Mechanical Monday: Disc Brakes, an Intro

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It didn't come out often during the season, but Tim Johnson was all disc and all speed on his new prototype bike. ©Pat Malach

It didn't come out often during the season, but Tim Johnson was all disc and all speed on his new prototype bike. ©Pat Malach

by Molly Hurford

We didn’t see disc brakes too frequently this season, but every so often, you’d spot a set on elite wheels, including those of Tim Johnson with his Cannondale SuperX. And with companies like Felt coming out with new, relatively inexpensive disc-equipped cyclocross bikes for the upcoming season, we wanted to check in with our mechanics and find out what the scuttlebutt surrounding the new braking style is. For a video tour of the new Felt bike, check out our look at the Felt 65X Disc-Equipped bike.

Check back soon as we get more responses from other mechanics!

Brett Rothmeyer, Pro Bikes:
As a ’cross racer myself, the first thing I think about when the idea of switching to disc brakes comes up is money, and how much of it I have invested in wheels and tires for my current bikes. Chances is are if you are a “serious” ’cross racer, you probably have at least a couple pairs of wheels and tires for different courses conditions, all of which will be obsolete once switching to disc brakes. As far as the bikes go, most of the disc frames I have seen are going to have traditional rear spacing at 130mm, so the option of running your sweet Stan’s disc wheels from your mountain bike won’t be an option in most cases.

I do think, however, if you are looking for your first ’cross bike or have a large bank account, disc brakes are a great option. I’m really looking forward to see what all the components companies are going to come out with in the next few years. With pros like Tim Johnson already running disc brakes and companies like SRAM developing hydraulic brakes integrated into their already popular Red shifters, it seems disc-brake-equipped ’cross rigs will become a regular sight at the local races.

Chris Mayhew, JBV Coaching:
Well, I don’t work in a shop so I’m not installing any. I am certainly fielding a lot of questions from people though. Really, I’m fielding about just as many questions about short arm V-brakes as I am about disc brakes. And I always point people to the Cyclocross Magazine tech section for articles, since you did a ton of good research on the issue!

Honestly, I’d say hold off on switching. The first year runs of stuff almost never go well with this sort of thing. I feel like especially since foreign manufacturing has taken over carbon, it’s gotten even worse. I’ve seen so many cracked carbon bikes than in the last five years. Also, there are some difficulties involved in designing the fork and I am not at all convinced the industry will get that right the first time. Look at MTB disc brake fork tabs, for instance.

I think time will tell. All of us have a position on the issue but very few of us have ever really ridden or raced on them. It’ll take some time racing them to form a consensus on the issue, and one that will vary from region to region. In MABRA, they’ll be almost useless. Portland or New England, who knows? The issues I’m not seeing talked about are brake drag and wheel changes and that’s something we’ll have to experience as well.

That said, they have a lot of potential. They could be game-changing in a way I am not stoked about. On the other hand, execution matters a lot. For years, the industry has just slapped together ’cross bikes without thinking about them as their own category. So trying to cobble this together as a skinny tire MTB is not going to work. Could be Mavic ZAP, could be Shimano DI2.

My advice to a client would be sit back and let it happen. You’re not going to be at any huge disadvantage and there are pretty limited circumstances in which they will be an advantage. See what happens, make a decision next year.

Jason Gardner, Jinji Cycles:
I haven’t installed any discs on newer models yet. Redline has had a disc-ready frame for a while, and I’ve got a few people with those. I have  yet to see more than a couple of the gap-filling styles like TRP’s and Hope’s mechanical-to-hydraulic adapters.  Most people I encounter still view those a bit dubiously. With all that said, this is the question I’ve been getting the most from cyclocross-addicts lately. The lack of ready frames, especially at the higher end, is the number one reason my riders give for not jumping on yet.

Judging from the most recent Interbike and NAHBS pictures, that is definitely changing. I know I’ll see more this year. My first advice for someone considering the jump is spend the money to get the higher-end brakes. They’re not that much more and the adjustability and reliability are notably superior. Second, if you are accustomed to using two sets of wheels, I suggest making every effort to ensure that those two wheelsets use the same hub. In my opinion, this is going to be one of the most difficult issues with using disc brakes on race equipment. The hubs aren’t all the same dimensions. If the hubs do not set the rotor in the exact same place, it will result in brake rubbing, sometime minor, sometimes major. If your two wheelsets have the same hubs, you will have much easier wheel changes. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to take just any wheel. It’s a big consideration, but it also has potentially big consequences. It’ll be even more important in road racing, where there is much more neutral wheel support.

