Do disc brakes stop you faster than rim brakes?

Side-by-side comparison sheds light on on-going tech debate

Brakes Disc
In a series of side-by-side tests, disc brakes were the obvious winner.

In a series of side-by-side tests, disc brakes were the obvious winner (click to enlarge).

There’s arguably no more polarizing subject in road cycling technology right now than the use of disc brakes. Some riders absolutely love them. Others loathe the idea as unnecessary and even dangerous. Given the fact that rim brakes have been around for decades — and worked just fine for everyone from Tour de France pros to cross-town commuters — clearly disk brakes are not essential. But which really works better? The gang from the Global Cycling Network did a little stop-distance testing to see if disc brakes can really slow you down faster (and safer) than rim brakes. Watch the video below to see the results.

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Comments:

  • conscience of a conservative says:

    Nice to hear what so many of us knew. That on good roads and dry weather disc brakes hold no advantage. Most of us don’t ride in the rain or if we do ride at a slower more controlled pace and not likely to engage in the aggressive rides. Disc brakes do clearly hold advantages in certain environments but this does not apply to all riders equally.

  • Ace says:

    I have been riding for several years and I live in an area of very steep hills and I have had quite a few bicycles with different types of rim brakes on different types of rims BUT in the last 8 years I have used 2 bicycles with disc brakes,and after 10s of thousands of miles of riding THERE IS NO DOUBT that disk brakes are far superior to rim brakes in every way.
    Good brakes can save your life!! They have saved mine on more than one occasion.

    • Tony says:

      If the brakes saved your life several times you are riding beyond your own skill level and ride dangerously. It’s the grip with your tyres, road sense and riding ability that are by far the biggest consideration. Using disc brakes are just risk compensation at work, your statement about them saving your life is evidence of that otherwise you’d have been dead with caliper brakes right?

  • Len says:

    Dear Bike Industry,

    PLEASE stop trying to shove disc brakes down our throats. We ALREADY KNOW the facts on them: they’re heavier, they’re unaerodynamic, they cost more, and they perform better in the wet. Hey, if I get a commuter bike… I’m right there with ya, discs make sense there. But on a road bike, ridden almost entirely in dry weather? NOPE.

    Yes, we know you make money by getting us to buy things we don’t need. It’s what the marketing guys DO. But still, it’s OBNOXIOUS to hear you constantly caterwauling like a cat in heat for us to put these things on all our road bikes. Or put another way…

    STOP TRYING TO MAKE DISC BRAKES HAPPEN. THEY WON’T HAPPEN.

    Thank you for shutting the eff up in advance. o_0

  • Wm says:

    Dear Bike Industry:

    PLEASE continue to give us consumers more options and choices. Although we pretend to know every fact about disc brakes, it is good to be reminded that this isn’t simply about stopping power under wet conditions, but also about modulation, control and braking security that many of us value far above saving several nanograms in weight and pseudo-aerodynamic styling.

    DISC BRAKES ARE HERE TO STAY. THEY ALREADY HAPPENED.

    Thanks for continuing to keep us informed. I look forward to hearing more and more. o_0

  • Jeffrey says:

    Apparently Len has his mind made up. No point in confusing him with the facts.

  • BW says:

    Would there be even less advantage in the wet if alloy wheels were tested?

  • william says:

    Maybe a great descender like Cadel Evens could tell if there were a difference but not me. My concern is that the inertia of the tire, wheel and spokes will result in faster fatigue, possibly totally disintegrate on a disk braked wheel. As proof, even a unglued tubular will want to continue to move when a rim bake is applied

  • Terrence Bennett says:

    This is interesting because they’re using rim brakes with carbon braking surfaces, which we all know do not stop as fast as a wheel with a aluminum braking surface. Disc use an aluminum braking surface, so it would only be fair to compare them to a carbon rim with an aluminum braking surface. I would be in favor of the aluminum rim brakes, except in inclement weather, which very few people actually ride their bikes in.

