you want to try and pull a Fred Flintstone heel braking technique with your crotch on the top tube, don’t dare ride them in the rain. Oh, and if you damage the braking track on those spendy carbon hoops, you might as well make some stylish earrings out of them, because that’s about all they’ll be good for. Again, it wouldn’t be a problem without those blasted brake calipers.
These types of sleep depriving issues used to be the woes of even the hairy-legged caveman counterpart to the road biker; the mountain biker. But in the late 1990s, hydraulic disc brakes became all the rage, and have since become one of the greatest technological innovations in mountain biking history. Ask any mountain biker who’s been riding disc brakes if they would ever go back to V-brakes or cantilevers, and the response would be a unanimous and deafening “Hell no!”
So why are we still riding brake technology on our road bikes that can be dated back to the days when Orville and Wilbur Wright were busy inventing flight? Much of it has to do with tradition. Roadies are hardcore about die-hard rituals, even when they seem absolutely ridiculous; just take wearing a bicycle helmet as an example.
It took nearly a century for the UCI to mandate helmet use in professional bike racing. Throw in leg shaving, embrocation, frame waxing, sleeping in an altitude tent and using a scale to weigh dinner as well as every part bolted to a bike, and you quickly begin to understand the mentality of the road world.
The hardcore traditional roadie will scoff at the though of disc brakes on a road bike, not only because they add weight and wind resistance, but also because they simply don’t work. But what do they know? Have they ever even ridden a road bike with an adequately engineered disc braking system?
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Detractors of the disc brake system say that one of the biggest issues is heat dissipation. Continued braking to slow a road bike from 50 mph to 15 mph down something like the Tourmalet or Ventoux causes enough heat to boil the hydraulic system. Well, I guess if you are riding your brakes all the way down a mountain, this might be a possible scenario. But if you were riding your brakes that way on a caliper system, you’d either blow an inner tube or run your brake pads down to metal.
A boiling disc brake system is not the fault of a properly engineered brake, it’s the fault of the knucklehead riding his brakes all the way down a mountain. And when you have the added braking power of a disc system, you can stop much faster in a far shorter distance, using the system less. There are numerous tour guides in Europe who have been riding disc brake road and cyclocross bikes down the biggest mountains in the Alps with no ill effects because they know how to properly use a disc braking system.
Additionally, many of the most vocal naysayers have never even ridden a disc brake road bike in the first place. Commonly known as “forum trolls”, these people spend more time behind their keyboard pecking buttons and criticizing everyone than actually getting out and riding their bike. And if they have ridden a disc brake road bike and had a bad experience, it’s probably because they ran some aftermarket, weight weenie system using rotors from some garage fabricator far too thin and small for the required conditions.
Other people say disc brakes on a road bike answer a question that’s never been asked. Really? For those people…you either ride in the flattest portion of the entire universe or you simply don’t ride enough. Now before you haul off on me in the comments section with a superfluous list of slander, not all naysayers of disc brakes are trolls. A few of them have valid points. Perhaps the biggest potential issue of disc brakes on the road is with wheel changes, particularly in a race where you receive neutral support.
Nothing is more irritating than having the rotor rub on your caliper, making that godawful shing….shing…shing over and over and over. It’s more rage inducing than a Nicki Minaj song on infinite repeat. But for 99.9999 percent of cyclists who don’t do bike races with neutral support, this is really a non-issue. Let the hardcore club racers and UCI license holders deal with that problem. So long as you use a post mount surfacing tool on your frame and fork, and you have two sets of wheels with the same exact rotors, rotor rub is completely avoidable.