Despite palpable industry excitement, road disc brakes are off the table for 2012, according to the UCI’s technical coordinator, Julien Carron. The UCI’s technical commission will be investigating the technology, and its use on the road, in their sessions this summer.
“A request has been sent to the UCI to use them in a [road] event this year, but is has been refused,” Carron said via an email to VeloNews. “The UCI is not necessarily against its use, but we need more time to make the correct decision regarding the safety in competition. I cannot give you a precise timeline, but this will be an important topic of the next equipment commission this summer.
“The disc brakes are not allowed in road races until further notice,” he added.
Carron did not rule out the future legalization of road discs. The UCI says further study is needed to overcome a number of safety fears. At first, the UCI is concerned that a small number of riders with brakes that work significantly better than those of their fellow riders, particularly in bad conditions, would create a dangerous situation.
“We are currently studying the possibility to open its use in competition,” Carron explained. “But we would not like to worsen the situation by increasing the difference of braking behavior inside the peloton.”
That problem already exists thanks to the difference in brake performance between carbon and aluminum rims. For example, the reaction of Garmin-Barracuda professional Alex Howes shortly after we ran a column made the argument for disc brakes last December: “I remember being the only guy on carbon rims in a field full of aluminum rims racing in the rain,” Howes posted to his Twitter account. “Deadly. Bring on road discs!”
With some riders on carbon wheels and rim brakes and some on discs, the safety concerns are compounded.
Nonetheless, the introduction of new road-specific disc brake systems from major industry players SRAM and Shimano this fall will likely be closely followed by an influx of disc-equipped road frames into the market. Current options are limited to endurance-oriented frames like the Volagi Liscio, or custom options. A seamless hydraulic solution has yet to arrive.
Hinging on the UCI’s decision is the future of discs in competition, even outside the bounds of UCI regulations. Professional racing drives the high-performance market, and without discs in the World Tour it is unlikely that they will ever make it out of the endurance market in any great numbers. Should discs be legalized, bikes like the recently announced Colnago C59 Disc are likely portents of things to come. More manufacturers will quickly jump on the high-performance, race-oriented disc frame bandwagon.
The UCI seems confident that the various engineering challenges associated with road discs can be overcome, and may initially allow them in time trial events as a sort of test run.
“We are thinking about opening its use first in time trial events, even if the interest may be less,” said Carron.
He’s right, of course: time trialing is the discipline where discs provide the least benefit and possibly the greatest drawbacks, primarily to aerodynamics. In fact, it seems unlikely that they would be adapted for TT’s at all.
“In any case, there will be no disc brakes allowed in 2012 and the equipment commission will evaluate the situation for 2013,” Carron concluded.