The Disc Brake Debate

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Our own Josh Patterson has been testing a disc brake equipped Salsa La Cruz, and so disc brakes have been on his mind. And while the brakes that now dominate the mountain bike market are banned from UCI cyclocross events, he weighs in on the future of the brakes in our beloved sport:

Tektro Lyra Disc Brake for CyclocrossDisc brakes banned from cross? Well kinda. Depends on who you are and the sanctioning body under which you race.

Discussions of the pros and cons of disc brakes generally ignite heated debates among members of the cyclocross community

Many of the reasons given for not using disc brakes – weight penalty, overkill for road and cyclocross racing – have less to do with using disc brakes than using brakes designed for mountain bikes.

There’s no way around it, discs will always weigh more than canti’s. But they don’t have to weigh as much as they do now. When it comes to using disc brakes with road levers there’s very little selection. Last time I checked the number of mechanical disc brakes designed for use with road levers was two: the road version of the venerable Avid BB-7 and Tektro’s Lyra.

Per wheel the road BB-7′s weigh in at 361 grams. The Lyra has a published weight of 148 grams per wheel. These weights include caliper, rotor and mounting hardware. The Lyra is sign of things to come; 140mm rotors instead of the traditional 160mm sizing reduce weight as well as stopping power. The reduction in braking power is not necessarily a bad thing. Disc brakes with equipped with 140mm rotors can provide more stopping power than cantilever brakes while decreasing the weight penalty.

There’s a lot more that has to happen than designing road and ‘cross-specific disc brakes. Frames, forks and rims all have to be strengthened. Even though it may be small, there’s a weight penalty incurred in a disc-specific road or cross bike frameset and wheelset.

There are significant benefits. Disc brakes outshine rim brakes when conditions turn nasty. Mud, water, sand and ice wreak havoc on rims and brake pads while decreasing braking performance. Discs are less effected by adverse conditions. Wheel changes can be faster with discs, flip the quick release, pull the wheel out – no fussing with the brakes.

If I were to make a prediction, it would be that as commuter bikes become more prevalent, so too will disc brakes for road and cross. I don’t think Sven Nys or Tim Johnson will be straddling disc-equipped race bikes anytime soon, but for the the weekend warrior – for whom a cyclocross bike is a commuter / utility bike first and a race bike second – discs make perfect sense.

Think the UCI is wrong to ban them? Or such modern technology has no place in ‘cross? Disagree with Josh? Join the banter in our beta forums.

 

 

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8 comments
Chris D
Chris D

I've raced a disc-brake equipped cross bike in the past and still mount them for Ironcross, the mid-October Pennsylvania epic, but the weight penalty is significant. Disc-specific wheelsets tend to be beefier than those one can race with cantis. I swear my Giant TCX dropped three pounds when I shed the Avids and Salsa wheels for the cantis and Mavic Kysriums. Disc brakes aren't for weight weenies.

They do brake a lot better, but the bike feels slower when I race with them. That's why I went out and bought a set of cantis.

I do believe choice is the best option, but it will be a long time before the UCI accepts discs. And didn't USA Cycling make its equipment rules compliant with UCI regs last year? I used to get hassled by refs when I lined up with disc brakes on the bike.

alex Cogger
alex Cogger

I've raced w. disks, and actually, I was constantly quicker than my non disk competitors because I was "charging into the corners more quickly"... and out of the hole sooner.

Lawrence
Lawrence

On the sizing of the Lyra's: I looked around on the internet a bit, and it seems that the 140mm size is only for the rear rotor. The front rotor is still 160mm (at least that's what the online shops have) Has anyone found a 140mm for the front?

Also, avid BB7/BB5 roads now come in a 140mm size also (just the rear caliper).

jpebikes
jpebikes

I truly feel allowing folks the option to choose is best for the sport.

If you feel disc brakes is better and you dont mind lugging the extra weight, then that's your choice.

Also, if I wanted to build up multiple bikes for CX; a disc brake option on a "muddy day" bike would be great.

Heck, if discs became a popular option internationally, I can imagine a 75 gram carbon option being developed.

Barry McDowell
Barry McDowell

I think you need to add 91gms for the rotor. Total of 240gm, or 89gms lighter per end than BB7 road (manufac claimed weights).

Another point you may be able to confirm. Tektro state Lyra's are for linear pull levers, not 100% sure but I think linear pull is mtn bike/V brake lever. Tektro also make a drop bar brake only lever with linear pull. Therefore Lyra's may not work with std road STI levers with shift and brake combination?

Bret Moss
Bret Moss

Cross is NOT about lap times!

Cross is about suffering, flow, power and elegance.

Braking/slowing as you come into a corner having to apex it perfectly is an art form.

Dismounting at speed is a thing of beauty.

Charging into a corner or a barrier because you know you can slow down faster does not help the sport.

I'm not a disc brake hater, I just don't think that the current state of Cross needs disc's to elevate it any higher.

If courses were to change where you have an elevation gain/drop say 1000 feet similar to mtb races then disc's might be appropriate, in the current state of Cross the clear answer is no.

John D
John D

Two ironclad rules of racing:

1) In every type of wheeled competition, better brakes have resulted in faster lap times, regardless of the mechanical design of the brakes.

2) Race sanctioning organizations are the last to innovate ( and frequently go the wrong direction.)

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