Disc brakes, road racing, and the UCI

Much has been made of the UCI’s refusal to allow hydraulic road disc brakes in road racing, although interestingly, the same brake will be raced this month by cyclo-cross luminaries including Marianne Vos, Lars Van Der Har and Niels Albert.

Andy Schleck, Tour de France 2013, stage 20, pic: ©Stefano Sirotti
Andy Schleck, a guest at Shimano’s press camp in Sicily, spoke in favour of hydraulic disc brakes for road racing (Pic: Sirotti)

The World Sporting Goods Federation, the industry body that represents manufacturers like Shimano, believes the UCI’s concerns are two-fold, and involve over-heating, and the speed differential on approach to corners in wet conditions between riders with disc brakes and those with rim brakes (the latter forced to employ a two-phase braking system that first involves ‘scrubbing’ water from the brake track).

Andy Schleck (Team Trek), twice a runner-up in the Tour de France, and the ‘winner’ in 2010 following the disqualification of Alberto Contador, was a guest at Shimano’s press camp, and told journalists that professional riders also suffered from overheat brake tracks on carbon rims.

“That’s a problem we have now and it’s a problem we could get rid of if only we could have the disc brake,” Schleck said. He added that the heat also softened the glue used to attach tubular tyres, and said in extreme cases this softening could cause the tub to roll off the rim in sharp corners.

  1. John

    Lighter riders benefit more form weight saving in percentage terms. Or should I say they are most penalised by extra weight. The noise issue reminds me of some Avid Juicy MTB brakes which on many frames howl but on other don’t; something to do with resonant frequencies of the frames. Whilst the big S make some very good kit their early MTB brakes were poor compared with contemporary designs from Formula and Hayes – the Shimanos boiled up and suffered rapid pad wear. These are early days and expect roadie discs will soon offer the refinement of current Formula and Shimano MTB brakes.

  2. Scott

    Hi Tim,

    Great report, very in-depth.

    Other first ride reports talked of the brake levers rattling when riding with hands off the shifters, like hands on the bars near the stem.

    Did you notice this?

  3. Timothy John

    Cheers, Scott. No, I can’t say the levers on my bike rattled, and I spent most of the 17km slog to the summit with my hands on the ‘tops’.

    Good point on the inevitable process of refinement, John, and Shimano made no secret of the fact that the R785 is very much version 1.0 (a pretty impressive start, it has to be said). Disagree on lighter riders being penalised most by extra weight. Heavier bikes don’t prevent me from riding alongside Clydesdale riding buddies using lightweight kit when the road goes up, and on descents the extra heft of a weighty bike helps me keep them in sight!

  4. John

    In ski-alpinisme the minimum weights of boots for men and women are different and there was talk of having a scale of minimum weights related to skier weight so as not to penalise the lighter skiers.

    The UCI makes do with 6.8kg fits all and thus penalises lighter riders who could be safe on much lighter bikes.

    The good thing about the minimum weight rule is that disc brakes won’t be a weight penalty given the ease with which a 6.5kg bike can be made and then balasted with disc brakes – when the UCI eventually see sense and allow disc brakes which will contribute more to safety than the weight limit ever has.

  5. Tim Lewis

    As it says version 1, Shimano shyould be commendede on putting the things “out-there” to show their thinking and then begin the path of evolution. I think they will be the way forward for general road bikes, with only some of the specific climbers’ bikes retaining the low wieght rim brkaes to gain those vital seconds on mountain top finishes. I can’t wait to watch the evolution of these, the finished brakes will be great and then everyone will jump on-board – SRAM, Campagnolo, Avid etc.

  6. Nigel+Oulton

    It would be great to hear the screech, but failing that are we talking about a noise pretty much like the honk disc brakes make in the rain and what my MTB makes when I give him a bath, or are we talking about a whole new sort of sound here – great review and thanks for the detail gone into.

  7. Mark

    Sorry i cant see the point of Disc brakes on road bikes and they look horrible. Im not descending Alpine mountains everyday but my dura ace calipers are well up to the job for some of the steep decents on my local roads.

  8. Geoffers

    Why the need for hydraulics? I’ve put cable disks on the front of my winter hack road bike which gives all the benefits of disks in the wet etc. As long as you use non-compressible (eg. jagwire) outers there is no noticible play, and the modulation is excellent.

  9. Nick Gritton

    If the UCI let them in then all teams in the same races have to have them, stopping power into corners would be akin to a 80′s formula one car an one of today’s….carnage would ensue, the fact these are not DURAACE means that the UCI are still a long way off allowing it on the road.

  10. Mark

    More money to fork out which suits the manufacturers. They will be of no benefit to me for a few crits and sportive rides and club runs. Calipers for me anytime

  11. Findus

    Something not mentioned are the aero benefits of disk brakes. The fork crown is one of the most aero sensitive areas of a road bike, because the top of a wheel counter-rotates at twice the road speed, and drag is the cube of speed… Eliminating the brake caliper from this critical zone frees fork manufacturers to open it right up.

  12. Joseph

    I’ve ridden the Zafferano road. It’s pretty awesome.

    Timothy John you’re not correct regarding the weight of riders and benefits of lightweight equipment.

    Assuming fitness is equal a light rider puts out less power than a heavy rider. Therefore a fixed mass difference has a lager play on the power to weight ratio of the lighter rider. Whatever your experience with your mates is, you can’t argue with the laws of physics and basic maths.

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