UCI Allows Disc Brakes for Cyclocross, Debate Rages

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Tektro Lyra Disc Brake for Cyclocrossby Jamie Mack

Changes to UCI rules are often met with suspicion by traditionalists, and outright whining about new rules is not unusual. The latest rulings that ‘crossers need to consider include the provision that disc brakes are now permitted. The debates are raging throughout the community and across the internet – good idea or a UCI decision many of us will regret? And there’s an odd combination of responses. (Be sure to take our poll to the right or drop a comment below).

Of course there are the anti-UCI fanatics who denounced the ruling body’s decision simply out of principle. But among the more level-headed responses there seem to be two camps: one is thrilled with the decision and the other, well, the other just doesn’t seem to really care. Those in favor of the decision are shouting about increased options of frames and components. Many folks, though, plan on racing the way they’ve been racing and just don’t see what all the excitement is about. 

Geoff Proctor, Euro Cross Camp Director and UCI Cyclocross Commission member, was able to provide some insight into the UCI ruling. “The discussion to allow disc brakes for cyclocross came after much presentation, study and discussion…. The commission tries to look at every angle before making a recommendation.” According to Proctor, the rationale for the decision was based, at least in part, on improving rider safety. Proctor explains that, “Because it’s a sport of adverse conditions, virtually every piece of equipment performs on a continuum of diminishing returns. This is abundantly clear when it comes to cantilever braking.”

Is it a good decision? Absolutely. Disc brakes are made to excel in the conditions that ‘cross racers seek out. Better modulation, improved mud clearing and consistent stopping power in sloppy conditions all work in favor of discs and support the UCI’s rationale of improved safety.

Is it a bad idea? Maybe. There are drawbacks to using discs on a ‘cross bike, many of which Cyclocross Magazine touched upon in a debate two years ago. Heavy components and limited frame and wheel options hamper the current popularity of discs in ‘cross. And the forces created by disc brakes will bring about questions of frame, fork and wheel strength, especially over the course of a season.

One of the major knocks against disc brakes on ‘cross bikes right now is the lack of options. The opening of the Elite ranks to the new technology will likely begin a move by some top riders seeking the more consistent stopping power of discs. Once these riders are on the bandwagon, the manufacturers will increase investment in development and production of the new stoppers.

Why will this be an improvement over options available now? Because up until now most brakes were converted mountain bike designs that worked, but had disadvantages in weight and limited compatibility with road levers. As use of disc brakes in ‘cross increases, more hubs and frames will become available and brakes will move from being MTB crossover tech to road-specific designs with lighter weight and more lever and caliper choices than currently available.

Many will say that allowing disc brakes is a questionable decision because cyclocross is a sport based in tradition. With the exception of the more exotic materials in frames and components, there has been little significant technological advance in our sport in the last couple of decades. And seeing a step forward like this does feel like we are giving up something from the core of the sport. Proctor adds, “Part of the rich history to cyclocross is the emphasis the sport places on the rider’s ability to pilot his or her bike.” The addition of disc brakes to a typical ‘cross bike would give a mechanical, or hydraulic, leg up on a rider without the same equipment, minimizing the importance of handling and finesse. And, let’s be honest, careening around a tight corner on the verge of out-of-control is one of the best feelings in this sport. Do we really want to let equipment take some of that thrill away?

Riders in favor of discs are pontificating about the increased stopping power and better modulation of discs. Others are lamenting the prospect of having to retrofit or simply replace frames, wheels, levers and other components to make the switch. The debate will likely continue for some time, even through the upcoming season. Before you start clipping spokes to replace hubs (Wait, does anyone else still build their own wheels?) or auctioning off your current stable of frames, you’re going to need to decide which camp you’re sleeping in. Drop a comment below or in the forums to let us know where you stand.

 

 

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15 comments
Ian P.
Ian P.

