Ode to a disc brake

Road specific disc brakes have been around for a while. Nonetheless, they are still headline news.

Killer disc brakes ate my Labrador!

Local butcher shaves wafer thin ham with Shimano Ice-tech!!!

I must confess to being a bit of a cynic. Coming from the hard-nosed world of pharmaceuticals, where a good story and a meaningless USP trumps hard evidence in the land of the marketeer and salesman, I was wise to this. My thoughts were:-

The hype

Bike companies need to sell us something new, they want our cash

You only have so much rubber on the road. How many times have I locked up when a car has pulled out or there's been a touch of wheels just in front?

What about the weight?

What about the aerodynamics?

They look, well errr WRONG!

The trial

Anyway, to prove what an open minded chap I was I decided that my next Winter bike would have disc brakes. I was fed up with abrading away the rim of one pair of wheels every winter. Every touch of the brakes was accompanied by a Scherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrerch of eroding aluminium. Also I could get one at special rate from the wholesaler......

So, a nice Ti frame, Shimano hydraulics & 11 speed, mudguard mounts. What's not to like? Well, it is a full 4kg heavier than the summer bike, so it's no climbing KOM machine, that's for sure!

Anyway, initial feelings were good. It was fairly comfy (but on the stiff side of Ti, no armchair ride). It shifted well, it braked really well. What was most noticeable was that I didn't lock up the brakes every time. Indeed, even in wet conditions, it was all so easy, so light. Occasionally I would get spooked by a car overtaking, or pulling out from a side road. Thummmph. Stopped on a sixpence. Followed by a strange graunching noise and a distinct cry of NOOOOOO! I'd forgotten about the riding partner NOT riding discs. Oops.

So yes, maybe for a winter bike they made sense. But never for summer.

The road to Damascus

Actually, it was the road to Luddenden, West Yorkshire. The poor relation of North Yorkshire, the West has some outstanding climbs. And some terrifying descents AAAARRRRRGHHHHH! Stocks Lane is one of my favourite climbs and one of the scariest descents. Wainstalls is worse. 25% into a sharp left, onto 20%, right onto 100m of the biggest, gnarliest pave, onto a sharp left, 18% on greasy concrete under the trees. On rim brakes, you need the forearms of Popeye to control the speed. I've had wheels hissing with friction heat (thought I'd punctured!). On the discs? No drama. You don't take liberties, but you want to stop, you CAN stop.

On 'lesser' descents (15%, good surface, good visibility) I started to let the bike go, increasingly confident that I could bring it back when I needed to. I even started to get some 'top 10s' on downhill segments of the well known cycling website (and I've always been a bit of a pussy on the downhills. Sorry, it's true. There it is, I've said it.). Where I was once cautious, now I was confident. Where it was a bit scary, now I was unperturbed. Where it used to be terrifying, now I'm just a little cautious. No failures. No panic. No sliding.

What about the downsides, you ask?

Ok, the bike is heavier. Is it ugly? No, I have become quite appreciative of the clean lines & no rear bridge. The shifters are fairly good looking BUT they are the Shimano R685. The new 105s are so fugly! The Di2 non-series are so fugly! The SRAM shifters are like carbuncles! New Dura-Ace? Praise be, they are beautiful. As is the price (if your name is Mr Shimano).

Conclusion

I love hydraulic discs. I go looking for steep downhills & love it. My riding partners hate them (until they have some) as I can leave them quailing on twisty descents (not that there's many of those in the West Midlands). There is a weight penalty. They are probably not so aero as rim calipers (for those of you who cruise at 40kph).

Buy if you don't have ambitions of racing, you like to get out to Wales/Yorkshire/Alps, consider yourself a pussy at descending.

Don't buy if you do circuit racing/crits, cherish every saved gram, you do ride at a fair clip, you are still smiling as you do 80kph on a crappy surface.

The Pro cyclists? They should decide. Not the sponsors, eager for endorsement. Not the teams, eager to gain sponsors. As a wise double world champion once said "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea". Or was it that everyone should have discs, or no-one should have discs. I can't recall exactly! Anyway, he knows best. And Froomey. He knows best too.

That's it for Spring 2017. Have fun!