The Great Disc Brake Debate

The Great Disc Brake Debate

by Kevin Masten,  Vice President and Manager of a Culture of Speed

One of the most widely debated changes in the cycling industry this year is disc brakes on road bikes. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re probably not going away. Road bike sales have been flat for several years and the industry is always looking for new features and technology to increase sales. Additionally, each team in the pro peloton will be allowed to test disc brakes in two races of their choice this year, with a formal introduction probably happening in 2016 or 2017. As far as I know, there are no restrictions against using disc brake road bikes for racing at the local level.

My experience with road disc brakes started late last summer when I bought a new Focus cyclocross bike. The bike is equipped with the redesigned SRAM Rival 22 hydraulic disc brakeset. I have over 1,600 miles of racing and riding on them and they’ve performed flawlessly since the first ride. I’ve replaced the front pads once and I’m still running the same set on the rear with plenty of mileage left in them. I just bled the rear brakes but only because I made some changes to my cable routing, not because they actually needed to be bled.

What do I like about them? For one, they offer better wet weather performance because they engage more quickly than traditional rim brake pads do when they’re wet. This is important for the muddy conditions of cyclocross, but also ideal for those slushy winter training rides and the rainy spring we’ve had in Colorado. There’s never a concern about how quickly the brakes will engage and I don’t have to worry about grit and debris eating into the rims of my carbon wheels.

Hand-in-hand with wet weather performance is better modulation than a traditional rim brake—modulation is the amount you can pull the brake lever between initial braking and locking the wheels. The modulation is much wider than that of rim brakes. The feel of the brakes reminds me of my mountain bike and, I think, inspires more confidence on the road. If you want to ride faster, more confidence and better braking performance are two big parts of the equation. If you’re not a racer, it’s still hard to argue that better braking performance is not a good thing.

The critics will say that they’re harder to adjust, and we all know someone whose disc mountain bike brakes squeal on every ride, right? Yes, disc road brakes might make some noise when you first apply the brakes in wet weather, but that will quickly go away. Any bike brakes, road or mountain, that consistently make noise are either not adjusted right or the pads need to be replaced. Take the bike to your local bike shop for service!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with disc brakes on road bikes. Send me an email at or stop by a Culture of Speed for a test ride!


a Culture of Speed strives to offer the best customer service that you can find among internet retailers. We’re a local bike shop based in Evergreen, Colorado and our staff has expertise in both road and mountain bikes gained through many years of riding, servicing and racing in the deserts and mountains of Colorado and around the world.

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