For racing the old school brakes will win out for now simply because of the weight.  It seems to be about 1 Lb a wheel.
For those of us that use our Cross Bike for general use (in wet conditions) discs are.....WONDERFUL.
Got my Salsa disc bike together a couple of months ago and LUV it. 
I wore out a set of rims in a month of wet commusting here in North Van which prompted the search and switch to discs.
For the class (or lack of...) I ride in, discs are accepted so all I really have to do is suffer the added weight and enjoy the consistent stopping power.
It will be interesting to see how the manufacturers get on with light weight discs.  Should prompt big changes in rims, hubs and frames.  Can't wait.
My vote......Yipeee, but don't expect big changes for the high level racers.

Steve
Steve

I am a fan of traditional cyclocross, but I do NOT miss the old home made Lyotard cross pedals with a bent spoke for a toe flip! Having lived with cantilevers since the 70's I look forward to disc brakes coming standard on cross bikes.

It's not just about racing, it's also about what our cyclocross bikes get used for when we aren't racing them. It will allow for a safer ride off the race course for those of us who enjoy riding cross bikes on technical trail rides as well as in races.

As manufacturing moves toward disc brake cross bikes, we'll see better disc brakes evolve for cross and, eventually, road bikes. Now manufacturers have more incentive to make a cross specific disc brake that will be light and not over-powered for the task at hand.

Plus there is a distinct advantage in being able to use rims that are no longer restricted by the construction parameter of sidewall thickness adequate for rim brakes. Less rotating mass at the outside of the wheel will go a long way to compensate for additional structural frame and fork requirements for the disc brakes.

When discs are as ubiquitous on cross bikes as they have become on mountain bikes (and cars, and motorcycles...) we will have a standard which will become traditional and the parts will become interchangeable because for racing and wheel changes, they must be interchangeable. I agree with VeloMechanico that the current state of affairs with disc brake design is inadequate for wheel changes. Over time, racing will force the design of brakes to improve in this regard and we will see standard rotor size and design with more clearance for the pads to allow for wheel changes. That's inevitable if disc brakes are going to be used for cross and eventually road racing as well.

Soon enough, some kid will walk up to you and ask what it was like back in the day when you rode those lousy rim brakes and had to flip over your toe clipped pedals. Just like I asked my Grandfather what it was like when they did all their road rides on fixed gears.

kat
kat

disc wheels are much faster to change out than any canti or v-brake system as there is nothing to open up. All you have do is pop the quick release drop the wheel out and put the new one in. However, that is not really a problem in CX at the UCI level as rather than doing wheel changes it is always a bike change, so...

VeloMechanico
VeloMechanico

Functionality and aesthetics aside, the argument against disc brakes in cyclocross is simple- if you're looking for a disc neutral support wheel during your race, you can forget about it. There are far too many complications related to disc wheels to make it viable to offer such wheels, even if somebody produces compatible disc hubs/wheels. Rotors feature varied design and will seldom drop into a random frame/fork entirely free of caliper misalignment and/or drag. Even borrowing a friend's wheels before/after they race becomes a pain in the ass with disc brakes. Ever seen somebody take a neutral wheel during a mountain bike race? That's because it hasn't happened. On another note, many often forget that the ultimate limiter of braking performance is the conditions you're riding in. I won't dispute that disc brakes largely nullify all clearance-related concerns (mud), but the absence of friction between tire and terrain renders the application of brakes nearly irrelevant, regardless of type. I won't even get into the whole frame-spacing standards issue.

As somebody with a wealth of experience providing neutral support at a multitude of cycling events including cyclocross races, I can say with almost absolute certainty that you will not be able to receive neutral wheel support for a disc-equipped cyclocross bike. Period.

My professional opinion: if you're a racer who's likely to take advantage of neutral support wheels being available during their race, avoid buying a disc-equipped bike as your primary race machine. My personal opinion: the sooner the disc-brake standard is rendered irrelevant by manufacturers ceasing to produce equipment featuring a standard the masses are unwilling to accept, the better. Keep 'cross pure.

