Are disc brakes faster than rim brakes?

Much debated subject put to the test on the Passo Pordoi in Italy

Brakes Disc Video
Are disc brakes faster than rim brakes?

Disc brakes typically allow you brake later in tight turns.

In the last few years, we’ve heard lots of talk about the advantages of disc brakes on road bikes. Better modulation, safer in the wet, and so on. But will they make you any faster? The gang from the Global Cycling Network decided to take a closer look at this debate.

To ensure that results were as accurate as possible, the frames are the same (Orbea Orca), the tires are the same (Continental GP4000s II), and the riding position is the same. Testing was conducted in the wet and dry over the span of four descents of the Passo Pordoi in Alta Badia, Italy. Analysis was done based on GPS data from a Wahoo ELEMNT head unit, powermeter data, heart rate measurements, and an accelerometer. Press play to see what they found out.

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  • Richard says:

    I just purchased a new disc frame yet to build it and struggled in the decision to do so, seems lots of info saying this is the future of road bikes but yet not so many jumping over and most of that could be due to racing?

  • Brian Nystrom says:

    Ideally, you should have done at least one more run on each bike under both conditions, alternating the two brake types. I then would have compared the fastest runs on each brake type, since those would eliminate the familiarity bias.

    Not having identical rims is a big flaw in the test and I’m surprised that you did that. Considering the small time margins between the runs, it could very easily be attributed to the rims.

    That said, I’m not surprised at the results at all. Since I rarely ride my road bikes in the rain, I feel completely confident with rim brakes on them and don’t feel compelled to change to discs. However, if I was buying a new bike and particularly if it was going to be my only bike for all conditions, I’d go with discs. For new riders, there’s probably not much point in buying a bike with rim brakes.

    For ‘cross/gravel, I have limited confidence in rim brakes in the variable conditions and steeper, looser descents I encounter and have recently switched to discs. I’m much more confident that I can stop no matter what, as long as I have tire traction. I may even switch the fork and front wheel on my rim-brake ‘cross bike and put a mechanical disc brake on it.

  • Peter Diotte says:

    I swapped out my rim brakes for discs on a commuter bike (it had the mounts for discs, but was rim brakes from the factory). I used it primarily in an urban environment and wanted better braking in all conditions. These mechanical disks have delivered beautifully. I’m very satisfied.
    My road bike (Trek SLR) is rim brake and when I upgrade to a new road bike, I will get disc brakes from the start. Again – safety first and I do ride through most weather.
    Thanks for an interesting test and discussion. Nice analysis.

  • frank says:

    I don’t put much stock in what GCN does. They did another video on disk brakes where two riders are riding and they see who can stop the fastest, disk or rim. The first stop contest clearly showed that the guy riding the disk brakes raised his butt off the saddle a bit and back a bit over to put more weight on the back tire, so he stopped about a foot faster…duh! Same thing again in the gravel test. look at 1:40 of the wet test, same rider on the disk bike that was setting himself further over the rear tire then the non disk rider is now real plain to see what he’s doing to make the disk brake edge out the rim brake bike, plus he locks up his front wheel the rim guy does not, and a locked up tire on a bike will stop faster.

    Science of stopping anything is real simple, adhesion to the road, once rim or disk are at their maximum stopping limits of where the tires begin to lock up that’s it, no brake type will stop any faster because it’s the tire adhesion to the road. On gravel it’s real easy to lose adhesion fast, same tires will lock up the same, a gravel specific tire will stop faster vs a smooth thin road tire…adhesion is the difference. However the rims they were using look like all carbon fiber rims with no aluminum brake track, this is a distinct disadvantage to rim brakes because the brake pads they use are are not standard block brake pads but usually some sort of cork, this cork does not grab the rim as well as rubber pads used on aluminum rims especially in wet weather on cf rims so the disk will reign supreme although SwissStop Yellow King and Black Prince rim brake pads work very well on CF wheels, of course the GCN doesn’t say what pads they were using on the CF rims.

    Apparently GCN is simply pushing what bicycle marketing forces want pushed.

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