Ahh, disc brakes. Have disc brakes really taken over the past and present debate, soaring to the top of all our thoughts and taking the champions to the line?
Well, what do we know about rim brakes?
They’ve been around for decades, they brought bikes and racing to life and helped light up the cycling industry. They’re ever so slightly lighter in weight, slower in stopping, but attached to some of the most classic bikes you’ll stumble across – ever.
Some of our greatest cyclists have won on rim brakes, even in recent years:
- Tadej Pogacar – Tour de France 2020
- Egan Bernal – Tour de France 2019
- Geraint Thomas – Tour de France 2018
All won on sweet sweet rim brakes, so why are we making a switch to disc brakes and how did the penny suddenly drop so hard?
We all know that a majority of the cycling industry has been holding out on disc brakes, positive that they won’t take over the peloton. But the truth is, in 2021 we witnessed a huge change in history in the men’s pro peloton, with a large number switching to disc brakes, which in turn saw disc brakes become more evident on local roads.
All it takes is a winner
It was evident Ineos Grenadiers were skeptical about the new technology, being one of the only World Tour teams to hold onto rim brakes until the end of 2021. But what helped people change their minds?
Was it the fact that Tom Boonen and Marcel Kittel chalked their name into the ‘winners’ books on disc brake bikes…? Or was it the fact that sponsors were edging for the revolution?
We’ll never truly know, but it definitely was a statement when riders started winning on disc brakes. It’s the losses we remember most though. The losses make us ask ourselves why. We start to look for changes and differences… and there you have it, the braking system.
Why disc brakes?
Well, we know that they have a much better stopping power due to the size of the rotor – just like in cars and on motorbikes.
We also know you can modulate the braking power much easier than a rim brake, allowing you to manage yourself much better on descents and especially those riding in groups or out on the roads around vehicles.
They generally make riding much safer, while out on the roads and around vehicles and pedestrians. Disc brakes also stop when you ask them too in the rain, whereas, as many of us know, trying to stop on carbon rims in the rain is like flirting with the edge of a cliff… will I, won’t I?
Having the confidence to ride in all weathers due to disc brakes is something everybody needs. Knowing you’ll stop if the roads are slippery, or the heavens have opened and you can commute throughout winter is wonderful – for your mental health as well as physical.
A disc brake bike tends to have much more tyre clearance because there is nothing pinching the space at the front of the fork, it attaches to the bottom instead. This provides adaptability for your chosen tyres and wheels – and usually allows you to tickle your fancy with some off-roading. Or for the pros, gives them more to play with in Paris-Roubaix.
So why would some still opt for rim brakes?
As previously mentioned, they will always be lighter in weight because the parts are smaller. They’re also much easier to fix, take apart and replace – partly due to the lack of mineral fluid needed. Finally, they tend to come on the most beautiful classic bikes.
Other than that, we can’t think of many more reasons to choose rim brakes these days. In fact a lot of new bikes now only come with disc brakes so the choice is taken away from you.
How to choose?
- Decide what you’re using your bike for:
- Will you ever use it for something that disc brakes will be more beneficial?
- Will you maintain it yourself or use a mechanic?
- Would disc brakes give you more confidence when descending and riding in all weathers?
- Can you learn to maintain disc brakes yourself?
- Is it really worth paying for a rim brake bike, when chances are, parts could become obsolete or difficult to get hold of?
Check out our blog to get some wonderful guidance on buying your first bike.
Should we start mourning rim brakes?
There will always be someone riding a rim brake bike somewhere. That nice old lad you chat to at the cafe, or the boujee hipster who refuses to let go, or the ultra lightweight insanely strong hill-climber. They really will still be around somewhere in some form, whether that’s on someone’s wall or under someone’s derriere.
However, we don’t feel they will hold the throne to the stomping grounds for much longer. They will become rarer and become non-existent in road racing for safety reasons, and that will translate to bike manufacturing and what’s available for us to purchase in the future. The question is, do you opt for disc brakes now, or in a few years as we’re fairly certain the time will come!