Sam
Sam

I think people might be getting a bit too worked up about this. After all, they're only going to slow you down right? Plenty of crossers don't run tubulars and that makes a much bigger performance difference. It is another pillar of tradition crumbling but I'm not on a lugged steal frame, so I can't say much about that. If I had picked up a set of those Magura hydraulic road levers when they were around I could be 100% cable free! That might actually be worth it if someone starts selling them again.

hunttofu
hunttofu

I like the idea of disc brakes...at least the all conditions aspects. The best feature is that an out of true wheel won't automatically mean a pit stop.

But they are not needed even in the PACNW.

Even with strong cantilever brakes, the tires just don't hook up enough to offset the complication and weight penalty.

Kelly
Kelly

I agree with Bill. Has there been a compelling reason(s) to allow disc brakes? Even if it is one as simple as beginners wanting to use their Cross/Hybrid/commuter bikes with discs in races. I've seen lots of small and grass-root cross races that allow MTB bikes, disc brakes, etc. Is this a growing trend with new participants; or are there MTB riders wanting to plunge into cross but only willing to because they are familiar with disc brake systems and prefer them? Frankly I doubt this is going to really have an impact on most people who ride/race cross. After all, I'm not going to rush out and buy a new bike/wheels with disc brakes...are you?

Guest
Guest

I agree with Larry - more brake but less tire? I'll keep racing my 35's with canti's until a frame with disc tabs comes along that fits my needs and budget. That may not be until my current frame gives up then ghost. Really, who am I kidding, this decision has little effect on my Cat B race career, other than to maybe eliminate tire choices for me.

Larry
Larry

I like the idea of a canned Mavic Ksyrium with disks. More likely to see it from Williams first ;-).

Bill
Bill

I'm not against improvements as long as there is a real need for them. Otherwise it just seems like another way for manufacturers to make money and it really puts a squeeze on entry level racers to spend more. Simple = affordable.
b

Jimmy V
Jimmy V

I like the idea of equipent progess, Although I'm not against the use of Disc brakes I am concerned about the safty hazard
the sharp edges present. Since we frequently lift our bike the idea of a sharp edge up close and personal is a bit scarry. If there is a spec put in that all edges be smoothed then it's a moot point. One disadvantage I see is quick wheel changes with a disc. Canti's can get wide open, discs not so much.

Sean
Sean

I don't buy the 'traditionalist' argument at all. Without innovation and organic evolution the sport would be nowhere. The "purists" may disdain the singlespeed category, for example, but there's no denying the grassroots crowd that events like SSCXWC bring. Without pushing boundaries you wouldn't have pre-built wheelsets, advanced rubber compounds, and carbon race bikes that weigh 16 lbs. If you don't want to run discs, don't. Sure the wheels and forks and rear triangle will need to get beefed up to accommodate discs - lots of companies already make these bikes. I like the simple fact that if you have a cyclocross wheelset - say, a prebuilt Ksyrium tubular wheelset - that could accept discs, after a season you replace a disc and pads, rather than trying to deal with Mavic and a rutted rim.

drew
drew

the UCI has a bad way of announcing changes. lets forget the riders for a moment and think about bike companies. its too late in the product year to make changes to a line up especially for those having bikes made in asia and this change is likely going to put on hold a lot of consumers who will want to see what will be made available to the public due to the change.
the revenue that bike companies could potentially loose due to this could very easily SLOW new product development.

IMO i feel like the UCI should have announced immediatly that they would make such a change one season away. or kept it secret from the masses and let the manufacturers know in the mean time.

i also feel like this change, being only a few months away from cross season is going to yeild some unhealthy hastily rigged dangerous disc brake conversions.

Larry
Larry

Generally the mechanical disks I have ridden do not modulate as well as canti's or hydraulic disks. I can't see see hydraulic STI anytime soon ;-), so I suspect that mechanical is all we will have to choose from. I am sure this will get better but I guess I don't see the point.

There are plenty of rim brakes with more power available, including v-brakes and roller cams. You can fit these now. This won't change the amount of contact patch we have and the UCI has reduced that in the same move.

More braking power and less tire makes me go hmmm.....

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