    • pAUL says:

      Dude, all the disk brakes i have used are stainless steel, not aluminum. On a road bike in ‘clean’ environments SS disks would last forever. Both carbon and alloy rim brakes would eventually wear out and cost lots to replace whereas a disk, if/when it wears out, is cheap to replace comparatively.

  • Mike says:

    I ride both MTB and road bikes. My MTB has discs, my roadie has rim brakes. Obviously my comparison is apples/oranges, but the difference in feel is enormous. The discs feel SO much better. I get it that they aren’t necessary (of course they aren’t) and if you’re racing you probably want to be as light as possible. But my road rides have been typically up the mountain, then down (Mount Diablo, BTW). By the time I get to the bottom, my hands & forearms are a wreck. I dream of discs on those rides. I did once ride my MTB up there to watch the Tour of California. Going back down I took the road. The discs were a huge improvement.

    Anyway, I’d recommend trying them for yourself. Just try them. I was very surprised when I got my MTB with them.

  • Dustin says:

    The tests were not surprising at all. I’m loving the fact that road bikes are starting to adopt disc brakes.

    I think that disc brakes are only a few generations away from being lighter than the current rim brakes. Wonder what the die hard rim brakes users will say then? Makes me wonder why they aren’t riding old 2×5 speed steel frame bicycles?

  • George Carey says:

    I’m sure there will continue to be lots of tests and opinions about disk brakes on road bikes. Personally I like the idea for the following reasons:

    Disk brakes perform better than a rim brake in wet weather. My first real bike had steel rims and hard rubber brake pads. Going down hills fast was treacherous even when it was dry. Aluminum wheels were a big improvement but in the wet they pick up grit and get slippery too. My touring bike had cantilevers which gave better leverage to overcome the loss of friction. Carbon wheels with carbon braking surfaces don’t stop as well as aluminum. You have to remember to brake early and harder.

    Having disk brakes removes some of the design requirements for rims to support braking including braking surfaces, thicknesses, aero shape, heat dissipation, etc. I think this can lead to better rim designs overall in the future.

    I’ll be watching developments in this area and I’m sure eventually I’ll take the plunge and get a road bike with disks. I’m not sure I will race it but we’ll see. Maybe an endurance type bike would be a good trial. And I’m sure I will still be riding my rim brakes for several decades even with the caveats mentioned above.

  • Tony says:

    Disc brakes on road bikes are for idiots whom can’t read the road, ride beyond their cycling ability and the grip level of their tyres. Basically they are risk takers and like ABS on a car disc brakes on a road bike risk compensation occurs, probably even worse than helmets. In the wet I can stop and have decent enough modulation with ceramic brakes on my commute bike. They are cheaper to run than a disc set up too.
    Funnily enough on my road bike I’ve never had problems stopping from 45mph coming up to a chicane using caliper brakes, that I’m 107kg is by the by.
    As above, disc brakes are now saving riders lives (ROLL) how did we manage to stay alive on side pulls, cantilevers and centre pulls for all those years (I’d throw in helmets too but that’s for another day!)

  • Desh says:

    Not an apples to apples comparo!

    They need to use carbon rims with Aluminum/Alloy braking surface for a fair test against the discs.

  • Mark says:

    I am guessing anyone who thinks disc brakes aren’t worthwhile have never done The Fred Whitton. Try descending from Hardknott is torrential rain after 100 miles of tough riding. Disc brakes are worth their weight in gold when you need them.

  • Duncan says:

    I have always been in the camp of “why do we need disc brakes- rims brakes work just fine!” And I understand the advantage for the commuter or to prolong wheel life through not wearing rims out. However, having just done The Fred Whitton Challenge again I want to try it on disc brakes next time. The descent from Hardknott is scary in the dry never mind the wet! It is so steep, and so bumpy that you just daren’t let you rim brakes off for a second. My rim brakes started to make a funny noise half way down and I stopped to check. The aluminium rim was really hot. Next thing on the way to Wyrnose I got a puncture which appears to have been caused by the inner tube blowing out. Nothing in the tyre, and not a snake bite from hitting a pothole. I will use a disc braked bike next time.

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