It’s official. I am now a committed member of the pro-cycling fandom. I paid my money to watch the UAE Tour (and the rest of the 2021 season), and I can honestly say I think that I made an excellent decision, if for no other reason than I can stare at my TV in my skivvies and imagine that I’m sweltering under the Emirati sun, instead of Britain’s classic late winter tupperware-esque sky.
But with the start of the season comes the start of some big names making well publicised statements about the kit which the pros are obliged to use. Specifically, ISN’s own Chris Froome on disc brakes. There’s been a lot written about the subject, so I’m not sure how much I can add on the subject – I don’t race myself, but I’ve worked on enough bikes with disc brakes to somewhat agree with Mr Froome.
I ride them myself, on a gravel bike primarily, and I’m incredibly happy with them. I think they’re an excellent tool for most riders, where weight and aerodynamics typically aren’t the most significant factor in keeping rider’s slow. I think that their downsides are outweighed by their myriad benefits, not least the reduced cost to riders who now only need to concern themselves with replacing pads and rotors, rather than thinking about replacing rims (along with the cost of either re-lacing wheels, or of replacing a whole wheelset).
“Quite often it’ll work on the stand, it’ll work when the mechanic sorts it out. Then once you get onto the road it’s a different story,”
But, as a mechanic I’m inclined to agree with Froome’s misgivings. I certainly wouldn’t *not* recommend them on these grounds, but he’s not unreasonable. Slightly hyperbolic perhaps, but not unreasonable. In my experience they aren’t prone to ‘constant rubbing’ for example, nor are they prone to mechanicals any more than any other bike components. They are however subject to far more variable issues of operation than cable actuated rim brakes – their function is reliant on components which aren’t always consistent in their functioning, their components not so rigidly fixed (consider brake pads – whose butterfly springs are what keeps them in place, and ensures their correct function, or that their return is limited only by rubber o-rings).
Professionally, I’d like to think that every disc brake that passed through my workshop left it functioning perfectly, and that any future issues are the fault of the componentry wearing out, or the rider misusing it. Of course this is not the case. Rubs develop as pistons get crud on them (often from the brake pads themselves), frames flex and mounting bolts allow movement. And of course, if anything goes wrong the tools required to resolve the issues aren’t exactly easy to obtain, and neither are they cheap. There’s also the possibility that mechanical oversight might lead to issues as well. There’s also the hot-rotor-in-a-bunch-crash issue…
But is this reason enough to complain about using them?
I don’t really think so.
For the rest of us, the running costs on even a lightly maintained bike are low, replacement parts aren’t much more than for alternatives, and they are objectively better at stopping, both in terms of effectiveness and reliability. They also don’t increase the danger for pro riders much more than, say, bladed spokes, or shattered carbon frames in a crash, or the cars and motorbikes which surround them.
There are times when innovation isn’t improvement, but in this mechanic’s opinion, this isn’t one of them.