Are they the next big thing? If the marketing departments say so.

Stay tuned for more opinions.

 

 

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21 comments
BJ Keane
BJ Keane

I have a small shallow creek that I cross on gravel training rides.  In the winter when its 32 or below the brake surface on my current rim brakes freezes over and braking power drops to zero.  Very dangerous. My next cx rig will probably will have disc because of this but I'm excited to have them for racing too.  The weight penalty concerns me a little for racing but my goal is to lighten up my next build in other places to compensate.  I just laced up some Stan's Crest rims to AM Classic hubs for a pretty light clincher set.  The wide mtb rims make my 33mm Clements look like 35mm.  Thinking this will be a good thing too.

MattMcNamara
MattMcNamara

You should probably talk to @Joachim Parbo  as well. He's the first and only UCI pro racer to run a full season on Hydraulic disc brakes (TRP's Parabox). I've spent a bunch of time on a Parabox equipped Felt and it was AWESOME! There is a bit of a learning curve with the brakes, but the difference in performance is notable for just the reasons stated in part 2 of this series: the ability to dive deeper into corners, scrub speed and get back on the gas sooner. They are also, like mini v's, great for the myriad of micro-adjustments that one does in cross. They may not be defacto yet, but I'm guesing they will be in a few years.

Jay Zorn
Jay Zorn

nope....not anti tech improvements but classic CX and disc not a combo I like

Alexander Witt
Alexander Witt

Steelframe and (mech.) DiscBrakes on my CX-Bikes

Justin Lubecki
Justin Lubecki

I was skeptical until I tried it. Even as a mechanical setup, it's worlds better than cantilevers. And 29er wheel selection it's pretty broad. Lots of options. The 135 spacing is key.

Justin Lubecki
Justin Lubecki

I was skeptical until I tried it. Even as a mechanical setup, it's worlds better than cantilevers. And 29er wheel selection it's pretty broad. Lots of options. The 135 spacing is key.

Quinn Dusenberry
Quinn Dusenberry

My next CX bike will definitely have discs. I have a Trek Portland with discs and really like the improved braking over my CX bike.

Tim Larsen
Tim Larsen

Just got my cross with discs - cant beat them especially in wet and mud.

Ryan Lindsay
Ryan Lindsay

I just got a Specialized Crux Disc in January and am convinced it is the way to go moving forward. The mechanical discs have plenty of power and modulate just fine. There is a slight weight penalty with the discs, but I am fine with that knowing that I have reliable stopping ability in all conditions. An added bonus for me is my MTB is a 29er, so I can switch wheels between bikes as well.

Seth Snyder
Seth Snyder

Disc is the only option for new bikes. Anybody paying more than $1000 for a bike with ancient brake designs is a sucker. I can tell you from experience, as well, that hydraulic is not the answer. Mechanics will choose mechanical.

mileswhitmore
mileswhitmore

I think the idea that the braking power is not there with mechanicals is completely ridiculous, especially compared to the wide profile cantilevers typically employed on cross race bikes. That said, why do cross bikes need more  braking power? The amount of traction cross bikes have on dirt certainly wouldn't seem to necesitate any additional braking power. Of course it would be nice to have brakes that didn't clog and wear out rims.

Adrian Balls
Adrian Balls

Depends how they modulate in truly sticky and wet conditions... I would like them for the dry.

Mike Swope
Mike Swope

I wonder how they are in mud. Sticky mud is the only time I don't like the 13 year old calipers I have.

John Kalavros
John Kalavros

Simplicity is the best, so i vote for the rim brakes (cantilevers, Normal or mini Vbrakes and caliper brakes).

Rick Lister
Rick Lister

Just look how many European riders are using them

Brandon Thomson
Brandon Thomson

Ne. Need the hydro shifters and tubular wheels before I am racing disc. The brake power is not there with mechanicals.

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